Thursday, 23 April 2015
I am currently sat in a coffee shop in what could be considered my neighbourhood, or perhaps not. Is a
I live in Pimlico and the normal reaction is to go "ooh very posh". Then I explain I live on a council estate in Pimlico and people tend to scrunch up their nose a little. Then, if I choose to, I can explain it's a privately owned top floor apartment in a very nice estate with the best view in London. Perception is everything.
If I walk for twenty minutes I can be in Chelsea, the heart of opulence. Or I can be in Belgravia, with impossibly lavish homes. In the other direction, Battersea Park or Vauxhall. I can walk towards Victoria which is a little more neighbourly, a small village of pensioners, immigrants and tramps nesting around the brilliant white of Victorian columns.
As it stands, on this overcast morning, I am in Westminster. To be precise, I am about five minutes walk away from Parliament and in the heart of British bureacracy. This coffee shop is not full of tourists or students, it is full of men and women in important looking suits tapping away at their keyboards or having deep eloquent conversations about things only their own kind will understand. Amidst the jargon, conversations about weddings, mortgages and commutes.
The place I'm in, although a large national chain, purports to be authentic Italian fare. In case you didn't quite get it, you are treated to rows of photographs showing traditional rural Italian life. It's not too different from where I grew up. Gibraltar may be a mini concrete metropolis but there are still parts of the old town with the narrow winding labyrinths between buildings from the 1800s.
Look up and you'll see washing hanging up from one side to the other, someone leaning out of the window to look at the world. If it's around lunchtime, there'll be mothers and grandmothers screaming that it's time to eat, the smell of stew in the air, a radio or television on just a bit too loudly to the lunchtime news. Doors will be slightly ajar to let in the breeze, a dog or cat looking for a scrap of sunshine.
There's a time of day just around 2pm when the world sighs. The streets are somewhat empty, everything is quiet and the sun has gone behind one building after peeking up from the other. You can turn a corner and suddenly you're the only person in the world. I call it The Lull, and it's a phenomenon mostly lost to somewhere like London. The world here moves at a million miles a second, everyone's packing themselves in and out of trains endlessly revising their perfectly timed schedules. I don't understand what they're looking for. Is it power? Money? Happiness? Purpose? Everyone lives and dies equally, and I've been wondering if the culmination of your life should come from that business document you put together that only you and a handful of people will understand, however many millions it can possibly make you.
The first time I left Gibraltar, I gave it the finger. Quite literally, I walked up the steps into the plane and turned to privately raise my middle digit to a place I felt had suffocated me for my entire upbringing. That is not a reflection on my family and what they have provided for me, and if I could move them to be close to me tomorrow I would do it in a heartbeat. I think they agree, that the place can be suffocating.
My experiences are my own, and I suffered through a school system that wanted me to be something I was not. My only escape was literature class, and the world of arts I could bring to my doorstep by ordering it online. I felt like Yentl, longing for a piece of sky.
Twelve years have passed since then, and I've made my peace with the place a little. Seeing an older generation pass on, I am becoming increasingly anxious about preserving a piece of the past. So much of what it means to be Gibraltarian is wrapped up in politics, in mob mentality, on what can and cannot be said. I want to have a piece of the culture, a piece of history and way of life and I want to see it translated into a wider world. I want that life to have an audience, I want to be able to stand up and say who I am and where I'm from and not have anyone tell me what I can and cannot be from any angle.
British. Not British. Spanish. Not Spanish. Gypsy. Not Gypsy. Portuguese. Not Portuguese. My English is not very good. My Spanish is not very good. I'm too light to be Hispanic. I'm too dark to be British. I look Italian. I look French. Iberian. Mediterranean. Immigrant. Colonial. Native. My experience is not relevant. My land is not mine. I was born somewhere else anyway. The Thames. The Mediterranean. The exile. The return. The home.
And endless fight, an endless story I feel ready to tell. Nelson looking to the South from a column in the heart of London, and in the South his body brought to the shore in a barrel of rum, soaked in blood and seawater.
Tuesday, 7 April 2015
Wednesday, 1 April 2015
Today felt like the first day of spring, with a brilliant sunshine that makes London look like a different city. More so, the neighbourhood around Cromwell Road, with red-brick houses that seem washed clean by the blueness of the sky.
You can come at the Victoria & Albert Museum in stealth through Pelham Street's narrowness (the automated bus voice pronounces it Pel-HAM but I'm sure the residents beg to differ) while the time offers a deceiving laziness to the morning. Just before ten o'clock means the locals have rushed to their crammed tube stops about an hour ago, and the tourists are just beginning to think about setting out for the day. The stealth of approach does not last long before the tower of the Victoria & Albert bursts through the trees and announces your imminent arrival upon Cromwell Road, a grand stretch of business that takes you in and out of London towards Heathrow airport.
I knew the heavily anticipated return of the Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibition had provoked a frenzy of ticket sales, but I thought at this time of the morning it would be fairly quiet and I could sit and wait for the museum to open at ten. Instead, I am directed to a queue of ticket holders, flanked on the other side by a much larger queue of non-ticket holders. I am not asked what exhibition I am attending, I am asked if I have tickets to the McQueen exhibition. This seems to be one of the hottest tickets in a city built on a constant barrage of hot tickets. Give a Londoner a queue and a "sold out" sign and they will kick, scream and stand in the rain for as long as inhumanely possible.
The queue itself is an event. I have decided to wear my Alexander McQueen by Puma shoes because this feels like more than an exhibition to me. I want to feel connected to this genius who I have admired since I was about ten. Others feel the same way. I see a plethora of skull scarves in the breeze. A woman floats up and down the stairs in an exquisitely embroidered McQueen coat.
Alexander McQueen is very in right now. A couple of biographies have surfaced, including one charting his rise along with John Galliano's, the bad boys of 90's fashion. There's a photographic exhibition at the Tate Britain, uncountable articles on his work and legacy. The Duchess of Cambridge was married in a McQueen dress, something probably considered unthinkable at the beginning of his career.
His legacy even lives on in his fashion house, who although not pushing the boundaries of innovation the way Alexander McQueen did, continue to design in the house style of metal, embellishment and dreams. The diffusion lines are tasteful and considered, there seems to be no rush to throw everything into sunglasses and perfumes. The Puma collaboration is a work of art, designs I would not have considered possible for an affordable line within a sportswear collection, but it works.
It makes me sad, however, while I stand in line and see his name emblazoned on the side of one of the greatest cultural institutions on Earth. While I see people queueing to see his work, not just the elite who had tickets to see his shows during fashion week, but people who are appreciative of art and talent. It's a strange set of images when you consider the reality, that this beautiful, supremely talented man died alone in his apartment, unable to cope with the continuation of his life. I know things are never that simple, but had he realised the love and impact he could have on people's lives, if he could pluck the appreciation of his talent out from the endless carousel of seasons and collections, would it have all turned out differently?
When I was around ten, I stole my aunty's copy of Vogue and obsessed over the depictions of life in London. It was a world within a distant city, a gleaming metropolis of spires and red lipstick where everyone was beautiful and exquisite, where everything was available at any time and style was appreciated and revered above everything else. I was too young to consider the darkness bubbling under the surface, all I wanted at that age was a freedom denied to me by my age and my geography. I lived in the shadow of a barbed wire fence, a symbol that had all my neighbours stupidly convinced that it granted them security in exchange for freedom, a shelter from the outside world where "things happened". I seemed to be the only person who actually wanted things to happen. Ten years old and already nihilistically bored.
I worshipped at the altar of Naomi Campbell, a woman I wanted to be. Yet the narrative that took my developing mind by the horns was that of Isabella Blow, Kate Moss and Alexander McQueen. British fashion was emerging as something to watch out for, and although I had no concept of design or context, all I knew was that the women walking down the catwalk looked empowered, provocative and beyond anything I had ever seen in my little town. I would later find out what I was looking at was McQueen's controversial Highland Rape collection.
I abandoned fashion for film, music and comic books as I grew up. Fashion was scary, judgemental, and made me profoundly body conscious. I found it hard to keep up with what was in fashion and what wasn't, and I preferred to spend my money on media than clothes. I am very glad not a lot of photos exist of me during this time. Moving to London's Kings Road for a while at the age of nineteen made me feel more fashion conscious, and by the time The Devil Wears Prada was released I was fascinated by the industry.
It wasn't until the age of twenty-five, when I lost a ridiculous amount of weight and could finally fit into the clothes I coveted, that my fashion life blossomed. I wrote articles on the history of fashion for magazines, always more interested in how we got to where we are than what next season will be. Even now, it is the history of fashion that interests me the most. Running from collection to collection seems exhausting, and spending some time as a fashion intern proved to me it can also make you tremendously lazy. Peel away the layers of champagne and air kisses, get to the clothes. It looked to me like few people actually working in fringes of the industry have a real interest for that.
It was pleasing to see an exhibition encapsulate one man and his work. During Press Week last year, I had been dragged from PR office to PR office looking at what was next, speculating on which bag was "it" and would make the front cover, talking endlessly about things being "really nice" and not much more. The Savage Beauty is laid out like what it is, an art exhibition, a moment in time that can be breathed in reverentially and deals with the artistry, nothing else.
Going early in the morning was a great plan, the crowds are staggered (hence the queues) which leaves a wonderful amount of breathing space. I had a practically spiritual moment on my own in the dark with a Kate Moss hologram floating wistfully in the ether. The first collection you are confronted with is Highland Rape, juxtaposed with McQueen's voice talking about his collection. I was practically in tears.
When I was younger and broke (or more broke than I am right now) I thought that "making it" meant moving to London, and having enough money to buy a Louis Vuitton bag from Westfield White City. By the time I actually worked in Westfield White City and had enough money to afford a Louis Vuitton bag, I was also paying rent, and a month's rent on one bag seemed ridiculous to me. Instead, I used my parents' birthday money to visit the Alexander McQueen menswear store on Savile Row and buy a ponyskin wallet I had wanted for a long time. I left the store with my McQueen bag, a wallet lovingly contained within a delicate box. I was twenty-eight years old , I had crossed the waters of my desires and arrived at the reality. Here I was, living in London, doing exactly everything I set out do (other than have a book published, which to be honest is because I haven't really tried).
Alexander McQueen "made it". From Savile Row apprentice to Central St. Martins student to one of the world's most respected fashion designers. His work goes beyond clothing, it transcends into literature, sci-fi, visions of humanity's past and future, a prophet and historian, a prismatic filter of society through golden ostrich feathers and an encrusted headpiece.
Jennifer Lopez's costumes in The Cell are pure McQueen. Givenchy's bizarre nightmarish renaissance continues to feed from the McQueen imagination palace. Any science fiction blockbuster or historical epic trying its best to bring a sense of grandeur has more than a flourish of McQueen's designs. When Lady Gaga was at the pinnacle of her career, reborn to the world as a dystopian empress in the music video for Bad Romance, that owed itself more to McQueen's singular costumes than Gaga's vision.
I walk past Savile Row often, passing from the basement of Gieves & Hawkes where Alexander McQueen started his apprenticeship, to the menswear store bearing his name that is only a few paces down the road. I see his name on the front, now a logo to a movement more than a surname belonging to an individual. I think of Gabrielle Chanel, and Christian Dior, of Yves Saint Laurent and Gianni Versace. It seems a given now that any successful fashion house transcends yourself and carries on, with many going on to be sold to conglomerates who do much to market and little to connect you to the person who first grabbed the needle and thread.
I wonder what Alexander McQueen thought of his life, his career, his fashion house and the beautiful monster that had grown out of his mind into a million-pound empire, one that continues season after season even after his death. I found my answer on the walls of the Victoria & Albert Museum:
"When I'm dead and gone, people will know that the twenty-first century was started by Alexander McQueen." - Lee Alexander McQueen (1969-2010)
Wednesday, 25 March 2015
When I am interested, it is because of what they have to say, or their craft, and the work they have put in. If I ever had to speak to them and tell them that, I would happily do so, but autographs and pushing through the masses for a photo opportunity remain unfathomable to my worldview.
Back to Kevin Smith, who produced three hour plus shows interviewing everyone from Kevin Conroy from Batman The Animated Series to Stan Lee, some of the most interesting nuggets came from Kevin Smith's own life experience. Here's a man who broke all the rules to become a cinematic sensation, then broke all the rules again by refusing to conform to how an independent film-maker becomes a media darling. In short, Kevin Smith will not be directing a Superman movie anytime soon, and the world may be poorer for that, but Kevin Smith is not.
Instead, he has managed to create a community of like-minded individuals replete with content that is interesting and true to his craft. He has several podcasts, he owns a comic store, he has a TV show, he continues to make interesting films.
In one of his shows, he talks about when he first dipped his toe into writing for comics. He was tasked with the relaunch of a little-known character (outside of comics) called Daredevil, whose book had been failing miserably for about a decade and had finally reached a wheezing death rattle. It's been close to fifteen years since I picked up that first issue of Daredevil, and although at the time it had excited me and I could recognize a new form of storytelling, time has passed and I didn't think much of it when Kevin Smith started talking about his difficulties writing it.
"Makes sense", I thought, "the man had never written a comic in his life". He talked about how Joe Quesada (artist and editor) would guide him through the scripts, telling him not to write so much, and how he really cut his teeth on that book.
It wasn't until last week, when I was listening to the sensational Word Balloon podcast hosted by John Siuntres, that I experienced an epiphany around Kevin Smith. Sometimes I'll skip a few episodes of Word Balloon if the subject matter doesn't interest me too much, but it's about a three hour podcast on comics focusing on in-depth interviews as opposed to fanboy ranting. I listened to this one because it had an interview with Top Cow Comics president Matt Hawkins. I went through a Top Cow period a few years ago, I really loved what they had done with one of their characters, Witchblade. It was a great interview about the writing process, and where Matt Hawkins has got the idea for his latest series.
The interview I wasn't expecting and has stayed with me these past few days is the one that came after, with Tom King. It turns he's not just a comic book writer, but an ex-CIA operative and novelist. It was a fascinating interview and he's one of my new favourite people, but what really got me was what he had to say about Kevin Smith.
He cited Kevin Smith and his Daredevil run as the thing that single-handedly changed the face of comics as we know them today. The way Kevin Smith wrote, in a cinematic style, and the success of that book opened the gates for other screenwriters to come into comics and work in that way. It gave us Brian Michael Bendis (Ultimate Spider-Man), and Mark Millar (Kick-Ass). It made Daredevil a viable option for a movie (think of that movie what you will) and next month we're having a Daredevil TV Show on Netflix. It made comics more cinematic, it helped bring comics to the big screen, it gave a life back to a medium that was on the brink of a collapse, and a company that was on the verge of bankrupty.
Of course, we have to credit other influences including Joe Quesada's bravery and vision for Marvel Comics as an editor. However, Kevin Smith helped change the face of comics (and in turn, movies) and we have all these great stories because of what he did. However, in Kevin Smith's eyes, all he did was sit in front of a computer screen and be terrified of writing a script and getting it right. Yet, instead of thinking of it as insurmountable odd and quitting, he carried on writing and learning.
It seems to me like the greatest moments come in retrospect. Nobody sits there thinking "this is going to change the world", that happens later. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby just wanted to get paid, and tell the best stories they could. They made it up as they went along each month, and look what has endured.
My very long point is, I need to stop being so precious and just write, because not everything is a plan and not everything needs preparation. Sometimes you just have to put one foot in front of the other every single day and run. Eventually you'll reach further than you thought possible.
Monday, 16 March 2015
The thing about fireworks is they fade. I see people chase fireworks their whole life and I don't understand
I woke up today and I was thirty. My life was exactly the way I wanted it, and that was perfection enough for me. Laying in bed next to the love of my life, in our warm and clean apartment with plenty of coffee. I have my phone, my tablet, and a book next to me. Warm wishes poured in from friends and family. I went for a run around the park and I met my parents for some lunch. The day before, I cooked lunch for everyone and I was gifted some lovely presents.
I think what I'm trying to say is that my life is peaceful, my life is in a good place. I did not meet thirty looking at the past with resentment or looking at the future with fear. Life continues at the same pace because life is great for me right now. I have a good job, I live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, I have the love of my best friend who happens to be a beautiful man. I have friends, family, clothes, a home, food, and the freedom to do what I please. I am studying towards a degree. I enjoy exercising. I have a few ideas in my head for stories. Two online magazines have asked me to write for them.
I feel like since the moment I was twenty-five my life has been a beautiful upward motion. I do not receive my dreams on a daily basis, every day is an opportunity to grow. I look at someone like Kim Kardashian and only see chaos, and good for her with the life that she has chosen, but this desire to be desired, this quest for glory and fame and the need to be constantly ready to have your photo taken, for everything to be a "moment" validated by a bounty of online strangers exhausts me at its very thought.
It's not that this life thing is entirely figured out in my mind, but I am not stagnant, and at the same time I am not fighting the tide trying to control the uncontrollable. I'm not too sure of what I know, but I seem to be more sure of what I don't know, and it isn't so much about what I want, but knowing what I don't need.
The other day my boyfriend said I had too many books. My first instinct was to say "how dare he!". I loved those books, I had made a decision to only purchase nice books. Yet what are books if not knowledge, and knowledge does not just sit pretty on the shelf. How many of these books had I read? How many was I going to realistically read? I had access to the library, to digital books and comics, and if I absolutely couldn't find it for free there was always Amazon cheap books. Yet, why more books when I had about twelve books I hadn't even read yet? Some of these books were over a decade old, and I hadn't even picked them up. We made a pile, we made another pile, we made an even more stringent pile. I held on to some, then I put them back on the pile. The rule was anything I hadn't picked up in the past year was to go, and anything I wasn't going to read in the next year was to go also. I sold some, gave others to charity. I felt liberated, like I had extra space in my brain for productive matters. Now I am approaching everything in my life the same way. At least trying to.
These are the choices I have made in my life, not perfect and upholded by a single golden strand, but solid and with foundations that should withhold the flood. Here's to thirty more years, then thirty more, at least.
Monday, 16 February 2015
It's easy to deal in definites, then come around full circle. The more I observe of myself, the more I see I work in waves of excess and austerity. Maybe it's a Catholic thing, but I feel comfortable living in the world and being of it, and a few months later I feel I have too much stuff, too connected to the world via the internet. I don't need that many books when I can get them for free from the library, don't need DVDs when I can download them, don't need music when I have a streaming service. Overwhelmed and possessed by possessions.
When my niece was born, not five minutes into the world her image had been uploaded onto Facebook. Which was lovely for me, I got to see her despite being hundreds of miles away. I don't believe there was a golden age of the world where everybody was sociable and used their time effectively.
Yet this idea of image, that you should be constantly primed and ready for a selfie, that you should be a marketable brand in your life and your profile photo should look flawless. That, for me, is exhausting.
When Sia decided to no longer show her face, but continue with her music career, I thought that was genius. Unlike say, Rusell Brand who uses the vehicles of capitalism to denounce capitalism, Sia's decision accepts things as they are, she just bends the rules. She hasn't gone off to live in a cave or refuse to give interviews, talking about how awful the machine is. She realised she had a choice, to not show her face and be judged on her appearance, and continue to market and sell her music. It's worked for her, and it's inspiring.
We live in an age where I feel stunted in having to be morally obligated to know everything about famous people before indulging in their work. I can't listen to Azealia Banks without thinking about her Twitter outbursts, I can't listen to Beyonce without carrying the weight of her feminism statements versus the allusions to domestic abuse in her work. Rihanna is ruined by her constant need to flaunt herself naked, nevermind the apologist attitude to her abusive relationship. Just last week, Jill Scott offered up a comment that kind of defended Bill Cosby and put down Iggy Azalea. Jill Scott, who taught me poetry, love and self-respect. I felt wiped by the barrage of information.
A few months ago I gave up Facebook and Twitter for ninety days. When I returned I realised I missed Facebook. I missed the connection to people I knew, my family who live away from me, I saw it can be used as a tool for socialising and feeling closer to others. I wiped out all the advertising, all the Facebook groups that act as marketing tools and nothing more.
I did not miss Twitter. I missed some people I knew on Twitter, but they could reach me via other means if they wanted to. Twitter was not a lifeline to anything. As the weeks went on, I tried to make my Twitter account a more positive place. All I felt were 140 character grand pronouncements and heated, ugly arguments on race, gender, politics and anything anyone cared to disagree on. It feels to me like expression for the attention deficit, without caring to hear any other point of view. Tomorrow, we are on to the next trending topic. Hashtag my life.
I deleted my Twitter account two weeks ago with no kind of fanfare, and I don't miss it. I found myself reaching for my phone whenever I was annoyed or wanting to be snide or judge something, to feel clever and funny and reach out to 350 people I barely knew. I'm sure I could do better things with my time. I convinced myself it would be good to keep a Twitter account for my Wonder Woman blog, and focus following based solely on comic books. I let that one go the day I offered my opinion on Andrew Garfield being too good an actor to not be hired by Marvel for another role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Someone responded with such bile it knocked me sideways, and when I politely responded that what she thought I meant wasn't what I meant, I got even more bile back. I was done, I deleted that one too.
I figure I can do better things with my time than procrastinate online and convince myself I am doing something constructive. I can write on this blog more, for starters. I am trying to get out of the habit of checking my phone as the first thing I do every day. I could read a chapter of a book in that lost half an hour, I could use technology in a positive manner and watch a TED talk. I could turn my 140 character musings into 1500 word blog posts. I could write, run, read, or simply contemplate my day ahead.
I may go crawling back to the Twitterverse, but at least for now my intentions are noble.
From a wider perspective I want to be more mindful about my online life. More controlled about all the personal information we give away so freely for the sake of a few likes. I constantly see the lines blur between professional and personal lives online, and how quickly that could turn ugly and get you fired. I give a lot of thought to what is left of you when you die, and it disturbs me that this Facebook page can remain as a relic of your life, just a few megabytes. I'd like to leave at least one book behind, more than somewhere people can tell me they miss me when I am no longer there to read it.
Wednesday, 11 February 2015
The walls washed themselves with blues, the constellation on his head like a thumbprint of the universe. Here, the mothers unseen brought their children to absorb, to make themselves an anchor where there is something beyond anthropomorphic talking farmyard animals. The women in sensible raincoats wearing their age on
A room full of men, millimetres deep, with a tunnel of learning behind them. No bodies to preen, intellect remaining their one constant legacy and these are the men we do not put on the covers of magazines to celebrate our greatness. We have taken out the intellect and replaced with a jockstrap warmed by oil and a thousand fervent longings. Replaced by month, face unimportant.
Amy had it down to the blues, and her scars were lined in black, her cross of tears. In another place, another string from Phil, who wore his battles on his head and dreamed of his father. The princess forever restrained, after death considered next to the supermodel who had more than legs to give and could never be queen, for ebony is too exotic for the throne room of Buckingham.
A touch to the outcasts, who make me dream of the face that could be something beyond the generic form of beauty. We could all slide of the page, sleeping through the surfaces of grains hoping to be forever liquid. She saw it on the printed page, handed down like a secret entrance to the rest of the world, divided in her home and thinking about Miss Universe.
Nobody ever told you what it meant to be a boy this way, that you could feel the weight of your own body with all its shapes and find yourself in the precious, in the holiness, in the scream of Pasolini's Mamma. To hook that to the feet that stride in thought through the hallways, carved by thighs like mountains eternal.
At The Tate, 2015.
Tuesday, 27 January 2015
My intention was to study on the flight from London to Charlotte, Virginia, but despite nine and a half hours in which to do so, the environment inside a plane isn't most conducive to having textbooks out and making notes on the Romantic poets. Besides, I had an entire season of Hannibal to watch.
"Who is Hannibal Lecter?" I asked, wanting to know why my father would be anything like a man with such a strange name.
"He's the cannibal in Silence Of The Lambs. He eats people". she answered.
Monday, 12 January 2015
There was no other way for the morning to be but overcast. It had quickly evolved from not just a tragedy, a series of murders, a terror attack or even the ideas surrounding censorship, cartooning, or free speech. The event, gunmen had stormed the offices of a Parisian satirical newspaper and executed members of staff, had become the dirt into the hole some people needed to prove their theories correct.
The most burdened thing being, this was no longer just some crazy right-wingers calling for changes to immigration, or racist religious bigots trying to convicnce everyone that an Orwellian Christian state was the solution to the Orwellian Islamist state they swore was coming. Everyone seemed to be joining the debate, placing their soapboxes on top of a dozen corpses to make their ideas heard. Islam is a violent religion. Muslims should apologise. Maybe the cartoons shouldn't have happened.
Everyone's screaming, everyone's right on their little wooden box. Yet it sounds to me, like the very thing they are condemning is the thing coming out of their mouths. It is a frustrating mindset where argument is redundant, and there seems to be no escape from the headlines and the people sat around throwing out dangerous opinions like those words don't grow and fester.
I have the day off and I walk towards the centre of London. Everyone has come back to London after the Christmas holidays, while most tourists have gone home to live out their January blues. There's a change, where early morning are full of people running before work, or running to work. Where the hours between nine and ten give you elbows of crowds holding coffee cups, wearing trainers with their business suits and rushing with purpose in their glazed vision.
I'm walking just a little after ten, and London's about the quietest you'll ever see it. You don't have to fight to get across the bridge on St. James' Park which offers one of the city's best tourist views. Buckingham Palace on one side and The London Eye flanked by Horseguards Parade on the other, framed in the relative tranquility of a royal park river scene.
Trafalgar Square greets me with more grey than usual. The area is usually covered in people, but tourists are smaller in volume and late to wake. The lions seem to yawn and Nelson is somehow more pensive than usual, he's had enough time to think about his actions leading to the way the world is today. It must be lonely, forever stone atop the heights.
My plan was to visit the British Museum. I am studying Wordsworth and he was inspired by one of the sculptures contained there to write his poem "Ozymandias". It is a bust of Ramesses II, from a time when world powers were very different in their geography. There is nothing more humbling than looking into the past, and perhaps nothing more depressing. Mighty empires fall, they are not untouchable, and the conflicts between ideologies are the basis of humanity. Perhaps the museum is not the best place to be today, and the National Gallery tempts me in.
The building is normally extremely crowded, and famous paintings are sometimes hard to get to. I am able to glide through rooms, think of myself in times when art was practically sacred or not at all. When subversion was punished by death and torture, and artists were sly in their rebellions.
I can stand by a painting of Cezanne's father, composed by the artist on the wall of a kitchen in France, now framed on the wall of The National Gallery. I can stand in the relative silence, the thickness of reverence that happens in galleries and libraries and anywhere that demands quiet. I imagine the tiles on the floor of the kitchen, the brushstrokes that grew and formed into image. A relatively innocent figure by comparisonm to Cezanne's later works, with The Bathers now taking up the wall opposite. Visitors smile and pose with the painting, mostly unaware that when this art movement came into being, the artists were seen as perverted and scandalous.
There's nobody around and I can take in a private moment with Van Gogh's Sunflowers, which I normally peer at behind the back of everyone else's head. The simplicity, the light and the silence, it's like seeing this oversaturated work of art for the very first time. I never particularly liked it, I found it too pedestrian to mean much of anything. I understand, in this private moment, that there's refuge in the yellows and oranges, in the plain composition of a vase of sunflowers amidst a world heavy with politics and conflict.
It's a fleeting luxury to be able to lean on the railings outside the entrance to The National Gallery. They are normally congested with tourists taking photos, and for the first time since I have been in London I can see why. It's a particular view, the back of Nelson's Column with a partial view of Big Ben in the background, teased by the entrance to Whitehall. I feel proud of the city I live in, I don't know what feeling this is, but I just feel connected. I look down at the makeshift memorial to Charlie Hebdo on the Square, and can't help but feel outrage. I imagine what it would be like if London would be like, it would feel like a home invasion. It reminds me of what the writer Poppy Z Brite said when asked about leaving New Orleans after Katrina. "If you’re ever lucky enough to belong somewhere, if a place takes you in and you take it into yourself, you don't desert it just because it can kill you".
I walk through Trafalgar Square every morning on the way to work. There's a person who dresses in a long black tunic and hood and covers their face with a mask. All they do is sit on a taped-up black box all day, not even begging for money. The night before, there had been a gathering of hundreds of people, holding "Je Suis Charlie" placards and candles. A simple, peaceful vigil of solidarity and compassion. The leftovers are now in a circle on the floor. Signs, candles, a plastic figure of the Eiffel Tower, copies of Charlie Hebdo stuck to the floor. The hooded figure sits close to the memorial, with a black umbrella, shielded from the rain. They look fitting to be there, like they suddenly found a purpose, the shadow of death.
People carry on with their day, after a moment of reflection by the memorial. I don't know what thoughts go through their heads but I'd like to think there's more empathy than hatred. I still want to believe that most people are good, that they would like to lead a decent life and value the lives of others. The sun peeks out behind a cloud, the rain stops.
Monday, 5 January 2015
My New Year's Eves have always been dramatic affairs, and I have preferred them to Christmases. They have tended to involve big parties, staying up until 8am, writing long letters or promising myself a dozen resolutions. There have been tears on the stroke of midnight, and the anticipation of leaving everything behind to start over.
Except intentions may be as pure as you please, things don't get wiped away with the gongs of the clock.
This isn't to say travel as a form of escape isn't a great idea, but I've lived most of my life on the basis that if I had to pack a suitcase and leave town tonight, I could. I still don't feel comfortable with the idea of having too many material possessions but that has more to do with not having any real use for them than thinking they weigh me down somehow.
My resolutions were grand, and the sweeping changes in my life were biting. I would move country, change job, lose touch with a plethora of people, delete my Facebook account, change e-mail and phone number like someone working their way through a hostage program with a particularly adept stalker.
I believe those changes were necessary to get me to where I am at the moment, but this year felt different somehow. I didn't feel a need to dance out my year, or cry it out at midnight. I remember, or not as the case may be, getting so incredibly drunk in 2006/2007 that I woke up in my own bed, a trail of clothes leading out to the hallway. Except I hadn't been at home, I had been at a house party. I dislike getting drunk and not being in control, this is the only time I don't remember getting home.
This year didn't feel that way to me, it was a comfortable, gentle evening. I finished work in a job I adore, I came home to a beautiful apartment. We went for dinner to a neighbourhood Thai restaurant and sat in the basement under an arch which hundreds of years ago could have housed any conceivable thing. I live in London, a year and a half of living in this dream city so full of possibility and wonder.
My walk home had been stifled by the ridiculous queue of ticket holders waiting to be let into Whitehall to watch the fireworks, a whole six hours previous to the event, in a freezing line that stretched from Trafalgar Square to the Mall. It meant having to walk up the Mall and past Buckingham Palace instead of through St. James' Park. I don't know how to emphasise that sentence. I can, if I ch
oose, walk past Buckingham Palace every day on my way home. I walk past Trafalgar Square every day, one of the centres of the world. The person I greet every day on my way into work is Admiral Horatio Nelson, a figure of history I am obsessed with, standing on his famous column looking out over this capital.
We watched the fireworks from our balcony, the entirety of the city of Westminster alight with the bursts of colour from The London Eye. The world seemed to cheer harder than ever this year, after planes crashing and militant extremists, Ferguson and UKIP and the erm, The Interview debacle. We are still here, we are still alive, and we can celebrate, we can shout. I no longer felt like this was a hurry to wipe anything away from the previous year, but an anticipation of the year ahead of the joy and success humanity is capable of.
This isn't a gloat, and I can see how it would sound like one. In 2005, at the age of 20, I had been to London a total of three times. The majority of my life had been spent in two square miles of fenced-in land with only the tease of the ocean and Africa on the horizon. There was promise in escape, there was freedom on the other side of that gate. I had spent a year in Cardiff, so overwhelmed by the idea of freedom that my life, as most 20 year olds probably, was just a card's wonky placement away from falling apart. I had quit university, was on the verge of breaking up with my loser junkie boyfriend, profoundly overweight and with absolutely no idea of what came next.
A friend invited me to London to see Live 8, and we stayed in the Docklands. I looked out at Canary Wharf from the middle of a bridge that night, at what felt like an endless river. I could see young professionals in their suits sitting in restaurants drinking wine. There was something here, this city had something to offer me I just couldn't even grasp yet.
Three years ago I was in Copenhagen, practically forced into exile into a job that was supposed to have taken three weeks and ended up taking three months. I was living in a hotel, as I had for most of that year, waking up each morning wondering what country I was in again before opening the curtains. My relationship had gone beyond hanging by a thread, I was already free-falling into a ravine and the person that was supposed to love me the most was standing on the edge telling me it was my own damn fault, instead of offering me a parachute.
I had begged him to come and see me, and it took spending about £500 of my money to get him over for the weekend. He sat across from me in the hotel bar while we had a coffee.
I'd had a lot of time to think. "I've been thinking, maybe I could get a less intense job and carry on with my degree. By the time I'd finished, you could support me in a second career, the way I'm supporting you now".
The stare I had back made it look like I'd just told him I wanted to start my own band despite having no musical talent whatsoever.
"Well, that's a nice little dream isn't it, but not exactly a practical plan".
I had never felt so alone in my entire life.
I started my degree last year. I was two months into my relationship with John and we'd gone away for the weekend. I mentioned, in passing, that I had started a degree and abandoned it after the foundation course. He told me to go ahead and start again.
It's funny that I feel so secure, because it's been a year for jumping. I quit a job I hated, I took an unpaid internship for a month to see if it's something I wanted to do, and chased a job I had dreamt about since it had first been mentioned. Yet it's not funny at all, because through it all I had someone telling me "Jump a little higher, jump a little further, because no matter where you land I'll already be there to catch you".
I don't feel like I have to have a gypsy life anymore. I can be rooted, I can put down my suitcase and my sword and I can still have adventures. This life, this love, this city, there's still so much left to explore.
Happy New Year.