Recently I was reading an article on Hugh Grant and I came across this passage – “London has provided both setting and role in Hugh Grant’s best films: Four Weddings and a Funeral (in which Grant plays a lovelorn London bachelor), Notting Hill (London bookseller seduced by Hollywood star), Bridget Jones’s Diary (London boss/cad), and, About a Boy (rich, childless Londoner who invents a son to help him meet women). The setting is apropos, for “Londoner” has always been Grant’s real role in life. Born and bred in the suburb of Fulham, he was educated at Oxford and worked as a salesman at Harrods and as a London copywriter before becoming an actor.”
It is hardly surprising that Hugh Grants loves London – even a casual visitor is likely to fall in love with this city.
Before my visit to London I had a completely different, and wrong, image of London. Having read a lot of Dickens, and even the recent fiction of John Mortimer of Horace Rumpole fame, I imagined the city to be seeped in the nineteenth century, dark and dingy, almost perpetually overcast, with grumpy Britishers going about their business sullenly. The crossover movies of Indians in UK also did not give too cheerful picture of the place. Grant’s movies, frankly, did not make an impact on me. Last, and not the least, the hype around Paris, vis-a-vis London, often created by the British writers themselves (including, if I may name one, Wodehouse), made it seem that the place would be somehow ‘a little less than the best’.
London was a pleasant surprise for me. Cheerful, modern and bright – that was my lasting impression about the city.
For the tourist a summary of what to see has been adequately captured by Wiki, and I think I would rather quote it verbatim than waste my time beating about the bush –
“London has four World Heritage Sites – the Tower of London, Kew Gardens, the site comprising the Palace of Westminster, Westminster Abbey and St Margaret’s Church, and the historic settlement of Greenwich in which the Royal Observatory marks the Prime Meridian and GMT. Other famous landmarks include Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, Piccadilly Circus, St Paul’s Cathedral, Tower Bridge, Trafalgar Square and Wembley Stadium. London is home to numerous museums, galleries, libraries, sporting events and other cultural institutions, including the British Museum, National Gallery, Tate Modern, British Library, Wimbledon and 40 theatres. The highly regarded London Underground is the oldest underground railway network in the world.”
One thing that struck me was that the museums in London were full of British children and families, and not just tourists. This is important in the sense that it shows that (a) the locals take pride in their history and past, and (b) that the children are curious and seek entertainment in knowledge and science. (This phenomena, of families finding museums fun, is not as common as one might think.) A lot of credit must also be given to the museum authorities who have made the museums pretty, interactive and community oriented.
Ferry ride across the Thames, or viewing the skyline on the London Eye, or shopping at Harrods, or just strolling the streets and spotting the statues – one can have days of pure fun in London. I did. It is high time the Britishers started hyping their own city, and get out of their Paris fixation.