I have this problem. Anytime I visit anywhere I decide that is where I am going to live. This is The Place. And I know, I know, I know … It’s a warped, unrealistic, romanticised view of a place – just like Sandy meeting the wonderful Danny in the summer holidays only to then meet the jerk Danny in Rydell High. Of course the place you visit is better than the place you live; you don’t have to go to work, it’s exciting, it’s different, you have actually budgeted money for shopping and eating out. And, in this case, it was summer. I know it was a rare summer for them. The best summer they’d had in a long time. But still, like Sandy’s hopeless devotion … I wanted to move to the UK.
I spent time walking through old houses and palaces. I touched doorways and walls because, underneath all those other touches, somewhere, is a fingerprint belonging to Winston Churchill or the Duchess of this or the Earl of that. I spent time inhaling musty air and wondered; did it always smell like this?
I spent time admiring flowers. And flowers. And flowers. And bumblebees on flowers.
I squinted into the sad, pretend eyes of taxidermied animals in private collections of Lord this or that who liked to stuff what he had killed. As a keepsake. Of course. I glanced at collections of exotic butterflies; beautiful wings under glass, pinned through the heart or where I assumed their heart would be; I didn’t listen as much as I should have during biology.
I learnt about titles and inheritance.
I learnt about Gypsies and Travellers.
Esperance me console.
I spent time in Essex and Southend-On-Sea and Kent and loved it, even though I don’t think I’m meant to admit it.
I spent time in London and loved it, even though I think that’s expected.
I learnt to accept the blisters on blisters and grimaced through poor choices in footwear. I limped over cobblestone and ran through crowds of tourists to make meetings I regretted arranging until I was actually there. I kept my cool when lost on South Bank (only I could have trouble locating the city’s largest theatre). I had meetings and cups of coffee / tea / water / nothing, thanks, I’m fine, in foyers / out the back / coffee shops just across the road. I nodded and smiled and gradually got better at describing the kind of work you do and what are you working on now and what makes your work unique and feel free to send us some of your work. But I could not think of anything to say when they asked why don’t you just move here?
I stared at police with machine guns instead of the landmarks they were guarding. No one else seemed to notice. Some tourist got photos. Others asked for directions. These guys are far more accommodating than the Grenadier Guardsman. Despite the machine guns.
I jumped on and off of the tube with varying degrees of success. I avoided peak hour. I enjoyed the quiet carriage. I saw a lot of theatre and visited a lot of galleries and bought a lot of second-hand books. I drank in pubs and parks and by the river but nowhere near as much as my English counterparts.
I tried really hard not to roll my eyes every time I was told I must have brought the weather with me.
I embraced the long nights and the early mornings and reminded myself this was a rare summer, everyone said this was a rare summer.
Yep, I was ready to move there even though I know that there would be less time for old houses and flowers and taxidermy, that peak hour would be more difficult to avoid and footwear would need to be more sensible and meetings would be less forthcoming and police with machine guns would not be so easy to dismiss and the quiet carriage would get noisy and summers like that are rare …
But then I went to Berlin … Now, this is The Place …