So. Back in London. Londres. Good ‘ole London Town. Home of acres of white spotty flesh, bad teeth, black snot, builders’ tea, McVities chocolate digestives, pints ‘o lager, fish ‘n chips, Aussies, ‘innit’, whinging, smelly tubes, rude boys, pink cheeks, kebabs, black cabs, geezers and it girls. And men in vests, who shouldn’t be.
It’s been three years since I lived here. Three years. Since then, I’ve bought a house, found a job I actually like doing, grown up a little. Curled up comfortably into my Cape Town life. And yet being back here feels completely and utterly normal. Like I’ve been at home for a holiday and now I’m back in London for another round of Machiavellian money making.
Comes from years of travelling, I suppose; this feeling that nowhere feels forever.
But I’ve been really surprised by how this trip feels less like an exciting revisit and more like a return. How the rituals of a past life have melted effortlessly back into place: the walk to the tube, reading my book propped against the glass partition, half conscious glances at station names until a familiar one slides into view. Pouring over the AtoZ. Wandering into interesting pubs and drinking pints in the late light. The shops, the Off Licence, the High Street, the shifting Thames. I’ve even slipped into the verbal tics and habits I thought I’d left behind. It’s all so entirely familiar. It’s eerie. Because I absolutely don’t want to live here.
I love my life in Cape Town; the mountain, the sea and the funny little niche lives people play out, dotted between the irresistible landscape. But this English place feels more real somehow. And I can’t put my finger on it. And it’s been disconcerting because I feel out of time, out of synch again. Like Cape Town’s a half remembered place, a happy interlude; not somewhere I have carved out a life.
And when I stood on the Kingston Bridge yesterday, watching the swans squabble over sandwich crusts and biscuit crumbs, watching houseboats sway on the tide and swallows duck and dive through the full summer trees, I felt rooted here. In a strange way, in a way I never anticipated, London has seeped into me.
It’s where I began to grow into adulthood. I found my first real job here. I nursed my first broken heart on her rooftops. I planned adventures here. Cried in theatres here. I battled loneliness in this most indifferent town. I tasted the first bittersweet moments of knowing that the life you planned will never be the life you live. And felt a large part of the steaming, heaving world.
But the strange thing is that while I live out this odd alternate life; rush into Waterloo to meet friends and walk past St. Martins towards Leicester Square and see the pulsing neon of this strange, compelling city; I feel like I’m saying goodbye. Goodbye to an unvoiced part of me I didn’t know was there. A part that knew that London would always be my refuge if I didn’t have the courage for home. Like the house of my childhood. Safe. Comforting. Familiar. But definitely, most definitely, part of my past.