‘Tired of London, tired of life.’
‘A bad day in London is still better than a good day anywhere else.’
‘I think London’s sexy because it’s so full of eccentrics.’
‘London loves the way people just fall apart.’
Pepys, anon, Weisz, Blur…
(I agree with all of them but it’s that last one that got me this last weekend. – down in London to see a very old friend Rene and find out how to update the beautiful website she’s designed for me www.ashleylloydsmith.com )
I remember the day I quit London for good. Plain, cheap food, could never afford to go out, another fine on the underground. “Fuck this! I’m going home.” Maybe that’s why people swear a lot more down there.
“Up dear up! You always go up to London, wherever you damn well start from.”
So Saturday morning I fell apart in Streatham Hill. Headache, vomiting, tiredness like a million sleepless nights and a feeling something was missing in my life (that’ll be your family who were in Plymouth for the weekend). But what that Blur line doesn’t say is the highs that come with London. The night before I fell apart I swam into the sea of humanoids and went up and down the great channels of escalators to Holborn, happened to pass the World Chess Championships (that’s not going to happen in Derby is it?) and gate crashed “What happens when women gather…” a night to celebrate, discuss and explore the work of photographer Grace Gelder (the first person in this country to marry herself.) and it’s wider meaning through the experiences of other female artists.
A packed hall and a level of enthusiasm for what was being discussed that reminded me of the other big city I’ve lived in, Toronto.
Then I chatted with a Radio 4 journalist about Brexit and how Derby had become, by accident, the thing that finally made him know the end was nigh a week before the vote. And a string of people thanking Rene for her question about vulnerable girls in the gang culture that’s ripping through London since Boris Johnson took his knife to the capital and left it to bleed to death, and her defense of single mothers.
Then off to a surprisingly reasonable, heroically quick (20 people ascended on them at once) and beautifully tasty Chinese restaurant. I sat next to the one other outsider (a woman from Devon) and I risked my first conversation (among many other things) about #MeToo – most of us men have been worryingly silent on it all, you might have noticed. On the way home the homeless lined the expensive shops so falling apart was never too far away. Rene, like a social butterfly, then met someone from her street on the bus (which is when I knew she was drunk because she was amazed at the co-incidence of two people bumping into each other going back to the same place… but then I guess, in London, bumping into someone you know always seems a miracle.) The lovely Mel and her hot date back from a gig. Everyone there seemed zipped to the hilt or about to fall into the abyss.
And that is I guess London for you. You wouldn’t live there if you weren’t looking for something big, something incredible because the lows are only a missed rent payment away. But inside you, while you’re there, you can feel that energy. I’m still buzzing.
So when Rene asked me what it’s like living in Derby (not what Derby is like, she’s been there plenty.) I couldn’t really answer but I should have said it’s being somewhere you can live and love and get by but perhaps not reach the highs that life can offer.
London loves, hates, smiles and grimaces but whatever mood it’s in you can’t stay away forever.
Personally I can’t wait to go back.