Falling in love the first time is a free, easy and full-on experience. You give yourself completely full of an innocent need to embrace; fear lingers but is all too easily left behind.
Falling in love the second time has none of the same abandon and progresses in awkward jolts that you question at every stage. For now you are thinking straight and you are not innocent. You are rational.
I'm talking about you, London.
The first awkward jolt was our first cycle ride. After becoming fully accustomed to Amsterdam's wonderful two wheeled ways as one time London cyclists we fooled ourselves into a deeply false sense of security that we would adapt once more to the capital's harsher ways. We were breathlessly and frustratingly wrong.
Our first cycle ride across London's belly from South Kensington - the upmarket area we unexpectedly found a temporary flat in - to Holborn had me cursing with each exhalation and shaking my head sadly at the anger that pumps the traffic around London. There are a lot of people moving across this city full of tension every minute of every day and after a little distance from it while travelling I can't help but now question why. Why do people put themselves through this? Why is the rush and the beep of a horn more important and easier than a patient moment and a smile? Of course, it's part of London's character, but it's not something I'm proud of my home city for.After three days of similar journeys on two wheels I started to bridge the gap between me and them. I became more aggressive and determined on my "Boris Bikes". I stood up as lights turned green and pumped my thighs as though I was beginning a race. I stuck my hand out and crossed traffic when I knew I had right of way to do so. I stopped tutting the tourists walking out in front of me, confused by which way they should look; instead I offered a forced smile and tried not to begrudge them the calories I'd have to spend to build speed again.
I may have started to love cycling again, but I still wasn't enamoured with London, not like I was before.
That came - and with hindsight I know it had to have come - from walking.
From two feet you can see and feel more. Thanks to my two feet I used to become part of this city - I would think nothing of walking the six miles home from work - and it was with two feet that I rekindled my love for London's layers, discovering more than I was familiar with before.When you spend twelve months flying from one new nest to another you become used to using your travelling eyes to identify the new, spot the different and absorb a sense of a place. I've trained myself well and so in London I saw more than I used to. Building blocks of different architectural styles, implausibly regal lamp posts lining residential streets, incredibly detailed coal shoot covers with the names of companies that are long gone, brass doorbell buttons that have been polished everyday for nearly a century, an elderly looking taxi driver wearing a flat cap and fingerless gloves, reading a Kindle as he waits for a fare.
There is charm everywhere in London, but sadly staying in one of the city's richest boroughs I've also become aware of how charmless London can be; I'm offended by how much money there is here and how much money there isn't less than a mile down the road.Above all things I am inexplicably glad about London's grand age and how well it weathers the storm of passing time. I still fear for the anger that pumps through its streets and it saddens me deeply that I see no real hope for a London where cyclists are equal, but as someone not afraid to use their own two feet to see a city, I'm so deeply proud that every street in London holds so many stories and of course, photo opportunities
Frances M. Thompson
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