London: A Truce
On the streets here, rubbishy grey damp streets of London, place of a million faces, a million strangers, a handful of friends, we forge out slowly the pitter-patter of our daily lives, the bump-bump-bump of our heartbeat as it beats by like a sub-woofer in a passing race-mobile. So much is romanced about London — its grime, its rat-race glamour, the jigsaw of a thousand homes choc-a-blocked together along your street, that we forget quite how humdrum it is, how much it has in common with the suburbs, fields and high streets that lie beyond it. Have you ever read ‘London Fields’ by Martin Amis? It paints well this grey meadow we live in, and yet the most resonant feeling I had for the London Amis described was that it was as provincial as the small town I grew up in. That’s London.
London is a ticking clock, daring you to outrun it, to bluff its sell-by-date, to squeak out through a gap before it crumbles around you, Indiana Jones-style. There’s a bar on the corner of Bethnal Green Road that each night counts down the seconds to last orders on an LED and it’s a bit like that. 20,000 seconds left. Tick tock tick tock. When do you start counting how long it is you’ve been here? More importantly, when do you stop? I’ve lived here for two years now properly; when our band started and even when we were first signed I used to travel in for everything. I kind of always knew there was a time limit on it. When I first lived here I was sleeping in our manager’s spare room in Harlesden and I haven’t been as depressed living somewhere since my first year at college. Not because of him I should point out, just because I was by myself. I couldn’t find any rhythm in my steps, no inspiration in the streets around me. It seemed dark and oppressive and lonely and I could see myself just being enveloped by it. But now we’ve come to an understanding, me and it. We’ve signed an entente cordiale. At first we kept ourselves to ourselves, nodding politely to one another. Then without realising it we built a bond from the things in common we didn’t know we had. I started to marvel at its buildings, get lost in its cemeteries, trace its history with my fingertips and find a solace in the place I carved out in it. It budged over, made some room for me.
Now it is a home, as close to a home as something this big and gruff and grey can be. I’ve nested with the person I love, made a little verdant pocket of our own, an oasis in its brickwork. What more do you need? Exactly. It’s become the repeating cartoon backdrop on my windows, the rest-spot between endless tours, the puzzle that spider-webs away from me, that I found a me-shaped hole to fit into. It’s a three-dimensional vortex that has no pattern or reason but somehow can be made to balance, like some nightmarish algorithm that if you spend long enough at you can teach yourself how to solve.
I suspect it may have the last word though, that it will far outlast my attempts to grapple with it. But maybe I will still escape yet.
Originally written for blocparty.com, 8th March 2007.