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Is London The New New World?, Or, Saturday Morning at 7:27am

An interesting thing happened in London.

My daughter and I went in search of two houses in the city where  I had previously lived. In 1967-8, we spent a year living in at 17 Tregunter Road. I can report that it’s still there, white, surrounded by trees.


Later, after graduating from college in 1978, I lived with a former roommate in Knightsbridge in a basement flat on Brompton Square. Right near Harrods. That building is also still there, along with an associated garden for residents.



I sent a requisite Look Where We Are Now! photo off to my roommate, who is still a good friend. She recognized Brompton Square at once. And added the comment that she finds London less British every time she visits.

That was the interesting thing.

London these days, as the husband of a London friend said one night after cooking us dinner, is buoyant. It is rich, diverse, and under construction. It reminds me not of Downtown Abbey, nor of that best of all BBC series, Pride and Prejudice, but Shanghai, City of the Future.

Now I like Olde England as much as anyone. White mouldings and black doors with brass knockers. Reverence for trees. But I loved New London too. How wonderful to see a city with that much history playing an electric role in the 21st century?

I know that some feel otherwise. The EU brings workers in droves in from Eastern Europe. I heard of entire neighborhoods bought up by Russian money seeking a hiding place rather than a home. A long running river of oil wealth pours through London financial systems, unabated. Real estate prices rise, cheese gets expensive, this is hard for many.

And yet it felt right. Maybe that’s natural for a Silicon Valley native. Can I also say that in the past 30 years England’s men have gotten better looking? The impact of war year nutrition seems to have passed and the men are tall and strong and wearing close-fitting suits. Frivolous observation, but maybe with meaning.

Note that I am a die-hard patriot. I love America, I defend its principles, I believe in its promise – even when we falter, badly. But wouldn’t it be ironic if after all this time the USA became the Old World, and Britain The New?

Old is nice, traditions bring comfort and proven outcomes, but New solves problems and we’ve got a few, we humans.

Which brings us to the question of how to remain New. A very big question, one I am not equipped to answer for nations. But here’s my personal philosophy. Embrace adventurers – immigrants, inventors, even those with whom we disagree. They keep us buoyant, and the metaphors for time are full of rising waters.


33 Responses

  1. Don’t you think London has cycled in and out of this over the centuries? And we have, too….

    Change is inevitable; stagnation is dangerous.

  2. I always embrace progress as being overwhelmingly a good thing. However, seeing blocks of lovely London town homes standing empty because they are owned by absent Russian billionaires is a bit unnerving.

    Our son and his wife live in London (East London where tourists seldom go), but relish the time they can spend in other parts of Great Britain where they get to know how people who do not live in London live.

    I think all that you have said about London could be said about our New York City–or even my Dallas. Most of our large cities are true melting pots–never a bad thing, in my opinion.

    1. @Susan, I agree, Dallas and New York are similar, the surprise was all mine against my old memories of London. And it was great to get out of London too and find some more familiar culture.

  3. Interesting observation. Survival is all about reinvention, which keeps some of the old while embracing the new. Seems we could use such a construct about now.

    1. @M, Yes, we just need to agree on the new. Seems that there must be at least a few things that are universally desire.

  4. Seems worth noting, as well, that much of what has been idealized as British was built on wealth imported from elsewhere. . . and reading depictions such as Jeannette Winterson’s memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal questions how happy this ideal was for those who didn’t fit a certain representation. My own English background(my Dad grew up in northEast Yorkshire) was working class, council-housed, a far cry from Downton Abbey . . .
    Like you, I love the London I see in England, although I miss much that I visited in my teens. Such vibrant, energetic architecture!

  5. I live in London and I agree with all your comments Lisa and find it so interesting that a Californian can see the changes in London with clear eyes. I love the vibrant reconstruction going on and the sense of purpose and regeneration.

    But the thing about London is that it isn’t really England at all in many ways. 50% of London dwellers are originally foreign, some migrants, some passing through. So I must admit that some of these handsome men may be French or Croatian or American. I have a place outside London in another kind of England, one I remember from my youth and this country England I love too. But because it is filled with old English it isn’t so glittery.

    London, to me. feels so much like Manhattan and other bits are like the sleepier sections of New England.

    I’m glad you enjoyed your sojourn in London with your lovely daughter, Lisa, come again soon!

    1. One of those handsome men may be my own American son who lives in London and favors those fitted suits! How much fun we had visiting him there. The Saturday flower market in East London was sublime.

    2. @Daphnejonquil, Thanks. I think I could see London more clearly because it had been so long since my last visit. Whereas I may not see San Francisco well at all. I would love to come again, and see more that is not glittery, because I like that aspect too.

  6. Came back to wonder if you’ve read my (daughter’s) friend Craig Taylor’s book Londoners: The Days and Nights of London Now. Takes a Studs Terkel-like approach to building a wonderfully exuberant, kaleidoscopic picture of London. Received with great critical acclaim and well worth picking up a copy.

  7. Hmm, we rented a flat in Brompton Square once, but it has been quite a while since I’ve been to London. I’d like to see it now.

    I think cities become melting pots and it is part of what keeps them vibrant. It is good though to see new things arise out of the old. Hopeful.

    1. @Mardel, It felt hopeful, and the personal history markers like Brompton Square felt like proof of my own growth. Bonus points:). I love it that you rented a flat there once. I feel that your life holds so many stories.

  8. I LOVE London. I like how multicultural it is. I never expected it to be like Downton and I like how it’s got that Hong Kong energy. It’s familiar and comforting and fabulous all at once. If you have some cash. xx

  9. Ha! I feel like this is the most Silicon Valley thing you’ve ever written. Well disclosed there.

    I’m not sure i have great perspective since we tend to spend time with family when we’re there.

    HOWEVER. Men in London are hot though, there is no disputing that whatsoever.

  10. Holy crap yes! (on the ’embrace adventurers’ bit). As an immigrant myself I’m a bit sensitive about the anti-immigration rhetoric.

    I think most of the issue is that settlers tend to be concentrated so whilse in most little English villages you wouldn’t see a non-English person, in some suburbs you wouldn’t see many people who were actually English. Still, overall only about 13% (from the 2011 census) of the population weren’t born here. I think that’s fine. And I like Polish people!

    Also, I agree with the person saying London isn’t really England. I did a post about all the fabulous places one could (and should) visit that aren’t London

  11. “Embrace adventurers – immigrants, inventors, even those with whom we disagree. They keep us buoyant, and the metaphors for time are full of rising waters.” That should be a mantra… so many of the world’s problems would be solved by such kindness in spirit.

    I love London, and I think it is in part its vibrant, moving, always changing vibe.

    Did you read the book “Londoners”? I got it last time I was there, and it captures the spirit of the city very well, shown as a collection of stories of people of all kinds whose only think in common is that they live (or have lived) in London.

    (Londoners: The Days and Nights of London Now – as Told by Those Who Love it, Hate it, Live it, Left it and Long for it
    by Craig Taylor)

  12. I had a flat in Knightsbridge many years ago before moving to the more leafy suburbs of South West London. The houses are still lovely however when I go there I rarely hear English spoken in the streets.
    I think it is great that London is so cosmopolitan and thriving but it is hard for the young who were brought up in London and now can’t afford to buy a property there due to the very high prices. My son who is an architect and is benefiting from the boom in construction but is still living in rental accommodation.

  13. I lived at 17 Tregunter road for one year (1965-1966). I was the au pair girl. Mr. and Mrs. Bernard were very nice and so were their three children. I know they no longer live there. Yet, each time I go to London I pass by Tregunter Road. “Memories light the corners of my mind…”

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