My first clear memory of visiting London was as a teen. A neighbour from back home was at university in Tottenham and she invited me to a party at her boyfriend’s squat. After first getting lost in Seven Sisters, I found a payphone and made contact. Most of the evening saw me sat on the stairs of the squat listening to funk and soul, mind blown.
I moved to London in 1997 in order to study teaching. It was intoxicating. I lived in a hall of residence in Euston and so I was able to walk to Camden with its 3D plastic shop fronts and elegantly wasted nightlife, or to Covent Garden or Soho. In those days the pubs shut at 11.00 pm but we managed to find a little ‘members’ club in Noho frequented by nightworkers. It served Warsteiner lager and complicity.
Later, I moved in with a friend in Ealing. As young professionals, we couldn’t quite wait until the weekend and so Thursday was local night. We would visit The Townhouse for awful karaoke in order to smirk and plan the weekend proper. We missed one week at the Townhouse because we were in Ibiza and that was the week the Real IRA decided to let a bomb off outside.
London always faces this kind of threat. My nights out would swing between the silly and the serious. My favourite kind of serious was The Gallery at Turnmills with Sister Bliss doing her thing. Silly was typified by a visit to Tiger Tiger; another place that they attempted to blow up. I can’t remember who tried to do that now. It doesn’t matter.
I was working in Ealing on the 7th July, 2005 when terrorists attacked the Underground and buses. Our main priority that day was to get the kids safely home. Our main priory that weekend was to get on the Underground and go into London to show that Londoners are not afraid.
As I grew older I started to appreciate more than just London’s nightlife. I enjoyed mussels on Sloane Square and breaking off from shopping to pop into the British Museum. Camden still thrilled me but so did Portobello markets. I would meet up with university friends for the boat race and have birthday meals on the Charing Cross road. On weekends we would sometimes visit Borough market to buy rare breed pork or huge tins of Spanish paprika.
By now I lived in a terraced house in Watford. As children came along, we would find ourselves going into London less. Eventually we decided to make the change; to move to my wife’s home town of Ballarat in Australia where we judged that we could give our girls a good life.
But I still love London. I’ve been back twice in winter to visit friends and I’ve led two school groups in summer. It is magnetic, magnificent. It is more than the sum of its parts and that’s quite an achievement given that it is a world city that beats and flows with every culture. It is a city of ideas. It is a city that welcomes anyone without a fuss. It is the city where a Black Country boy and a Somalian refugee can both call themselves ‘Londoners’.
We may not be together any more, London. But I still love you and I always will.