A young man on a bicycle swooshes by blasting HIGHWAY TO HELL for all to hear. I cannot imagine a better welcome. A business man in grey suit with his collar unbuttoned kicks a ball to a boy and a girl. A boat flies by on the river with several police officers onboard, they’re all wearing thick vests. The water is brown, the waves crashing on the walls I’m walking by, the water splashing so I take a step to the side to avoid getting wet.
It doesn’t rain.
Walking the streets of this city seems strange. I’ve heard so much about it, and it seems to welcome me, it is friendly and vibrant, much like its inhabitants that are immensely welcoming, definitely friendly and very vibrant and colourful.
Stepping into the street turns out to be hazardous however, but the man at the wheel doesn’t jump out and start shouting at me, he just smiles as I raise my hands in a silent “Please forgive me, I know not what I do,” and if he mutters “Damned foreigners,” it certainly isn’t apparent because his smile seems genuine, as if it was just as much his fault as it was mine. It wasn’t his fault. I looked in the wrong direction and was later genuinely grateful for the words on the streets actually telling me which way to look.
There is a buzz in this city, a fragrant of everything and nothing. The red lamps in Chinatown and the wonderful carved gateway, the skyline full of the new and the very old, the river still, after all these years, giving life and energy to this city that has seen more history than most. You can see it in everything, the eclectic looking houses, the towers in the distance, the names of the underground stations. The desperate plea from this city to let everyone who will listen know and understand that it is still friendly, still full of life and that everyone are still welcome here.
I arrive at Waterloo station and immediately my mind starts singing:
“Waterloo, I was defeated, you won the war.
Waterloo, promise to love you for ever more.”
The words ring in my mind and I see it as a sign. This is a city you can’t help but to love, because the people are friendly and there is an endless amount of stories, back alleys and strange things lurking in the shades and the shadows here. There are secrets and there are wonders just around the corner, and it whispers this quietly into your ear as you walk the streets, defying the pain in your feet in every step.
I step into a coffee shop and actually order coffee. I drink more coffee in the four days I spend here than I’ve done in the past four months and it seems just the way it should be. Sitting in a coffeehouse with a new book, with a wonderfully melodic first chapter, before I experience the first book signing of my life. There is always a first and as I sit there chatting with the lovely, mesmerisingly talented people on both my sides I can’t help but to wonder “how on earth did I get here? How did I get into the bowels of this bookstore that is so full of treasures amongst all this capable people?”
The aftermath is wine and conversation with the inspiring and generous people gathered in a little room, some of them are superstars known to all and the others are also superstars respected because of their uniqueness and because of their love of the word and of the genre.
I belong here, I think, though at the very same time I feel like an imposter, because how can the thing I do possibly be good enough to allow me to be here? And they nod, when I say it out loud, and tell me that they’ve felt exactly the same, they’ve walked in my shoes and they ensure me that I do belong.
And my feet still hurt, but that’s alright.
The night is enticing but in the end the trains take me home to the hotel easily and when I wake up in the morning, shaky, but strangely and thankfully not so hungover I realise that I have another great day a head of me.
But this day has different magic in store for me. It’s both unexpected and soothing, if I was edgy after the grandeur from the day before then the HIGHGATE CEMETERY, and a day with a dear friend, brought me down to earth again and eased my tickled, tangled nerves. The guide showed us history that seemed ruthless, gothic and peaceful all at the same time. It’s as if eclecticism is a goal in itself in this city, and in this cemetery that is full of life and full of death at the same time, gravestones and catacombs along with wonderful greenery, the birds chirping high above and the group of living souls walking the pathway trying to show reverence and at the same time it seems impossible not to be deathly curious about every soul that lies underneath these stones and the monuments. It feels impossible to believe that there aren’t ghosts, ghouls and vampires lurking in the shadows of a place like this.
Even on my last day, my traveling day, the city doesn’t leave me bored. I feel privileged as I get to stroll through the floors of the Royal Opera House with a friend enthusiastically showing me the place and some of the tricks and treats in this Mecca of artistry at its grandest. It’s as if history and modern times meet everywhere and unite in this city, even in a place like this you can see the old in the new and it mixes and mingles in a way that makes me baffled, delighted.
Then a nice walk and a chat with a good friend about things that matter the most to me and who graciously shows me the way to the airport, just in time so I don’t need to worry but don’t get the time to get bored either.
It feels impossibly odd that it only took the airplane an hour and twenty minutes to fly me from this city that has me tickled-pink, to the edges of the universe were I live, where the wind is cold and my two girls, one canine, the other a buzzing little girl who has been writing books all the while I’ve been gone and who eagerly tells me about it in the wee hours of the evening, when she should be fast asleep. I watch her as she falls asleep, after promising me to show me all her stories in the morning and I can’t help but to wonder if she will get to experience a similar kind of magic I have experienced in the past four days.