The City of London. There’s no place like it. There, the ancient, contemporary and futuristic collide in a celestial bang leaving rubble, chaos and noise. It is exhilarating and exhausting. You feel alive there. You can also feel dead there.
Nine months passed without me leaving Oxford. Nine months. The time you can conceive of and make a human being. It felt more like nine years. Could I really do it and not be blown away by the city wind? Could I go back to London, the place I had fled to escape demons that were really coming from within? I felt fragile and delicate like a moth emerging into daylight, still covered in laval sap. The morning of my return I awoke with the same butterflies that herald a trip abroad. I boarded the bus and smiled.
I touched down at Marble Arch and set off by my favourite mode of transport in the capital: foot. I felt like a tourist and looked the part, too, with my weather-proof jacket zipped up, head band and all strapped into my rucksack. I took the elegant, red-bricked back streets off Park Lane into Mayfair and ended up window gazing into the boutiques of Brook Street. I feasted off its creative and elegant honey and continued on into Soho – my heart’s home away from home.
I felt alive with possibility. Every doorway and alternative turning presented different endings and different people. And the food! A restaurant devoted to polenta; one specialising in German sausage; another serving only hummus; a bodega devoted to all things Tuscan. And then my most time honoured haunt: the Konditor and Cook inside the Soho Curzon Cinema. I stopped for a bite-sized cake – a Mount Hazelnut in case you’re wondering – and moved onto a place which might surpass the former as all time fave: the Nordic Bakery. Inside its blue-walled hush I reveled in the Finnish design and bit into a blueberry filled dark rye pastry and then a cinnamon bun. Adequately fuelled, I started the long walk to King’s Cross, via the river and Clerkenwell.
The view – one I must have witnessed thousands of times – that met me at Embankment made my mouth drop and chest leap. I had come to an intergalactic space station, with buildings huddled together, defying the laws of dimension. Was it an optical illusion? Lights of every colour; buildings bathed in red, purple, green; red space shuttles whizzing back and forth across bridges over a river that snakes its way through the jungle. This was where all the corners of the universe met. People of every tribe, tongue and talent with one thing in common: London.
I drank as much of it in as I could. Let the image stain itself onto me like onto a photographic plate. I am watching it now and want to go back there, want to take part.
I got to King’s Cross and felt weary – I’d just stepped off a roller coaster – forgetting how the city drains me. London can be like sitting next to a draft. There is so much flux, so much hurrying to get where you’re going without losing precious time. I had come down from my city trip so much that I actually stood and waited for a green man at a set of traffic lights, even though there was no traffic coming my way. I realised I had never done that before without irritable impatience. It felt good to be slow.
Where ever I walked there were people – every single one of them interesting to me. Each one had a story. I tried catching the eyes of these strangers, trying to connect, but their gaze bounced off me, eyes averted. I felt a bit sad and lonely. But the unceasing stimuli around me kept me fascinated. I am not one for museums. I think any town and city is a museum all by itself. There is so much more to be learned and enjoyed than a collection of objects knowingly chosen by a small group of people to be placed behind glass. The streets are the corridors. The buildings, people, signs, parks, shops, markets the exhibits.
The next day – spent entirely in Brixton (still one of my favourite corners) – passed like I was on holiday. And I was. Everything felt new even though it wasn’t. The booming reggae, the Jamaican produce, cheap clothing stalls, proper butchers, fishmongers and greengrocers and the ever more bourgeoise eateries. (Gentry – leave Brixton alone, please!). We got our nails did. We drank beer. We ate Asian pulled pork – pickled ginger in my coleslaw? More please! – and drank BYO wine at The Joint and were surrounded by other young, bright things (something I miss living in Oxford). We took the tube home drunk. I enjoyed all these things I used to do before, but this time with no bitterness. I could spend time alone in London, let myself buoy in the hub-bub, but without feeling lonely.
London is where you get a vantage point onto the whole world. It’s where clocks all around the world set their time from. It inspires you and fills you with possibility, even if it is too heavy to get up. It is where you go onto greater things from.
6 Things I Miss About London
1 – Walking:
Being able to meander and march – sometimes for a whole day – and never, ever get bored. Being able to walk at all hours of the day or night. Being able to walk without getting muddy.
2 – Food:
The variety, the uniqueness, the huge variation in quality. Something for every taste bud and budget. I miss being able to buy cheap, yet high quality, fruit and veg from greengrocer market stalls. I miss soaking up the vibes in cafes and restaurants.
3 – Dressing up:
Having occasions to dress up for – they don’t come around much in Oxford. Being able to wear a Burberry Mac without feeling ridiculous. Being able to wear dresses. Being able to wear shoes that aren’t cycle and weather-proof: pumps, heels, nice boots.
4 – Theatre & the Arts:
Mostly the National Theatre and all those smaller theatres like the Donmar Warehouse, Southwark Playhouse and Dalston’s Arcola Theatre that burst with excellent productions and performers. The creative output in general.
5 – The people:
They are just so much more interesting in London! More young people. More creative, dynamic and forward thinking people. More people in general (thought at times, too many people!).
6 – International mindset:
You are at the whole world’s doorstep. Literally (London Heathrow) and through its mixed population, blend of cultures, things to do and experience and through the fact that most corporations, societies, faiths etc across the world have a base somewhere in London.
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