Is a question that always makes me reply with a disclaimer first “well… I was born in London but I have lived all over the place”. I think my current home is my 18th, and between London and here there have been stints in Surrey, various other parts of London, the midlands and the middle east. I have often felt that I am not “from” anywhere. I am not a southerner, thought I have lived here awhile. I am not a Northener because I grew up in the midlands. I didn’t live in one place growing up for longer than seven years. So I don’t look back at any one house and think “That is my childhood hometown”.
This isn’t a bad thing, don’t get me wrong, but I do feel envious sometimes when I think about people whose parents still live in the house they grew up in. Mr B for instance. His parents have lived in their house for decades and I do sometimes wish that I could “go home” and be reminded of childhood memories as I stare at a fire place or look at a tree in the garden.
I can’t do that because those homes I lived in growing up are no longer part of our lives and all the memories are in my head. Or in photo albums in a garage. So when people talk about their home town or the place they call home I stumble.
All of this got me thinking on a drive back from London on Sunday night. Increasingly when people say to me “where are you from?” I find myself thinking the answer should be “London”, I was born in Wimbledon and have lived in a couple of places very close to it though I have never lived in the centre of it. I did work there for a few years, and my parents have always had a connection to London, or a home there so we “go to London” to see them. Childhood weekends were often spent staying with my granny in Hounslow and venturing into the galleries or exhibitions “in town”. I hated them at the time but when I find myself now walking those same pavements I appreciate the memories and get a real sense of warmth for the happy times spent there. The sneaky place near the Natural History museum where we used to eat our packed lunches for instance. There are chunks of London that I know better than any other place in the world, parts of it that I have walked through for hours and think I know intimately.
Which is why I get excited when I find bits of it I never knew existed, hidden behind areas I have been walking past for years.
The last few times we have been into the West End it has been in the evening and since you can park for free on yellow lines we have done that, right behind John Lewis on Oxford Street, just off Cavendish Square. A strangely peaceful part of town, yet a few hundred yards away the pavements are crammed with people shopping, rushing about, looking at the lights, and yet on this little square you would never really know that was all happening on the other side of John Lewis. Yes there are still buses and taxis and people rushing about but it seems much calmer somehow.
I love walking in London so was in no rush to get back to our car after a night a charity night at the Palladium on Sunday. I had spotted this on the way past to park and was keen to stop and take a closer look. Annoyingly my camera was at home so I only had my phone:
The entrance to the Kings Fund, with a statue of Madonna and Child by Sir Jacob Epstein. A quick Google search will give you all the history of it, but I was mesmerised and thrilled to have found something I had never known existed yet I must have been past it dozens of times. How many people drawn to the lights of Oxford Street know that there is such history just a few feet away?
We couldn’t help but then walk through the arch to see what else might be down this little road:
Something out of a Victorian drama on BBC1 maybe? Who wouldn’t want to live here?
I have to say that this sign made both of us stop and chuckle. Not just a “Please do not smoke here” sign, but telling you where to go… Across the road please!
We tried to capture our excitement at finding this part of town by posing in front of some street art, but we aren’t very good at selfies. Ahem.
But all of this did make me think in the car on the way home about London and life in general and blogging actually. It seems that everybody wants to be a travel blogger these days and go off to far flung places and to explore the world. Which is fabulous and exciting and is giving them and their families some incredible opportunities but increasingly I am finding myself wanting to explore my own backyard more and more. I want to know what is just up the road, round the corner, in that town I have driven past a hundred times.
I love the buzz of walking into a coffee shop at midnight for a cup of tea to nurse in the car home and seeing a pile of books stacked against a wall. The sort of thing that I would buzz about for days if I found it in Paris or Rome but that I knew nothing about. I have no idea if every Cafe Nero has these as I never go in them and given they are on virtually every high street this baffled me.
This is such a rambling blog post and I don’t really know what I am trying to say (I have overdone it recently and my head is mush) but I think what I am getting at is that it has taken me over forty years to work out where I am from and to come up with a proper answer that doesn’t involve waffling and explanation.
And it has taken me until recently to also realise that I don’t really want to go anywhere else.
So I leave you with the lights on Regent Street in case you can’t get to see them for yourself.