My London

I’m a Northerner born and bred, and yet last September I was able to say that I’d lived in London for as long as I lived up North. 18 years, to be exact. I used to hear the clichés from friends and family a lot. “I like London, but I couldn’t live there”, or “I’ve been to London. Never liked it. Everyone’s so rude, nobody talks to you.”

Well, having lived here for so long (I think now I can actually call myself a Londoner) I can tell you that the second thing is nonsense. Most people visiting London only actually go into the centre of town, shops and shows. You’re usually only going to meet other tourists there; so really, you’re not meeting that many Londoners. They’re all at work, you see. The other thing worth mentioning is that Londoners will absolutely talk to you. IF YOU ACTUALLY BOTHER TO TALK TO THEM. And despite popular belief they won’t edge away, or look at you like you’re mad etc etc. They’ll smile and pass the time of day just as they would anywhere else. Our next-door neighbours gave us presents when we got married and when Arthur was born. The lady a few doors down brought us a load of toys hers have grown out of. Since having Arthur I’m on nodding acquaintance with many more neighbours and have made friends in the flats opposite. It’s a community like any other.

If there is more of a reticence in a big city you can’t really blame us. We live a different way, with different worries and concerns. Over the past few years we’ve watched as our beloved cities have been targeted by extremists and our people killed on the same streets we walk every day. It’s difficult to keep being friendly to everyone you meet under that strain. After the London Bridge attack I really struggled to go back into the centre of town. Having a baby with me was probably the main reason. I have to wave my husband off to Soho every day for work, and if he can do it, so can I. This is my city, and it always will be; my Borough Market, my Strand, my Camden Town, my South Bank, my Angel. These are the streets where I became an adult, staggering out of pubs and clubs with my friends at university, catching the Number 12 night bus (highly recommended if you like watching a drunken bust-up), living at seven different addresses in Southwark, Islington, Hornsey and back to Southwark again. This is where I fell in love with my husband and married him, this is our son’s first home. I’ve conducted choirs and orchestras here, taken kids on endless trips, written and chatted in cafes all over the city. Private members bars, pubs, museums, galleries, opera houses, concert halls, parks, trains, tubes and buses.

I love this place. The view from Waterloo Bridge will always make me catch my breath in wonder, and my husband and I still argue about which side is best as we try to look at the view and the road at the same time while we drive across the river to visit our families. Ah, the river, Old Father Thames (or Mama Thames if you believe Ben Aaranovitch’s excellent Rivers of London series). It divides us into two halves, causing jocular debates about which is best, North or South. I’ve lived South more than North, but I’ve got a secret space in my heart for the trendier North, especially Camden where I had my first proper teaching job.

Despite all of this our house is on the market. It’s time to move on.

I always knew that if we finally did manage to have a child I’d want him to have a similar childhood to mine. It’s a personal thing; there are plenty of awesome kids I know being raised in this amazing city, and we could stay and do the same. It would be easier in many ways; moving is awful, and our home is lovely. It’s just that after my pregnancy when I went back to the North something shifted. There’s a longing for open sky, for walking boots and woods, and hills to explore in the fresh air. I never expected to feel that way. I thought I’d want to live here forever, but my pregnancy and becoming a mother has changed me. I can’t deny that. I’ve been rearranged somehow.

We visited friends outside of London last weekend. It was lovely, and although we didn’t do much exploring while we were there we did have time to exhale. Driving back into town through Wimbledon as the streets got narrower and the buildings taller, I felt the sky get smaller and suddenly I knew. I’m ready.

But you’ll always be my first love, London.

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River Of Slime

Peter Venkman: Hey, how many of you people out here are a national monument? Raise your hand, please? Oh, hello, Miss!

I find myself thinking about Ghostbusters II a lot these days.


Bear with me.


I’m an 80s baby, and the Ghostbusters films were truly awesome. My brothers and I loved them. What’s chiming for me at the moment is the storyline of II.

In case you’ve never seen it, the basic idea is that there’s a river of supernatural slime flowing underneath New York City and feeding off all the negative emotions of the population. Everyone’s bad temper, anger, misanthropy and hatred is creating a monster.


I’ve been thinking about it a lot because it feels very much like what we’re living through at the moment. There’s an awful lot of negativity online, in the news and in the streets. In London everything feels uneasy in a way it hasn’t in all 18 years I’ve lived there. It might just be me that’s changed because of having a baby, but I don’t think it’s just that. There’s been a shift.


In the film there turns out to be a pretty brilliant solution. The boys take the “mood slime” (turns out it reacts to positive emotions, too), use their guns to fire it all over the Statue of Liberty, put on some banging tunes and have her walk through the streets of Manhattan with everyone singing and waving. They bring some positive energy back. It strikes me that we could do with something like that, albeit a little less bonkers. Back in the day, when I was teaching, I got to create my very own positive mood slime all the time. I helped my colleagues bring kids and staff together with singing, positivity and love every time we put on a show or a concert. It was our very own Ghostbusters II finale, twice a term. On a larger scale the 2012 Olympics did the most amazing job of bringing everyone together. People from all over the country volunteered and welcomed athletes and visitors,and for three weeks we were the place to be. It was amazing.


Right now there’s a lot of head-shaking. A lot of people ask the question “What kind of world are we bringing our children into?” and I understand the concern. I sometimes find myself sinking into anxiety at the dark place the world seems to be right now. So I’ve started turning off the TV, ignoring the trolls and filling my timelines with positive people. I’m living life on much smaller scale for the time being, and it’s helping. 


Moments with Arthur are constantly amazing. Today he has clapped for the first time, kissed his cousin on the head and held her hand, reached out his arms for his grandparents, uncle and aunt and made “brum brum” noises playing with his toy steering wheel. Not bad.


Wishing you a whole river of positive mood slime.

Manchester

This morning I wanted to get my thoughts down about what happened in Manchester. Writing has always been the best mode of communication for me, and helps me make sense of things. It’s only relatively recently that I’ve begun sharing it with others. I know that the only people who will read this are my friends, and will forgive any half-formed thoughts.

Having Arthur sometimes feels as though I’ve been given the keys to the great, vast secrets of the universe. After four years of the toothache of infertility, this little boy’s smile cracks me open with the force of a hundred suns. It is mind blowing. You know those moments when you feel at peace with everything, at one, you don’t know what with and you can’t explain it? Those moments when you feel that maybe God really does exist? I have those daily now. It is overwhelming. And along with the love and peace and wonder comes something different, and darker.

Fear.

I know now what it must feel like to have a child caught up in something like that. The heart-stopping, gut-wrenching horror of it. To not know they are safe. I have always loved the children I teach, and I have always been able to imagine it. Now I know. There is nothing I can do, or say to make things better, but I grieve with those parents and all I can do is try not to feel it too much, because it is not helpful, it solves and changes nothing. I also know that the bomber was a boy once. A baby who giggled and rolled and cried and needed his parents, just like mine. And that’s perhaps the worst thing of all. That I feel for him too, and for his family, even though I will never understand his actions.

But after all that, under all that, is compassion. The beauty of humanity, the very best of us is always seen just after these all-too frequent events. The vigil in Manchester, Tony Walsh’s beautiful poem, the cab drivers who ferried people from the venue for free and helped distraught parents find their kids. The outpouring of love on social media.

So, today, I’m going to try a few things that might help me with finding my own compassion.

If I see something on social media that makes me angry, I am not going to reply. Hate breeds hate, and if I comment on it my friends and family will see it. I will put down the phone, close the laptop. I will choose to see only the wonderful things the internet brings us. I will go for a walk and look at the summer leaves. I will tickle my son and revel in his laugh. In this way, I will be kind.

If I find myself getting too sad about the news, I’ll turn it off. I’ll call my husband, or Mum, or a friend. I’ll take my son to a cafe and mingle with other people, the good ones. I’ll listen to good music and read meaningful poetry. In this way, I will be wise.

I love Manchester. I have so many happy memories of that metropolis. Choosing my piano and flute from Forsyth’s. Affleck Palace. The fountain near Victoria Station students used to fill with bubble bath. That bar where they serve cocktails in goldfish bowls. Long boozy lunches and Christmas shopping with my friend Ben. Those things are all still there, and always will be.

Today, I will head out into my own beloved city with my lipstick on, my head held high and my little son in his sling. Because that’s all any of us can really do. Humanity is terrible, but also beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.