London from the air

There’s one good thing about Heathrow occupying its disputed position to the west of London: arriving planes approach it from the east. This meant that my homecoming on Saturday, after giving lectures in the USA, began with a panoramic overview of the capital, showing all the familiar landmarks of my home city from above.

I’d been idly wondering where the fields below me could have been and noticing the paucity of woods, when-lo!-the Thames estuary came mistily into sight. (So this wasn’t, as I’d wondered, Berkshire.) There were the Dartford Crossing, the Thames Barrier, Greenwich Palace… From this altitude, the towers of Mammon at Canary Wharf were shrunk to the size of sugar cubes. The great Shard itself was nothing but a thorn.

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The Thames looped lazily past the London Eye and the Houses of Parliament. How grey it all seemed, on an overcast morning, after the takeoff from Miami, spread beneath us with all the nocturnal brilliance of a pinball machine. A pinprick of neon lights, blinking furiously, was Piccadilly Circus, the only dot of colour in an otherwise monochrome expanse. I saw Pimlico, my street, my house-and so many trees. The squares look bigger from the air, the parks more numerous. How many other world cities could officially be classed as forest?

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