Taking Space in London’s Landscape

Your education of this landscape begins in a pub. You have walked the stretch of this tenuous London zone. You have seen the river from the upstairs window, waiting for your shot on the pool table. You sat there once, on the opposite bank, listening to that Nirvana album you’d found in a HMV sale. A phone is dangling in the air from its charger, plugged into a socket that has been placed far too high up the wall. You give it a final glance as you sink your second shot, and a hand comes down on your shoulder. A gruff voice asks where you learned to play. This was London, you tell them. You grow up in pubs, taking pennies to scratch cards and staying stuck-fast sure that you’ll beat your uncle in a game one day. Realise it’s the owner of the swinging phone and that he clearly doesn’t care about damaging it. He catches your eye: only place with a damn socket, isn’t it?

It’s important to mention here that living costs in London aren’t always determined by how long it takes to get to Waterloo on the Overground. It also doesn’t matter all that much that this is an area largely populated by students; they chose to study here. You assume that is what made this pub, a hub. £1.50 pints, though awkwardly offered only on a Monday, were practically unheard of. That, and it sat on the river’s edge. From here, it was a straight line to phone-charger-voice’s home, or as he was otherwise affectionately known by us regulars, Grizzly. The man with the boat and the mattress.

Like the river, you have migrated through the curves of this city. Grizzly’s boat, on the other hand, does not move. The engine does not work. He says it needs a new one but new is not within reach at that point in time. This is a moment of living in London where there is no bustle. At the edge of the river, you find Londoners still. They accumulate in these pockets, feet twitching. The reasons differ. For Grizzly, ex-military, well-read and sharp tongued, it was circumstance. You heard briefly about family outside of London once, but you knew more of the names of the boats on the walk to his. You would count them as you walked: Annanetta, Apothecary, Summer breeze, Oliver’s dream. Each one, a flower-topped heel dug into the belly of the city, with Grizzly wedged in the middle.

When you think of London, you do not think of boats. You do not think of Northern beer prices. You do not think of eye contact. You think of space. You picture the sweaty circle line at rush hour and cyclists weaving through traffic. Constant movement means space morphs. You cannot depend on London’s landscape. It is unreliable. And so, Londoners must be resourceful. We get creative. We do not find space. We take it. This is not an article about a man on a boat. This is an article about the mentality of London and those who brave its lifestyle. The exhaustion of continual motion is always coupled with the determination to find our space.

We are oblivious to that, of course. We have back to back meetings for five hours today, we are instagraming our latte art and we are pretty sure that was just Andrew Garfield who walked past us in Covent Garden, but we’re playing it cool. This instinct doesn’t surface until we are faced with the border and a choice, and survival kicks in. We walk until we reach the water’s edge, feet twitching. We find a boat, and we drop the anchor. We do not want more space. We only want ours, in our city, and we will continue to take it.

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