For Art’s Sake was born in this city and we’ve all experienced so many firsts in this city. We celebrate the sprawling metropolis that will always be home.
(This article first appeared in our print journal before lockdown)
Nothing compares to the atmosphere at a London park on a hot summer’s day; or an event like Pride to show how proud we can really be. We’re a city full of eccentricity and diversity; of style so achingly cool, you want to take pictures of strangers on the street; of boundary-pushing artists and bar-raising architecture; the old hand in hand with the new; a city that’s bursting with creative minds, small businesses, good causes and fashion powerhouses. Some of the world’s shiniest stars call its streets home, and some of history’s brightest minds have waxed lyrical about its idiosyncrasies.
Whether it's The Barbican or Brixton Village, our boroughs contain so many stories – from the hole in-the-wall family-run restaurants to buildings that bear the scars of a city that’s seen so much. We’re constantly looking to what’s next – in the arts, in science, in technology. In fact, with almost 5000 start-ups, London is one of the world’s biggest start-up ecosystems (and yes, we’ll include For Art’s Sake in that).
London is also a city of contradictions – we are never satisfied, but we’re also really good at sucking things up.
When it’s rained for an entire summer, nothing brings us together like a good water pity party about our cloud-covered skies and nothing sends us into a flat panic like five consecutive days of sunshine and soaring temperatures. We become instantly immobile: cries for the madness to end rain down from the rooftops when just a week before, the same people were considering moving to Australia because they couldn’t stand the miserable weather for another second.
When I used to pick up the Evening Standard Magazine on a Friday afternoon, I would speed my way to the backpage – ‘My London’ – where various famous faces give their insight into the city they call home: their secret London spot, the best thing a cabbie has said to them and of course, what makes someone a ‘Londoner’.
Perhaps these answers reaffirm a feeling of optimism and a sense of pride in the city; that between the political mess and our current state of quarantine, there will always be lovely people saying even lovelier things. Jack Guiness’s interaction with a taxi driver is the one that always stands out for me: “A cabbie started asking me about where I grew up. I said my dad was a vicar in south London in the 1980s. He stopped the cab and told me my dad had mentored him when he was a tearaway 12-year old. That my dad had saved his life. This burly cabbie was nearly crying, I was nearly crying and we had this amazing moment.”
So, what does it mean to be a Londoner? Is it whether you walk or stand on the escalator? Your feelings on crossing the river, or your ability to navigate the city without your phone? Is it how we used to grumble about the restaurant-of-the moment not taking bookings but will still stand in the queue for over an hour? Is it our ability to rally in times of crisis, or offer up a cup of tea as a solution to everything?
Perhaps it’s all of the above. For all the times that this city tests us and makes us think that we’ve had enough, there are the moments in between that make up for it: the kindness of strangers on the tube when you’ve got too much to carry; the skyline over the Thames at sunset; lifelong friends spilling out of pubs onto cobbled streets; catching new lovers lingering in moon-drenched moments because neither of them want to say goodnight.
It’s a city of firsts, of endless opportunity and people working incredibly hard for their big break; a melting pot of cultures, communities and the best curries outside of India. It’s the city we love to hate, but the only one we could imagine calling home.
Who knows what's around the corner for us, but one thing we know for sure: we are surrounded by a city steeped in beauty that's waiting to be discovered anew.