There are particular beauties I see often in London – but I love that I always see new ones. This time it was an immense and sparkling array of gemstones in the Victoria & Albert Museum; the huge Christmas tree standing at Covent Garden, and the matching baubles hanging from the ceilings inside; the shadowy image of Sherlock Holmes at the Baker Street Tube stop; the incredible intricacy of autumn leaves frozen into the South Kensington ice rink; and the ever-changing beauty of the Harrods window displays. I stopped to stare at each one – it’s as good as shopping to walk around the entire Harrods store, and to me is a thank you to the artists who spent hours and days and perhaps even weeks preparing each display. The sheer extravagance and sparkle and expensive-ness and creativity compacted into one display was enough for me to stop and stare; and there is an entire city block of these to enjoy.
It seems, then, that the beauty I love in London is its marrying of consistency and variety. Like the seasons, which every year are the same, and yet every year just a little bit different, London as a city is also reassuringly the same, and yet with new glories to discover around every corner. I love going to the same shops, or to the Camden Town markets, with joyful expectation of a particular place that is there every time, and yet getting surprised by something new I’d passed several times and never before seen. Or looking out on the Thames to see it look as I’ve never seen it before.
Or people-watching on the Tube and being never-endingly fascinated by the variety, the faces, the hair, the shoes, the things they are carrying. Quite calmly, a man with a large potted plant pushes his way onto the Tube. Or a woman with a massive bouquet of flowers; a small child with two stuffed animals; a student reading a book and not even looking up as he navigates the doors. Sometimes I choose just one thing – like shoes – to look at on my journey. Tall brown boots; black patent leather shoes; sandals; fur-lined parka boots; little white ballet shoes; comfortable trainers; pointy alligator shoes; impossibly high heels, in varying colours; little kitten heels; and a plethora of others that go by in rapid succession, standing and sitting and shifting and stepping and sliding and every other kind of movement you can imagine. I also like trying to guess the face that goes with the shoes – and I’m very often surprised by the results. The patent-leather black shoes belong to a student, or the impossibly high heels to an older woman. Once again, London has been consistent, and surprised me at the same time.