Having spent nearly a decade of my life living in London, it seems to me that London is more about the internal self than the external place. When I am feeling on top of the world, confident and beautiful London has laid itself before me like a theme park after hours, every ride unlocked, no queues and no barriers. I grew up in London. I didn’t grow up in London but I “grew up” in London. I came to London as a twenty-one-year-old in a long-term relationship, with self-esteem issues and a spinning pug. I had no idea who I was. I started off in an illegally sublet flat on Queenstown Road, with roaches (spliff ends not insects) underneath all the rugs and condoms and lube in the bedside drawers. It was a shit hole but it was London.
Often it takes a period away from a place to see it in a different light. Everything becomes wallpaper and we forget to look up. An extended period of time away can help you re-see the patterns. Nothing has made me appreciate London more than travel. On the one hand going around the globe makes you realise just how much people hold this city up there. “Oh, you’re from London?” they shriek with excitement. And they want to talk to you about everything from Charles Dickens and the Globe, to Grime and the East End, to Royalty and whether you’ve been invited to the palace for tea, or whether you practice curtseying in school (people have genuinely asked me about all these things). London is ancient, romantically rooted in what was once the centre of the earth. But that’s weird, right? When London becomes the triangle between your work, the pub and Londis on the corner. When you forget to look up.
The other part of travelling is coming home. London was my playground at twenty-four and twenty-five. I had the time of my life here. I’d had a year to get properly past my relationship, I had just been around the world on my first big trip of five months and I’d just been properly immersed in completely different cultures, which blew my mind. I was in a period of my life where YES was the answer. If you come to London (or back to London) and say YES, dreams come true.
But I also acknowledge that often a ‘simple’ state of mind is one of the hardest things to attain and keep hold of. In the dark times of depression and anxiety everybody here is too busy, the temperature is harsh, the atmosphere is lonely and closed off. People keep to themselves inside their boxes and guard their faces with the Evening Standard when they do come out. People carry knives and bombs. Bankers screw you, bus drivers are dicks, there is never enough money and it rains. All the time.
It is much easier of course to look up when the trees are full of blossom and the spring sun covers every house top in this misty yellow haze. I have followed my dreams down these streets and my rewards are the feelings and memories that have made up the core of who I am. My very being. I wonder if there will ever be a place that will do so much for me again.
Whatever you are in London for, to find love, to chase the dollar, to chase the white rabbit, whatever it is, this city is what you make it. It is a character in my work. It lives and breathes but it always lives and breathes the energy that is inside of me. It is my internal self rather than the stone or brick. Everything is about how you see it. But knowing that doesn’t make it any easier.
None of us are living in the same London. From a park bench the grass can look healthy and fresh in spring, while to someone else it may be overcast and uncomfortable. I have been on both sides. I will be again. None of us, sadly, are exempt from the possibility of this happening to us. The only way to get through it is to talk about it. To understand that our worlds are different. That they will never be the same, and that that difference is okay. You can ask someone to tell you about what it looks like in their city but all you can do is listen. You cant get frustrated or upset when their map is different to yours. Listen to how they see things. This is the key to healing.