‘London is complete’. Finished. It was not that we didn’t expect her to say that. It just still felt surreal. We had read about it, known about it. But that final day, it just didn’t seem possible. London, that chameleon city, that was both old and new, depending on which direction you were facing, the past and the present always dancing in front of you. London was to step into old age. The drills fell silent, the scaffolding came down, the hoardings disappeared. The cranes cried out piteously against the skyline, against the idea of ceasing a reason for being. But it happened, all building in London simply stopped. There was no more ‘ongoing maintenance’. The people of London would have to learn to ‘make-do’.
What is a city that is not constantly rebuilding itself? Making itself over, living as if its organic and can add limbs and chop limbs as it chooses? No, not London, not anymore. London was to become the first to retire from the cycle of change, to sit in the armchair of geography and do the cross word until the end of its days.
At first the bricks looked as if they would hold firm, the trains all kept running. People left, people came. More people left than came. And then it got more difficult to come. The trains stopped short. You could see the great skinned giraffe cranes from it’s windows. Cranes that had once hurled building blocks to roof tops now strode free range across the sky. Silent, motionless, there namesakes nesting in them, an aviary in a long green garden streaking down to earth. Pinned against the same grey London background that was always there. Home to vines and moss.
You had to walk to get to the very centre. As you went further in the streets grew less crowded, fewer people, more of everything else. Birds, foxes, packs of dogs, bodies of cats, all living in its alleyways, beneath its rusted awnings, its rooftops. And still we stayed, eking out a living, tapping at keyboards, words out to a world who had taken only half a decade to forget we were here.
And then it came, that first moment. They had been right. All those scientists. They were telling us a fact. London was finished. The great gates that had held it all back for so long, gave way and the water came. Resplendent in its plastic murkiness, the water washed in and London was finished. It For awhile, for a tiny droplet in time, London was done, it had stood grand and proud and finished. The reality of its completeness, now a footnote next to its name in a list on a website. A list of all the cities lost. And us? We?
We got into our dinghy, put in all our belongings and floated away.