Yesterday, like most other days, I cycled to and from work between rolling Cotswold fields. For a change, though, I took a minor detour: via a train from Charlbury to London Paddington, across to Islington and back in time for a return train, and then from Oxford station along the Eynsham road and home.
Cycling across London is certainly an experience. Like motorway driving, you have to keep your speed up and anticipate lane changes quite far ahead. Unlike (most) motorway driving, brief bursts of hectic speed are very frequently interspersed with long, tempting standstills: tempting because the urge is to overtake whatever’s directly in front of you (except bendy buses) and move onto the next full stop. At one point I found myself in a gaggle of PCSOs, and was reassured when they weaved and dodged more than I had been comfortable doing.
On the way there an early error (turning, I think, right from Praed Street onto Edgware Road) put me onto Oxford Street, which was hellishly hot compared to the rest of the city. Stuck behind a bus was like being in a sudden heatwave, as the exhaust and sheer bodily warmth of the vehicle pushed relentlessly onto me. Despairing, I turned off somewhere before Tottenham Court Road, and ended up on Goodge and Gower Streets. I felt quite chipper for a while, until another mistake led to me heading out to the weird M6-toll-like redevelopments that roll out behind St Pancras, before I found Copenhagen Street and ended up more or less where I wanted to be.
I’ve always appreciated that bits of London are massive—the British Museum, or Marble Arch—but it’s only when moving around it, both at speed and under my own steam—that I began to appreciate that London as a whole is also huge. It’s like a tour around all the other cities in the country, a theme park of British urban life that never ends. It also stinks.