This London is mine. This London is where I was born, where I grazed my first knee, chased my first girl, whittled my first branch and later, lost my first job. It is where I have cried and where I have laughed and laughed. It’s not just a home, a city or a lifestyle. It is a relationship. Sometimes I hate it; sometimes it lets me down and breaks my heart. I am frustrated daily and infuriated as often but I never go to bed on an argument, we always kiss and we always make up. Sometimes we have a trial separation, I shack up somewhere else and I flirt and maybe I’ll fool around. But it doesn’t mean anything, London. Just some harmless fun and we both know I’ll be Home soon.
A few months ago I saw something horrible. A girl of about my age, climbed up onto the wall of Putney Bridge and she jumped off. Through the mist and the rain into the swirling dark water below. How do you get there? How do you get to that place, that juncture in your tragic life? What pain must she have felt? What despair? How did her London differ so monstrously from mine?
Because my London is vital, alive and in the main optimistic. Hers was dead and empty, a dry husk that offered no protection, no joy and no comfort. Her London killed her.
I am like the Christians who say that earthquakes, cancer and tsunami are all part of God’s plan. You have to take the rough with the smooth in London- the joy and exhilaration with the sheer terror and despair. One begets the other. Without both, London falls, is nothing. So I don’t blame my London for killing that girl, I can’t because if I lose my London faith, I become that dry empty husk. Where you might have God in your heart, I have my city- it is my inheritance, my playground and my life.
You know all the places. Borough Market, Waterloo Bridge at balmy dusk, Richmond Park on a cold, crisp Sunday morning- Soho with its inherent wondrous weirdness. We all know by now about the food scene, so improved, so vibrant and exciting. We have known for centuries about the art, the opera, the theatre and the ballet, but these are not the things that make my London mine. You can read a million blogs about London, about what to do, where to eat and what to see and of course you should. But for me it is something else, something intangible that I can only try to explain with my mere words.
It is a shiver. A tremor of joy that happens infrequently, but is born of security and experience, of knowing that you belong somewhere. And it’s not about St Paul’s or Big Ben, it can hit you on a tube platform or piss-stinking underpass. It is when you catch a glimpse of a cab light at 2 am or proffer directions to a Japanese student. It is enjoying the clichés- embracing the braying sloanes and the be-hijabbed Muslim women, banker wankers and the barrow boy geezers. It’s the kebab shops and the markets, the graffiti, the buskers on the tubes, the evening light and the driving rain. I love the grumpiness and I love the warmth. I love the windows and the lives behind them- a grimy bed sit or a Boltons town house. The stories are what I love. How did they get there? What twists and turns of fate in some far flung country led to that guy, living right there at this moment. Who does he call? Where does he go? And why in the good glory name of fuck did that girl jump off that bridge.
Why did she not aspire? Why did she not hope? What happened in her childhood to prevent her from forming the kind of relationships that should have saved her life? We are meat and water in a bag of skin but some of us walk, some of us run and some of us. Just. Stop. Some of us achieve, some of us get by. And then there are those who don’t suck the marrow from this city, who cry in pain, confusion, panic and angst. And my London blocks out the noise and I go on my merry way. And poor young girls who have nothing left to give or take, jump off Putney Bridge because their London hurt them, hated them and ultimately ended them. Right in front of my own very sheltered and very pampered eyes.