It’s Guy Fawkes night – 5 November 2012 — and I have been in London for 50 years. I first came to London in 1962 to take up a new job and a new life as an articled clerk, and I stayed with my friend David at the Belsize Square Residential Club, a somewhat seedy abode whose one redeeming feature was that it was also occupied by numerous foreign girls longing to be taken out by young Englishman in order to ‘improve their English’. On that first night, we walked over to Hampstead Heath, climbed Parliament Hill, and watched from the top the majesty of London.
Tonight, Parliament Hill was still packed with a happy crowd. There were only a few fireworks — it was slightly too late for that — but the main event was a small group who were setting up a hot air balloon, a contraption about a metre square with a fire inside which gave it a dramatic pink hue. Eventually they succeeded in launching it, and it rose into the air somewhat wavering at first, but then the hot air took control and it rose steadily in the air, and wafted by a northerly breeze set off for central London. I followed it as long as I could, watching it go up and up and getting fainter and fainter, until finally I could see it no more. Whether it ever reached central London, I shall never know. But it was a fascinating spectacle.
It was a fine night, cold but clear, with a wonderful view of London spread out before us, now with the addition of the Shard rising behind St Paul’s: I can see it from our windows at home, and it never fails to stir me. I looked up into the sky to and saw the stars. I looked out for my favourite star, Eta Cassiopeia, which is the old school star. At school, my passion for archaeology took me to the Natural History Society of which I became the head boy, and I took over the responsibility for helping out some of the other sections, including the astronomy section, where every year we observed Eta Cassiopeia with our 8-inch telescope, a double star revolving around each other by the force of gravity. They had gone round nearly 3/4 of the way round when I was there, the result of 70 years of observations, so by now they should have complete completed their circuit. I wonder whether the school still observes them?
Eventually I returned home, uplifted by the glorious sight. It has been a wonderful 50 years. Thank you, London, for all you have given me, and thank you Hampstead for the wonderful views from the Heath. I have been fortunate to live here for so long, now even closer to the Heath than when I first arrived. But after 50 years, can I now consider myself to be a Londoner?