Just look at it. London sprawled below the plane: the River Thames, the tall buildings and across the river it spreads into the horizon. It is packed with people leading their daily lives. The nice thing for me to land at London City Airport is that it is the part of London I can call my London. The airport was last the to be built in London just over 30 years ago. It was built on the ground once occupied by the Royal Docks of London where cargo was unloaded and loaded onto ships. I remember this as I had two uncles that worked as dockers and so it was part of my life.
I now live in the country in a small Swiss village. I know almost everyone living here. It is not difficult, and if I visit the next small town just along the main road I might see a doctor I know, perhaps one of the local school teachers, even some of the local politicians and a local pop musician. I have been living here for the past 48 years.
I was born a Londoner, and grew up in London for the first 20 years of my life. I knew my neighbours, but had no idea who the local politicians were. I recognised a few market workers that had stalls in the local main road, did not known their names, everything else was too far away. I went to the local schools and we had many teachers, but I knew nothing about where they lived. London was too big and everything within reach of the local subway. Perhaps the history teacher lived on the edge of London, in the north. I lived central in the East part of London and would never see a teacher in my part of London. Everything was so anonymous. There was one teacher that happened to live locally, but I only found that out after I left school. All the people I worked with lived in towns outside of London, in the so called “green belt” surrounding London where the living was better and more pleasant than the dirt and car fumes of central London.
It was a town where you could live and not be recognised because you disappeared into the anonymity of the million population of the town. You only really knew the people that you saw in the local streets. My mum grew up in our old street. She knew everyone that lived there, because they also grew up in our street. They were mostly old school friends from the early days, perhaps the 1920’s and 30’s. They had married and had children and I went to school with the children, so we knew each other. The funny thing was that speaking to my mum about them, she did not recognise their names. She only knew the neighbours by their maiden names. They married invisible men, not growing up in our street, but coming from other places. When the women married they assumed the names of their husbands, but my mum still lived in the time when they were single with other names. My mum was known by her single unmarried name. That is a case of remaining invisible in a large town. Who were the other eight million inhabitants of London, who knows?