Ashley Ball writes for us on his love of London and the joy of simply going for a wander around the city.
Most weekends I like to have a destination and schedule – the latest gallery opening, pub lunch with an old friend, or something similarly time filling. This weekend was slightly different, wondering what it would be like not to make any plans or prescribed destination, but simply discover the delights that London has to offer when one is not in search of something. This weekend was all about being the Flaneur, in search of the overlooked London.
The term ‘Flâneur’ predominantly came into common use in the 19th Century through French literature, epitomising a character which took to the streets as a stroller or man of leisure; one could say a connoisseur of the street. Almost like a poetic explorer of the streetscape.
Walking around in a cold wintery London with an old fashioned umbrella doubling up as a handy walking stick, it struck me that the greatest destination is the journey itself. Walking through London, you are walking through a world that is overflowing with history. Everywhere has been the source of some creative expression, the basis of a Shakespeare play, the stage for a historic protest or simply the backdrop of a film. Indeed the many blue plaque signs around the city confirm this. They act as small narrative interludes to the streetscape, for example: ‘The Clink 1151-1780; most notorious medieval prison’, or ‘Stainer Street Arch Bombing; On the night of the 17th February 1941 a bomb fell onto the arch where people were sheltering from an air raid. 68 died and 175 were injured’. Often these layers of history are forgotten about in the hustle and bustle of city life, and replaced by instantaneous entertainment.
More intriguing are the underground stations which are beautifully detailed and emulate quality; the Victorians built to last. From the muted tones of the glazed brickwork, to the brass detailing on the passageway steps. This quality of our streetscape forms the backdrop to our everyday, a framework to which we attach our lives. And what a superb backdrop it is! It provides the stage set for our conversations and discoveries.
The quality that surrounds us everyday is easy to ignore. But it is there for all to enjoy, regardless of class or status. Walking through Borough Market on a Saturday morning epitomises this quality for me. It is the perfect place to observe and let your imagination take control. The market of course works on many levels – to envelop the senses – the smells of freshly brewed coffee, to the majestic marbling over the deep coloured meat counters. Sounds are the biggest contentment, allowing it to form a transition from a loud drone to tuning in on individual conversations about Friday night adventures. A kind of mini city within the bigger city. The one thing I frequently dislike about shopping is the insincerity of staff, here this is never the case. There is a devout knowledge and passion for food and great service which, is unparalleled.
The perfect way to spend a weekend, as I have discovered, is to forget what you think you already know about the place you live. Become a flâneur; the adventure is yours to have.