diamond geezer

 Friday, April 27, 2012

So there you go, my Random Borough project is complete.

From 33 names in a jamjar to 33 write-ups on the blog, all delivered in just over eight years flat.

What a bloody stupid thing to have done.

I mean, what idiot sets aside four Saturdays a year to visit God-Knows-Where, just for the sake of it? What idiot decides that the best way to visit London is borough-by-borough, putting far-flung Hillingdon on a par with Westminster? What idiot then forces himself to write thousands of words on the subject, to an imminent deadline, across a set range of fixed categories? And all this for no reward, save the satisfaction of a job complete. Surely I should have better things to do with my time?

And yet, what a brilliant thing to have done.

I've been forced to visit the whole of London, even the suburban fringes, in small well-defined chunks. I've got a mental picture of dozens of previously unvisited locations, from Hook to Hainault and from Crews Hill to Crayford. I've developed a much broader understanding of how the capital fits together, both at macro and at micro level. I've been forced to find ordinary places interesting, and been pleased to discover that they are. In short, I've developed an overview of London that I bet you haven't got.

I didn't realise what I was letting myself in for when I started out. I think I thought my trip to Merton might be a one-off, and gave it a fairly brief write-up as a result. But when I returned to my jamjar three months later and thought, hell, why not pick another, then I was hooked.

There were times when I wished I hadn't started - for example waking up at crack of dawn to pick my destination and discovering I was 'only' going to Hackney, or slogging through a third consecutive evening of detailed post-visit documentation. But I never had any doubts I'd visit the lot, because I am at heart a serial completist. Hell, I've been writing a diary for 35 years, without gaps, so forcing myself to visit 33 boroughs was nothing tough.

Having analysed every borough in town, I can categorically state without any shadow of a doubt that the most boring borough in London is Sutton. I'm sure most Londoners don't even know Sutton exists, let alone know where to place it on a map. I'd put Harrow in second place, definitely, but I'm not sure I could easily judge who's third. Neither could I pick a favourite borough, but I was unexpectedly impressed by Hounslow, which punches well above its weight in terms of local interest, and of course by Barking and Dagenham.

There have been several boroughs I realised I hardly knew at all until I picked them, like Bexley and Barnet and Redbridge, so it's been great to make their acquaintance. There are others I thought I knew, like Camden and Lewisham, where picking them forced me to uncover fresh delights. But randomness didn't always deliver. Richmond, for example, would have been marvellous in sunny July, but I picked January and the entire trip was disfigured by freezing wind and rain.

If one of my borough jaunts has inspired you to visit a part of London you'd not normally have considered, then job well done. There's so much more to the capital than the same old places in the centre of town, so it's refreshing sometimes to resist the pull of gravity and head further out. You wouldn't want to do it too often, but why not pick the occasional suburb on the outskirts and see what it has to offer? If nothing else it'll make you a better Londoner... it has me.

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