I went to London last week for a celebration with friends. Our joint 160th birthday – quite something, we thought, as we munched on red lentil, pepper and olive burgers at Mildred’s in Soho and kept our eyes peeled for Olympic athletes on the razzle.
To get there, I meandered along Regent Street, sans kids, and found myself stopping not just to peer at leisure into shop windows, but to take photos – something I wouldn’t have dreamt of doing 15 years ago, when I used to charge along this famous street at a furious pace, my eyes fixed firmly on the pavement, to get to work. (“Look up”, I now always say to friends visiting London – I missed so much by hurrying.)
This time, looking up was never in any doubt. The street is bedecked with flags, row upon row of them draped the whole way along the road. Fluttering above the hustle and bustle of the throngs of shoppers.
I think anyone who has seen London on the TV over the past two weeks will agree: the city looked wonderful. It’s like they sacked the team that went round dabbing at monuments with a jade cloth and hired the world’s best stylists to preen the capital and fluff up the parks.
In place of the mildly pushy people you so often come across in London, we’ve seen thousands of volunteers on the streets, who worked so hard for the duration of the Olympics and won it the accolade of The Friendly Games. So marked was the shift in the usually reserved national mood that the impossible was achieved: Londoners even started talking to one another on the tube.
All so different from a year ago, when we watched teenagers forming queues to pillage clothes shops and DH and I sat in a pub and wondered if rioters might actually burst in.
Who would have guessed the weather would even co-operate: after the wettest period since Noah’s Ark, the sun shone – and London is now, rightly so, basking in the golden glow of its two-week success story.