Sunday, July 28, 2013
I have a difficult relationship with the city where I was bought up. My parents were Irish, I was born in Scotland but we left there when I was two and moved to Hendon, a Jewish suburb of London (like Riverdale in NYC - which I love because it feels so familiar) - where I lived until I was in my late teens. I left home then and floated around London working as a hairdresser, then magazine journalist and eventually editor - always trying to find a place there that felt like home. The truth is, I felt more irish than English and my heart was in Mayo where I had spent my childhood holidays. I had friends here and there was a strong thread of affinity with the place running through the core of me that would not let me rest until I had moved my husband to Killala, County Mayo - within ten minutes of my grandmother's cottage in Ballina which has always felt like my true home.
One of my sisters moved over here too - but my middle sister and my closest sibling, my brother Tom - (who broke my heart by dying in 2009) are/were True Londoners. 'True Londoners' are a bit like New Yorkers in that New Yorkers love New York - and would not live anywhere else. However - London is such a huge, sprawling city - with so many parks you don't even need to leave it to visit the countryside (Central Park is like 'Meh' in comparison to even local parks like Richmond Common and Hampstead heath) True Londoners cannot see any reason why anybody would ever want to leave it. For any reason. Oh sure - they holiday abroad, but get in a car and drive outside its vast perimeters? What's the point. My brother and sister thought I was stone mad moving to rural Ireland. It was beyond their understanding.
I never loved London. To me is was the big scary city I grew up in and I was/am glad to be out of it and living somewhere that for me has been more human, more fruitful - a relaxed and peaceful nirvana where I can think and not worry about what I am wearing too much. I miss cappuccino and sushi - but we are catching up - yes - even here in County Mayo!
When Tom died - and we buried him - in his beloved London - my feeling of estrangement with my childhood city was complete. I flit in and flit out a few times a year for work. Short working trips, during which time I stuff myself with sushi and good coffee and collapse back into my rural idyll, grateful I don't have to live there. London is full of painful memories for me - of being a young, lonely woman trying to make my way in the city. Drinking too much, loving undeserving men too deeply - it always felt like a struggle. I hated being small and invisible in that vast sea of people - I felt like I was drowing. I needed to live in a smaller pond and now I do and I love it.
On one of these working trips earlier this year I bought my intern Danielle - a girl from Ballina. We stopped for a coffee in Starbucks Covent Garden and got to talking about London. HOW can I not LOVE the place - she said. Such a vibrant, BRILLIANT city. I was so LUCKY to grow up here!!!! I looked around the place - the teaming life outside the window, the lights, the exotic shops, the multi-cultural atmosphere and thought 'Tom loved this' - then I promptly burst into tears. She's right - Tom was right - London is a great place. And it is my city. Mine and Tom's. The last time I saw Tom we walked for a half day through these streets - dancing and laughing and being young again - which was always how I was with Tom. I miss him. London took him from me - in death but also in life because we lived different lives in different places.
Next week I am going back to London with my sons and I am going to reclaim it back as my city. We are going to go to museums - walk about - but not to my 'old haunts' as I have always done before. I don't want London to be about the past any more - I want it to be about the future. I want my sons to love London how I loved Ballina - for it to be their holiday home - a place they love and might want to live one day.
We leave on Wednesday.
Tune into my Kate Kerrigan page for updates.