What have I been doing? I forgot about the city. But today I was reminded that there’s more to life than Woolwich. I remembered how I love those dusty tube tracks and the ferrous air that comes pushing at us as the trains approach. The sound of iron against iron, the clunking noise travelling down the tiled walls with their poetic Jack Daniels adverts. I love the variety of people and buildings and shops and absurdities. I love the people with crazy hats and purple hair. I love the way the busker’s accordion tunes echo down the tunnels, making me feel like I’m in Amélie.
I love the graffiti and the wall art; people making their mark on the city. I love the old bricks and the worn cobblestones. I love the surprises lurking around every corner.
I love the way I can just go and sit by the canal and some crazy girl will talk to me and a bunch of Brazilians will play guitar for us. I love the way a pint of Noble glints in the afternoon sunlight. I love the willows gently dipping their branches into the canal, rippling their way through the lock.
I love the smell of food from every country in the world. I love meeting Italians and yelling “FIGO!” and “dolce far niente” in their faces and we all laugh. I love practicing my Spanish with random Colombian ladies who tell me “buena suerte!” and smile at me with their whole being.
I love the lady’s voice on the DLR – “The next stop is West Silvertown” (which always smells like poppers). Ten years later I’m sitting on the same DLR train, listening to the same Bright Eyes songs about city life and heartbreak, yet everything is different and so much has happened. I love the many memories that have nestled themselves into the very fabric of this city, in every corner (apart from the west – why would anyone ever go to Shepherd’s Bush? East side forever, yo.)
I’ve been such a silly girl, hiding in our little penthouse so far away from everyone. From now on I will spend my days in the city, not in Woolwich with all its drills and cranes and deceiving jippos (personal experience, not prejudice). I’ve met some funny people today, and had some nice conversations in three different languages. I’ve bought beautiful dresses and finally found the hat I’ve always been looking for. On the Northern Line, a man in a suit dropped a yellow jelly bean on the train floor and we looked at each other and laughed, and for some reason that felt really nice. I’ve sung along to Elvis hits in the street and realised that nobody cares. I can do what I want. This life is for me. I’m such a lucky girl.
Even Woolwich looks beautiful in a summer sunset
Friday night I was buzzing all the way to town, literally grinning and skipping my way down Gray’s Inn Road towards the arcade dive bar PimpShuei, where the legendary Clinton Cawood was celebrating his birthday:
Clint is a living legend, because he is a machine of parties and love. There are no limits to whom he can love and what he can drink. Eight years ago he walked into the bar where I was working and my life in London completely changed. And now he has the most amazing other half, Jeanne who is deliciously care-taking and plan-making and always glows with beauty:
We danced and drank and shouted storied that could only be half-understood over the noise, and I felt free and alive and bubbly with joy and love for all these people.
“And disappear again into a summer’s bliss,
Of staying out and sleeping in and getting drunk with my friends”
Then Veronica and Markus came with their suitcases straight from Gatwick to the basement technicolor dunka-dunka madness.
Between arcade games and cigarette breaks, Elvis and Bruce Lee, catching up with old friends and making new ones, at some point the birthday boy got behind the bar and suddenly the price for tequila was no longer £5 but a bared chest, so shirts flew off and sticky liquor was poured straight into people’s faces.And then everyone looked like this:
Much too early the night wore off and people dispersed, and Mike and I grabbed our two Swedish guests and stumbled our way to a hotdog place. Clinton’s generous tequila servings had made Mike rather floppy and when waiting for his hotdog he looked like this:
What an adorable creature.
Then Uber came and took us all the way home (I love taxis, what an amazing concept), and in the midst of the DIY chaos we settled down for a Gammeldansk nightcap before gratefully crashing into bed, saving some energy for the rest of the big weekend.
I can see now how old and deeply ingrained patterns are still affecting my life. Which means I can now break free from them. It’s already starting, and it feels exciting! Imagine a life with less worrying and self-enforced responsibilities that have nothing to do with me, really; an easy existence where I can float along with life’s unpredictable currents and swim towards the sweeter waters, and just be and do what I want.
I’ve been polyfilling and sandpapering and taping and painting and untaping, climbing up and down the stepladder until I got dizzy, and now the walls are fresh and clean and bright, perfectly in line with the new beginnings of 2015. Then I cleaned myself up, and now I’m in a pretty dress with a flowy skirt, and there’s glitter on my eyelashes that makes everything sparkle. Everything is happening at once and I’m not even worried, just excited. I just don my Vans and hit the streets, smile at people, chat with shopkeepers, a mini wine bottle in my pocket for the train ride. The city is glittering and beckoning and there’s a freeing sense that everything will be fine, and anything can happen.
These days are pigeon feeding and weekly planning, health board activities and dodged gym sessions, hoarding then decluttering, filling in holes and drilling new ones and painting over them. In between, I sit down to try and find the centre of myself, because if I want to be a great writer I must. There are so many copycats and so few genuine voices. All my life, I’ve let everyone else’s voice scream so loud in my head that my own is all but silenced. How can I identify it through the noise? It changes, too. Like the seasons or the tides, it’s never consistent, and its fluidity makes it hard to grasp and channel. Each new impression or suggestion brings a new flow and inevitably changes the direction.
The London skyline has changed so much since I moved here ten years ago. I remember when the Gherkin (“the dildo” as we knew it back then) was the most prominent building in the City, rising proud and round from a low-rise, unassuming city. Now it’s been swallowed up by a forest of skinny skyscrapers, and overshadowed by the aggressive Shard which sits on top of the vaults where we once danced from dusk till dawn and caught the bus home in the scarlet light of morning, against the backdrop of Tower Bridge casting its reflection in the choppy waters of the Thames.
But now the vaults are closed and life is something else. I suppose ten years is a long time. Ten years ago I was an entirely different person, so it would make sense if the city, too, has changed. Hopefully when the old makes way for the new we don’t lose too much of who we were.
It’s still cold and grey and I stay in with my DIY and podcasts, and hold out for springtime and new adventures. “April, come she will…”
Last weekend Mike and I went for a long walk in surprising 16 degree sunshine. Life went in a blink from drizzly winter’s end to blazing summertime, with exuberant dogs splashing on the riverbanks, posh people gathering over fro-yos and bottles of Pinot in Richmond, black-haired teenagers smoking weed and kissing on benches, and rustic riverboats covered in flower pots and drying laundry floating past, leaving behind a scent trail of barbecues and beers. I climbed onto a seemingly abandoned wreck and immediately got told off by a river hobo. We walked for five hours from Kingston to Barnes, and finished with a golden and well-deserved pint after the sun had set over Kew Gardens. Turns out the Thames is a hella lot longer than one might think.
Though I’m fairly certain I would be a happier, more confident person if I lived in a sunnier country, I could never be without the seasons. I’d love to always be skipping around in flowy dresses and flip-flops, but there is nothing quite like the relief of spring and people flocking outside to soak up the long-awaited rays.
Now the cloud cover is back, and I’m snuggled up on the sofa with Mike and coffee and fairy lights. Mike practices Swedish (“kvinnan läser tidningen … flickorna dricker mjölk”) while I write. There’s nothing I love more than the sound of a clicking keyboard, effortlessly shaping thoughts into words. I just wish I could find a direct link to the creative muse, so that I could open the download stream and get into flow at will. My book seems to be trapped in a pressure cooker and I’m scared to remove the lid, so instead I read others’ stories to see if I can replenish my creative dam and avoid stagnation. As a clinical people-pleaser, it’s a significant effort to wash away projections and assumptions and just write how I want it to read. “Gotta get to the center… Run off with a dancer…”
Otherwise I mostly spend my days in useful writing sessions and inevitable pint o’clocks with Zoe at Dial Arch, and having a writing companion is immensely helpful. We read and review each other’s work, vent our frustrations, share stories and ideas, and justify each other’s drinking. What fortunate timing.
Time has slowed down since I left work. I can’t believe it has only been two weeks. I am eternally grateful for this existence, and this incredible opportunity. I spend my days in pubs and cafes slowly hammering away at my book. Like squeezing toothpaste out of a tube, it is slowly being born, little by little every day. I have met up with the Greenwich Writers and made a writing buddy, and today we sat in the Dial Arch for six hours tapping away at our keyboards.
Mike’s mum came for a visit and my eyes were opened once again to the beauty of this city, and this part of the city in particular. The south-east is littered with magical green spaces from where you can admire the silent, glittering lights of Canary Wharf and the City. From every angle there is something new, something surprising, and as they say, variety is the spice of life. I love being surprised, I love not knowing what’s around the corner, and I love finally having enough time and zest to go seek it out.
Another week gone, the days arduously ticked off like items on a to-do list, the endless countdown to each Friday night, only to leave us with one glorious Saturday and one anxiety-ridden, dread-full Sunday before we’re back in the machine. That ain’t no way to live.
So I’m outta there. One more week, and on my birthday I will go out with a bang, a pile of cakes, and two bottles of Kava Brut. I am temping for a reason – I’m a free spirit, a drifting creative, a non-committer, a quitter. I refuse to devote my life to the service of others – especially when those ‘others’ are petty lawyers, earning their daily bread by feeding the rapacious beast of bureaucracy which is holding us all in its swelling grip.
On the long, gently bobbing train rides to and from work I read, swallowing words like a hungry child, noting them down in my journal, savouring their meanings and origins; adding them to my ever-expanding bank for future use and abuse. Certain sentences and passages grab my attention and I am compelled to read them over and over before highlighting and leaving for a later re-read, and I long for careless days when I can spend seamless hours tapping away at my keyboard, nailing words to stories, pouring the contents of my brain into cookie moulds and watch them rise in the heat.
Inevitably, one part of me is wondering, will I ever be able to make a living off my writing? But the other part of me is saying, I can do anything I set my mind to, and a new mantra has emerged: I have something to prove.