This is a bit of a random ramble really, brought on by the fact I was in Sidcup a couple weeks ago at a (fortieth!) birthday party. Because of the difficulty of making it back to the flat late at night I ended up staying in the local TravelLodge, which meant that I wandered up and down the high street quite a bit, which is sort of how this occurred to me. The thing about Sidcup, and the other parts of London, is that it used to be a little village in its own right. Every little bit of London one goes to has its own street like that, its own little centre of retail. That’s what the (London-centric) press means when they talk about the “high street”; not necessarily a large town centre but the little roads that they think of as somehow important.
It means that there is no particular centre to London (okay, there’s the City, or Westminster, or the West End but these are business things or at best entertainment things, not day to day things). This is what I think throws people off London (well, me). Certainly where I grew up there may have been a nearby shopping street but there was always a defined centre, one could talk of going “into town” and people would know exactly what was meant. That doesn’t happen in London—and it gets hidden. The transport system is in general good to the point that there is no disconnect between these little villages any more (so it is a surprise it is hard to get back from one to the other as it was the other night). As they have grown large enough to touch it becomes impossible to tell where one begins and the other ends; but they have maintained all those tiny centres while the huge beast of London has never grown one, lacks that heart.