Collected Journalism and Short Fiction
I recently moved from the near suburbs to the city centre and the change has been louder than I expected. I used to think the idea that the city never slept was a cliché. That if you went to Piccadilly Circus at 4am on a Monday morning then you would find something approaching emptiness.
After two months living in a top floor flat at the upper end of Wimpole Street in Marylebone, I can confirm that the city does indeed never sleep and for a while, until I got used to it, neither did I.
Perhaps the most surprising noises come from the sports cars and motorbikes that seemingly peep their noses out of subterranean garages at midnight and fly down the street at ferocious speeds, seemingly for no other reason that it is easier to get away with that kind of thing late at night.
Then there are the sirens from the ambulances making their way to University College Hospital or even to the mysterious London Clinic at the end of my road, England’s biggest private hospital, where hooded figures limp out of limousines and Range Rovers and into waiting wheelchairs.
There are helicopters, drunks, parties, delivery wagons, late-night road works and a reverberating dial tone from some unknown telephone that projects into the street and echoes down it when someone tries to make a call.
The bells of the St Marylebone Church, two streets away, toll the hour, as well as every half and quarter. They also toll to mark the start of the Sunday service.
There are 63 sets of bells in Westminster, including those in the Royal Courts of Justice, the eighteen bells at Fortnum and Mason and the Swiss glockenspiel in Leicester Square.
In fact, it is nearly impossible to live anywhere in Westminster without hearing bells, especially when Big Ben can be heard all the way to Pimlico.
Imagine living across from a large Swiss glockenspiel that bursts into song every fifteen minutes though. The one in Leicester Square is wirelessly controlled from Derby too, so going at it with a pair of wire cutters isn’t going to get you anywhere fast.
The strange thing is, that after a rocky start, I think all the Marylebone noise is helping me to sleep better. Once all the noises are settled in your mind, they become a kind of scored symphony, a familiar tune, that is able to lull you into sleep.
If a note is missing then the melody is broken and London certainly has many notes to play, with its ‘pulse like a cannon’ as Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote. London is certainly a city that never goes to sleep.