Tuesday, 6 September 2011

"Walk the Lines: The London Underground, Overground", Mark Mason

I like living and working in London. 
As a city it's got its ups and downs, and there are times when I think I'm insane to willingly get back on the plane to be a wage slave in the most expensive city in the world, but there's probably a reason I haven't actually left in the 12 odd years I've lived there. Sometimes you come across something that crystalises that view. I'm currently reading a slightly random purchase from my marvellous local small independent bookshop (http://www.beckenhambooks.com/), Mark Mason's "Walk the Lines" - an account of walking the various underground lines that make up Harry Beck's iconic description of London. 

It's book that more than usually resonates with me. When I moved to London in 1999 it was walking around it that first scared the hell out of me, then made me slowly but surely figure out how it fitted together, and then ultimately, as a proud South Londoner, feel highly aggrieved at how the richness of "south of the river" gets missed by the vast majority of London visitors because "it's not on the tube". In many ways it's worth a read, and has been a good choice for this week's Oslo run, but it just came into its own in the way that most travel books should - it talked to an experience I relish. 

Day in day out I walk from Cannon Street to London Wall and I treasure the moment, circumnavigating the Bank of England, when I can start to break away from the brownian motion of most of city traffic and find a little oasis of peace of silence. There are pockets like this dotted all over London but Tokenhouse Yard is one of them, and one that always makes me smile. It's a bit of the Square Mile I can still surprise friends and colleagues with. That makes it one of my favourite places, and that Mason describes it as one of his too makes me like his book that crucial bit more. There are a lot reasons to read "Walk the Lines" - it's a well written travelogue around one of the world's megacities, but if you've lived in the wider city, been affected by the way transport impacts it, and are looking for someone who understands really what London is all about in the way you do too, then this will probably work. 

I can even forgive my existential disagreement over the quality of bacon sandwiches provided by "Little Gatsby" (more correctly on Telegraph St I suspect). It's differences like this that make London one of the most exciting cities imaginable.

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