Apologies for the radio silence – we’ve had a great and inspiring weekend touring the mini hollands of Enfield and Waltham Forest – and now suddenly it is Wednesday and I have neither written it up nor anything else that has happened (although if you are desperate you can catch up via our hashtag). The truth is I have been largely working (the downside of being a freelancer that they never tell you about is the way your work follows you around so that you are never quite free of the dreaded laptop and the hunt for a quiet corner with WiFi to squeeze in some work) and catching up with old friends leaving little time for anything else.
This afternoon, being free of the laptop for once, and having some time to kill between coffee and cake and chat with one friend and the book launch of another (go buy the book, by the way. It’s got a bicycle on the cover and everything), I decided to walk across central London from Trafalgar Square to Bank. There’s no city in the world other than London that I could dare to do this in without a map – while I can (and do) get lost coming out of a pub toilet, I can generally navigate my way around my old home city based on the map that’s indelibly ingrained in my head and the fact that it’s laid out like a sensible city with the river down the middle and a gentle slope down towards the centre (Edinburgh, I’m looking at you).
With time still to kill, I crossed over the wobbly bridge to Tate Modern to check out the swings (and, ahem, offload some of that coffee). I noticed as I sat down on one to take the weight off my feet that I had instinctively done so tube-passenger style – even though the swing would be better balanced had I sat in the middle, I sat at the end, so that if anyone else wanted to sit on the swing they could do so without sitting right next to me. These are the things that get into your blood if you live and commute in London, and they are habits that cannot be shaken.
In fact, as I stopped on the bridge to marvel at the ever changing skyline (if London had a state bird, it would be the crane), I realised that I may not have lived here for 10 years, but I will always walk fast and chafe at being trapped behind slow-moving tourists to the point of stepping out into the road rather than be held up. I will always know that if you’re going to Covent Garden you actually want to get off at Leicester Square and nip down the back alleyway behind the theatre. I will always walk up the escalator even if I’m not in a hurry and glare at the people who don’t stand on the right. I will always mind the gap and move right down inside the car. I will always cross the road when there’s a gap in the traffic, regardless of what the green man says. I will always know which side of the river is the right one. I will always pedantically insist that Big Ben is the bell. And I will always ensure that I sit down in such a way as to enable us all to maximise the distance between ourselves and everyone else for as long as possible. In short, I am a Londoner and will always be a Londoner and the fact that I no longer live here is an irrelevance.
That said, I’m quite looking forward to going home tomorrow…