So, I’m finally leaving London. Things in this respect have become increasingly real over the last few weeks – getting a job up North, looking at flats, thinking about how we are going to jooj up our flat for rental. Although I know it’s going to happen, I am going to leave London, I can’t stop getting thick and tight throated just writing it down.
I love London. I’ve lived here for over twelve years, it represented the centre of my world back then and it still does now. Nowhere tops it, nowhere and though I understand the reasons why we are leaving and that practically it makes sense, I just feel so unbearably sad, so undone by the fact that I am slowly marching towards the leave date.
Having had some time off recently, my thoughts have turned to lasting London memories. I read an article by Harriet Walker in the Indie, in which she claimed to remember where she had been every Friday night since her teens. I envy her – at least I wish I had kept a diary so I could have logged all the places I have been, all the strange encounters, bad food, good laughs I have had since I first moved here, an arrogant 21 year old destined for stardom. But I don’t have the luxury of (nor do I have the willpower to keep) a journal, so I am stuck with spidermaps and scribbled notes, remnants from sudden flashbacks to Polish restaurants in Clapham or Ethiopian nosh in Notting Hill just before I fall asleep.
I don’t know why I am logging this as I don’t imagine anyone is particularly interested apart from me, but London is such a massive part of my life and one that I have taken for granted for a long time. Hopefully, my thoughts on departing will take some shape over the next few weeks (please don’t ask me to work out exactly how long I have left, that’s too painful, hence the countdown conundrum of the title) I feel very very fortunate and very very sad.
My other combative tactic is to do the things that I have always said that I would do in London but never got round to. Like my memory flashes, these tend to revolve around food. But today, I crossed three off the list.
I think I started thinking about Eel Pie Island when I first came to London. I moved here to start my first acting job, a production of All For Love at Battersea Arts Centre. It was directed by a very genteel opera director and we rehearsed in St Margarets, a super rich and super boho patch of Londinium – I’m sure it has its own pyramid but I can’t find anything on the web about it – but it sounds right – it’s exactly the kind of place to house an expensive individualist folly. Next door is Eel Pie Island, which really is an island, the nomenclature has something to do with Henery the Eightf, I think. During the 60s, its was rock and roll central – the Yardbirds, the Stones, the Who, George Melly and Ivor Cutler all played there. It has also housed a commune, continues to be a vibrant artist community and home of a new breed which I am going to call ‘theurban jaunty’; inventors, actors and indie bands. Always fascinated by this place, I put it out of my mind for convenience sake – it’s the other side of London when did I have the time? But when the weather is fine and I can afford the luxury of work avoidance, I can break my duck and make it to the mystical isle of the urban jaunty folk.
Stepping off at Twickenham rail station, I’m disappointed by its lack of semblance to Middle Earth- I am greeted by generic high street, differentiated only by the choice of charity shops (not Oxfam, but Princess Alice Hospice). But I fight my way through the consumerist hubris to the footbridge. Fellow moochers are making a similar pilgramage and I am surprised at how quickly they retrace their footsteps back over the bridge. But Eel Pie Island is bijou, one thin path cuts through the middle of the land – it takes about five minutes to follow it to the other side and back. On either side are a succession of private houses, some more extravagant than others, painted tin or wooden shacks with all the signs of the urban jaunty, shop dummies in the garden, old tin letterboxes, kitsch house names. the waterfront properties have a jetties and boats tethered outside – to be honest on a beautiful day like today, there are few places as conveniently and pleasantly cut off as this.
On my way back across the path, I decide that I like Twickenham, a decision that I think one has to be in their thirties to arrive at. I walk the Thames path over to Richmond, taking the time to meander and follw my own curiousity – I take in the incredible terrace of Montpellier Row, Turners’ pad, , Sandycombe Lodge and Marble Hill House, home to George II’s mistress. Crossing the bridge at Richmond I could be in Paris suddenly – until the doppelganger high street looms up on the horizon. I breathe in, lower my gaze for the first time in hours and make it to the train station.
And my third off the list – I tried pho for the first time and Vietnamese summer rolls at the aptly named pho in Wardour Street. Delicious.
I already miss London.