The man who is tired of London, it has been alleged, is tired of life itself. Unlike myself, Samuel Johnson was a boundless optimist, seeing a rather dirty glass three quarters full instead of grimly empty. London seems to be in a permanently heaving state, the ebb and flow of huge numbers of breathless, wide-eyed tourists, endlessly craning their necks or waving selfie sticks about to catch a glimpse of the impressive gates of the Palace or taking pictures of the ducks in St James’ Park. Away from the Babel of languages – I counted at least seven in one minute on a bridge in the park – it has its charms for the vagabond, the bystander, the permanent inhabitant of some cranny or nook, far from the madding crowd. Always so much better to share the experience – my daughter in this case, who, blessedly, is also my friend. So many places to walk where the advantages of being street smart kept you alive have now been overtaken by what we once called the ‘quality’ or, perhaps, the ‘gentry’, with disposable incomes allowing the rental of tiny but chic little flats for thousands of pounds a month, and the purchase of Audis or BMWs and expensive shoes from the West End. Islington is so very chic these days, metamorphosing into a slightly blurred and certainly more muffled Brooklyn, watering holes and gastropubs with wooden floors, rough china and superb food. Similarly Clapham and Balham, once only rather drab bus destinations and little else have acquired chic, expensive pavement cafés and restaurants for the young and well-heeled to hang out as only millennials can.
It was interesting- in a strange, memory-rich kind of way to be back – slipping gently into left hand driving and remembering to look left first, but I slipped English moorings a long time ago and the whisperings of auld lang syne are neither insistent nor particularly nostalgic. Brexit will cement Britishness – that curious state of mind which only the British seem to possess, the kind of mindset that distrusts French cheese and enjoys warm ale with the determination to drink a lot of it at high speed. Later today, as the white cliffs disappear into the mist, and the snub silhouette of Cap Gris Nez pokes over the horizon, I shall probably breathe a slight but distinct sigh of relief.