Life can only be understood backwards, but must be lived forwards. Soren Keikegardd
Going to London in 1979 from suburban Perth was literally like going to the moon and looking back at the earth. I was 14 years old, and from then on I knew I would return and live in London. The 1979 photos are strangely red and capture both the hideousness and the wonder of London. I had never seen anything as foul as the Thames at low tide. I had never seen anything as magnificent the Thames at high tide, the statuary on every lampost, the Houses of Parliament in real life, not the 3D cut-out in a book that I had pored over as a child.
I did return to London, but not until 1990 when I was 25 and professionally qualified. I was on the hunt for a job in the museum sector, no less, and dreamed of making London my home at least for a little while. Through great good fortune I did get a job at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, but in its far-flung satellite site in Woolwich. This was me, living in Plumstead, working in Woolwich, not quite sure if I had really achieved my goal of living and working in London. Greater London, yes. The trendy inner part absolutely not. I lived in London until 1996, eventually purchasing a flat in the lesser known and newly gentrified suburb of New Cross. By then I worked in the main building in Greenwich. While much better, it still was a very out of the way London experience. Most Londoners had no idea they could catch a train from Waterloo East and be there in a quarter of an hour. They all thought they had to spend hours on a boat getting there. But it was a very far cry from the Kangaroo Valley Earls Court experience, and that is what I prided myself on at the time.
When I left London for Thessaloniki in 1996, I realised what many people come to know – that six years in London counts for nothing, you will be expelled as a stranger as if you had never arrived. On other London trips I have scurried through as a not-quite tourist but certainly not a resident – to farewell friends in 1998, when I was pregnant unexpectedly, about to fly back to Australia. The exodus through London on the way through from Thessaloniki in 2000 with my 15 month-old daughter when I abandoned any hope of trying to make it work with her father. Racked with guilt, knowing only that I couldn’t stay. The redemption of the glorious 2009 trip with my ten-year-old daughter as we touristed through all the major attractions together, having found a way through to remain in touch with her Greek family but not sacrifice every ounce of enjoyment in my own life.
How I love the privilege of travel. The mystery of having your body back into the same place, but there you are, changed beyond recognition. For me now, with no dependents and more disposable income then I’ve ever had, London trips are about staying in places I could never possibly afford. Familiar and foreign London, with old friends to catch up with and streets and favourite places to revisit. I know I will forever be someone who passes through London, not quite tourist, not quite resident. I have settled on calling London a beloved place to return to. And in 2019 I decided that any of my snobbery about staying in Earls Court was overcome by the convenience of getting to and from Heathrow.
For my 2019 trip to London, I was all on my glorious own – just me and The Muse. I couldn’t work on the novel as it was out for comment, but I could keep on with my back-up writing project – typing up old journals. I deliberately did not read them first, I was typing and wondering what might happen next. I pondered many times about who different people might be, as only a first name was offered and I scrambled through my memory, often failing to return with the correct person linked to the diary entry. Sometimes they were just gone, gone, gone. I batted back and forth between 1990 and 2003, dislocating myself across the decades, warping time and watching it fold back on itself as the same life challenges were tackled. It was not until I went back through these journals that I realised how consistent my quest for creative pursuits was. It’s a golden, unbroken thread.
I left the cafe at Earls Court, jumped in the tube to Embankment and emerged, fancying a coffee by the Thames. London, however, had other ideas – the cafes were either not open or non-existent. I walked along, Facetime-calling my daughter and it was almost as good as having her there to walk alongside with me. I had to stop to take random photos such as the man’s face in the dolphin lamposts at London Pier. Because I was back in London, the same human, the same buildings, but I was completely transformed. I was back to claim my author self, lost in the pages of the journals.