Date: 14 June 2015.
Location: Sunday cafe, Barnsbury. Being a local (and a loner) has perks. I’ve managed to stroll right past the queue of hungry hipsters and take a seat straight away in the secret backward city are. Yeah, I feel a bit cool.
11pm last Saturday night. Overheard on Curtain Road, Shoreditch, from a pair of drunk hipsters leaning against the wall of The Builders’ Arms:
“Am I dying?”
“No, it’s just London.”
I’m with you buddy: London is relentless and it’s been a hell of a weekend.
On Friday evening I kept my heels on and headed to The Devonshire Arms in Kensington. Kennedy’s sister is in town and this was an excellent excuse to see Kennedy & Legally Blonde, drink too much Chenin Blanc and compare outfit plans for Ascot. Kensington is so lovely. I feel right at home in Islington but, oh, Kensington is just so lovely. The pub was on a wide and leafy street, tucked in behind posh Cromwell Road. Its courtyard magnolia tree was sheltering several dozen well-heeled Sou’Westerners sipping on Pimms and Camden Pale Ales from the Friday sunshine. This is a very different set. Everyone here is earning around twice, thrice, the average English wage and there’s never a murmur about whose round it is, Chandon is always an option and it’s taken for granted that you’ll be in the Royal Enclosure at Ascot.
The next day I woke up abruptly at 9am, naked, in my own bed (thankfully) with the contents of my purse scattered about the bedspread, my cat on my pillow and my phone — miraculously — plugged into the charger. But there’s no rest for the wicked and I had to get up and make myself and my flat presentable for The Planeteer was due to arrive in less than an hour. Unfortunately, The Planeteer had miscalculated how long the Oxford-London bus trip would take so a very hungover Alex huddled on her couch and attempted to write the first half of this blog (which, upon review, proved to be rubbish, flat and rife with typos) and ingest as much water as possible and as much caffeine as safe.
Around noon The Planeteer arrived. We hugged and then made our way to Paris and Twiggy’s for brunch. And prosecco. The girls were heading to Feild Day in East London but, as I’d intended to be in Romania and was disorganised, I hadn’t managed to secure a ticket before they sold out. Candidly, I wasn’t that disappointed. Festivals are really not my thing. My senses love them: a shock of colourful people, girls with flowers in their hair and fringed 70s throwback acessories, men in plaid and shorts and Tom Selleck facial hair, grassy hills, tunes from different stages muddling together, the smell of organic beetroot tacos from one food truck, quinoa and grass-fed beer burgers from another. Otherwise, I hate them: there are people everywhere — manic ants on anthills — forced cheer, expensive alcohol and performers force-feeding the standing masses their most recent and least popular work.
Instead, I managed to enjoy the best of the day. Twiggy, Paris, The Planeteer and I crammed their tiny kitchen with our favourite brunch foods: pain au chocolat, croissants, eggs, bacon, mushrooms, toast, chutney, juice. Prosecco. Obviously. Perhaps the others took it in their stride, but I found it surreal to have us all in a room together. Last April Paris fled for the UK chasing Frenchmen and a career in fashion, leaving behind a gaggle of friends, her beloved dog and a boy, Cullen. In September, Twiggy had followed her, chasing change and leaving behind the boy who’d broken her heart. In February I’d come too, chasing the unknown and more stamps in my passport, leaving behind my best friends in the world, a home I loved and a messy family situation. Now The Planeteer was here to remind of us what we’d left. For me at least, it made me question what I’d found and then metaphorically nod: yes, yes this move had been a good decision. I think I’ve gained more than I’ve lost. It’s been interesting to see London through The Planeteer’s eyes and hear her say things I probably said a few months ago, ‘The coffee in this country is the worst!’ And ‘What is with this weather?’
On Sunday we all recoveryp-brunched, along with Monica and Chandler. After the ordeal of finding somewhere to take seven people that also served eggs and didn’t have an hour queue on Upper Street at midday, we settled in a caught up. It was so odd to contrast The Planeteer’s year to date and ours, to contrast her views on London to ours. It made me feel as though home was very far away. Our little London family is so thoroughly enchanted by this city’s Nevereverland spell that I think The Planeteer may have found us a little difficult. We speak a slightly different language now (‘CityMap it!’, ‘oh the damn Bakerloo line!’, ‘Call me at half seven?’, ‘Just down in Shoreditch?’) and talk of weekend trips to Budapest with the ease with which we used to speak about going to St Kilda beach. Did she feel like she should move too? Indifferent? Left out? It’s hard to say, and I wouldn’t expect a candid answer. I think there will always be a subtle conflict when you speak to someone whose has made different lifestyle choices to you. Regardless of how open to other ideas you are, you will always try to justify your own decisions, be they manifestly right or wrong. I only hope her London weekend, and her whole English experience, encourages The Planeteer to take a leap of faith too. I sense she’s outgrown Melbourne for now.
But now, my breakfast is here.