I was in London last week. This is where my family lives and it’s always good to change environment every once in a while but London isn’t my home town. I grew up in the home counties so going up to London was reserved for shows, exhibitions or school trips. These days it’s Christmas, elections and the film festival that seem to call me back most often, so every visit to London feels like I’m walking around in the space between the end of one chapter and the heading of the next. Some strange mix of the political atmosphere, my family being together and my internal state sets the mood for the months to come until I board another Eurostar.
Every time I go to London they change something. I feel like I can never get my bearings. Leicester Square, like Les Halles, has been under construction for as far back as I’ve known it. This time I noticed that what used to be my favourite ice cream place to go between film showings had gone out of business, but on closer inspection it wasn’t even an ice cream place. I’d missed an entire iteration of that small piece of real estate without ever noticing. When I went in February I saw a new £5 note for the first time. These notes are now the only ones in circulation and the pound coin I grew up with is gone. I used to collect every unique design of coins and I remember the public outcry that the bimetallic £2 coin was garish and too like the euro. Well, if you wanted garish the new pound coins are dodecagonal and bimetallic. So now our currency looks even more like the euro. I never collected euro coins, even when I used to leap on any foreign currency my Dad would bring back from travels. They just seemed dull and brassy. The new pound coins are based on thrupenny bits, which was the first ever coin I ever had in my collection but lost one day at primary school and have never seen another since. It’s one of those things that I lost so long ago but secretly hope will turn up one day despite being about five house moves and eight schools away from reality, like my old blue mp3 player or my Prisoner of Azkaban Top Trumps set. They’re not particularly valuable things and I wouldn’t have a use for them if I did find them but I miss them anyway.
Sometimes I don’t know if it’s London that changes or me. I could post photos from previous trips back and I doubt anyone would really notice the difference. The overall London spirit has been going since time immemorial and doesn’t show any sign of slowing down. Yet for me each visit is inexorably linked to very specific times and specific people. When I look at my friends each time I go back I notice the haircuts we have or haven’t had and how much further and further out of touch I’m becoming from their reality and the reality we shared. The updates are short but significant. I wonder how quickly I’d get left behind entirely if I somehow couldn’t make it back one year or how different our relationships would be if I’d stayed.