10 small London joys
I am in danger of falling in love.
It’s a strange thing, after all these years of avoiding moving to London, how swiftly I have embraced the city. Getting a job here has transformed my experience of it, and I have been swept away, grinning and willing, in the steady, oiled flow of London days, rocked by the rhythm of my daily commutes. There is a joy to being lost here, to finding small treasures in all the bustle and tourist hordes and transportation woes. I think back to the similar post I wrote, this time last year, about Singapore. I couldn’t help listing everything I hated about the place. How my life has changed, how I have changed! I come home, weary from a day at the studio and a long commute, and look forward to the next. I walk, endlessly, through forests and parks, and along the wide, placid Thames with its small shingled beaches and improbable bridges. I watch people: shiny-eyed toffee-coloured children with hair like cotton candy, angular, dessicated women in worn ballet flats, the man in a camaieu of mustards and yellows rolling a cigarette on the tube. I smile, and I am soothed.
Each week end I try to fit in something new, but it’s hard, even in a city as rich and variegated as this, to resist the lure of routines. Here are 10 of my small London joys. Try them. Let me know if they did anything for you.
1. My bus ride through Peckham
The 363 makes its arthritic way from Crystal Palace to Elephant Castle in just over half an hour. It is not the most picturesque of routes. It passes rows of suburban terraced houses, the grimness of Lidl, and a street called “Bird in Bush Road.” But passing through Peckham I can see rows of cassava neatly stacked, buxom African women in short skirts and elaborate hairdos, a pile of durian at the Chinese store. There’s the promising, inviting neon of Theatre Local, and when I get off the bus I’m often greeted by a fox who seems to welcome me back home.
2. Crystal Palace Park Dinosaurs
Large Victorian statues of anatomically incorrect dinosaurs. What’s not to love, really.
3. Rose and Pistachio cake
It is perfumed and nutty, gluten free, and topped with a layer of frosting like a cloud of cream. Found at the London Review Bookshop, who have great books and even better cake.
4. Urban foxes
Yes, I know, they are vermin and they root through bins and screech through the night and their shit is pungent (I should know, I unwittingly dragged some into an interview room a few days ago). But every time I see one I am transported to Le Petit Prince, and the fox who asks to be tamed.
5. Jacob’s Ladder burger
This one will need a post of its own. Succulent cow slab with roquette, a generous spread of raw stilton and mustard, served in a toasted sesame brioched bun. GOOD.
6. Sydenham Hill Forest
I am still baffled and delighted by this patch of forest outside my door step, a short 15 minute ride from Victoria station. There are fields of bluebells, twisting lanes that smell of earth and leaves and life, and escaped parokeets in the trees. On the other side lies Dulwich Park, with its outdoors exercise machines, enormously fat geese, and golden horses that canter powerfully along the dirt track. There are also children called Margo and people in those annoying reclining bikes, but you can ignore them.
7. Pain poilâne at Waitrose
This week’s grateful discovery. There’s a Ladurée and a Pierre Hermé too. Who needs Paris?
8. The morning commute
These days I get up at 6 to be in the studio by 8 am, so I can get an hour of writing done before the rambunctious crowds of animators arrive. I find, bizarrely, the hour’s commute restful. It’s a great time to write a few notes down, before my brain is completely clear of the night’s fog, or to just look out the window at the crowded, Victorian rows of Brixton, or the ungainly silhouette of the Shard. There are regulars – a thin, calm woman with a different head scarf tied around her head every day, or the small girl with corn rows with a distracted, blonde mother. I always get a seat.
9. Swing Patrol
Nothing has made me more deliriously happy than taking up swing dancing. I come home sweaty and full of love for humankind, possibly with delusions of being an extra in Swing Kids. I have step-step-kick-kicked my way through a couple of classes, trodden on feet and grimaced apologies at a social dance, and I want more, MORE. It’s like crack, innit. Happy swingy crack.
Last week we did this:
Well, some things never change. These guys, in a basement bar rife with girls in twee vintage clothing, make a fabulously pink lychee concoction. Just don’t go if you’re allergic to mould or new wallpaper “artfully” ripped off the walls.
What more can I add to this list?