The Unintentional Orbiting of a Londoner
There is a shameless wistfulness that Londoners partake in when apart from their beloved city for an extended period of time. We tell ourselves that things will be different this time round. That we’ll muster up the enthusiasm to go to that bar in Shoreditch or that poetry reading in Peckham. We hold up that roller disco we snuck into, underage, in Vauxhall, as evidence that we’ve managed to do it before. We wilfully ignore the fact that our latest novelty venture is just two stops from Waterloo, on the same train that we somehow always find ourselves taking, and yet we never get off at a different stop.
Her yellow raincoat is your beacon.
She doesn’t always need it, but it’s become a part of this ritual re-meeting. The third time she’ll find you a few steps behind the busker, whose crooning of the standard underground soundtrack has an edge. The kind of edge that which made you think at the time that he could be one of the ones to actually make it. And not just be a marker next to your dropped pin on the London landscape, or a tangent in another article on being a Londoner.
You’re not sure when you started talking about your city in buzzwords, or what came first: the buzzwords or the Tate Museum? The commentary remains relatively samey, your pace bouncing against the backpacks of tourists, and it always finishes with postcards in paper envelopes, tucked into hardback agendas you’re not sure you use entirely unironically. These will eventually find themselves pegged onto makeshift spiderweb wall collages. When you run out of space for the next ones, you’ll start gifting them. Avant-garde birthday cards, hoping they don’t think you chose the ugliest one to part with, even though it wouldn’t be entirely untrue.
You would like to unravel that little path in the commons you discovered when you were sixteen, but unravel it as an adult, wandering with your sister. She’d just helped you dye your hair again, and you found the most un-London part of London so far. You’ve dropped this idea into conversation before, in passing. It was met with delighted eyes as you described the stones you could hop between to cross the stream that trickled through, avoiding the stinging nettles. You watched them dim when you followed it up with the zone; your zone. And you remembered that in this city, you never really know where the other person came from.
And you remembered that in this city, you never really know where the other person came from.
As a Londoner, there are the places you know and the places you’ve heard of on the good authority of the friends you only meet in the middle. Where you can still be Londoners amongst the hordes of sightseers. You don’t check tripadvisor, or second guess yourself on how long it should take to walk back to the station. You know that place does a good vegan burger to go, and that a friend of a friend got food poisoning after eating those burritos. Your gallery is dotted with the same photo of the same skyline, from the same corner where couples pose for selfies, but you’ve still never walked over that iconic bridge.
On the way home, you think about your friend who takes the long way back, along the river. Sometimes she’ll sit and draw. Once, someone struck up a conversation in her native tongue, never having heard her speak. That’s the way she walks when you sit on the phone for 2 hours after 6 months of occasional instagram DMs and reactions. She likes the sound of the water, but you only ever hear a distant cacophony of voices, or renditions of Oasis. The next time you see her, she’ll pull out her notebook to draw you as you eat, and you’ll ask to see the rest.