Well, it’s all happening here. Things are in boxes, furniture is being removed (by people who are not pregnant) on a daily basis, all is chaos. I ricochet from feeling vaguely on top of things to being stressed beyond all my limits and wanting to curl up in a ball and cry. Also, I’ve spent half of this week actually sick in bed which has made it even worse. Andy is holding everything together spectacularly (and holding me together, frequently). The final countdown is on. Life as we know it is changing.
Given that we’re down to our last few days in London I feel like I should write something nostalgic and celebratory about the past 13 years in this city, seven of them as a couple and two of them as a family. My mind is so full of practicalities that it’s difficult to find the space to reflect in that way. I feel like we’re going to get through this big move physically and then finally the emotional reality will hit me and I’ll need to sit down and grieve properly. (Not that our move is something that will be miserable! But, you know, grieving the old, celebrating the new…).
(I should explain at this point that my camera is packed and I’m writing from my sick bed, so tragically there will be no beautiful illustrative photos. Sorry. Here’s a moody one).
For now, drawing on my limited resources and space for reflection, here is a list of the things I am going to miss most about this glorious, mad city we call home.
- The people. Oh, the people. Frankly this should be a whole series of posts itself, and I’m tearing up just thinking about all the people we are leaving. I know that special people aren’t unique to London; I know they won’t even be so far away; but I just can’t imagine life that isn’t shaped and coloured by the brilliant people who surround us. There are all the folk at our gorgeous little church, who have loved us so fully, adored and looked after Jesse (and prayed him through those first terrifying days and weeks), put up our relatives, cooked us dinners, babysat, cleaned our flat, encouraged and inspired us. If Jesse understood he was leaving his ‘god-sisters’ (their words) behind he would never let us go. Then there are the local mums, who have been a complete lifeline. I never realised how desperately I would need their camaraderie, humour and presence EVERY WEEK. What will I do without Chrici, Jules, Claire, Katie, Hannah, Anna, Kirsty, Katie, Carola, Jo, and Lucy? How will I fill a whole maternity leave without them? And then there are the friends from university who mostly gravitated towards London and are still mostly spread across the city. I worked out recently that my very closest friendships were all formed within a few short years – university and the two or three years afterwards. And they’re all here. (Well, one escaped to Devon, and one has just decamped to suburbia, but mostly they are here). It’s strange to imagine they won’t be just a bus ride away.
- The Ruby Dolls. I co-founded a theatre company whilst I was here! I spent more hours with the dolls than any other team of people in my life (except maybe my family) and they undoubtedly know the reality of what it is to work closely with me better than anyone else. We poured our hearts and souls into an unknown and courageous creative journey (one they are still continuing). We sang, we wrote, we did puppetry, we clowned, we learned all kinds of other weird other stuff (body percussion!),we put stories out into the world which we cared about. We sank countless weekends and evenings into it all. We did the most random, thankless gigs, we appeared on the BBC, we performed in the West End and Edinburgh and in shabby corners with bad PAs. I’m so proud that we made stuff, and got better doing it.
- Our big wide, tree-lined street and the view from our balcony. We’ve actually spent the last two or three months encased in scaffolding – our building, that is. And I’d almost forgotten how wonderful the views are, until they were revealed again this week. We can see the London Eye and the Shard from our balcony. On a good day, even Big Ben (which, ironically, is the smallest). And our street is just unnecessarily wide and has these big old trees that line it. Looking out of our living room window on the third floor, you can mainly just big tree canopies, and not realise that you’re in the inner city.
- Our eclectic neighbourhood. Our neighbours are Nigerian and Ecuadorian, Polish and Lithuanian, West Indian and Irish. They are council tenants and private renters. They are families too big to ever keep track of, they are single professionals, they are recent arrivals, they have lived here more than 50 years. We are all crammed together and bump into each other on the stairwells and balconies and car park every day. It’s hard to imagine rediscovering all of that on a regular street.
- Our local parks and how insanely close they are. Three minutes walk in either direction from our building brings you to parks, both with toddler-friendly playgrounds. Even before having Jesse I loved walking through and round them (we’re not talking the scale of Hyde Park here). When I was overdue and trying to bring on labour I remember setting out to walk around Kennington Park without stopping until the baby came. And then after about three laps I’d need to go home for a little rest. My commute to work takes me through the park and I see it in all seasons – at the height of summer when it’s crammed with sunbathers (even on the days it’s barely hitting 20 degrees celsius, but the keenos are out in their bikinis), and in winter when it’s locked in darkness, even before I get there to cross it on my way home. After manhandling a toddler down three flights of stairs, it’s a dream to be only a stone’s throw from the park.
- All the free stuff. The galleries. The museums. The food markets. The Royal Festival Hall. Hyde Park. Regents Park. Dulwich Park. Burgess Park (there are lots of big parks). And then even some of the not-free but amazing stuff like the London Transport Museum (£16 for an annual pass and Jesse would spend days climbing on all the buses and trains and trams) and the DIscover storytelling centre in Stratford (with regular, storybook-themes installations in the basement). So much choice all the time. We’ve been spoilt.
- The big red buses. I was a fan of the tube for so long, but then it’s got so crazy expensive, and have you tried carrying a buggy containing a toddler up stairs, whilst pregnant? Jesse adores all the big red buses and they take us anywhere and everywhere. Now I adore them too. Except when there are already two buggies on board, dammit.
- The theatre. It’s strange to be putting this at the bottom of my list when it’s really the reason I moved to London. I applied to drama school here, and decided that even if I didn’t get in I’d work in a theatre box office somewhere and find a way to act. I spent two years training and then some more years intermittently performing, six as a Ruby Doll. I’ve been to insanely overpriced West End musicals and tiny fringe shows in every corner of zone 2. I’ve been transported, inspired, captivated and challenged; I’ve been bored, annoyed, disgusted and disillusioned. I thought that theatre would be my world and it hasn’t turned out that way right now. I’ve watched peers and friends get the jobs I craved; I’ve seen others be crushed and worn down by the whole dirty business. I know theatre doesn’t just happen in London, but it’s a pretty big epicentre, and stepping away feels like something.
So there you go. Look out for 8 things to love about Luton, coming soon! Well, maybe in a few weeks when we emerge from the chaos into Christmas and then a new baby. Hmm, it could take a while. Maybe someone could write me a guest post?!by