My best friend hated London. She moved away three years ago and bought a house in Manchester, two up, two down, and got a husband, a cat and a baby, in that order. Every time I visit her there it rains. At Christmas it flooded and they have been living in a flat ever since, all piled on top of each other like presents under the tree. I told her, I don’t understand how you can like it here and she says, I hate London, I hated living in London. She describes it – expensive and dirty, crowded tubes and dodgy streets lined with dangerous eyes, pretentious bars, sleazy men in suits, hipster girls with nose piercings, sticky floors and high rent and endless Prets, urban sprawl as far as the eye can see. And that is her London. It’s funny. I see her London sometimes, glimpse it in TV shows, hear it in depictions from other people’s stories. But it is as far removed to me as the London from a Charles Dickens novel. I have never been there.
My London spreads out like the tube map, bright and colourful, with no real middle and no real end but solid and tangibly reassuring – my normal, a constant, familiar names and places flicking past like seeing your home town out of a car window. It is the view from the top of the Shard – bright lights studded like stars in the sky, cool air, a feeling that every day you are achieving the impossible. But it is also tiny, crowded, underground bars, spiral staircases and bare brickwork, low laughter and warm light and wooden tables. My London is both cold glasses of prosecco and brightly coloured cocktails in plastic cups.
I live, work and play in the same streets. I have stared drunkenly at my office buildings through Uber windows at 3am, walked past them with no shoes on as the sun comes up, and I have had breakfast meetings in the same bars that I spun, wildly around late on Thursday nights with the critical fifth glass of wine in my hand. I can see my old workplace from my home, from my balcony where I sit with a book and a diet coke on sunny Sundays. I can walk my routes, trace them along maps with my fingers, following the river. London might be big, but my London is small, cosy, life-sized.
Different parts of London are different people. Peckham is pub quizzes, new friends, spilling out into Norbury karaoke. Oxford Street is hell and my ex boyfriend. London Bridge is champagne and roast dinners. South Bank is university friends and espresso martinis in jazz bars. Liverpool Street is my sister and my route to my parents, the DLR takes me home. I fit within these parameters, I know what to expect from each stop. My London is friends and family, work and home.
My London is the greatest city in the world. Have you ever been?