On the 11th of August, 2011, I arrived in London’s Heathrow Airport after travelling across an ocean with a stop in Iceland along the way. The city was still cleaning up from the riots that began earlier in the week. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was sure that London was where I had to be.
A year and a day later, I’m walking outside of a pub in Dalston, hearing bits of the closing ceremony for London’s Olympic Games after leaving a bar full of lovely people from far-flung areas gathered for a friend’s birthday.
This past year in London has been completely different from what I had imagined it would be when I came back. It was in many ways a lot harder, particularly financially, than I expected. There was a lot of stress when I was looking for a job, and the silence from companies and shops I applied to was deafening.
At the same time, I have made so many wonderful friends in this past year it completely staggers me. I managed to hang out with just a few of these friends on Saturday, the anniversary day I didn’t really make a huge deal out of (although inside I was really excited). Older friends as well have made an appearance in recent days, as I’ve gone to a going-away party for a friend off to study on a Fulbright scholarship in the US (good luck, Aru!) and managed to chat with some friends from London 1.0, the days of Clarence Road’s Button Factory and the friends who lived there.
The anniversary of my arrival also reminds me that I am at the midway point on my post-study work visa, which brings forth a sense of anxiety as well as a bit of excitement. This past year was unpredictable and full of surprises, some amazing and some nearly devastating. Looking back on that, there isn’t a way for me predict what this next year coming will bring.
But I’m ready for it.
Here’s to a good year. May there be many, many more to come.
Last year, I wrote a piece on The Ardent Exile blog I was keeping on ‘Missing London.’ In celebration of my year thus far, I am reposting the text here.
Missing London means feeling the bells of St Paul’s echo in your chest cavity. It means recalling the different vantage points you’ve seen the venerable city landmark in your mind’s eye. It means hearing the sloshing of the Thames as you think about having seen it from Southbank.
Missing London involves being nostalgic for drizzly rain, even though your feet remember how wet they were when the rain would soak through your shoes and socks. It means thinking of the times you’ve wiped condensation off a bus window on a rainy day, only to have to do it again minutes later so you can watch the sodden traffic and pedestrians with their umbrellas push along the sidewalk.
Missing London makes you think about the moments you’ve spent alone in a pub for no good reason aside from that you had nothing else to do and didn’t want to go home yet. Which is actually a fair enough reason to sit in a nice pub with one of those glass mugs in front of you, full of a dark, pleasant ale. Especially on a rainy day.
Missing London makes you hope that none of your favourite little cafés or eateries close up while you’re gone. Or get so popular that the owners jack up the prices.
Missing London means you forget how moody you got in January when it would be dark by 3 pm. But you do remember complaining about it, and hearing others complain about it.
Missing London could mean you might miss a bit of anonymity. Sometimes it’s nice to move around and go to places without running into anyone. It makes those occasions when you do run into someone all the more special and fortuitous.
Missing London means missing the bricks and stone in buildings and wondering what they’ve seen as they stand silently in structures built back a hundred or so years ago. It means looking at the newer buildings and wondering what stood there before.
Missing London involves looking back at that time you twisted your ankle dancing in a bar on Denmark Street, then catching the 29 home and having to stand on the bus because some man began to vomit near your seat, causing you to evacuate to the front of the bendy-bus. And having that all happen on a Monday night.
Missing London means missing urban fox sightings and the thrill they gave when they would slink across the street, wild ghosts that remind you that this world is still a wild place and it belongs to nature first and foremost, no matter how much concrete people lay down.
Missing London is to miss riding past Finsbury Park when it’s covered in snow on the 29, 253 or 254. It also means missing the contrast of the blackbirds that would hop around in the snow.
Missing London means you sort of miss shopping at Waitrose, even though while you lived in London you always held the supermarket chain in a small measure of contempt, and would always try going to Sainsbury’s, Co-op or Morrison’s first before setting foot in Waitrose. It’s because you knew you’d wind up buying a silly amount of cheese in their dairy section.
Missing London is to miss the moments where you find yourself in a place in London you’ve never been before and marvelling at how different this new-to-you part of London is so different to what you’re used to. Case in point: visiting Chiswick when you live in Clapton Pond. It also means having a bit of nostalgia in trying to figure out how the hell to get back to your part of London from this otherworldly area of the city.
Missing London involves feeling an odd twinge of nostalgia for sitting on a bus and hearing four people talking on their mobile phones in four different languages. It also means that you miss the people-watching involved on public transportation, and that you miss speculating on where your fellow passengers were from originally. Even if you never were correct.
Missing London makes you wish you were able to buy locally-made pear-vanilla jam, even if you had to fight the crowd at Borough Market to do so. Or wake up early, which may even be more daunting.
Missing London means missing late-night falafel on Kingsland Road. No, not from that place, but the other place, where they mince the veg without you asking them to and where the guy will joke “Okay, extra onion!” after you’ve asked him to leave out the onions in your falafel wrap.
Missing London is when you’re reminiscing over a place such as Holloway Road. Inexplicably, perhaps, to most folks.