Sunday, 11 January 2015

For the love of London

You are now in London, that great sea, whose ebb and flow at once is deaf and loud, and on the shore vomits its wrecks, and still howls on for more. Yet in its depth what treasures! -P.B. Shelley
I live in London. It’s a grey and red city of juxtapositions, a crazy spectrum reaching across beauty and squalor. I don’t remember when I decided to move here, I don’t even think it was a conscious decision. It was an inevitability. I just knew, always had, London would be my home.
Recently my oldest friend in the world and her mother came to visit. They journeyed from the small provincial village of my childhood in France to a country they had never seen, to experience five days of London life.

I met them at Liverpool Street and almost cried to see this girl who, it seemed to me, had been living in my phone for the past eight years. Since leaving France all that time ago she had been but a collection of pixels on a screen, a Snapchat or that extra special text message at birthdays and Xmas. Now she was here and I could put my arms around her crazy self.

I was so excited to show her my little world. We hurried out of the station and they marveled at the famous red buses, so familiar and yet completely new to them. We boarded the number 35 and I watched in fascination as they took in the city around them. Suddenly I saw it all through their eyes and looked upon London as if for the first time.

On every corner modernity and history are at war with each other, slabs of marble and shards of glass battling for space. Graffiti and roman pillars. Nightclubs and cathedrals. Pret a Manger’s and statues of past rulers.

There are stories and culture everywhere. You can stroll through the streets and see where moments that shaped our country took place. Museums open their doors and teachings to all. We have precious monuments to treasure and remind us of our nation’s past achievements, to feel proud of our heritage.

And the people? A bustling community of lonely commuters, wide-eyed tourists, dreamers chasing fulfilment and the seasoned London-born, crammed side by side in overpriced hovels and luxury townhouses.

Oh, I love London Society! It is entirely composed now of beautiful idiots and brilliant lunatics. Just what Society should be. -Oscar Wilde

“You can wear anything you like here!” cried my friend. “No one cares. In France if you wear a short skirt or a crazy colour, people give you the weirdest looks.”

It’s true that little surprises a Londoner after a while. The city’s siren call is irresistible to the creative, adventurous and ambitious. All those who were rejected in their hometown can find acceptance here. The result is an eclectic and accepting community of every race and creed, of different traditions and a rainbow of accents.

And then there are the small things we take for granted. Things my friend could not comprehend. That you can get whipped cream on almost any hot drink at Starbucks. That the shops are open past 6pm and on Sundays. That buses and tubes come in a constant stream. The plethora of markets. Those bloody Borris bikes!

Not that London life is always easy. The constant hum of life and the frantic A to B are not for everyone. My country-bumpkin friends could not understand my urge to walk at break-neck speed.

“Where are you running to? What’s the rush?”

 What is the rush? I slowed to their peaceful, curious pace - the kind of ambling that causes Londoners to curse all tourists and wish for a lane-system on the pavements.

“Everyone is so sad,” remarked my friend. “No one says hello. Everyone’s just rushing off in pursuit of something.”

We could be kinder to one another, perhaps, more welcoming. But I can’t imagine living anywhere else. The impatience I feel upon waking is not a result of living here, it was there long before and it is what makes me love London more than anything.

It’s that feeling of possibility and freedom. I love that I can take a short tube ride to an area I’ve never seen before and discover a Banksy, an independent coffee shop to rave about, or just a beautiful park. I love that I can immerse myself in history just by stepping out of my front door. I love that everyone who comes to London has a sense of purpose and a dream to chase. I love Soho's winding streets of sin. I love the rows and rows of identical houses. I love the skyline and the bridges and Big Ben. 

“I couldn’t live here,” concluded my friend. I could see her dreaming of her little house, with its huge garden on the silent road nestled between two green hills.

You would have to drag me away from London, kicking and screaming. For no matter how harshly this city treats you, like an unpredictable and abusive but beautiful lover, when it slaps you down you get up and beg for more. Because the pros far outweigh the cons. And because nothing worth doing is easy.