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Posted: April 26, 2014

Money isn’t everything and there’s always London

Gerry WarnerPerceptions by Gerry Warner

When a man (or a woman for that matter) is tired of London, he is tired of life.” So said the great English lexicographer Dr. Samuel Johnson to his biographer James Boswell in 1755 and all I can say after returning from London a few days ago is aye, aye.

I’ve travelled a bit and I’ve seen my share of great cities, but none greater than London.

Whether it’s the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral rising majestically above the muddy Thames, strolling down the Strand towards Big Ben, craning your neck upward at Nelson’s Monument looming over Trafalgar Square, listening to the world’s miseries being debated at Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park, watching the sun dancing like diamonds on the waters of the Lady Di Monument in that same wonderful park, staring at the ancient Rosetta Stone in the British Museum or eating a breakfast of “bangers and beans” in a cozy London restaurant more than 500 years old, it eventually clicks in your tired brain that you’ve been privileged to visit one of the greatest cities in the world. Hell, let me correct that, the Greatest City in the World!

ColWarnerStPBut it’s a costly privilege.

At one point in our tour, the good wife and I dropped into Harrods department store on Brompton Road in the Knightsbridge district in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. We ascended the Egyptian escalator to the fourth floor and checked out some of the merchandise but quickly found out that Harrods isn’t so gauche as to do price tags. But after the good wife was informed that the Gucci handbags “started” at £500 (almost double Canadian) and quickly spiraled to more than £2,000 and I fingered a “hunting shirt” at £300 we quickly decided to shop elsewhere.

A few blocks down from Harrods, we came across a group of men with their digital cameras eagerly photographing a silver-grey, sports car parked casually on the street. Feeling my boys and their toys genes kick in, I asked one of the men, a Brazilian businessman, what was so special about this car. It’s a Mercedes McLaren he whispered in hushed tones. I gave him a blank stare and then he sputtered, “about $450,000 U.S.” ($500,000 Canadian) and I finally got the point. Then the good wife pointed to a sign on the building above the vehicle. It read the Kuwaiti Embassy. Surprise, surprise.

O.K., O.K., you say. What about normal expenses? Well, it’s hard to get a latte under £2 (over $3.50 Canadian), a full English breakfast does you £6 to £12, which isn’t that bad, but when you add hotel prices (don’t even ask), transportation costs on the Tube (efficient, but oh so pricy) and entertainment costs for a play in the West End, you’re far beyond this cowboy’s means and we were staying with a friend. However, some day, when I have the financial means, I’ll return because London is the centre of the world as far as I’m concerned. It’s a city that’s always changing and its charms are totally seductive.

What seduced me this time? Unlike my wife it wasn’t the daily dose of oh so cute pictures of little Prince Georgie Porgie on the front page of every British tabloid as the darling heir to the throne steals a toy from another child while his doting parents visit a day care in one of the poorer London Boroughs. No, for me, I think it’s the glorious history of London itself, which is right in your face almost every step you take in the Great City. Whether it’s the monuments memorializing the British war dead, the Tower of London that saw Britain evolve from an absolute monarchy to a democracy or a simple plaque on the side of a restaurant in Piccadilly saying ‘Ho Chi Minh once worked there,’ London is a rich, quirky, multifaceted tapestry constantly unrolling before you and dazzling your tired eyes all the way.

London expensive? Yes, but I’d return there in a heartbeat.

Gerry Warner is a retired journalist and Cranbrook City Councillor. His opinions are his own, but someday when he can afford it, he will go back to London.

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