On Saturday, January 21st, I walked over 10,000 steps with approximately 100,000 people in London – millions of people when you include the entire world. Together, we marched for women’s rights (for all women’s rights), for LGBTQIA rights, for worker’s rights, for immigrant rights, for disability rights, for reproductive rights, for civil rights, for environmental justice, and for ending violence.
It was a cold but beautiful day, the sun coming out to cast light on our route. I showed up alone, but from the moment I stepped out of Oxford Circus tube station – Bond Street was already overcrowded and closed – I felt a sense of unity, of solidarity. Thousands of us walked down Oxford Street towards the American Embassy, but the streets were already so crowded that we were soon brought to a halt. We didn’t start marching for at least an hour or so, but it didn’t matter; we were all talking to one another, cheering, singing, and making new friends. I saw people of all ages, of all backgrounds, of all walks of life.
Here’s why I decided to march.
I have a lot of memories of London from before I lived here. In one, I’m wearing Spice Girl shoes, you know, those platform trainers that all of us wore in 1997. I had bought them on Oxford Street, at Miss Selfridges, my new favourite store. It was my second time in England; my very first visit, in fact my first visit to another continent, was to London and Windsor for a Christmas holiday with my family only six months before. My sister and I had gone to see Spice World in Convent Garden that holiday, and let me tell you – the Spice Girls were a big deal in London at the time. Anyway, in this memory, I’m on the tube, wearing my Spice Girls shoes, being very thirteen, when I stepped on a woman’s foot.
“Watch it!” she hissed at me, and I remember thinking she was extra scary because she had a British accent.
“I really don’t want to live in London,” I remember thinking. But oh, what a decade or two can change…
“What is that thing?” I thought to myself for the tenth time. I was on a bus to Stansted Airport; being an East Londoner, this is the most convenient airport to fly from when I go abroad. Looking out the window as I passed the area of Stratford, I saw a tall structure, red metal coiled around it. I had seen it every time I was on this bus, and yet I never thought to, you know, Google it, or ask someone, or figure it out. Not until that day a couple of months ago, when I did indeed whip out my phone and Google it.
“It’s a giant SLIDE?!” I thought to myself, and I stared at the structure again. Because just when you think London can’t get any cooler, or interesting, or full of things to do, it turns out that the city now holds the longest and tallest tunnel slide in the world.
It’s been a while since I’ve done a “Best of London” post – in fact, looking back through this blog’s archives, I rarely write about things to do in London, despite having lived here for three years now. That’s a bit odd, considering I feel like I’m always doing cool stuff in the city; anyone who has been to London knows there is seemingly no shortage of museums, markets, neighbourhoods, restaurants, and bars to sample.
Last night, however, I did something new and wanted to share it: I went to my first rooftop cinema in London.
Part of the struggle of finding shows to go to in London is the cost. In March I went to see the brilliant The Ruling Class with James McAvoy, but that set me back £60 for a matinee ticket. I tried to go see Photograph 51 with Nicole Kidman, but ultimately decided I’d rather by a Eurostar ticket to Paris with the money it would have cost me. And yes, I know – you shouldn’t put a price on art, it would be worth every pound, and what have you – but I simply can’t afford to drop that kind of money all the time when I’m constantly saving to travel, and, you know, living in one of the most expensive cities in the world. But just because you can’t afford to see a show in London’s West End, doesn’t mean you can’t get involved in the theatre scene in London. There are plenty of venues, playhouses, and festivals that promote affordable theatre. My new favourite? The Albany in South East London.
London is a city that gets a bad reputation from time to time. It’s crowded. It’s expensive. It rains a lot. I get it – and sometimes I feel it so strongly, this weight of the city.
But most of the time, nearly all of the time? I love it. It’s a city that speaks to me, that excites me, that motivates me. In London I’ve found a fulfilling career, a lovely flat, and a great group of friends; in London I’ve found a home. Over the past few months, after going through a bit of a period of stress, I have made a conscious effort to enjoy every single day in London, and to fill my time here with as many museums, cafés, parks, shows, and outings with friends as possible. I’ve been very open about my love for London, writing a post about why it deserves all of that love and even why I felt strongly about settling here permanently.
And then something happened: my master’s program finished.