The City (Square Mile) review
I thought I'd just hang around The City today, the so-called "Square Mile". That's the bit inside the old city walls where all the big banks and financial institutions live.
I would have made quite a good yuppie, I think. I was a bit too young in the 80s (still at school), but I would have been one of the top yuppies without a doubt. A Filofax in one hand and a big brick of a phone in the other. Slicked-back hair like Don Johnson in Miami Vice, and power-shoulder suits. Listening to Duran Duran on my Sony Walkman. (Okay... maybe I would have drawn the line at listening to Duran Duran.)
Back into the daylight now. One of the best benches in London is outside the Royal Exchange. They've got a little forecourt with flowerbeds and statues of old soldiers and the Duke (you will see him a lot on your travels around London). Have a sit down there for five minutes and watch the world go by. I think the workers have finally been summoned to their desks because it's 9 o'clock now. Oh no... wait a minute. I spoke too soon. It must be tea-break already because the streets are suddenly swarming with silk ties and Savile Row suits. How cool would it be if they all still wore the businessman's uniform of a bowler hat and briefcase, like they used to on the black-and-white news. That seems to have fallen out of favour now; although moustaches are making a comeback, I see.
As pretty as it is, there's not much to actually do at this junction. You can have a look around the Royal Exchange if you like -- and steam up the posh shop windows with your breath (trust me, you won't be able to afford anything) -- but Mansion House is only accessible through a tour. And the only way to enter the Bank of England is with a fat wallet or a gun, and I have neither. They've got a little museum about money if you're desperate for entertainment, but I don't recommend it. They don't give away free samples. So take a tip from me and go for a stroll down Lombard Street, to the left of St. Mary Woolnoth church. They usually have a little coffee caravan on the church steps if you fancy accompanying me on my coffee crawl.
There are lots of nice buildings around here, mixed up with a few modern monstrosities that went up after the war. Throgmorton Street is one of my favourites, which gives you a good idea of how Ye Olde London must have looked before it got demolished. You have to raise your eyes above your shoes to get the best of them though, as there are some very ornate carvings, columns and clocks up above. There is also a nice background wall of beeping cars, black taxis and double-decker buses -- a very underrated part of London life that you will be happy to see.
When you get to the end of Lombard Street you will be treated to three good buildings. To the right is Christopher Wren's Monument, built to commemorate the Great Fire of London in 1666. If you are a total nut-job then you might like to spend 30-minutes climbing the 311 steps to the top. I am normal though, so I admired it from the ground. To the left is the so-called "Cheese Grater" building. Apparently it looks like a cheese grater. I think it looks like a triangle. And straight ahead is the "Walkie Scorchie" skyscraper. This is one of my favourite buildings in the entire city, but only because it can set your hair on fire. A few weeks after it was opened it famously started melting all of the cars in the road below, because the curved glass focused all of the sun's rays onto the street.
Carry on walking in the same direction towards the Walkie Scorchie (down Fenchurch Street) and take a left into Lime Street. You have just walked across the site of the old Roman basilica, by the way, although there's nothing left above ground to tell you (apparently there are a few bricks in a barber shop's basement, but it's out of bounds to the public). Take a quick left down Lime Street Passage, and then enter the Victorian-esque Leadenhall Market -- a good place to stop for lunch if you're hungry.
After that little detour come back out the same way you went in, and continue up the rest of Lime Street. You will be treated to two more stand-out buildings -- the inside-out Lloyd's Building (you will understand when you see it) and the pickle-shaped Gherkin. Or the gherkin-shaped Gherkin, if you prefer. Personally, I think it looks more like an aubergine. You can't go inside any of these buildings unfortunately, but they are definitely worth a look.
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