I had a funny week this week. I had really been looking forward to catching up with my friends, and city life in general in London. I was feeling a little stressed with a busy patch at work, and a little restless with my lovely little northern town. I had a mixture of annual leave and work which meant I spent most of last week in London. And London…well it’s London isn’t it?
When I lived there, I found it exhilarating. Weeknights were spent sampling new foods, wines and cocktails. I loved my job, which often meant evening work and more parties. I had a busy social life that sent me all over London. One of my favourite places was on the southbank, where I loved the way the river sparkled at night, as I made my weary and happy way home. I had my own studio flat in a gorgeous villagey suburb, where I wandered at weekends, sunbathed on the green and dawdled along the Thames. We often went up to Hampstead at the weekends, where we ate huge pub lunches and tramped across the Heath. Bond Street was for window and people shopping, and lovely Westminster was for lunchtime shopping and snacking. I didn’t even mind the tube – I used to zone out with spa music on my ipod and people watch.
This time though it was different. I felt disconnected, if that’s not an overused word. I felt like I didn’t belong. It was familiar, so familiar, but foreign. I couldn’t understand all the rushing around, the noise, the dirt. I had the usual complaints a northerner often has – the shop keepers are so dismissive; people on the tube network are so pushy; public transport is just so crowded.
But for me, it was more than that. I couldn’t understand myself. What was it about this crazy city that no longer fitted? That no longer filled me with the motivation to go everywhere, to do everything? And I loved seeing my friends, the place is still beautiful and the museums still fascinating. Maybe I’ve ‘found myself’ (another cliche) and I’m just more comfortable with the northern countryside, with it’s dark drizzle and stillness. Or maybe…I’m just too old for it? Heck!
I retreated into the lovely Regents Park, where I remembered many a happy summer picnic among the roses. Here the pace was slower. Children played and couples strolled, enjoying the last of the evening light. Dusk is such a lovely time of day – the day winds down, energy sags and people are homeward bound.
I found myself turning away from the shops and bars (fabulous though they are) and drawn to the quiet, the unnoticed. The side streets where the delivery men work and the chefs smoke. The silent squares, heavy with bright leaves, where homeless people sleep on benches, with city workers gobbling up pret sandwiches and pigeons picking up the scraps by the wooden slatted bins. Gazing out at the river, watching branches and rubbish bubble along, inhaling the deep fresh scent of water. In these places you can think. You can absorb everything, and reflect.I used to work in Westminster, just down from the Houses of Parliament. I spent my lunch hours wandering along that lovely section of the water with it’s iconic river front, noticing small things while life flew past me.
We had a coffee and a cake in St Katherine’s Docks – one place I never discovered while living here. How lovely is this? There was a gorgeous little pub and plenty of places to stop and admire the humongous boats, reflected with the trees on that still water. A lovely way to end a hectic day of sightseeing. That’s the thing about London, there’s always so many possibilities…