Wednesday, February 18, 2009
the london diaries
Last night, I thought I was grabbing my San Francisco diary from the shelf to read with my bedtime cup of Milo, but I accidentally grabbed my first London one instead. It turned out to be very interesting reading.
July 20th, 2007. Paddington Library. What a nightmare day. Caught in a storm in Bloomsbury - torrential rain sheeting and pelting from the sky, greyness clamped over London like a saucepan lid. Drenched beyond my skin.
I've kept a diary since the age of nine. Pretty much ever since I read The Diary of Anne Frank and decided I wanted my diary to catapult me to worldwide fame. I doubt my childish musings of "So-and-So told the teacher I did this - I SO DID NOT!!" would do that though. And then I discovered Anais Nin when I was fifteen, and could only dream of the trappings of her life on the sharp end of the double-edged erotic literary sword.
July 28th, 2007. I am in Ottoemezzo Cafe on Westbourne Grove, about to indulge in breakfast of a "Kate Moss Cappuccino" and pain au chocolat.....the coffee comes in a giant chocolate brown and white bowl. I can taste Irish Cream in the froth.
I'd forgotten how much I did in those first two months in this city. I had arrived, fresh-faced and deeply tanned from a particularly sweltering North American summer, to a city I'd longed to know my whole life, knowing only one person, having no job, nowhere to live, and only two bags with me.
August 1st, 2007. 8.15pm, Northern Line. On my way to look at another flat, a room the size of a shoebox for three times what I was paying in rent in Melbourne. Gah. I go through stages of loving and hating it here. Has it sunk in that I live in London yet? Not really. Now that I'm working I'm too busy to really think about it - about the enormous changes I've made in my life....there are days when I feel so lucky to be here, and there are other days where I think I've made the biggest mistake of my life. When I think of everything I gave up to come here, it makes me want to be sick.....harden the fuck up Phil, as Chopper would say.
At first, I really did think I had made the biggest mistake of my life. The first six weeks here were pure torture, albeit interspersed with visits to literary sites I'd longed to see since I was yay high, extravagant cocktails that cost more than an hour's pay, and accumulating as many library cards as possible (I have four I still use!). Everything was so much more difficult than I expected it to be. And I had to do it on my own.
August 9th, 2007. I'm glad I read 1984 before coming to London. It prepared me. But I haven't got lost since last weekend. I think I'm slowly starting to get to grips with life here.
Elephant and Castle smells like fried chicken.
Everything is a test.
Everything is fleeting.
One afternoon, after a particularly bad week, I sat in Hyde Park and wrote a poem. A poem in which I unleashed my sadness that London hadn't been quite what I expected, but I still loved it, and wanted to stay. I just wanted it to start loving me back.
August 12, 2007. I have just arrived at the London Poetry Festival in Waterloo. It's not what I expected. It's empty.
A week later, that poem I wrote in Hyde Park was accepted in Smoke #11.
It's amazing how good things will get, if you just keep believing and persevere.
August 21, 2007. Met up with a dear, dear friend visiting from America. I almost asked if I could go back with her. Her eyes glistened with tears as I told her what life has been like here so far.....We talked about writing..... "Now you can do with your writing what you're doing with your life," she said, "being brave."
That diary contains my first thoughts on my new home - city life, a journey to Edinburgh for my first ever Fringe, the joy of my first poem acceptance, theatre I went to see, romances that didn't get beyond the first date, the nightmare of flat hunting, the wet warmth of the English summer, the craziness of Notting Hill carnival, yoga and Guinness and porridge at the staff canteen, conversations I had with taxi drivers, negotiating all the intricacies of daily life in the UK that just didn't make sense to me, managing to walk home alone after two bottles of wine at 3am without an A to Z, and everything in between.
August 27th, 2007. Finally I have a home. I'm sitting in my favourite coffee shop nearby, sipping strong cappuccino amid obscure jazz and handholding lovers reading the paper opposite me. I know my way around the area now - I've learned the routes from the house to both tube stations, rather alarming though that I remember where to turn left by looking for the blood stains on the pavement.
It was wonderful to empty the suitcase and the backpack at long last. To wash my clothes, to buy new towels and revel in their cleanliness. To cook a meal. To sleep on my own sheets. Such small, small things, but things I've learned to be grateful for.
It's hard to believe that almost two years have passed between those inky words in that leather bound journal and typing this now. There is an art to carrying your past forward with you, but there is nothing in that journal that I want to forget, ever.
I really do love living in this city. It's hard work at times, but it does repay you, a thousand times over, if you stick with it. Kind of like writing, in a way.
My favourite things to do in London (and the list keeps growing)
Visit the Tate Modern on the Southbank, and drink beer on the terrace overlooking the Milennium Bridge and St Paul's Cathedral.
Go shopping in Regent Street, on payday.
Slurp up noodles at Cha Cha Moon or Hare and Tortoise.
Red wine and poetry at The Poetry Cafe.
Sunday walks in my local park.
Coffee and book shopping in Lamb's Conduit Street.
Go to a concert at Kings Place.
Look at books at The British Library.
Trawl Spittalfields Market for treasures, and Columbia Road for flowers.
Visit Sylvia Plath's house in Primrose Hill, and having ice cream at Marine Ices afterwards.
Eat strawberries and drink champagne in Hyde Park (in summer!)