I think it was Heraclitus who said: ‘Mortals are immortal, immortals mortal, living their death, dying their life’. He’d have said it in ancient Greek of course and I’m not sure I fully understand what it means but it often springs into my mind when I’m looking at a scene that seems to be old and new as well as in the process of change all at the same time.
Take a walk down from Tower Hill towards the Thames using the subway system and stop just before the Tower of London. Fix Heraclitus in your mind and think of his aphorism. Here you can see exposed some of the brickwork from the original Roman wall constructed around 190. Lifting your head you see the Tower where building began just after the conquest in 1066. Shuffle around a bit and crane your neck and you can see City Hall, the home of the Greater London Authority, which was opened in 2002. And dominating this, and seemingly every London skyline, is the nearly completed Shard which is due to open in May 2012. This small snapshot of London shows you the physical manifestation of very nearly 2000 years of building. Paradoxically it manages to convey permanence and flux at one and the same time.
I love London and this combination of dynamism and history is an important part of the charm for me. Indeed I think the best way to experience this is by traipsing about at street level soaking it all in by some strange process of osmosis. Even so every so often I come across a change that fair takes my breath away. Last month I went to see the mighty Chelsea beat Wolves 3-0. I’m coming up to my 50th consecutive year seeing at least one home game at Stamford Bridge. Since I’ve been old enough to drink my pre- or post- (or often both) game ritual involved a visit to the working man’s club in Britannia Street opposite the stadium for a few beers. Imagine my shock last year when I found it had been demolished. Perhaps it was the irony of working men in Chelsea that appealed to me but in many ways I’ll be more able to deal with Chelsea moving away from Stamford Bridge than this. These days I start off with a couple of beers in The Atlas in West Brompton.
During that year I’d been walking around Blackheath and discovered that my old school had been demolished to make way for housing. This change pleased me – housing seems a much better use of the land than the hate ridden place I’d been educated in. However, the houses haven’t yet been built and rather disappointingly the Catholic church had built a bigger and shinier new school across the road. (They’ve changed the saint’s name from Joseph to Matthew though – wonder what that signifies.) If you then add in that the place I first worked other than Saturday jobs was the long closed London Evening News in Bouverie Street and that my first job after uni was in the now rebuilt office block above Cannon Street station I was left with the overwhelming feeling that my past was being re-written around me.
Of course it isn’t just landscapes that change around you, organisations need to adapt to survive. But sometimes these actions make you stand back a bit. Admirably The Ramblers are trying to boost membership by entering into arrangements with different partners but I was recently stunned to find that one of them is Bupa. Whilst I accept not everyone agrees with my views (that would be very dull) this doesn’t sit well with me. I’d rather be supporting the NHS not undermining it. And it doesn’t seem to sit well with Inner London Ramblers either who see it as ‘a serious error of judgement’. The Ramblers is a broad church and a democracy and whether you agree, disagree or are indifferent with this decision I was going to suggest you email the Board of Trustees with your viewpoint. However, I was surprised to find there is no central address for you to do this. So if you let me know how you feel I’ll ensure they all get passed on to the Board.
And, of course, it’s not just London that epitomises constant change. (It’s true I’m London-centric but not that much). Whenever I go to Manchester I make sure I visit the site of the Hacienda. The canal side of the new building commemorates the key events of this club. I’m not entirely sure this works for me – it’s almost as if they are apologising for knocking it down. As George Harrison sang: ‘A cloudburst doesn’t last all day’. Sometimes that’s a bit difficult to believe up in Manchester.
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I completed the Grand Union half marathon in 2 hours 19 minutes. Thanks to everybody who sponsored me.