Friday, 15 July 2011

Location Location Location

I have now been back from Madrid on unofficial summer holidays for three weeks. Despite romantic visions of spending long summer days reading, the time has slipped by in a slightly blurry haze of gin and tonics, glasses of wine and mugs of tea. Preoccupied with dog walks, lie-ins and lengthy trips on London´s creaking public transport system, the pile of Spanish books lugged back from Madrid have remained undisturbed in a pile on my bedroom floor. Unfortunately, any spare time - potential reading time - has been swallowed by increasingly panicked investigations into what to do and where to go come September - a question that seems to have boiled down to a London versus Madrid conundrum.

Having spent the past few weeks commuting to town in reverse, spending evenings at friends´ houses and nights on their sofas, I can´t help but feel that if it came to sink or swim in London, I´d struggle to keep my head above the water. Even if you push aside the exorbitant prices and astronomic size of the city, London is stressful. For one, evenings out in London become a stressful test requiring military organisation. Though I was undoubtedly spoilt in Madrid, living on the same road as several laid-back, late-night terraced bars, I think that it is justified to feel indignant when turfed out of a bar pre-midnight. I was booted out of a pub last Friday. My glass of wine sloshed unceremoniously into a plastic pint cup and the door closed and locked abruptly behind me, I was left standing listlessly on the street outside. Unwilling to commit to a boozy night in a noisy nightclub, but equally reluctant to return home, I wandered around aimlessly for a while (plastic pint cup in hand) hoping somewhat optimistically to stumble across a pub with a late licence. It didn´t take long before I conceded defeat and made for the nearest bus stop. Unfortunately, although the night had been bought to a premature end, the wearying wait for an overcrowed night bus and the painfully convoluted route that it took meant that it wasn´t until the early hours that I flaked into bed.

For another, unless late evening or very early morning, strolling seems to be something of an impossibility in London. In Madrid, I came to love the custom of “dar una vuelta” or “taking a turn”. Though the English translation sounds distinctly 19th century aristocracy, I have come to love the practice of simply walking without purpose or direction. However, in London, the legions of people that invade every corner turn a leisurely ramble around the city into an exasperating challenge. Vision blocked by an unbroken sea of heads, seeing where you´re going is an impossibilty and the congestion is such that any attempts to sidestep the crowd are hopeless. All you can do is fall into step and shuffle along blindly behind the mass. By no means is Madrid free from crowds: the central semi-circle of Sol is always a crush after 7pm, the latin quarter heaves and swells on a Sunday and the park is rammed every weekend. However, not only are the crowds less dense, but they are confined to certain hotspots leaving nearby streets refreshingly clear to amble along. Of course, if you´re keen to stretch your legs in London, you can always make for a tubeline. Londoners are reknowned for their speedy gait and nowhere is it more apparent than when they are rushing to wait on a platform. On the Waterloo & City line in particular, shifting up a gear is essential if you want to avoid being jostled by suits jockeying for position on the escalator.

On the flip side, last weekend I remembered why I love the Big Smoke. London had its sun hat on: bathed in soft sunshine and enjoying balmy temperatures, the city was smiling. By actively avoiding the centre, targeting green spaces large enough for frisbee and the arty markets and second hand vintage shops of East London, I found the London where I could happily live. Spending a fuzzy-headed Sunday morning perusing the flower markets of Colombia Road proved to be the perfect antidote to the congestion of Piccadilly. Meandering between wide flower stalls, all crammed with leafy greenery and vibrant, multi-coloured blossoms, it was hard to believe I was in central London. Only the incessant hollers of “Come ooon gals, five roses fer five pound. Y´er not buyin´ today y´er stealin”, reminded me that I was in London. The market was sandwiched between two neat lines of small, two-storey terraces - a collection of tiny boutiques. Some sold customised homeware, others handmade clothing or antiques. A few had thrown open downstairs windows to sell cups of nibbles for a pound or had hung quirky advertisements for their shop from upstairs balconies - on one terrace I noticed a fox sitting on the windowsill sewing a tapestry. Lively trios serenaded the street with energetic, foot-tapping jigs, adding to the buzz. One such group – composed of an enthusiastic clarinettist in a tweed jacket, an accordion player with a flat cap and a barefoot double bassist - attracted a semi-circle of spectators, some perched on the kerb with a take away coffee or - the braver of the crowd - circling in the middle arm-in-arm in a bouncy two-step.

As you can tell, in the throes of a love-hate relationship with London, I am no further forward in solving my September quandary. However, given the growing pile of unanswered cover letters for jobs in London, I can´t help but feel that the decision will be taken out of my hands. The option of a bohemian lifestyle and easy employment as an English teacher certainly trumps months of rejected applications and failed interviews!

3 comments:

  1. Hey Lotts

    I love this post! I can totally identify with loving London in the sunshine - and I used to live 90 seconds from Columbia Road so this reminded me how magical it is. And I am going through the job application process too so I empathise!

    E x

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  2. you write really good, I don't understand half of that but anyway its still pleasant but makes me kinda sad :)

    p.s. turn off the word verification. believe me you won't get spam, plus it will make leaving comments easier

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