Leaving London: A Question of Space, A Matter of Time
For most of you, resetting your clocks last Sunday will have been no big thing. However, for me, sitting at the airport with my timepieces on the table in front of me, it has signified a more momentous change. Initially, I had thought that the most difficult and depressing aspect of leaving London was the uncertainty of not knowing when precisely the next time I returned would be. But in reality, it is the fact that the next time I do, it will not be precisely to the same place, time or stage in my life. Nor will it be for you, to whom this is addressed. And therefore, it shall not possess the same character of circumstance or condition that has united me with you all these past three years; this is the inevitable cliché of change. I suppose, it is not as if we have not all indeed changed as well over the course of our degrees. But it is frightening to know that I will not be part of that shared process anymore in the coming time and that you will no longer be the ones influencing that change in myself.
It is shame that my time in London has been littered with as many opportunities not taken or embraced. It saddens me greatly that I will no longer have the access to fulfil them. Perhaps I mightn’t be writing this at all had this not been the case. But I have long known this now to be representative of the life I have led thus far: a simple shame. Regardless, I hope that the time will pass as quickly as my degree has, until I am next again in this city I love so much.
It is a city in possession of a fervour and vitality which I have hardly experienced elsewhere, if at all; a disposition carried by the collective ebb of its inhabitants, its buildings, its lights—a complexion expressed by the seasons and discernible only in those distinct moments. Some that last, and some fleetingly for an instant; yet, all under the same ideal circumstance that allow for these occasions to manifest. A city shared by a great many and yet defined to us by these events, our own individual experiences:
Walking home late after a night out on wet streets glistening with neon and through hoards of drunken, unfamiliar faces. Laughter and chatter emanating from smoking areas, muffled baselines spitting from the entrances of places glowing with the promise of sin and entertainment. But then, left all behind in an instant, down a quiet residential street or cast into the sterile lamps of your trusted night bus.
Or London, where there are lovers out tonight. And the tepid summer night’s breeze brushing through girls’ hair. And streetlights casting the shadows of leaves down benign groves of sleepy midnight. And the stirring of domestic activity, hushed and uninvading, behind front doors and drawn curtains.
Or the brief feeling of invincibility one encounters with the comforting warmth of your coffee in hand on a clear winter’s morning, enveloped in your favourite coat. Time that I may admire the passing of the city, with every exhalation of my cigarette blowing straight and true in the cold, crisp air.
Or pausing to watch the brilliant light show at Picadilly, when time stills and cars appear to pass by without driver or passenger, they are seemingly but necessary props to a twilight theatre, shuffling into traffic.
Or Autumn days when the sky has forgotten to fill out, where the solid uniform grey from just atop the buildings feels almost within reach; bright, misty and vacant.
Or sunlight cutting across the buildings at charming angles at certain times in the day.
Or even just through days on end of impeccable rain.
There are countless others, familiar and consoling, between the luxury of W1 and the grit of E1; and even further afield, there is relish for all. Some immeasurable quantum of wonder we all know, the thrill that London will never truly be fully explored. It is as much and in some ways, more so, home to me as Malaysia. In essence, London, like all great cities, compels us to fall in love, to seek companionship. London, where one’s loneliness is exposed like a fresh wound, raw and tender; it is a constant reminder that this allure is far too much for any one man to bear himself and that these moments are to be shared. (This is a sentiment which I feel disturbingly echoes an excerpt of prose from Fitzgerald’s, ‘The Great Gatsby’, one that I have always considered to be the single greatest piece of writing ever. This is remarkably still so, in spite of the fact that the piece was set in New York and written nearly a century ago; in a different place, at a different time.
Therefore, lastly, I must stress that these are not memories that I would have been so fond of were they not memories that were populated by you, the ones I love so dearly.
I have now been at home for 4 days, feeling most out of sync, both in space and time.