Charles Dickens said "I can't explain how much I need these (streets)". Peter Ackroyd describes Dickens walking:
"the three miles from Camden Town to the Strand, down Hampstead Road and Tottenham Court Road, crossing the High Street which leads into Broad St Giles's and then down St Martin's Lane. Then across the Strand into an area of squalid corners and alleys, and descending Hungerford Stairs to the river itself."
And this was at the age of twelve on his way, daily and alone, to his job at Warren's Blacking Factory. If he later needed the streets "so much" it was because of the intensity of his forced and early association with them; nothing to do with liking or loving the city. We city-obsessives, well we don't just sort of like or love the city. We "need these streets".
"With a ladder and some glasses
You could see to Hackney marshes
If it wasn't for the houses in between."
As the music hall song went.
But for me there were no houses in between.
1984 and, after a decade abroad, I am flat hunting in London. After unsuccessful forays in districts above my budget, I lurch south of the river. Purposefully out of the tube at Clapham North and into an estate agent. In ten minutes I am letting myself into a 1930s block of flats equidistant from Clapham Common and Brixton. Within five seconds I know I want it. A good flat? Nothing special. Simply that through its original Crittall windows and from each room I can see London in its entirety. Four floors atop the modest elevation of Acre Lane affords a view of, well, you name it. OK I can't see the Tower of London because there's something in the way; but that's about it: what I can see west to east is: Chelsea Harbour, Battersea Power Station, the Hilton Hotel, the Post Office Tower, the Houses of Parliament, the MI6 Building, The Shell Mex building, the Millennium Wheel, the Shell Building, the Barbican, St Paul's, the Old Bailey, the Monument, Tower Bridge, Canary Wharf; and across to the northern hills of Hampstead and Highgate.