I woke in a sweat the other morning. Eyes burning, heart racing, oozing pores.
As I clambered out of bed to grab a glass of water from the kitchen I struggled to remember what it was that I was dreaming. It was confusing. I was moving and overwhelmed with packing boxes, and fretful kids.
I remember – in my dream – asking a neighbour whether I could ship the fish from the UK to NZ in plastic bags, like a child might bring a fish home for his goldfish bowl from the pet shop.
I can’t remember the answer, but I suspect it was a ‘no’. I do remember though the sadness I felt. And then the confusion.
You see, I woke missing London.
London is not terribly nice in November. It’s cold, dark and rainy. Sometimes it’s snowy and chilled petals fall through your scarf down your neck where they pool across your back. The Tube is always too hot, but too busy to accommodate a complete disrobe, too, so you stand there in full winter gear – hat, gloves, scarf, coat – sweating.
London is shitty in winter. People are terse, heads down, faces snarled against the cold and the pressure of the upcoming ‘holidays’. People are rushing, too busy for a kind word or to offer help. A few years ago I walked about two kms down a London street in the snow with my arms full of stuff for a stand at a trade show I was working at. Many people saw me struggling, not one helped. Then there was the meeting with high-powered PR where I got lost on the way in a maze of buildings and people and no GPS signal. Oh, and I broke the heel on my shoe and had to limp for some of the way. I felt I was one woman against the world.
We didn’t even live in London, but rather in a small parochial little town 40 miles south west, or two hours on the train/tube, away. Our town was pretty, rural and unfriendly. Or so it seemed to me. When the crowds left for work – either commuting to London or walking down the road to the large atomic bomb factory – I felt terribly alone. Heading to London for work or a meeting was my ‘out’.
A welcome relief.
A reminder that whilst I felt I was the outsider in our little town, in London I felt one of the unwashed masses of humanity, and there was something incredibly soothing about that. I loved the variety of everything. Of shops, of people, of cafes and restaurants and shows and entertainment and most of all the buzz. Travelling up to London reminded me that there were other people and other cultures (something sadly missing in our little town) and other accents and …life. Life everywhere. Life on the streets, in the Tube, on the buses, down Oxford Street giggling at bargains and swearing credit cards…life in your nose in your skin in your hair, on your toes.
Not all pretty, or sparkly or even Christmas-jolly, but life all the same. Not carbon copied, oppressed, depressed bland existence.
“There’s nowhere else like London. Nothing at all, anywhere.” Vivienne Westwood.
It’s true. There isn’t. London is spectacular.
“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford,” said Samuel Johnson. He’s right.
From the crazy tourists in Trafalgar Square to the doe-eyed international students on the Tube desperately studying their books, from the buskers in the Tube (most of whom were pretty good!) to The City bankers with their laptop cases and throttled expressions.. London is life.
And that’s what I woke up missing. That vitality that always made me draw in a deep admiring breath on the South Western train as we slid along the tracks into Waterloo and those crazy new apartment buildings on Canary Wharf and then The London Eye came into view. Awe. Every. Single. Time.
I was so grateful to be experiencing London. Ever the Kiwi chick done good, I would often stop and think ‘Wow this is London. I’ve been studying London and reading about it all my life and now I’m here’.
And then one day I’d pinch myself and wake and realise that I’m not in London anymore and I’d miss it.
Do you love London?