Saturday, 24 May 2014

Finding familiarity in the city

I read something this week that made me feel a bit sad. The author of one of the first (and most original and interesting) London blogs I found and followed has called time on her documentation of exploring the city. To quote Steph from Little London Observationist: "Now, after living here for seven years, I still crave new discoveries, but I also long for familiarity – places that are mine, that I can return to over and over again, where the people making my tea know my order by heart, where people in my favourite shops welcome me back with a smile, where I have a seat by the window in cafe that always makes me feel inspired every time I sit there." Steph's words made me feel initially sad - I won't get to read her tales of exploring anymore - but they were also entirely understandable.


London is now home for me. It feels less like a city I am passing through, and more of a place where I have a network, somewhere to live, and a purpose. I too have grown to love the familiar and the friendly places in this city. They remind me I fit in here (even if only for now), and they allow me a safe, recognisable space in which to tackle new or unexpected challenges. They are places where bad things rarely happen, and I can vanish away temporarily from people who need or want things from me. They give me peace while I am surrounded by noise, and pleasure without over-excitement and exhaustion.
I thrive on learning and new experiences, but I have the kind of brain that becomes easily overwhelmed and drained by too much. I need to find a balance. I can explore new things, as long as I spend some time amidst the regular and familiar ones. Sometimes a favourite museum, full of rooms I have walked through dozens of times, does the job. Other times I hide between the shelves of a second-hand bookshop; either a regular haunt like Skoob beneath the bafflingly hideous yet famed Brunswick Centre or a new-found haven discovered using this wonderful bookshop app. Sometimes I take refuge in my comfortable little flat (often again cocooning myself in books). I can happily pass a whole day fixing, cleaning, sorting or baking in my flat, without setting foot outside the door or having to have a conversation with another person.

Other times I need to move, to get out and about. I need to walk through the city, headphones on and hands in pockets, heading for somewhere I know, treading a familiar path. I choose routes across the Heath, through the tangled streets of the older parts of the city, or along the canal which stretches from one side of London to the other. I can refuel at favourite coffee shops along the way, pause to say hello to the odd cat or two, and I can take photographs of particular things that catch my eye. And I can do everything at my own pace, answering only to myself. Familiarity in a city is a gift, a luxury. I can quite see why Steph wishes to treasure it. We should all take care to do the same.

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8 comments:

  1. We all need a break from time to time, right? That's the beauty of London: it is our home, and it keeps renewing itself. No wonder we are overwhelmed sometimes...

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    1. Very true - it's hard to find peace and stability amidst a constant whirl.

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  2. Home can be a good refuge. And I often return to the same places, but then discover new things about them. In fact, your post has just given me the idea for a blog post. I'll write it and schedule it now.....

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    1. Happy to be of inspiration, Jenny...will keep an eye out for your post!

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  3. I feel the excact same thing, except for the fact that I live in Cracow and I'm emotionally connected with this city. Sometimes it's just nice to take a walk with headphones on and enjoy the view of the streets and favourite places.

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    1. That's one of my favourite things to do too! I love just pounding the pavements with my headphones on, listening to music or podcasts, with no particular destination in mind. It's a great happy place!

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  4. I'm sorry to hear the LLO is no more although it sounds like it was the right choice for Steph. In a city as stressful as London it seems like it is important to find a balance between routine and discovery. Home means comfort for me - a place where I am at my most relaxed. As bloggers, we choose to share certain aspects of our lives and the cities we live in with our followers, but we shouldn't put too much pressure on ourselves to constantly "perform" or do things to please our audience. I always come away from your blog feeling like I have learnt something about London xxxx P.S. Love the name Skoob.

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    1. It's true, finding a balance between new and old can be a challenge when you're living in a city - whether you've just arrived or if you've lived somewhere all your life! I'm sure it's the same for London, Paris and other cities all round the world. And as a blogger you have a desire to keep readers interested, to keep sharing new insights and new developments. But when you're blogging about your life, you also need some downtime for yourself!

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