After a short spell in the suburban desert of North Surrey, I was lucky enough to live in the depths of the New Forest, which, for those of you not familiar with the intimate details of England is one hundred square miles of National Park close to the south coast nestling between Southampton and Bournemouth. It’s pretty flat, covered in a lot of heather and bog with the odd smattering of trees, its own unique population of indigenous ponies and much other wildlife only found there. People holiday there; many aspire to live in its relatively secure and secluded bosom. My parents moved the family there in their forties and for them it was the best decision ever.
I was twelve.
My view on that decision? It sucked, like being force fed unripe lemons while listening to a duet between Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan singing ‘Happy’.
As soon as I could I took myself to Bristol, to University. Glory be. People. Stuff to do that didn’t involve being bitten (unless the biter was another consenting adult). Places to get to easily. Buses that ran more than once a decade. I loved it but it was a student love affair and when that ended something died with it. Just a little.
I moved to London. I was terrified. I had no clue how I’d cope. I assumed I’d be there while I established a legal career and then move to suburbia where I was born, become a commuter and join local clubs and societies and be generally rather English and pretty parochial.
And then I got my bearings and I fell in love. Hook, line and sodding sinker with the place, with its multitude of contradictions, its failings, its dirt and pollution, its crowds and delays, its antiquated transport system, its oddly disturbing smells, its ugly buildings, its…
… bloody everythings.
I’m a city boy; that was established in the first weeks of October in 1975 when I went to live in Bristol. But more than that, after 40 plus years here I’m a Londoner. I’ve visited other great cities in this country and in Britain and around the world. Some are stunning, in my top ten: Edinburgh and Paris; Sydney and San Francisco; New York and Cape Town…
But none beat this gritty old city. Why? I’m not sure. It’s walkable, that helps. It’s certainly green. But I suppose at root it’s not the buildings, the open spaces, the culture, the museums, the galleries, the sport… It’s probably the people. It wouldn’t be what it is without its shifting, shifty, shining, shabby populous. I consider myself a lucky lad, unless I’m being cut up at the lights, or forced to share someone’s three week old armpit on the tube….