I promised I would write again when the leaves started to fall. There are still some on the trees, so I guess I still have time. I didn’t think, however, that when I started writing again, it would be hailing the end of a major chapter in our lives. In some ways, very little has changed, the kids are all 6 months older and so are we, the leaves turn gold and brown just like they did last year…except this year will be the last time we see them in London.
The change is bittersweet, we have much to look forward to, moving our lives and our hearts Westwards…to Simon’s home-ground, California. There will be sun, new adventures, new places to fall in love with. But I am finding it very difficult to say good-bye to London, this dear old city that has come to mean so much. When words fail, I find everything else does too. So I MUST write….
To London, With Love
Thank you, London. For all you have given us. Your heaving streets and wizened buildings seem impervious to time and change. Imperious Paddington. Bubbling Bayswater, Lighted Leicester Square. Your magic surpasses. How many faces have you seen? How many days have happened that have left little behind but the dirt on the streets?
The Thames churns in your midst, a vein of muddied water threading through. Standing on Embankment Bridge, the river would be just a river, were it not for the beautiful buildings along the sky. St Paul’s Cathedral, London Bridge, the Oxo tower, St James and Old Scotland Yard. The Aquarium and Parliament Buildings best appreciated by night.
But by day the South Bank holds its own. Buskers warbling and bookstalls bustling beneath the bulwarks. Eateries spilling out onto tables in the sun. How many times have I sauntered through the crowd, admiring crazy skateboarders in the graffiti maze beneath BFI and budgie-whistler with his cast of yellow and green?
I had my first encounter with life-long love along this river, Blue-Like-Jazz lights flickering in the trees. Cautious handholding, dreamy first kiss over the Trafalgar fountains. Pieces of my heart forever melded with the scene.
Fresh off the plane, in my too-thin jacket freezing, my African heart thrilled at the endless age and mystery of this greatest city-town. Watching the river beneath, the bewildering buses on the street alongside, I dreamed of the years to come. From my first pub plate of chips and beer at the rusty-red Sherlock Holmes in Charing Cross to the quiet Chiswick Coffee shop I find myself at today, I have felt at home in this strange and dirty city.
I love the mould and ancient grime dusted over rock and stone. I imagine some of it is soot from centuries before – how many vehicles have added their layers? The newly washed edifices look oddly naked to me. Even St Paul’s, newly restored, seems blushed and blinking in its cleanness. I know I am heading for a land of sanitised whiteness and space and sun, place for my heart to grow and skin to breathe…. But how I will miss this old city-town with its stoic, load-bearing populace and layers upon layers of old and new.
Each memory is a polaroid stored away for nostalgia in days to come. When my kids all have West-Coast accents that sound of sun and sand, if chance may be that I happen across that gruff, guttural “all right, luv?” my heart will still be glad.
How does one say goodbye to a place so rich in so many ways – so diverse and peculiar in range of experience? So many cultures have added to this spice-mix of eccentricity, grandeur and commonplace. I love them all.
I can still remember being on the tube at Piccadilly, sandwiched within a whirr of languages I did not know. Pieces of German, French, Italian, Yoruba?? The patchwork of sound and colour amazed my farm-girl heart. Anything seemed possible in London. From the busy bookstore keeper rattling things off at the till to the lazy museum security guard at South Kensington content to yawn away the day. From the beautiful West-End dancer dazzling in the lights to the sweating pedicab cyclist, cheerfully ignoring the traffic rules. From the remote grandeur of the royals and super-wealthy, tucked away behind glossy railings and tinted windows, to the bored vendors selling doughnuts and tourist brochures nearby in Green Park. There is something for everyone here.
All I would ask as you move through this dear old place is that you see. See without prejudice, see without fear, see its people and beauty without avarice and superficiality. See as though you are receiving a gift…for who knows how long you will have before you, too, are just one of the millions of faces passing by and long forgotten.
I hope I have given as much, if not more, than I have taken. I hope I have not been critical with a failure to love as well. I hope that when I come back again one day we will not be strangers. Farewell, crazy old city-town, with your thousand gifts and a thousand characters on your streets every day. I was proud to be one of them.