I have five days left in my flat. It feels like there are mountains of things to do, and not enough time. This is wrong, obviously. Of course it’ll get it done, and on schedule. If there’s one thing I know of, it’s life’s little deadlines. Picking up and going, from city to city, country to country. They’re such a pain, and the only way for me to move forward.
I’m leaving everything that has been my life for the past 6 years, a life I loved in a town that has felt like home since I first set foot here. It is a choice, and not once since the decision was made have I questioned why I am doing it. It’s not just that I love him, although I couldn’t dream of a better catalyst. It’s that it makes sense. It’s time. I’m ready for it.
And yet, here’s one thing they never tell you - positive psychology has ruined us all, no joke: a new beginning is always the end of something.
So many people hate London. It’s big, impersonal. It’s so easy to feel lonely and lost here, and those goddam buses, they won’t stop if you don’t get in the middle of the road and gesticulate like there’s no tomorrow. A lesson you learnt the hard way, as the previous bus drove right through the puddle in front of you, leaving you soaked and seething. People walk like they’re in bubbles. They don’t look at you. You’d think they don’t care.
But what can I say, it was immediate. I came here on holiday in May 2003, with a friend, because I had nothing better to do that week. I was living in Madrid, which I disliked passionately. I arrived and knew in the first two hours that I’d live here. Less than a year later, I dropped what I had in Spain and came over. It was home. Home, after a decade of wandering and never feeling quite right anywhere.
At the end of 2006, Bloomberg asked me if I wanted to move to Brussels to help develop TV operations there (I was a producer back then). I laughed in their faces. And leave London? No way. But there was this guy, you see, he was in Paris and said if I accepted the assignment, he’d join me there. Friends and family, everyone reckoned it was the mature thing to do. It was good for my career! And he and I would live together! I felt, in my guts, it wasn’t right, but I was 26 and desperate to prove I was an adult who could make reasonable decisions. What a mistake: the guy in question took a job in Paris and never moved to Brussels. We broke up (for this and other reasons) soon thereafter. I hated every second I spent there. Every single second.
Thankfully, I had an understanding boss who figured that one way to keep me working for them was to get me to travel, so that’s what I did. That year - 2007 - I did not spend more than two weeks in a row in that hole of a city. I went everywhere, covering every high-profile event there was to cover. And spent the whole of September and October in London. In December, I moved back. In other words, I never left.
Don’t get me wrong, London’s everything they say it is: it’s harsh, anonymous, expensive. Moving here wasn’t the easiest thing I’ve ever done, far from it. But it suits me, like a glove. If you haven’t seen a gorgeous sunset over Tower Bridge turn the Thames pink and orange on a freezing day and make you feel like everything is going to be okay even though you’re 24, clueless and unemployed, you probably won’t see what I mean.
I reveled in this solitude. It gave me full freedom to be who I needed to be. I read, I wrote, I photographed things, I partied pretty hard when I felt like it, too. I went through truly painful times, despaired at work and with, well, men. But I never failed to find comfort in the streets of London.
People tell you about Paris and Barcelona. They tell you about the absence of light during those long London winters, and the miserable weather. Very few tell you about the boozy picnics, come spring, in the most beautiful parks I’ve ever seen (pack it in, Central Park, you’ll never hold a candle to Hampstead Heath), and the various cool markets all over town.
They never tell you about the views from the Tate Modern, and all the learning you do, if you’re curious enough and know where to look. Those fantastic gigs at the Roundhouse (two minutes from where I live), the Jazz Café, the Brixton Academy. The tube, packed at peak hour, where you don’t hear a peep and no one, no matter how close, invades your personal space, or shouts for no reason (I’m exempting tourists, evidently). Ever thought of collective intelligence and the ability to move around together with fluidity in very tight spaces? Yeah, you’ll never find that in Brussels, or Madrid.
I could go on, but I’ve given up long ago on trying to convince anyone. I’ll say this: London shaped me, in more ways than I can count. It gets me. And while this concept may be foreign to some, it isn’t less true: you can have a profound love affair with a place. An even bigger love affair is what it took to dislodge me from here. I’m on my way to build a brand new life, and I’m excited about it, because I can’t think of a better way to do it or a better person to do it with. But I’ll miss it. And I’ll mourn it, too.
— From London.
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