I have a bad habit of falling out of love with things. People, places, items… Most recently, I think I’ve fallen out of love with London. But how? It’s one of the best cities in the world, with a huge amount of people and things to do – you could live here your whole life and not be able to discover all that London has to offer.
And I think I’ve discovered the reason why. When I was younger, just finishing my high school education, I used to go to London for the weekend every now and then, looking forward to my future there and all it would offer me. It would fill me with a specific type of excitement, one that I’ve never been able to replicate. I remember looking out the window on the plane, surveying the London Eye, the swoop of the Thames round by Greenwich, peering into the forbidden private gardens of Buckingham Palace – my heart sitting up high in my chest, both nervous and rearing to discover my future life.
I used to go to the museums; do my seasonal haul in Topshop where I would spend at least £300 on clothes I would covet for the next 4 months (cue modern groan when I think about how unsustainable that it right about now); buy at least 6 cupcakes from Lola’s which I would share around to my best friends back in the boarding house (I went to boarding school – cupcakes were a coveted item); feel a particular thrill and cliché of waving down a London cabbie and flying through the backstreets accompanied by the constant chatter of the cabbie. I used to walk out of my shitty hotel doors with my arms wide open, ready to take on a city much bigger than I was, taking in the buzz and the energy of constant movement and vigour.
Now I’ve lived in London on and off for more than 7 years, and I like to think that I’ve got to know myself a little better since I first stepped off the plane with 3 suitcases and an 18-year-old’s cheerful naivety. I like to think that I know what I want now, more than ever. I want open space, clean air to breathe, a mountainside to get lost in, a coastal tide to ride. I like to think that I’m not a city person, but maybe, I’ve just lost touch with the city I was so enamoured with in the first place. Maybe I’ve stopped doing the fun things that made living in a city worth the traffic and the rude passers-by.
The point is: I think it’s so easy to get caught up in our little lives. To go to our local greengrocer who we know and love; to go to our local bar, where the bartender makes your order before you can say what it is; the restaurant that you frequent where you order the same thing every time because you love it and it’s comfort food; to meet your same group of friends because they love you and accept you and it’s your group; to walk the same route to the tube station; to only go into town when you absolutely have to because you’re a seasoned city-goer and you absolutely hate tourists who stand in the middle of the street when you’re powerwalking and have places to be.
And that’s great. Humans are creatures of habit after all! It’s amazing to have strangers know nothing else about you but what you like to drink; it’s amazing to know a city so well that you know the most direct route down the backstreets to get to your location the fastest, not wasting any time; it’s amazing to have your comforts and your spaces where you feel happiest.
But it’s also amazing to find new bars that might be better or different to your usual; to get lost in a city that you know like the back of your hand; to meet strangers on the street that might end up becoming your friend.
The charm of a city doesn’t lie in your seasoned walk to the tube station. In avoiding busy places because they’re busy. That’s part of being in a city.
It lies in the newness of discovery. The excitement of the unknown.
Maybe the joy and excitement I felt all those years ago was because I got to go to the museums; because I found joy in wasting time in clothing shops instead of having a list and executing it in military precision; because I wasn’t afraid to talk to a random person in a bar in all innocence and amiability.
I’m going to make a bigger effort to go to the Natural History Museum; to go to the Science Museum and stand on the shaking earthquake simulator which always simultaneously scared and thrilled me; to take my time strolling down the street and not end up sweaty at my destination because I walked faster than everyone on the pavement while covered in my winter layers. I’m going to go to art gallery openings, and restaurant tasting nights, and bar crawls in a neighbourhood far away from mine. I might even go for a Jack The Ripper tour in the middle of the night – why not?
I’m going to rediscover my city, by doing the things that only tourists do. The things that people come from across the world away to experience. It’s sitting on my back door, and I’ve been ignoring it all this time.