“There!” Frank jabs the blue, sketches the lofty towers with a pressed finger; “Oh!” Outside the soaring constructions of Canary Wharf whip past, rubbing palms and chafing council flat views. Low-lying stars, clustered light years away from kitchenette thirty-centimetre sinks. Spangled dreams where Columbians parade, fired-up and fuelled-on then burnt out, pin-pricks that linger for a time like Christmas lights above real stone.
The train pushes through, weaves deeper amongst split brick. A peeling pie and mash shop pecks at the corners of a transparent design agency. An old bird, nested with a premium track-side window, tweets but no longer understands her landscape.
Every leafy square holds a déjà vu aroma, the reminiscent whiff of a tuna Tesco meal deal, hurriedly gorged on a lunchbreak bench from some soul destroying temp job. Every tagged-stained arch way, drips damp with memories of a rave queue, shaky with bass, expectation and over-head trains. Every cobbled back road tells a story, when we tripped down eager, stupid and drunk on our own existence. I didn’t grow up here, but I grew up here.
I watch Frank’s eyes grow vast, as this city that runs through me seeps into him. “Down by the Thames, there’s the London Eye. Round it goes, and up very high!” “Oh!” he exclaims as the recognition from his story book dawns and he almost breaks his neck to crane it upwards.
Amid the Southbank halfpipes and concrete ledges, the traces of a fifteen year old Clifford can be heard, flying ramps and landing tricks, the clatter of wheels on lengthy careless days. He looks about twelve, a pintsize scrappy, gobby little shite, tanked-up on attention, the BIG THING for a minute before the next kid steams through. Frank studies the skaters with detailed attention. “Oh!” he points suddenly, with utter joy as someone stacks it and their board goes airborne.
We stuff tomato and cheese in our pizza holes just off of Soho square, chaotic and feral on the street; we are no Instagram-filtered photo-ready family. No inserted cute caption. Like our city we are raw and real, and often we are a mess. Muddling through we do not always grasp our emotions, an over-flow, a heightened heat, a tantrum.
Bellies full, we wheelie Frank round to Hamley’s and he latches onto an overpriced car, all racket, blaze and strobes, as subtle as a rainbow Lamborghini. Frank doesn’t care for the +3 age warning and soon we are vaulting out of that jam-packed pressure cave, gulping for fresh air, the car whizzing away, Franks face a pure representation of ecstasy. I’ve spent worse thirty pounds.
I wonder what Frank’s London will look like, will it only smell of deconstructed coffee and craft beer? Will he drink in social clubs or cocktail bars? Will he stride in our footfalls, down the same trodden paths or skip to a beat that we can’t count? I wish the Trocadero was still open. An old bird trying to make sense of a new world. Will Frank stand at the Southbank one day, propping his kid against the bars, saying, “This is where your grandfather used to skate. He helped save this from destruction. A proper piece of history.” Long Live Southbank.
These buildings are so much more than slabs and mortar. They’re meditating moments for an angry boy, a life-long Saturday tradition, a Sunday morning religion. Four, five, six generations deep, a spiritual home that can’t be manufactured. The life blood that keeps a heart ticking, the places that made us. They’re in Frank already. London, I love you.