How are you, then, London?halt, who comes there?
Mind the Gap
...splash of double-decker red...
...horse hooves on cobbles...
these are the terms and conditions of carriage:
river at low tide...
sixty-one nails, my lord
whack it, boys, whack it!
stone brick wood mud
full of people. raining.
London is patterned by its inhabitants, by its streets, by the tide, by the Thames. It is constantly aware of the life within it, but very rarely as anything more. Life is London, London is life: this it understands.
Humans have their own flow - rush hour, lunch hour, the constant cycle of the Underground - and London knows their times the way it knows its Lore, with a familiarity that never becomes contempt. It knows them all, every one of the millions of humans to make a home/job/life within it, but it regards them in much the same way it does the pigeons, the rats, the foxes: they are London.
10 Downing Street will always know its occupants by name and habit, but London will call them Prime Minister until it decides otherwise. Buckingham Palace knows how to track blood to the second cousin twice removed, will call its inhabitants by childhood nicknames long put aside, but London will only ever care for the Name the crown meets in Westminster Abbey.
There are exceptions, of course.
Richard Whytyngdone was always Dick Whittington to London, wherever he happened to reside. It sent him cats constantly, always good ratters and mousers. He grew to like them eventually.
History and legend to London are often the same thing; a sharp knife (Good Service!) might be able to find the divide, but not London.
(London has no human sense of time. It can rarely be bothered with the Mayor of London, but for its Lord Mayor and his pageantry it will pause. It calls them all Dick Whittington, ignores Mansion House's gentle reminders: this is not Richard, Richard was three hundred and sixteen years dead before I was built. Richard is five hundred and eighty-seven years ashes and dust.
my Lord Mayor, London says fiercepetulantsad, and sends a cat to Downing Street.)
When Jack went hunting, London shrouded him in fog and mist, stretched shadows out further than light could reach to give him somewhere to shelter, hands wet with blood. It muffled his tread on the cobbles, flung his voice and disoriented his hunters.
186 Fleet Street still remembers Sweeney Todd's tread on its floors, and whispers of snapping necks and open arteries to 7 Bell Yard, which responds with the scent of meat pies. London ties them with blood and history; they remind London constantly that they are tied. Are they inseparable because they choose to be or because London thinks they should be?
(Never mind that there was no human called Sweeney Todd until London decided there was.)
London doesn't need Montague Street to tell it where Sherlock Holmes is lodged, or Southhampton Place's worried murmurs that John Watson is staring at an blank screen. 221B Baker Street aches, like the sight of a cradle never to be used, and London knows - like it knows its rivers, its streets, its Names - where Sherlock Holmes and John Watson should be.
And yet, it is still like nothing it has felt in centuries:
It is like six ravens in the Tower, like pass, (Queen Elizabeth's) Keys and all's well, like Gog and Magog standing outside Guildhall.
It is like a Naming, like a taking, like City of London meets City of Westminster to the west, meets the Tower hamlets in the east, stretches north and consumes Shoreditch and Finsbury, crosses the river and claims Southwark.
It is like a sudden jump in the constant flow of the Underground and the tides of the Thames, it is an extra beat in the ceaseless, ever-steady rhythm of London.
That is what it is like for London, when Sherlock Holmes and John Watson meet in 221B Baker Street and agree that it is their place.
221B Baker Street, Marylebone, City of Westminster
[Custodi Civitatem Domine]
When Sherlock Holmes and John Watson are five minutes gone on the first of what will be many adventures, London speaks to 221B Baker Street.
you will love them, London says.
yes, 221B Baker Street says, giddyeagerdelighted, barely restrained. London gets the sense that it wants say of course but doesn't quite dare. The idea amuses it, distantly. Parts of it are amused, anyway. yes.
you will protect them. no harm comes to Sherlock Holmes and John Watson within you. attacks from outside do not touch them - bullet, fire, bomb, nothing if you can help it.
you will be a home, London says. not a flat/workplace/temporary accommodation. understand? It awaits the answer with something like worry: so few residences would understand.
mine, 221B Baker Street says slowly at last. mine to shelter and keep - for the sake of London.
London pretends it didn't hear how hastily tacked on the end of that sentence was. yes, it says.
I will make them happy. 221B Baker Street says with sudden determination, with something like wisdom (how very young the street is, how new the building, number and Name). It is not what London asked for, of course, but perhaps it is what it meant all the same.
if they are happy to be yours, they are yours to keep, London says, like it doesn't know the shape of legends.
So very new, this piece of London, it says, they are like the Lord Mayor's cat and the Ripper and the Tyburn Tree and the Tower. and they are mine, are me, I am part of the Lore?
you are London, London says, all the explanation it ever needs.*
every green badge hackney carriage
(London takes many shapes.
There is the Bag Lady, who is all bag ladies, part of London since the first old woman told the dark why she was crying. There is the Beggar King, who is not all beggars, but is with them at the end, whether they leave him by dying in the gutter or finding a home.
And then there is the Black Cab.)
London is very fond of its cabbies. Their livelihoods are made through knowing London, loving London, letting it into their heads.
They must be able to decide quickest and most sensible route instantly in response to a customer's request, taking all traffic conditions into account. They must know every landmark and place of interest within a six mile radius of Charing Cross - streets, squares, historic buildings, clubs, restaurants, hospitals, hotels, theatres, embassies, parks, railway stations, police stations, government, public and diplomatic buildings, courts, cemeteries, sports and leisure centres, schools and colleges - the order in which any of these appear, the names and order of the side streets, as well as the junctions, roundabouts, crossings and traffic signals along any route.
It will take at least twelve tries and three to four years before the Knowledge is theirs but once it is -
Taxi drivers are as close to London as humans can get, as close to humans as London can get, curled in their heads, constantly whispering its changing topography.
If you want to get anywhere in London, you want a black cab, and there is always one ready for Sherlock Holmes and John Watson.
John Watson thinks the reason the fare is always waved away is because of Shadow-King-Oracle-Mycroft Holmes but he doesn't need to do anything, not with London whispering mine, me, ours among its usual sprawling histories, interconnecting street names and random bits of lore.
(Ask a cabbie about popular Shaftesbury Avenue and he could tell you: built in the late 19th century (1877-86) to provide a traffic artery between St Giles and Soho, named for Anthony Ashley Cooper, the seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, runs north-east from Piccadilly Circus to New Oxford Street and crosses Charing Cross Road at Cambridge Circus.
The statue of Eros in Piccadilly Circus was originally called the Shaftesbury Monument, and is not in fact Eros at all, but the Angel of Christian Charity. It's said that if you propose by the statue at midnight, your marriage will be happy forever.
Of the original seven theatres built along Shaftesbury Avenue, the surviving six appear in this order: Lyric, Apollo, Gielgud, Queen's, Palace, Shaftesbury (originally The Princes Theatre, not to be confused with the earlier, demolished Shaftesbury).
In the evening, street artists gather outside the Natwest bank at the Piccadilly end to paint portraits of the tourists.
There are nine pubs and/or bars directly on the avenue, the nearest Tube stations are Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square...
London also says that it has never found anything it couldn't say in quotations and each theatre has its own voice, but they tend not to mention that.)
Like will always know like - you know every street in London, you know exactly where we are - and cabbies know how to read London, they know what it is saying.
("Sherlock Holmes. I was warned about you."
Well, frankly, he was a bloody awful cabbie.)
Leake Street, South Bank, Waterloo, Lambeth
Leake Street has become a multi-layered murmur of voices, paint and ideas. It greets London with a fat cheerful ♥ followed quickly by a slightly more respectful ΑΩ.
London ignores it to touch the edges of the nearest graffiti artists' minds (press too hard with even the slightest bit of its attention upon the unprepared, anything more than a breath, and Bedlam remembers itself in mortal flesh) with an image of what it wants.
??? Leake Street says, puzzled, as they begin.
It takes hours, Leake Street occasionally pleading with London to loosen its hold on its artists a little - hungry, Raz is hungry, let him eat - water, let them have water, London, London!
hush, London says, slackens its grip when mistakes start to be made, sends away the tired with aching heads and confused memories, entices new artists with the smell of fresh paint and the adrenaline of a chase - why am i here, what am i doing, every one of them wonders for a split-second, the moment before they pick up a can and join the rest.
don't like this, Leake Street says resentfully, as an N fills with coats of arms (Domine Dirige Nos... Unitas Efficit Ministerium...), as one O is filled with landmarks and the underline begun with the L joins the other O and begins to take on the curve and colour of the Thames. mine, London. you're hurting them!
you are me, London says. what's yours is mine
and what's yours is still yours, Leake Street says darkly, words stinking of stale urine.
exactly, London says. Sometimes it thinks it was a bad idea to give Leake Street over to the urban artists; they've taught it insolence.
they won't even see it, Leake Street complains. London tastes crumbling brick and can't tell if the disappointment at the idea comes from it or Leake Street.
connectivity, continuity, London says. it will spread, it will be known to all of you/us/me.
Leake Street grumbles, but London knows it is pleased for the attention the art brings, that people will stop and stare and try to work it out.
Various permutations of the basic idea begin to appear everywhere, painted on bridges, walls, trains...
The hastily covered snicker of John Watson and the wry twitch of Sherlock Holmes' mouth when they see Sally Donovan ordering a new officer to paint over the keep calm and call the deducing duo on the wall of New Scotland Yard is enough for London.
But it hopes that one day they will have cause to see the idea that has its own wall on Leake Street.
Holmes & Watson
Sherlock Holmes sulks, and London frets uneasily, without a discernable cause, the way it has only a few times in its history.
stars, 221B says brightly. stars make John Watson smile.
stars, New Scotland Yard agrees distractedly. my officers laugh over Sherlock Holmes and stars.
context, London demands. understanding. It has a greater chance of getting such a thing from New Scotland Yard of all buildings - from the very beginning of its creation the humans within it have always focussed on things requiring the understanding of context, connections - humanity.
busy, New Scotland Yard says flatly. someone intends harm, London.
someone always intends harm, London says impatiently, bothered by a not-sense of waiting, memory of Pudding Lane and clear night and blackened morning.
to you, London. I cannot neglect my duty to you, even for you.
stars, the Thames says when Sherlock Holmes studies a corpse on its banks.
stars? London says, trying to find where in itself Alex Woodbridge called home.
his last thoughts were of stars, I took the memory of them as it was offered to me. Then, because it can rarely resist the urge to needle London, stars as they used to be above us, do you remember, londinium? before you poisoned me.
love, London says uneasily. love you.
(That is not how London says it, of course. It says mother fox guarding cubs, pigeon pair courting anew each year, man whispering 'sometimes i love you so much i think it will break me', woman smiling when she sees her dearest friend.)
human-love, says the river, pitiless, implacable. city-love, says the river, dismissive.
love you, London repeats. inseparability, you/me. circle has no beginning.
if they come to me, I will take them from you, lundenwic. because you love them, because I can.
(This is how London hears it: childless mother, mated swan alone on the bank, widow washing clothes never to be worn again. It is hurt/pleased that their history is enough that the Thames would warn it.)
stars, London says at last, and thank you, and turns away.
Stars make John Watson smile. They make the inhabitants of New Scotland Yard grin while at their tireless work. Sherlock Holmes thinks of stars (thinks 'connection/context') as he thinks of Alex Woodbridge, as he goes about his hunting.
If Sherlock Holmes wants stars, London will give him stars. Throughout London, Wandsworth to Southwark, Westminster to Tower Hamlets, lights go out. Above, stars London has not seen in a hundred years or so are revealed.
"Beautiful, isn't it?"
"Thought you didn't care about-"
"Doesn't mean I can't appreciate it."
40 Northampton Street, Clerkenwell, Finsbury, Islington
The London Metropolitan Archives contains some forty-five miles of archives, modern records, plans, audio-visual and printed material in its strong-rooms, dating from 1067. It covers architecture, cartography, medicine, education, transport, migration, science and technology, law and order, religion, customs, campaigning activities...
listen, London says.
Λονδινιο, the Archives greets in its cool, dry voice, giving only a fraction of its attention. Londino, Londinium, etc. Origin undetermined. Possible etymology: non-mythic: Pre-Celtic, (P)lowonida, Indo-European roots plew-, 'flow', 'swim' or 'boat', and nejd-, 'flow'. Suggestion: 'boat river' or 'swimming river', applicable to the Thames (see Tamesis) when too wide to ford; settlement acquires suffix -on-jon. Lowonidonjon and either Lōondonjon or Lōnidonjon becomes Lūndonjon and hence Lūndein or Lūndyn. Status undetermined. Cross-reference:
enough. listen, London says.
Listening. ("please state the nature of your enquiry") ("how may we be of service?")
Sherlock Holmes and John Watson of 221B Baker Street, Marylebone, Westminster, NW1/W1, London says.
221 Baker Street: Reference: GLC/AR/BR/06/056623 (parent: GLC/AR/BR/06) Dates of Creation: 1921-1968; files available for general access--
yes/no, London says.
The reply is almost insulted: ("please specify") [13th century. Directly or via French spécifier - late Latin specificare - specificus (see specific)].
London considers how to put it into terms the building will understand. information, it says at last. reference and archive.
form? [n.(3) OED: type or variety] ("please specify")
all, London says. everything, London says.
Please refine (expectations) terms.
seek, obtain, protect and preserve all information pertaining to Sherlock Holmes and John Watson of 221 Baker Street, London says patiently.
Understood, remarks the Archives. Immortalise. /ɪˈmɔː.təl.aɪz/ 3rd person present singular of immortal ['deathless', late 14c., from Latin immortalis from in- 'not' (see in-(1)) + mortalis 'mortal' (see mortal (adj.)). In reference to fame, literature, etc., attested from 1510s].
yes, London says. immortalise.
King Street, Cheapside, City of London
[Domine Dirige Nos]
"Okay," John says at last. "I give up. What are we doing here?"
"This is the exact centre of London," Sherlock says. He considers the statement for a moment. "Give or take a few steps in any direction."
"...Okay," John says slowly. "I'll take your word for it. ...What's that got to do with anything?"
Sherlock, typically, ignores him. "If you were to try and balance the City of London upon the head of a pin, here is where it would balance. Just the City, mind, not London."
"That's very interesting," John says mildly. "But does it explain why I'm standing here at six in the morning on my day off?"
"The centre is equidistant between Ludgate Hill and Cornhill – both traditional divisions of the City and ancient mounds of some significance," Sherlock continues, hands in pockets as he starts to lead them south to Cheapside.
"Spooky," John says, before adding plaintively, "Can I at least get a cup of tea before the history lesson?"
"Traditionally speaking, the heart of London is considered to be the London Stone on Cannon Street – we'll visit later, spend the appropriate amount of time on each potential route, don't worry – and for the purposes of measuring distances to and from London, it's Charing Cross –"
"That's a no, then," John sighs.
Sherlock scowls. "Pay attention, John. This information could be useful one day."
"Some of us expect the taxi drivers to learn the Knowledge so we don't have to," John says, but he settles into a more attentive stance as he walks. "Going to teach me how to automatically track the likely route of a fleeing cabbie, then?"
"That's one potential use of this information, yes," Sherlock sniffs.
"What else is there?" John asks.
"If you're ever kidnapped--"
"Again," John says irritably.
"Again," Sherlock agrees, and continues: "You will hopefully be able to determine where you are regardless of attempts to deceive you. Not to mention the effect on the brain: London taxi drivers have larger hippocampi."
"It's fun," Sherlock says, leans down and snatches a discarded Metro from the pavement. "Ask and London will provide," he says. "Didn't you say something last night about 'if I wanted to listen to a violin wailing I'd go watch the professionals, where at least I might recognise a tune?'"
"To be fair," John says, ignoring the page thrust under his nose, "I'm not likely to be able to name anything the London Symphony Orchestra is playing either."
"It's a very good thing we will be visiting many theatres and music halls in the process of your education."
"Oh, wonderful," John says, but his mouth quirks upwards all the same. Sherlock's face is alight with the kind of fervour that usually requires a serial killer to prompt and he's never seen his friend's genius express itself in a manner quite so benign before. He goes with the flow (of Sherlock, of London).
("You love this place," he marvels when they arrive (home) back at 221B, footsore, tired and smiling. "This city."
"Of course I do," Sherlock says, looking bemused. "That's why I'm teaching you. What I'm teaching you."
"To love London with my feet?" John teases.
Sherlock's expression loses its animation, becomes still and cold. "If you'd prefer not–"
"No," John says quickly. "I mean yes. I mean, I'll walk every square mile of London with you, if you want. Wouldn't want to lose an advantage when in a kidnapping, after all."
"You'll regret saying that," Sherlock promises, grinning.
"I won't," John says, and he means it.)