London is a shock to many Australians when they first arrive. I spent my initial months here heartsick and lonely; numbed by the crush of the crowds and the cool distance of the people, dismayed by the grime and the grey. I lived in Archway (shudder), commuted for hours every day to various jobs where people barely spoke to me, and turned a lurid shade of pale from the lack of sunlight. I have never felt so utterly dispossessed as I did in those early months of 2003.
Strangely, despite how miserable I was, not for a nanosecond did I consider turning tail and going home. I'm stubborn like that (or maybe just plain stupid).
I'm not sure when the turning point came. I don't think it was until I found myself single after a four-year long relationship that I truly fell for London, heart and soul. It was my London now. A lot of people expected me to move home after that break-up, but instead I dug my heels in and looked around me with fresh (if somewhat red and watery) eyes. This time around, London nurtured me. I'd put in the hard yards. For the first time, I felt free to make the most of living in such a populous, diverse, surprising, stunning, rich cultural centre. I moved into a bright, girly flat in a pretty area with a lovely English girl. I knew about some of London's secret oases and went out of my way to discover new ones. I relaxed my self-imposed rules about saving money and just committed to enjoying my time here. I started going to gigs again. I said "yes" to most of the things that people asked me to. I bought a bike.
Now, I fall deeper for this city every day. Several times a day in the Summer.
I love the incredible music scene, the soft quality of the light, the sly and silly humour, the pretty Victorian/Georgian/Tudor architecture, the millions of cultural happenings going on all over town, all the time.
But above all these things, I think the thing I admire most about London is that there is an audience for absolutely every kind of pastime imaginable, no matter how random or esoteric.
Examples? Here is a smattering of odd things in which I have recently taken part:
- the Iron Cupcake competition (as a taster, not a baker);
- the Sunday Stroll, a massive meet-up of roller-bladers who stop the traffic and take over the city streets for a couple of hours every weekend;
- urban barn dancing;
- Laughter in odd places (Richard Herring at the Museum of London, amongst the bones and arrow heads: v. funny); and let's not forget
- the European Hard Court Bike Polo Championships (spectating only, apparently you have to have a moustache and knee-high socks to play).
I know that you could probably seek out similar weird and wonderful underground happenings elsewhere in the world (including Melbourne), but London does seem to be the epicentre for eccentricity, attracting odd-bods from all over the globe. Random silliness has been elevated to an art form here (see: Monty Pyton, the Goodies, the Mighty Boosh et al). No sport is so crazy that some damn fools wouldn't try it, no bet is too ridiculous to follow through on, and no subject is so seemingly narrow that it couldn't have a museum dedicated to it.
London is full of people who refuse to grow up and start taking life seriously young man, harumph, you think this is all a big joke, don't you? and that suits me just fine.