Wednesday, 5 October 2011


(Picture from here)

On Sunday, some friends came for tea. Afterwards, I found myself giving driving directions to a friend heading back to south-east London. "Oh," I said nonchalantly, "you'll want to get to Hammersmith and drop down through Earls Court and cross the river at Vauxhall. Definitely quickest at this time on a Sunday."

Well, I thought, shocked: my Dad would be proud to know that I inherited this trait from him - of having a map in your head, and reeling off routes. Do all Dads do this? I think maybe they do.

But what I thought too, was - my god. I finally know this city, with its coloured lines under your feet, its hidden rivers and stinkpipes. I know its arteries and veins. I know how to get to somewhere, and how to get from somewhere, and that sometimes, depending on the time or the weather, these will be two different routes.

When I see a bus with a destination on the front, I know roughly where it's headed. I know that if I sat on that bus, I could get home. Routes light up in my head like a landing strip, a dotted line leading to where I need to be. The a40, the a4, the a406.

When someone tells me something about Acton, or Peckham, or Dulwich, or Park Royal, I know what they mean. I know where I shouldn't walk alone at night and where the tube map cheats tourists who pay £4 to ride 500 yards. I can stand in Soho and just know which way to turn, even though it all looks the same. I can reassure my parents repeatedly that Soho isn't full of prostitutes in windows, but after six years, they'll still worry.

I know precisely where to go for not just any curry, but the best. Ditto Thai, Japanese, Iranian, Ethiopian, Lebanese, Polish and god, even British food. I know where to take parents, friends, people new to town.

I know the brilliance of driving through London at a quiet time. Between Christmas and New Year, joining the dots in the dark between the Houses of Parliament and Piccadilly Circus and gazing up afresh at the big flashing sign. Turning a corner and seeing a landmark, any of them. I still feel a humpback bridge whoosh of excitement when crossing the river. I've never bought anything from Harrods. But that doesn't stop me, sometimes, on a winter's night, getting off the Tube at Knightsbridge, bundled up in my scarf, just to look at the lights.

I've sat in baking, baking traffic to reach a large patch of green, where I've jumped into my bathers and leapt into an icy pond. I've had an engagement picnic on the Heath. I still get lost, on occasion. I can hail a cab like I've done it all my life and no one would guess I'm a girl from the Midlands. I know places where you'll never get a cab for a million pounds, but I know which street to cross to find a thousand of them.

I know where my local underground river flows. I know what was there before that block of flats. I know the little secrets of my parts of town.

And today, I bought an old map of our area from a local antique bookshop, to hang on our new wall. A present for J, who loves maps and was looking at it longingly the other day. And as I paid, a book flashed at me from a stack on the till. It had a cover criss-crossed with red and white stripes, tartan. It was called 'The Clans of Scotland'.

It really struck me that I'll be living in another country, rather imminently now. I have no idea what a clan is. Maybe no one gives a toss. Maybe it's something you're just meant to know. Or maybe any Scots reading this think I'm a dick for talking about clans. Who knows. I'll soon find out.

Right now, there's just a gap where Glasgow should be. I've never even seen it. So very soon, I'll have to know nothing and start again.

I won't know what topics of national discussion cause seething resentment until I've put my foot in it, probably a few times.

I won't know what it means when someone tells me they are from Lumloch or Glenboig, or how I should get back if I accidentally found myself in Nerston.

I am lucky that through this blog, I seem to have found a disproportionately high number of wonderful people in the vicinity. I hope they can tell us where to get a curry and find a fish and chip shop that sells mushy peas.

We'll start again with the street we end up living in. We'll find our feet in the flat, then venture out to find the local, and then realise, perhaps a year later, that there's a much nicer pub two minutes round the corner, if only we'd known to look.

We'll slowly learn which newsagent sells out of the good papers by 11am. We'll work out a route to the airport to collect friends and family, but even with the help of two satnavs and a map, it may well involve traffic and/or bickering.

We'll find a supermarket. This will be very much like any other Asda, Sainsburys or Tesco in the country - except there will be some crucial differences which mean I won't be able to find the noodles.

Just as I've got my head around the sociological implications of the North/South divide, and where exactly the East Midlands sits in that binary system (it's North, incidentally) no one is likely to note or care that I still said bus, rather than bahs, or grass, rather than grahse.

I've allowed myself to feel what I've been ignoring, and London is starting to feel alien. The masses, masses of people. The skyline. When my parents last visited, as we crossed the a40 above Edgeware Road, my mum looked up and said: "the sky is just so... full... you can only see buildings..." and for a second, I saw it too.

When we drove back in the dark, past the floating illuminated mass of Westfield, I felt like I was seeing it for the first time. How did you possibly reach that? How does one get into that big green iceberg? How does it make sense? Like landing in a foreign country and trying to work out the nuances of catching a train.

When I stepped off the bus yesterday, I looked at up at the people who got off with me, rather than just ploughing on and ignoring them (the London way). How could all these people be getting onto one tube train? There were thousands of them.

London, you've been great fun. I should think I'll always remember what you taught me. Hopefully if I can cope with the Northern line in 30 degree heat (ok, I didn't cope, it made me cry the first three times, but THEN I coped) then, Glasgow, I can deal with your subway and buses. I might get used to it, even. I might find I'm home. Maybe we'll be back one day. Hopefully the good takeaways won't have changed.


  1. Having just found out yesterday that we will be trading one city for another in six short weeks, this post has really struck a nerve. My much loved city which has become our home will be left behind for a complete unknown. I won't know where to cycle, IF to cycle, and a myriad of thoughts and feelings which you have expressed so well in your post. Plus, if the East Midlands does count as North, then this Southern girl might be in for quite a change. Daunting, but exciting (I have to keep reminding myself of this) :)

  2. Living in Carlisle, but being a southerner originally I thunk I can say that up here you will find the east midlands becomes southern in that binary code. It's a moveable boundary. I know dizzy is going to help show you around, but make sure you watch her, I went walking with her one Day, she forgot I wasn't local and kept forgetting to tell me when to turn! She is wonderful thO, you'll be in good hands.
    Good luck with the move, think of all the positives, the exploration, the fun of it all.looking forward to hopefully meeting you too! Xx

  3. Good luck with the move. After 7 years in Glasgow I know exactly how you feel. It's really satisfying to realise you know somwehere like this.

    Don't worry about the subway - simplest system ever, or the airport - very close and you'll genuinely struggle to get lost on the way. The buses are a bit more mystical, and expensive. And clans generally dictate what kilt you wear - simples!

  4. Hello Missy

    I'm also on the move- from one Scottish city to another and am wetting myself about it. I'm really excited but sad to be leaving the city I've made my home. My move is only 100 miles away so not quite as hefty as yours and it's still in the same country.

    I'm originally from Glasgow and I know you'll love it. If you'd like any tips just shout. x

  5. I have been here and it is daunting...but don't forget about all the excitement, new adventures and possibilities!

    I am just getting used to London and its shortcuts and hidden gems and hope one day I will know it as well as you do...although I doubt it, I don't have your amazing map in head talent!

  6. Best of luck with your move... leaving one home for another is always hard as I'm finding. I know little about Glasgow and have ashamedly never crossed the border further north but I know that they have one of the best music scenes that the UK has to offer (any city that produces Camera Obscura wins in my book) so enjoy that...

    Our little pocket of London is a special one but not necessary the easiest to love dearly and through my own blog I've found that those who love it are of the strongest character and, as they say (though admittedly about a completely different city) "if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere..."

    Bestest of luck x

  7. What a gorgeous post.

    Dang, I need to get out more and relish this city in which I live.