It’s been interesting to return to London 40 years after I first arrived there. At that time I suffered a major cultural shock: people all around me had a confidence I didn’t know; the place was full of the sexual revolution of the sixties, with blatant advertising of what was essentially porn at every turn; advertising itself was a constant in your face; the huge number of people was overwhelming, and the pace of everything was extreme.
Coming back I don’t find things anywhere near as different. The whole Western world is much more on a par, in particular on a technological level, so that England isn’t really further ahead of NZ anymore. Advertising is similar around the world, the tv is the same everywhere, even down to the same faces (tv was in its infancy in NZ when I first came to the UK), and the sexual revolution has left the whole world in much the same mess. As for all the people, well, the sheer number of people is still something I doubt I’ll ever get used to, but it’s different from the first time I experienced it. I was expecting it, for one thing, but I’ve also been in some other places where endless people is the norm.
What’s different about London? More bridges, especially new foot-bridges over the Thames; a cleaner atmosphere (I came at the end of the pollution era); far more people of different nationalities; taxis with advertising all over them, more boats of all sorts on the river, and a number of changes to the skyline. But in essence, London doesn’t seem to have changed much: the tubes still run constantly and for the most part efficiently. Piccadilly Circus station is still the same round building I knew and waited in – often for hours while people came late for appointments. (I sometimes used to go round and round the place wondering if I’d missed someone.) The buses are as ubiquitous as before. And the people are the same mix of really friendly, and strangely distant. It’s nice to be back here, but I’m glad to be able to have far more contact with those back home than I did on the previous visit.