This Recording, June 2014. Original article.
A London Particular
I know what it’s like to live in a place where nothing ever happens, and West London is nothing like that. I know what it’s like to live in a place where you can’t choose your friends because there are only 300 souls in the village and no public transport, and this is certainly nothing like that. There’s a Tube station ten minutes up the road from my flat, and the world is just there. But it’s not East London.
The window in my old bedroom in Hackney, out East, would open onto the tiny, overgrown garden nestled in between the two rows of terrace houses. There were birds and chattering neighbours and the faraway hum of traffic; I’d lie on my bed, which was exactly the same height as the windowsill, with my head out the open window. The feeling was one of a secret patch of quiet. My current living room in Isleworth, out West, has a window wall with a door that opens out to a terrace, which would be nice if only there wasn’t so much traffic.
It takes me an hour to get to Soho now from the Isleworth flat, straight on the Piccadilly Line, crammed in with the crowds from the airport. The quickest way to get into Soho from my Hackney house was to walk down to Dalston Kingsland and get the Overground, and the city was there in half hour flat, via Highbury & Islington. My favourite route though, was to walk to the bus stop on Newington Green, which was about the same distance from the house but took you into a completely different part of the city. The leafy backroads were quiet, surrounded by houses made from that yellow brick you see all over East London. Always so much green, so many flowers.
I moved to West London for a good reason, for the only reason I’d ever have even considered it. The man I married has always lived this end of town, first for being a child here and second for working here. Before we really knew each other I expected the hour-and-a-half trek between our houses, between our London villages, to eventually become too big of an obstacle, but as it turned out, not his time. Marriage is different. Actually, let me rephrase that: marriage means that the relationship is different. It wouldn’t work with just anyone.
Because everything else about getting married has been great, but this West London thing … I thought I’d get over it, but I’m not. I’m really not, I know it’s bratty but I can’t help it. I remind myself that this really isn’t that bad, that none of the issues are actually problems, but still, I can’t shift the feeling that this is all wrong. West London is too slick; I miss the grit. This nostalgia is unusual for me, as I’ve lived in ten houses in London before this one and I’ve never felt homesick for any one of them. I even left a whole country once and never looked back: once I’ve left, that’s it. But as it turned out, not his time.
This is England, and nowhere else is this humid. It’s never more noticeable than when I get off an airplane, having spent time somewhere invariably drier; the humidity descends like a second skin the moment you step onto the jetway. The constant mugginess makes the city feel raw in the winter and sticky in the summer, exaggerating the natural direction of the temperatures. The icy fog seeps into your bones in the winter; it’s a London particular, rough and punishing. In the summer the damp heat does the same, but it’s mellow, reminding is why we love the city the way that we do.
East London is not that far away. And West London is really not that different. But home is a feeling.