The Streets of London

Some months ago, after an amazing curry at Tayabs in Whitechapel with 30 friends, three of us travelled home on the tube. We were sharing a can of Strongbow Super Strength (7.4% abv.) and we felt a little like singing. Arriving on the platform, we heard in the distance a rowdy chorus of that by now traditional drinking song New York, New York. We were in London but sadly it was not incongruous. London has no anthem of it’s own. Or does it?

Compare and contrast:

Streets of London – Ralph McTell (1968)

Have you seen the old man
In the closed-down market
Kicking up the paper,
with his worn out shoes?
In his eyes you see no pride
And held loosely at his side
Yesterday’s paper telling yesterday’s news

So how can you tell me you’re lonely,
And say for you that the sun don’t shine?
Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London
I’ll show you something to make you change your mind.

Have you seen the old girl
Who walks the streets of London
Dirt in her hair and her clothes in rags?
She’s no time for talking,
She just keeps right on walking
Carrying her home in two carrier bags.


In the all night cafe
At a quarter past eleven,
Same old man is sitting there on his own
Looking at the world
Over the rim of his tea-cup,
Each tea last an hour
Then he wanders home alone.


And have you seen the old man
Outside the seaman’s mission
Memory fading with
The medal ribbons that he wears.
In our winter city,
The rain cries a little pity
For one more forgotten hero
And a world that doesn’t care


New York, New York – Ebb-Kander (1977)

Start spreading the news, Iím leaving today
I want to be a part of it -New York, New York
These vagabond shoes, are longing to stray
Right through the very heart of it -New York, New York

I wanna wake up in a city, that doesnít sleep
And find Iím king of the hill – top of the heap

These little town blues, are melting away
Iíll make a brand new start of it – in old New York
If I can make it there, Iíll make it anywhere
Itís up to you – New York, New York

New York, New York
I want to wake up in a city, that never sleeps
And find Iím a number one
top of the list, king of the hill
A number one

These little town blues, are melting away
Iím gonna make a brand new start of it – in old New York
And if I can make it there, Iím gonna make it anywhere

It up to you – New York, New York
New York

How different might seem Ebb & Kander’s bombastic show tune and Ralph McTell’s hit folk song and appropriate they to their respective cities. (Especially now, you might think.)

London, the impoverished old man of undeniable quiet dignity. New York, the brash arriviste out for everything it can get. London, a slightly pathetic figure that no-one makes much fuss over. New York, a small island that thinks it’s the centre of the universe.

Come to think of it London is Ralph McTell; New York is Frank Sinatra. But like Ralph and Frank, London and New York are both great and flawed in equal measure.

About caspar

Caspar is just one monkey among billions. Battering his keyboard without expectations even of peanuts, let alone of aping the Immortal Bard. By day he is an infantologist at Birkbeck Babylab, by night he runs
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