I fucking love London. My heart lifts when the train crosses the M25. I love its old streets and its big windows and its shiny new skyscrapers and its grimy pavements, its sluggish river and grumpy people and gorgeous skylines, its ridiculous wonky alleyways and windy parks and graceful domes and smoky corners. I love its blocky council housing and its homicidal taxi drivers and its glorious libraries and scattered rambling universities and hidden unexpected churches. I love the magic sky train and the grubby underground. I love its rickety hoarding and its constant regeneration, the new buildings sprouting unexpectedly from the sudden ruins of the old. I love its hipsters and its horrors, its goths and its gardens and its queers and its magical misfits, its pushy businesspeople and messy art students and constant flow of annoying tourists. I love its suicidally cyclable streets, its endless roadworks and delayed tubes and looming buses that arrive just often enough to keep the nascent, fragile spark of hope they’ll show up when you need them alive (but has nevertheless spoilt me for what any other city considers ‘public transport’). I love it all, with a big aching magnetic love that cracks my heart and clouds my vision and created much more of me than anything has any right to.
And soon I won’t live there any more.
Oh, I’ll still be around – Iots of people I love are there, and you won’t get rid of me that easily – but I won’t belong there any more, at least not in the same way. The ties are looser than once they were, or at least stretchier – spending three or four nights a week somewhere else with one’s partner will do that – but it’s still home, and I suspect to some extent always will be. It’s home because you can drop me almost anywhere in London and I will know how to navigate, how to get home and find bathrooms and swimming pools and the way to the library. I am who I am because of London, the opportunities it gave me and the networks I built, UCL and the BL and the brilliant, beautiful, kind and fierce and righteous folk who are my friends. I am who I am because of London’s not giving a shit, that marvellous big-city freedom to do your thing and let everyone else do theirs, its sinkhole pull for subcultures and specialists and seekers and the crazy and the brave. I am who I am because I was lucky enough to land there and run with it, to be swept up in London’s close-weave weight of thousands upon thousands of people living their lives in and around and among one another, the collective, creative, cumulative wealth of thought and growth and trying and loving and learning. The freedom to make the attempt. I am who I am because every day for over a decade I’ve tramped the streets of London, from pool to people to library to lunch, breathing in and bound to London’s stories and histories and horrors and the everyday dramas of a million people getting on with it and trying to get by.
I’ve lived surrounded by art and ideas and people who think they’re important and people who think only money matters and tried to eke out a fragile existence somewhere in the middle. That Samuel Johnson tired of London, tired of life thing? Totally, and (for once, if not unprecedentedly) I am tired of neither.
And somehow I’m still leaving, because it’s expensive and I’ve been avoiding or turning down full time work down there and so I might as well put my money where my mouth (and, y’know, other bits) are and move up. At least try. Have the courage to make the attempt, and I’ve never been short on courage.
I love it and it made me and I’m leaving. I don’t know what to do with that. I’ve always been as passionately tied to places as I am to people (although obviously the two overlap) because I have an abandonment complex and places stick around. No amount of loving relationship and book-writing time and generous London hospitality and cheap rent can quite disguise the sense of loss, although obviously they mitigate it somewhat. London is the only place I’ve ever lived and been happy as an adult on my own, and leaving it behind – even only two hours away – is a massive, troubling, ridiculous and unthinkable idea.
It may be a terrible mistake.
But it also might be an adventure, a chance to learn about who I am and what I need from the world around me, a chance to balance my energetic self and habits and work and ideas with a city that doesn’t take that pace for granted, a chance to focus on writing a book and spending time with my partner and building a life that will admittedly involve running down to London to do cool stuff and visit the BL at least one week in four, but might also give me some breathing space to sort out book and work and earning money and having a relationship and how these things might coexist.
These two may not be mutually exclusive.
But I suspect on some level I am a Londoner to the bone, and it will take some time before the cultural dislocation starts to bite.