When I think about London; my London, I think of the old concrete council block that I spent most of my youth, and the tiny balcony with the incredible views.
No I did not live near Big Ben, or in the Central touristy areas, though they were often a part of my commute, I lived in a place called Kennington.
Kennington had two distinct parts to it, one part, there were roads of restaurants, estate agencies and million plus pound houses, people suited and voices distinct in its richness and money. Then there was the part that I am from.
The less well-off area of council buildings, broken looking newsagents and a massive diversity within such a small space. In our building, the smell was a mix of urine and bleach, the lifts regularly broke down, so we had to climb six floors, where we would often pass ghostly pale figures clutching their drugs and cider, and parents leaning out of their doorway, shouting for their children and threatening them to hurry up.
In my block, when I was there, everyone knew everyone. You could almost set your watch to when a group of Jamaican men would meet in the ‘circle’ [the small part that was obscured by trees and flowers] and could have a little beer and smoke with them, as we were all friends. Or when the homeless people would meet and sleep in the yard of an old unused church, or when the drunks would start shouting as they left the pubs and passed our buildings.
My London was on a hot day, having the balcony door open, reaching over the wire cord laundry line and staring out over the horizon at sunset; which incidentally was also when my waters broke with my first son. Admiring that pink and orange sky, the church clock tower, the main road as cars and motorbikes whizzed down it, the smell of smoke and undiluted city freshness. The noise. It never stopped. The red buses, heading towards Elephant and Castle – our very own outdated shopping centre and bus hub, or towards Clapham and Brixton. My London never stopped moving forward, even from my concrete tower, I moved with it.
My favourite parts were the hidden parts; a lone independent jewellery shop that was hidden at the back of an afro-hair shop in Brixton, the people that you could meet just by taking a red bus, the numerous galleries and bookshops hidden down tiny little alleys and the adventures you could have by just buying a travel card and wandering, I wandered. And I loved it.
Until it was time to leave.
People we knew and cared about, moved on. New faces appeared, the open doors and chatty neighbours were replaced by closed doors and suspicious attitudes, people watched behind closed doors but would not say hello. Children were either out of control or controlled within the home environment. The Jamaicans moved on. The homeless became more afraid to sleep in the yard [their words] because drunks would attack them.
Someone moved above our flat and then we noticed an increase of drug users – we knew that somewhere above us, someone was supplying. One old looking lady passed out, unable to be risen, in the communal halls outside my front door, littering the space around her with needles and pipes, and vomit. London seemed to lose its gleam.
The beautiful skyline looked less pure, and I, pregnant, gazed at my bump. “This place is not for you” I would smile to him. I decided then and there that this was not a place I was to raise my innocent little boy. It was time to go.
As I said goodbye to London, I said goodbye to the people I knew, the places I haunted, the cheap transport to anywhere, the freedom the city offered. I said goodbye to my previous incarnation and hello to the potential of the future. My child would not be a child of red buses and estate culture; my child would know the countryside as well as I knew the train networks.