When I first visited London at the age of 16 it was absolutely surreal- my heart was beating like crazy, my hands were sweaty, my stomach cramps got so bad I couldn’t eat.. I felt as if I came back home after a very long and exhausting journey, a thing difficult to explain really. I was madly in love with everything I got to experience:
- Endless queues at the airport, way back to the hotel through hundreds of crossroads (‘..what a great traffic system- it’s so bright!’ ) and heavy fumes drifting in the air. Rows of identical, unplastered houses, colourful network of the tube lines and Starbucks coffee shops around every corner.
- Wonderful Camden Town, where life rolled its own way, against all the norms and rules. Where, in a little bar by the Canal, beer smelled of cannabis and greasy fish&chips seemed to taste better than any sophisticated dinner. Where a skinny guy with his broken acoustic turned out to be the governor of human souls, hypnotising hearts with every single note.
- Regent’s Park with that extraordinary view of the sleepless city covered in millions of lights (‘..come what may the cosmos will, take me up and down on Primrose Hill..’)… which felt so absolutely blissful it made me believe in magic.
- And then, the City- glass, transparent, boring and bland. With iconic red busses and hoards of picture-hungry tourists in front of every other photo booth.
- Dirty waters of the River and empty bottles of whiskey left by the beach. Magnificent Houses of Parliament and St Paul’s Cathedral so white it nearly looked as if it was drawn on the dark surface of the midnight sky. 15-year old street art creators and some unknown band giving me goosebumps with their version of ‘Love will tear us apart’ outside the National Theatre.
- All those cafes, restaurants and pastry shops.. English Roses swearing like sailors and skinny foreigners proudly showing off their fake LV bags. A huge, wide windowsill in my tiny room and the view over the world soaked in the rain.
- Hundreds of parks and fitness lovers- joggers, yogis, dog walkers. Deer lazily walking on the grass in Richmond and hefty trees one could possibly build houses on.. Drops of water under my bare feet and half-open eyes blinded by the sun. The royal blue sky and bright kites gently floating in the air.
- The one and only Carnaby Street whose best days were long gone (‘..the street that was a legend is a mockery..’) and Lord John who was nowhere to be find.
- ‘Hollywood nights in Soho’ and ‘the Roxy loo’ that was only in my mind. Colourful China Town and tonnes of stinky litter covering almost every square foot of land. Overcrowded Piccadilly and the Eros statue I refused to be photographed with.
- Beautiful Vespas left every now and then, a neat Fred Perry shop and gorgeous shirts I was too scared to check the price tags of- it would have been cruel to ruin that 16 year-old girl’s dream after all.
- Finally, the East End where it all begun. Where under the sky of bubbles flying above Upton Park, The Hammers had lost just another game that season and ‘I’m West Ham Till I die’ never stopped being sung that night anyway. Where the pavements remembered the blood and heavy soles of docs belonging to the ICF guys and bronze Booby Moore looked at me as if I was the only girl in the world.
- The East End, with its markets which weren’t even close to what they are now, filled with the smell of old fish, rotten meat and a few Cockneys speaking the language only they could understand. I was standing there with my eyes closed, listening to the cascades of rhythms and sounds praying for the moment to last forever. Little did I knew a few years later I’d be the one to get my university degree in ‘Cockney slang in audiovisual translation’. Life finds it ways to turn things around, doesn’t it.
- The Astoria, one of the last temples of freedom which was demolished only a few years later, leaving my heart in pieces.
- A skinny, tipsy punk rocker outside The Forum and a gang of skinheads at the gig inside. Dozens of raised fists, dozens of throats shouting ‘England belongs to me’ with Cock Sparrer. Laurel wreaths covering proud chests and the dance floor converted into the sea of cherry boots.
- All those streets, squares, avenues…shops where Christmas starts in October, the dirt behind the nails of a beggar holding his life savings in a damp Costa cup, record shops selling Sex Pistols, The Jam and Queen…
…all those tiny little pieces of the jigsaw puzzle resulted in my never-ending amusement, my manic fascination, my obsessive love for the city that I now call home.