The warmth from my coffee cup diffuses into my hands but does nothing to alleviate the sharp, painful cold in the rest of my body. I descend into Tower Hill underground in a slow film-camera like movement that gradually reveals the chaotic scene below. The platform is busier than usual, seething with perplexed tourists and disgruntled commuters.
I observe the pockets of people crowding around the doors of the stationary train, squeezing into the non-existent space inside where yet more people are crushed together like olives in a jar. I am not in the right frame of mind for that sort of effort today. I turn around and bound back up the stairs.
Moving quickly and with a new found enthusiasm I pass through the station into the bright cold; dancing down the steep steps and under the tunnel that obscures the Tower before revealing it in all its regal glory.
I pause to drink in the silhouettes of the turrets against the sky, their standards dancing benignly in the breeze. I am momentarily connected to Kings and Queens, political prisoners, kitchen workers, priests, guards, solemn visitors; the centuries of life and death in the Tower. I move on.
I’m listening to the story behind the creation of Happy Maps. The words collide with my experience in perfect coincidence,
“So one morning Daniel left his house and he ignore the mapping app he just stuck to the side streets, the alleys, these little one way roads that he never really bothered with before and what happened next…
‘I just remember a feeling of surprise, surprise at finding a street with no cars…surprise at finding a street draped by the leaves and surrounded by trees. For an entire month I had been trapped inside my mobile app and the journey to work became one thing only the shortest path…it totally changed the experience of the city. The app assumes that there are only a handful of directions to destination…Einstein once said, ‘logic will get you from A to B, imagination will take you everywhere’ and so with a bit of imagination we needed to understand which parts of the city people find beautiful…’” *
I’m in the plaza now, the river in front of me, the keep on my left. My attention is captured by three higgledy-piggledy domestic dwellings nestling in the tower wall. I fall in love with their chimneys, their soft brown brick and the sun reflecting off their windows. They are simultaneously out of place and perfectly at home.
I marvel at man’s ability across the ages, the Tower itself, Tower Bridge, the shiny new curved glass buildings south of the River; all the product of clever humans, people with vision, craftsmen, planners, it seems impossible that the same species should also be capable of wilful and violent destruction.
As I pass along next the River; the water that binds the two halves of my life together, a constant presence in all of my days, I send a text to my love who, for over a decade, has been encouraging me to be more spontaneous, to take the less obvious path. He will be proud of this deviation from the norm.
I climb up onto London Bridge where crowds pass, buses rumble, water flows. I feel vital and optimistic. Happy to be in the midst of Another London Day.** I board the 133 just as the doors close.
*Ted Hour. Building Better Cities. ** Island Man. Grace Nichols.