Home is where the heart is writes London-based doctor Ephia Yasmin
Not too long ago, I put up a facebook status update with the following words, ‘coming home soon, all invitations to breakfast, lunch, dinner or any meals in between will be gratefully received’. This was a post broadcasting my visit to India. I received invitations from friends living in London, Leeds and Guwahati. It also made me wonder about what we call home. I realised I had 3 homes to call my own and felt very privileged.
Over the last couple of years, London has been home to me. London which is so expensive, busy, impersonal, where you travel in the underground and remain ensconced in your own world with your headphones on or your head buried in the newspaper, book or kindle. You will often hear that in London, you do not know your neighbours or make eye contact with fellow commuters. But my experience has been very different and now as I am on the verge of changing pastures again, I am feeling a separation anxiety, I have not often experienced on leaving cities and towns behind.
I consider London, my soul home. I had to leave behind the comforts of a house with a garden and live in London, in a small flat (small but perfectly formed). I walked long distances to work, took public transport and lived a near solitary life. Not much of a life, one might say but life felt good.
This will probably be my last piece from my current home and as I sit at my small desk, with a cup of tea for company, I feel a surge of love for this room, this street and this city and few of its denizens. Maybe I am making the fatal mistake of analyzing a love but then, I have made many mistakes in the past and one more will not break the camel’s back.
If you are keen to know what I love about London and what I’d be looking for in any place, then read on. It could sometimes sound a bit mushy and naïve. If you are looking for anything quite edgy, then please stop right now and navigate to another column.
When I was in Guwahati, I used to read about the art of Monet and Manet, the photography of Steve McCurry and Ansel Adams and wonder if I’d ever be able to see it. In London, the masters come to your doorstep. I remember, the first time I cast my eye on the Sunflowers and The Fighting Temeraire. Almost all major art galleries have free entry and I have spent many cloudy, wet, blustery days quite happily in the galleries in the company of the masterpieces. Paintings, photography, sculpture – you name it. The only downside is that sometimes, I feel a bit ‘museumed out’
Highbrow, kitch, cheesy- whatever your taste in culture, there’ll be ample opportunity to soak them all in. The ballet, the opera, the plays – all had to be done and I will not apologize for the wide-eyed wonder I found myself displaying despite my closely held view that cynicism is cool. Watching Kevin Spacey’s smirk, Kristen Scott Thomas’s cheekbones and hearing Patrick Stewart’s voice up close and personal will be memories that will never wane.
The ability to think of names like Candi Staton, Joan Baez and Leonard Cohen and to be able to just book a ticket and see them live- few big city benefits I suppose. It is the wide range of choice that the scene offers like being able to see a jazz band, a wandering minstrel , a jugalbandi- probably all in one day and often in intimate settings is unbeatable. Though not quite Cuba, London is a fairly musical city with buskers in many of its squares, undergrounds and tunnels. The Southbank often has some rather interesting backdrops to concerts, duets and solos!
Fashion has always been my guilty pleasure and London is a feast for the eyes as far as street fashion (both male and female) is concerned. While Paris does chic, Milan does sharp and New York does style, London does…I don’t really know. But it is such a melting pot of different styles and looks that any look can be added to the mix. I have felt entirely at home and comfortable wearing my slightly out of shape skinny jeans, the rather functional ear muffs or the architectural dress. I have even worn my spots (on the face that is), passing the look off as grunge. Essentially London seems to accept all- the cool East London hipster, the Sloane ranger or the trust fund hippie.
The have a wish, a dream even- that one day I will whizz past BMWs and Mercs in a nifty Brompton bike. They are foldable bikes that come in a range of colours and if I am particularly good maybe Santa will get me one, a Christmas not to far away. Bikes are great levellers – banker, artist, baker, brewer, doctor, student. Anyone can own a bike and look ever so cool on it. I haven’t mustered the courage of whizzing in London traffic yet but I have been adequately inspired.
The press is seldom complimentary about the underground. Strikes, fare hikes, slow trains, disruptions are sometimes all you hear. But I love the underground and the bus for that matter. The freedom from a car or a cab. The ability to get home fairly safe and quick after a show or a night out is truly liberating. What about the non-eye contact. It doesn’t bother me- whether eye contact is made or not. I love the fact that I am travelling in the first underground train and tunnel built, the lovely Victorian tiled stations and facades, the architectural gems that many are, the poetry displayed in carriages and the art on the walls and most of all, that beaming Rastafarian underground attendant that always has a smile ready for you.
Like any big city, London has some imposing, some quaint, some charming architecture. St. Paul’s Cathedral, the imposing Courts of Justice, The Tower Bridge, the Houses of Parliament (particularly spectacular at night), all iconic and all of them pass they grey test. This is the test I have about the beauty of a place. If a place looks good even in wet miserable weather, it is a genuinely beautiful place and London passes the test. There are parts in London that never look ugly- they just look atmospheric.
The green spaces
Considering how expensive real estate is in London, there are a lot of royal parks and green spaces in London for all to use, walk their dogs, have picnics and to even smoke a Shisha in. On a idyllic summer afternoon on Primrose Hill, which has spectacular panoramic views of the city, I witnessed the following scene. A group of fifty sometimes were jamming, love-birds were dotted over the landscape, tourists were busy trying to click panoramas and a group of young women in headscarves were sitting under a tree sharing a sheesha. It couldn’t get any more diverse than that.
I will end my little piece with a memory of the Olympics over the summer. It was a once in a lifetime event. Doomsayers predicted horrendous traffic, hell in the form of many more people in an already populated city. But the two weeks saw the best weather, best spirits, best smiles, communal high fives and even the ‘never event’ eye contact in the underground. It was like London was on Prozac. The atmosphere was electric, happy and one where for 2 weeks, you felt like you were one world.
This piece will be critisized for being too rose tinted but I accept the criticism and will ask you to celebrate the place you live in. Pick up the best you see and hold on to them. Cynicism maybe cool but probably over-rated.