It happens frequently. You are walking along a street in India and a man comes up to you and demands, “What country?” The first time this happened, I was so taken aback that I said, in my best colonial English, “I’m sorry?”. What country you from?” the stranger enlarged. Recovering, I replied “England”. The man smiled politely, nodded and went on his way looking slightly disappointed. I suspected my cultural trainspotter was hoping that I originated from a country that he has not ticked off on his list.
On several other occasions when I have been the subject of this very Indian enquiry, I have alway given “England” as my place of origin but lately I have taken to replying “London”. When I think about it, I feel much more a Londoner than an Englander. I live and breath London but know very little of the rest of the country, I can’t, even if I wanted to, put my hand up for the Brummies, the Scousers or the Geordies, let alone the Welsh and, heaven forbid, the Scots.
There’s an evolving consensus (amongst Londoners at least) that London is rapidly becoming an independent nation, adrift from the rest of the UK, not perforce of a referendum such as the Scots are soon to have, but simply by social accretion. The sheer amount of stuff that happens in London, be it financial, cultural, sporting or entertainment-based overshadows every other place in the UK. Whatever this huge parcel of London-ness is, it’s difficult to put your finger on it, it is something that the rest of the world wants to have a piece of.
One has to look no further than London’s own newspaper, The Evening Standard, which recently reported –
The number of foreign tourists visiting London surged by 20 per cent last summer to a new record – making it the world’s most popular destination.
Prince George of Cambridge’s birth, Andy Murray’s historic Wimbledon triumph and a long hot spell of weather helped to attract almost 4.9 million visitors to the capital between July and September, official figures revealed today.
That was up almost 19.5 per cent on the Olympic summer of 2012 and smashed the previous high of 4.7 million set in 2006.
Mayor Boris Johnson said: “These incredible figures prove that London is without doubt the greatest city on the planet. With so many fascinating museums, the best theatre scene in the world, more green space than any other European city, numerous top sporting venues, a low crime rate and much else besides, it’s no wonder that people from all over the globe are flocking to London in record numbers.”
Well, if Boris says it’s the greatest city on the planet, it must be true. I for one, am very happy to be counted as a card-carrying member of the Independent State of London and I will continue to respond accordingly to any international enquiry.