When I lived in London I knew the Tube map – or parts of it – like the back of my hand. I could recite all the stops from Hounslow West up to St Pancras; I knew where to change for Wimbledon and the nearest stop to Clapham. I knew which areas were well-served (North and Central London) and which were not (South London.) I could almost have done the ‘knowledge’ like an underground taxi driver if needed; and had Mornington Crescent existed back then, I’d have been a master player.
But this knowledge did not avail me much as I had no-one to share it with. It was an alienating experience living in London and I was often lonely. I like to be part of a community; to know my neighbours; to walk down the street and meet people, to chat to staff in the shops; to walk into a pub and nod to the locals. But until I left London I had no idea there were places where people would talk to you at the bus stop instead of edging away as if you were a dangerous lunatic. I had no idea there were communities where people knew each other and popped in and out of each other’s houses. If I wanted to visit a friend I had to make arrangements ahead of time, then get on a bus or tube and travel. After I left school I had no friends in Hounslow at all; they were scattered over a wide area.
The effect of all this is to give the individual little or no context. You can be one person at work, another in the pub, another with your boating friends in Richmond and a completely different person at home. True, there can be something exciting in being who you want to be but ultimately it’s wearing. We all need to be known – and after I left school and church I lost that context.
While I was at school though, a local artist (who turned out to be a friend of my boyfriend’s mother) painted a picture of the pupils. He chose to do an abstract called ‘The Thin Green Line’ and whilst I was excited to be part of an art work, I found the abstractness disappointing. But I daresay, were I to see it again, I might find more in it to appreciate.
I don’t think I can say the same of London. But never say never…