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100 Miles West – Here I Go Again On My Own

I had planned to start this blog by echoing (ok, copying) Hugh Grant’s opening voiceover in About A Boy – by stating that whoever said ‘no man is an island’ was talking a complete load of bollocks and that in my opinion all men – and women – are, in fact, islands.

Furthermore I am proud to be an island and wouldn’t have it any other way. I have lived on my own, travelled on my own, got drunk on my own (should I admit to that?) and basically hung out on my own, happily, for as long as I can remember. I am not quite as good (or bad?) an island as Hugh Grant, as I do have a lot of friends, a brilliant family and the odd lover who ensure that I am never ‘lonely’, but I essentially live my life alone and on my own terms.

This is how I like to see myself, but of course, the reality is a bit more complicated than that.

In 2011 I went travelling on my own to Mexico. I had a fantasy of being a solitary writer, secluded from the world, left alone with my imagination to create the stories that the constant buzz of my normal life had not yet allowed me to explore. I arrived in Isla Mujeres, ready to be an island on an island, a woman’s island no less.

I found the perfect apartment on the ocean, opened my laptop and…nothing. Nothing on day one or week one, or week two. So instead I spent my days walking into the tiny town, speaking worse that pidgin Spanish mainly to the guy in the laundry, having a beer, sitting on the beach in blazing sunshine or watching the tropical storms roll in – ok it was idyllic and I was happy-ish, I think, but I was also going slowly mad. I was too shy to strike up conversations beyond ‘una cerveza por favor’ and the lack of interaction with people, of normal conversation, of any connection to anyone who might be able to help me if I was in trouble did not fire my imagination in the way that I had hoped. Instead it made me paranoid, fearful, and more deeply insecure than I had felt in years.

When my friend Anna arrived in week four, I was mean to her. I didn’t understand what affect the last few weeks of self-imposed solitary confinement had had on my mental state. I was brittle and cold – reverting to all of the default personality traits I use when I feel under attack, not understanding that I was actually under attack from myself. I had gone into battle alone and was beating myself up over and over again – too much time to think and navel-gaze is no good for anyone.

A week with my Anna brought me down from the ledge though, and after she left I took a PADI diving course where I made some friends and one special friend (yes, it was the diving instructor – I really am that much of a cliché!) and had a beautiful, interactive, supportive, if not immensely creative, remaining six weeks.

My move to Bristol is a very different thing of course. Despite the fact I am suddenly detached from the amazing support network that exists in my corner of London, I do have friends here and many family members are down the road. However, I still prepared myself to go into battle alone, steeling myself to be strong, independent and, most importantly, on my own. I don’t NEED anyone, I came here so that I could support other people, be a rock for my family…It is hard to admit, once again, what a massive wanker I can be, but it turns out that I was not brought here to save other people, they are, of course, much more likely to save me.

I have been in danger of losing myself again – despite repeatedly saying that my move to Bristol was ‘no big deal’ it turns out it is quite a big deal after all. It’s tough to uproot your life and start putting roots down somewhere new, especially when you have been in the same place for 15 years. But it’s going to be okay because I am finally willing to admit that I might need to lean on people when things are a bit tough.

Between family, housemates, old school friends and wonderful ‘friend dates’ I have been set up on (dates with friends of friends who live here), I am maintaining my tenuous grip on reality and finding out how lovely it can be to have people to rely on. Also, being here doesn’t mean I have to cut myself off from my previous life entirely – I can still dip in and out very easily.

I am not sure I will ever fully give up my island status, but I am willing to admit that I do actually need to be part of an archipelego or to at least have a few bridges connecting me to the mainland…that’s what ‘it’s’ all about after all. As long as I can use the drawbridge once in a while so I can rock along really badly to Whitesnake.

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The Greatest City On Earth?

I love Paris. Ever since I visited as a nine year old girl I’ve been hooked. Back then I went to a tea party at Shakespeare and Company on the Left Bank, entered Notre Dame during Mass, ate croque-monsieur at a street café at Châtelet les Halles, and collected more sugar lumps in colourful wrappers than I could fit in my suitcase. More recently the city hasn’t been so kind to me; I got my first migraine on the metro and couldn’t move for 3 hours then a few years later I got dumped by not one, but two boyfriends there – city of love, anyone? But still it has a haunting appeal that draws me back there time and again…the language, the style, the energy…

WAIT! This is supposed to be a blog about London, and yet when it comes to great cities, I think about Paris, Rome, Berlin and Barcelona, not grotty old London where I grew up and have spent 20 out of my 35 years. However, in the last few months, I have noticed not subtle but clear changes and I am almost inclined to agree with Time Out’s recent statement that London is, in fact, the greatest city on earth.

Two years ago I decided to leave London for good. I had been here for 12 years and despite the well known observation by Samuel Johnson ‘If a man is tired of London, he is tired of life’ (the quote is from 1777 so I forgive his use of ‘man’) I was ready to go, I had had enough. It had become too much of a struggle for me to live here, all my friends were settling down, I was getting lonely, and I was convinced there must be somewhere better.

Because of this I spent the last couple of years coming up with cunning and incredible plans to run away. I even managed it last year – going travelling for 7 months, during which time I decided the city for me was New York but, unsurprisingly it is extremely hard to get a visa.

So, here I am. Back in London. I was not brought up here, but I lived here until I was 5 and have been here ever since University so I guess I should call it home. I am a city girl at heart and this is where I belong, I don’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t get a pint of milk easily at 4am.

I’m lucky enough to live just off Portobello Road, where every Saturday locals and tourists gather for the largest antiques market in the UK. I have heard more French voices on the street than anything else in the last few months, and that’s not just because I notice them more due to the fact I know a handful of French words. So what’s the big attraction? It’s cold and rainy, people are quite rude, it’s expensive…hang on, am I describing Paris again? No, London has the same reputation, but the reality is quite different. On Portobello Road, even on the greyest of days, there is a vibe, an attitude, which bring the colour, vibrancy and diversity of the Londoners who run it to life, reminding us of a London which the weather so often tries to snatch away from us. A London which has recently re-claimed its soul, regained its sense of humour – things which have been missing for a long time.

Now is the time to embrace the city of London, to build on the excitement created by the Jubilee, The Olympics, The Paralympics. The tube may have gone back to weekend line closures and the old heads down eyes front attitude, but the people have changed, their sparkle and joie de vivre have returned and I, for one, am nowhere near being tired of what London has to offer.

Top picks around Portobello:

First Floor – Classic British food in a classical setting http://www.firstfloorportobello.co.uk/

La Bodega – Yummy tapas in fab people-watching location http://www.labodegarestaurant.co.uk/

Goode and Wright – a French bistro with a proper British accent http://www.goodeandwright.co.uk/

Crazy Homies – best Margarita in town, and pretty good tacos too http://www.crazyhomies.com/