My mum moved to London when I was 13. Divorced from my dad, she wanted to live in the big city. I was at school in Harrow, boarding. So I guess I started to become a Londoner then, as I was living with her. It takes a while to get a handle on this place though. I’m getting there…
I know how to avoid the evil Corridor of Doom at Kings Cross. I no longer think you need to take the tube from Sloane Square to South Kensington. I know never to change at Green Park. I am no longer surprised that the circle line always stops at Edgware Road. I even know the buses, at last, so no matter how late it is I won’t impulse-hail a black cab and have to get a second mortgage. Even though I know that night bus drivers will always try to drive past you if you’re not paying really close attention. And if you do get on the night bus God help you. It’s a stinking miasmic hell dimension of howling, heels, vomit and sweat. But one that will get you home.
The longer I’ve lived in this city the smaller it has felt. At first it seemed impossibly large and the tube map is so geographically inaccurate that it only made it harder to know how things connected.
Normally when I arrive in a new place I pound the streets as much as I can, but aged 13 and having grown up on small islands I didn’t feel as safe as I would now, so the spectacular fiction of the tube map was my first sense of how it all fitted together. Now I love to walk the streets and watch the people. And for short stops the tube is way too expensive. You only make the connections by mindfully traveling above ground. I prefer to cycle, walk or bus these days.
I arrived early for a meeting in the wrong building this morning. Fortunately I always get to meetings absurdly early, and had plenty of time to get to the right place. I walked. I walked past a magic shop in Mount Pleasant that is attached to a council estate where Ellen from my year at Guildhall used to live. I went and stood in the archway and remembered how remote I thought her central London block was. We used to roll back there at night when we were at college, covered in makeup or costume and singing. We’d wake up the next morning eating cushion with a head full of ants and go back into college to sweat booze while dancing in a leotard. One night I was angry and I woke up having shaved all my hair off. Another night Nathan woke up in hospital after falling from a third floor balcony and shattering both his wrists. The paramedic told him if he hadn’t been so drunk it would’ve been considerably worse. We all thought he was dead. He came into college the next day and put on that leotard, then swung his arms with the rest of us, casts lending weight. The show must go on. Strange times.
I’m pretty happy in this city now. I can navigate it, it doesn’t freak me out at all. I get the weird of it and I’ve been lucky not to fall too hard into the dark side yet. I tend to be able to get through most situations with my “unthreatening alien” routine. My rib is healed now, so my bike is back in service just in time for autumn. In fact it’s my birthday soon. I’d better book something in. Save the date. 24th September. I’ll probably just stake out the Alwynne Castle in Highbury.
I forgot about my blog until just before I went to sleep. Did I take a photo? Not sure… Let’s see.
Nope. Tube map. Night night. zzz