London’s Signs of the Times

Grateful Graduate Project: Reasons to Be Grateful 37-46

London’s relationship with time, as with any other place, is an interesting one to observe.

It sits simultaneously in history , the present, and in the future while regulating the pace at which  daily life unfolds in both big and more discrete ways. It is a city that holds an interesting relationship with time that I’ve been looking at while walking through the city.

I’m grateful for how time is embedded into the city and how it appears in so many different guises:

#37 I am grateful for the markers of moments, specific dates and times that are inscribed into the space of London.  Monuments are huge in London, as everyone will know. This is not always the case in all cities!  Yet here, the city has found a way of immortalising events, moments, specific times.

#38 traces of epochs and eras:  Beyond markers of moments, the city is full of echoes of bygone eras and entire epochs: London’s time as part of a Roman past,  as a hot spot during war, as a city aspiring to greatness in the 8Os, a city making its mark in the 21st century.

#39 clock time  I walk down Fleet Street each day and always have a sense of how well I am doing in terms of time – how early or late I will be for the next appointment or the other. London is marked by ‘clock time’. Indeed, one of the signatures of the city is the giant Big Ben – a clock.  I am grateful that the presence of these clocks everywhere not only help to get where I need to on time – but that they say something about the broader culture and context – and the importance of  “clock time” in giving the city its pace and character.

#40 Tourist Time  There is never a shortage of tourists around the Centre of London. They make themselves known by their mellow pace and rhythm in an otherwise harried city. On some days it is an irritating on.  Yet, on days  where the weather is amenable to taking a walk, I am grateful for the rhythm of ‘tourist time’ that always reminds me to slow down, and take a bit of the city in;

#41 Punctuations in Time:  This is not unique to London, and it sounds quite silly: but traffic lights, and the ‘Wait’ sign for pedestrians, the spaces between buses at the bus stop are all  important ways in which the pace of life is  and rhythm of the city is regulated. The simple presence of traffic lights and spaced public transport   give the city its interesting rhythm, they punctuate time: perhaps something like commas do to a piece of text.  I’ve been to cities where traffic lights mean little and there is little or no ‘punctuation’ in time – and I’m appreciative of the ways in which time is punctuated, albeit in small ways.

#42 The future:  There are many little signs that build the impression of a city that is  banking on being around in the future, and that is rearing toward it – whether it be something as simple as scaffolding on buildings that tell of renovation, new buildings, hopes for the future etc… Or interesting bits of graffiti that speak to youth culture and dreams of future ‘conquest’ announcements   of future  real estate developments, and so forth. I am grateful for these signs of intention to progress. They add to the dynamic vibe of London:

#43 Signs of the Seasons: In some cities that I’ve lived in, much of life becomes completely grey and cast in iron and concrete (which I do not mind).  Yet, one of the things that I’ve become grateful for about London is the interesting number of trees and bits of green – or otherwise – that provide some sign of the seasons (at the moment through either budding spring flowers or naked branches). I’m grateful for these littletraces of nature that offer some sign of the seasons (you certainly cannot rely on the weather to tell you what season it is! Yesterday alone we had a bit of snow, sunshine, balmy spring wind: now, what season would that indicate?)

#44 Eternal Spaces in London Church buildings may not necessarily define the landscape of London per se, but there is something about them that makes an interesting statement about time. They basically represent spaces where eternity (the absence of past and present) meets the present. The rules of the interior of churches is quite different to that of the clock time that is everywhere on Fleet street and elsewhere in the city. I am not sure if one would even find clocks within churches. Yes, they do have clocks on the outside often, and are governed by the rhythm of  worship life:  religious services , etc… Yet, there is something about church buildings, to me, that represent a challenging view about time. Each time I enter one, if it is a silent space, I’m challenged to look at life beyond the confines of the clock, to challenge concepts of past and present. I am grateful for several spaces within London where this is possible.

# 45 Tea Time  I’ve loved how my favourite restaurant/café becomes animated and terribly full around afternoon tea time. I’m grateful to get to observe this ritual in action here. It has been exported to so many different parts of the planet, but there is something about how serious some people take that moment of tea time that is telling about what people value here – you do not necessarily see a comparable cult in my beloved city of Paris!

#46  The Evening News for all  The end of the day is marked out by London”s evening paper. Something that you will not see on the Paris metro ( a free evening paper that is).  I’m thankful for how the day’s beginning and end are still marked by first of all, words, adnd above all, by ‘news’ ( a closer look into the paper suggests that it is not necessarily real news but one can be grateful to observe part of what defines London’s character).

Grateful graduate Project is a personal pledge to list 365 reasons to be grateful for the experiences  that come with being a graduate student  in Paris and London.