London Town

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.

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15 thoughts on “London Town

  1. jacktonsil says:

    Did I ever tell you about my Eric Clapton moment…

    Where I was working, The Red Lion Pub in Barnes, there’s a studio, and for a couple of months a silver Ferarri was parked opposite, up on the road I used to walk, trawling for Eric Clapton. It was his car, see; but, alas, I never got my ‘chance’ meeting… till later that year when I returned to London from Dublin with your same feeling of home inside me. There he was, as casual as anything, eating in Barnes’ local Indian shack… and I swear we had a moment! I looked at him: him at me… and there was something, man, recognition maybe. Me and Eric. I swear it was there. I swear…

  2. dolce says:

    I used to drink in the black one in Hammersmith. ‘fact I had one there last night, strangly enough.

    Eric lives in Barnes? So does Simon le Bon. My cousin lived opposite his house, but we never spotted him. I wouldn’t mind a moment with him. *sigh*

  3. jacktonsil says:

    … but he recorded an album there once at least. But, ja, lots of rich folks live there: London’s little village.

    Fuck, I’m getting all nostalgic. See, I would live in London – in a heart beat.

  4. dolce says:

    Then you could drink Scrumpy Jack all day….

    *giggle*

  5. jacktonsil says:

    um… job’s here… yoga’s here… same reasons I don’t move to Cape Town.

  6. jacktonsil says:

    um… job’s here… yoga’s here… same reasons I don’t move to Cape Town.

  7. marco says:

    far as I know clapton had a red Farrari, good singer and guitarist one of the best of our generation great music man.

  8. dolce says:

    in a heartbeat? Surely London has jobs and yoga?

  9. jacktonsil says:

    … maybe the heartbeat thing was a little dramatic. I’m prone to over-dramatic.

  10. dolce says:

    But the drama is rather fun, ain’t it? So, how long did you live in London?

  11. jacktonsil says:

    8 in London 5 in Dublin – did my year and I got out.

  12. andreas says:

    Flippin’ awesome blog. Seriously. The way you write…it just resonates, you know that?

  13. bluepeter says:

    … and makes me very jealous. Even though the short time I had in London was quite forgettable, I know I would love it if I lived there. *sigh*

  14. dolce says:

    I think you would love it. All these repressed types… 😉 Stiff upper lip and all. And I’ve never met so many people who long for their bording school days; spankings, nursery puddings, stern faced mummy figures….hilarious!

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