Wednesday, 13 January 2010

In love with London

People tend to love London or hate it. Returning after several weeks, I sink into this city and I feel a great sense of homecoming - which is odd, because as a postcolonial migrant Scot I really don't have a sense of home in terms of place. I've been in Scotland for two weeks, and I suppose that's my spiritual home. I was brought up as a Scot in Zambia - we went to the Presbyterian Church, my dad was a chief of the Caledonian Society, and he once told me that if ever I had to choose between marrying an Englishman and marrying a Zambian, I should marry the Zambian 'because they're tribal, like us', but really, he never doubted that I would marry a Scot (I married an Englishman.) I could recite large tracts of Rabbie Burns by the time I was eight, but I only discovered Shakespeare as an adult.

So it's odd to discover that, when my delayed flight from Glasgow finally touched down in London today, I felt I'd come 'home' - or as close to it as I'm likely to get.

I think it's because London isn't just a city - it's a country in itself, a country like no other, a country for all those who have no country, a home for all those who feel happier among strangers than among those who are too closely bound together in terms of nation, race and creed. London belongs to everybody and nobody. It's a city of astonishing beauty and quite extraordinary squalor. Tonight, the snow is turning to slush and ice, the sirens wail along the A3 outside the window, people jostle in the queue at Tesco, and the underground trains rattle and clatter through the metallic arteries of the city.

But warm air blows through those arteries, and the anonymous crowds often behave like friends who simply haven't met. Yes, there are gangs in London and stabbings and violence. My own son was senselessly beaten last year by a group of thugs. But there's also a quiet sense of solidarity here, of being in this together - whatever 'this' is, but whatever it is, it keeps us here, allows us the occasional shared smile, a moment of eye contact, a friendly exchange, a rolicking ride home after a night out, when a drunk old man entertains us on the bus all the way from Victoria to Clapham by standing in the aisle and telling jokes and singing songs (I was there), or a sloshed young student leans over the serious-minded businessman reading his Financial Times on the midnight tube and strikes up a conversation so daft and endearing that eventually the FT can't compete and we're all listening and laughing, except for the couple lost in a world of eyes and hands and tongues who simply can't wait for the tube to deliver them home to bed.

It's good to be back here. Hello London! I've missed you.

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