London , 4 June 2017

My London / 7 Stories

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This morning when I fired up my laptop to write about a great shampoo, words eluded me. My mind kept circling back to last night’s attacks in London, and I just didn’t fancy writing.

But then I went to breakfast, as planned, at Farmacy on Westbourne Grove with my sister, hubs and some friends. Monty dog came along, and after eating, we walked through Hyde Park, snaked round into Notting Hill, and up into Queen’s Park.

As I walked, memories came crashing in. A kiss, right there. That argument, over on the bench. A proposal, under that street light.

When I got home, I jotted down some of the things that flashed into my mind and, as I wrote, I thought of we Londoners all packed in together, having little moments of glory and sadness that are all our own as the city rumbles on. Words did not elude me, so I thought I’d post these vignettes, instead, today //

Petticoat Lane, 3am / I’m looking out my window and can see a man dancing with a woman. It’s not a sophisticated or well-executed dance. He’s stumbling, she’s laughing. They may have been together for years, or merely hours. But they’re both merry and completely swept away in the moment. When they twirl, he catches my eye, and I’m unsurprised to see that the man is Elijah Wood; London is surprising like that.

Hyde Park, 5pm / It is the hottest of days, and hundreds of people have clustered into groups to sit and play music on Hyde Park’s grassy belly. I’m feeling a exhausted and sweaty, so slump in the shade next to a tree. I put my earphones in. I’m listening to Nelly rap about parties, but a cacophony of sounds still makes it through his words. I miss, however, the holler of warning from a nearby boy as the ball they’ve been playing with escapes their control and promptly lands on my head. I mutter and swear to myself, tell them it’s fine, and stick my earphones back in.

Portabello Market, 1pm / It’s winking at me from the recesses of his stall. Elvis’s face. Black and white. Perfect. At the bottom is his signature, the huge ‘E’, swirling into the scrawled other letters. I’d know that handwriting anywhere, but I’ve never owned a piece of it. I approach the stall owner, who seems surprised that Elvis and not a more contemporary person’s autograph has held my attention, but he’s a seasoned London salesman, so quickly offers me the poster for £200, notices my face drops, and tells me I can have it for £150. But I can’t. I’m 15. It’s an impossibly high price for me, and I let the hope of having that piece of Elvis go, offer an excuse about coming back soon, and walk a little sadder through the winding stalls selling leather belts and old tea sets and Victorian pictures.

Wardour Street, 8am / Soho is a strange beast at 8am. She looks a little bashful, like a showgirl who’s been caught changing from stage sequins to a sensible tea dress, all granny knickers and plush feathers. I post as much on twitter and Londoners who follow me like the post. They know this rare version of Soho, the Soho that is simultaneously spitting out the last of her revellers into the sun while ushering the work force along her cobbled streets.

The steps of the Ritz, 5am / My friend and I have missed the last tube home. We’re 16, and we don’t have the staggering cab fare to my parents’, and I didn’t want to ask them for it, so I phoned them with the lie that we were sleeping elsewhere. So we’re sitting on the steps of the Ritz, because I couldn’t think of anywhere safer to wait for the great snakes of trains to start up again. We’ve been here for two hours, and nobody has told us to shove off. Now, we hear the chinking of cups, and I wonder if the breakfast service is starting up. It may well be, but this fancy tea set is making its way towards us, the doorman smiling warmly and telling us toast will follow. It does, and as I sit on the steps of the Ritz as the sun rises, I tell myself that one day I’ll frequent this grand place that showed such kindness to two slightly-grotty, stranded teens.

Westbourne Grove, 10pm / I’m dating a violinist who keeps odd hours. We don’t often eat dinner together on account of his concert schedule, and I rarely see him eat. Tonight, though, he’s joined me straight from rehearsal and is chomping down on a ball of mozzarella from the brine-filled plastic bag as we walk down Westbourne Grove to my house. He’s an inelegant eater, spilling the fluid while talking through each chew. I wonder, aloud, how a man so deft at playing an instrument can be such a clumsy eater, and he swallows his last, throws the packet into the mouth of a bin, and sweeps me into a kiss in answer. London continues to swirl around us, oblivious, as I devour his salty kisses while his priceless Stradivarius sits at his heels faithfully.

Wimbledon, 7am / My mum, my sister and I have been wrapped up in a sleeping bag on the street since 2am. Other tennis fans are stirring, preparing for the potential joys of seeing Steffi Graf or Boris Becker play live, but I’ve been awake for hours, watching the stars, listening to the whispers from other campers, thinking it’s all terribly exciting. There’s a camaraderie among the group, and as we’re nudged ever closer to the ticket gates, the couple in front of us let my Austrian mother go ahead so she can have the last tickets to see her beloved Boris that day. We’re handed centre court tickets and walk victorious to our seats.


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