When people ask me where I’m from, I tell them I’m from London. It’s always been London and, in some ways, it always will – but my boyfriend has started to look at me strangely when I tell strangers this.
In autumn, we moved to a town called Richmond on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales. Does this mean I’m no longer from London? I was born and raised there and have lived there all my life… but now I live elsewhere. Am I no longer a Londoner? What am I instead? A Yorkshire lass? A country girl? None of those fit the bill.
I’ve written about the ups and downs of moving to the country. The benefits are many: a spacious study, access to the outdoors, a charming town, amenities I can reach by walking and of course a sense of wellbeing. The drawbacks include the fear of missing out, a lack of friends and family, little anonymity and the fact that Richmond is simply not London.
Behind all the things I miss about London is the thing I miss the most: possibility.
In London, I felt that I was at the centre of something, part of a collective heartbeat. It’s true I was so often stressed, but in squeezing onto the Central Line, in sidestepping strangers at breakneck speed, in the push and stress of everyday life, there was something great and valuable: the possibility that something, or anything, might happen – and if not today, then tomorrow.
In London, you might go to a restaurant and find that the menu is written in French. You might meet an arbitrageur (and never return their call). You might date someone semi-famous or someone super-rich and decide that neither is worth the trouble. You might find the love of your life in the most unexpected of places: an overheated classroom in a crumbling school in east London.
More important than lovers are friends. Great ones can be made anywhere, but in London they’re a motley crew. There might be the struggling writer who offers to cook you dinner instead of going out with just the right level of levity to make her poverty palatable. There might be the wealthy consultant who got on a grad scheme directly from uni and now has a house with a garage. There might be a videogame designer, a book editor, the guy who quit his job to cycle around the world.
In London, your interests can be wide and varied. You want to try improv at age 38, then go ahead and try it. You want to meet a lauded author, then book a ticket and do it. You want to join a writing group, language group, or try your hand at LARP-ing, rest assured you’ll find a tribe that will help you do it.
And then there’s the hulking thing called career. You may not be doing what you want to right now, but in London there’s a sense that one day you could. You might find yourself in the right place, stepping in a room at just the right time to meet the person that might change your life.
In London, you may never meet a lover or make great friends. You may never take up a quirky hobby or escape a career dead end, but that is not the point. The point is that you could. The point is that there’s possibility hiding in the corners of quotidian life.
I’ve written love letters to London before, but back when it was still my home. I was still part of the rush and thrill, the hustle and bustle and bright white lights. In Richmond, life is calm, but smaller somehow and my days are gently prescriptive.
I’m happy that I moved – irrepressibly smug about my spacious study and our access to the Dales – but equally I know that I’ll never sell my tiny flat in London, for that one-bed cube in zone 4 with noise round the clock from the A-road next door is my foothold in the greatest city in the world. I may never come back to London, but I’m not yet ready to let it go.
So, yes, when people ask me where I’m from, I tell them I’m from London. It’s always been London and, in some ways, it always will.
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