The city my lover

Jun 10th, 2008 | By | Category: Readers Contributions

I spent the last seven years abroad.

It’s a long story.

I suppose when you’re away, you get over the sense of rootlessness by convincing yourself you hate the place you came from. It seems that the more you love where you currently are, the more home seems a symbol of all that you don’t want. Every story always ends with the hero going home, richer of experience and poorer of pocket, and my story is no exception.

I had formed an image in my head over the years of London as being a grey, heartless place; anonymous and cold. When I arrived back here six months ago it certainly did feel like that: swathes of suited travellers busily going from A to B, and identical swathes of suited travellers rushing from B to A, spending incomprehensible amounts of money doing it. On Saturday nights, on the other hand, I was jostled amongst stumbling drunks, dodging identical pools of curried spew. My sunny erstwhile home seemed the antithesis of the senselessness I first found here.

Yet it’s amazing how experiences can transform perceptions. Slowly, the grey is being overwritten by colour- not just vomit. This city is slowly giving up its colour, one shade at a time. That grey mass is being brushed over by a thousand new sensations: walking down the Southbank, abreast with the Thames’ slow pull, the sound of the waves mingling with that of the tide of people walking laps along the shore; Leake Street with its fierce protest; the oasis of perfection that exists in Sadler’s Wells; rowing a boat on the roof of the Hayward Gallery in the Psycho Buildings exhibition; watching people skipping through the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern, or sitting on its slopes, quiet and full. All this seems to capture light and joy and fix it on the concrete and tarmac.

Another thing I didn’t expect was to discover that London would put me in contact with the sudden and glad movements of the seasons, either. I fell into gardening an allotment where I live in Beckenham (the tourists among you won’t have heard of it- the tube doesn’t go there!). I was surprised to discover a whole world of hundreds of allotments full of people on Saturdays and Sundays digging with their trousers rolled up, helping each other, sharing plants, and always willing to teach a complete novice like me.

From waiting on the side, unable to dive in, the Thames, and the city it pumps through, has taken me up in its current and its flows; and all I can say is that so far it’s been a lovely ride.

Jessica Ibbotson

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