Feeling like a stranger in one’s motherland is a discomfitting experience, but like more or less anything that disrupts the way you ordinarily view the world, you can learn a lot from getting a new perspective…
It’s been nearly a decade since I lived in Britain in a permanent, full time sort of way, and much has changed since then. Like any interesting and passionate relationship, we’ve had some shining golden moments and some ghastly ones, but things have moved on and we’re now cordial and tender of one another; trying to juggle the familiar and the foreign. It’s awkward yet charming; like drinking tea with an old lover.
It’s hard to tell, now, whether it’s me or it that’s changed most. Probably both. It does make being here somewhat tense and surreal but rich in possibility and education.
London is wonderful in summer – say what you will about the absurdity of British people in hot weather, but we have such gratitude for these dog days; you’d never see an Aussie dancing in a municipal fountain to celebrate the simple joy of a day that’s not grey.
My interaction with the city is charged; the fact I’m home for such a short time imbues this encounter with the feverish flush of a holiday romance. And the odds are good that it’ll leave me broken at the finish. But falling in love with a city anew is a lovely thing (to stretch the metaphor to breaking point); London’s quick to share its well-worn erogenous zones and discover new ones with all and any comers. Successive lovers have left their mark upon it and it always has some unexpected tricks up its sleeve.
One of the most intoxicating parts of a new relationship is the part when you tell each other the stories of who you are, the moment when you see yourself in an entirely new light through the eyes of your lover. I’m hungry to explore, to hear these stories and add my own. It’s greedy and unsustainable but by christ it’s fun while it lasts. It’s extraordinary, exhausting, turbulent, fabulous…but by being curious and putting aside convention and expectation, I have lived and learned much.
While you’re in it, London feels like the centre of the world – and Soho’s its heart (though its heart’s broken, albeit temporarily, by the recent loss of Soho gadabout and dandy Sebastian Horsley). There’s so much to see, do, be. As there is anywhere; the difference is motivation and inclination. The world is infinite in variation, and yet we cling to the familiar, narrow definitions and habits we’ve formed – and of course that’s sensible and necessary – how could anyone function if you had to re-imagine everything every day? but it also risks complacency and predictability. Maybe once a year we should all throw off the trappings of our former lives and let ourselves start afresh…
I’m starting small. I’m going to let myself be a tourist. Be open. Explore, discover, without agenda. I’m resolved that when I get back to Sydney I’m going to pick up a map and a copy of Time Out and go forth with my eyes wide open, let it tell me who it is all over again.