Told you time is disappearing fast, didn’t I? I’m working hard, hatching plans, soaking up the city. Here’s London, as captured by me, in the last few weeks. Featuring [if only by proxy] Mauritian street food at the Tottenham Green Market, The Coral at the Kentish Town Forum, Daniel Kitson ‘blathering on’ (his words) at the Battersea Art Centre, me at home (judging wine by the cover) – and, of course, Euston/the Thames looking nothing less than sublime.
‘How have you been?’ he murmured, after a while.
‘Cold and lonely,’ she said, with a little laugh.
They walked on.
‘Well,’ said Riley.
Then, ‘How have you been?’ she said.
‘In Hell,’ he replied. Their steps matched, muffled, as they turned towards the Broad Walk. ‘Only we’re not allowed to say.’
‘Who would have thought,’ she said, ‘that this is what we would be?’
He suddenly recalled a postcard he had received as a child, from a friend whose family had gone to Canada: ‘I am six now. Are you any older?’
He smiled, looking down. They walked on.
‘Cup of tea?’ he said. ‘Lyons? Or have you turned into one of those beer-drinking war girls? Do you need a sharp one at the Ram? Or a pink gin at the Kensington Close?’
She laughed a little. ‘Cup of tea,’ she said, and began to cry.
Time is passing terrifyingly quickly. I’m one who avoids clichéd conversation about the effects of daylight saving or the fact that it’s windy out, but I just can’t help falling for the old adage that time passes more quickly as you get older – because it does. I blinked and missed January; my February is already spoken for; my 2016 is filling up fast. All I can do is make sure I’m soaking up the good stuff. Good food, people, places and books. On which note, I’m currently reading Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale For The Time Being (obsessed), we’re off to Berlin next week (third time lucky), and we can’t stay away from Tottenham’s Chicken Town (no, really – can’t stay away). Hopefully I’ll catch you again before February’s out.
I spent all weekend listening to David Bowie’s Blackstar, cooing over the black stars that spell out his name and revelling in the much-anticipated brilliance of it all. Then the world woke up on Monday morning to the sadness of his passing – in all its terrible surreality. I snatched a listen to the radio as I was getting dressed. I pumped Hunky Dory through my headphones on the way to work. Anything to feel part of the bigger tapestry. The man in the seat beside me was drinking coffee from a mug. A china mug, on the tube. I laughed inside and thought you maverick and pined for the loss of Bowie.
I remembered how the 14-year-old me had picked her way relentlessly through The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. How Five Years and Strangers When We Meet are the soundtrack to one of my most catalytic friendships. Remembered the euphoria of Nile Rodgers’ Let’s Dance at Glastonbury in 2013. How I’m sure there was a whole summer, even longer ago than all of that, when my brother played nothing but Changes on the stereo, on repeat. Yesterday, everyone was remembering their own Bowie journeys. Yesterday, it was chokingly-poignant to hear his voice and we were all grappling to find the words. For how can you articulate the loss of a thing like Bowie? He was a genius, yes, but genius doesn’t quite seem to fit the gap. It needs something more. Something as colossal as the loss. Something big enough to fill the sky and touch the moon and come tumbling back to earth – shrugging its shoulders, as if nothing had happened. I read somewhere that it’s harder to inspire happiness than melancholy through art – harder still to do it an artistically beautiful way. Bowie did that – and will go on doing that – repeatedly.
Thank you, is all I can think to say. Bowie, I’m so sad you’re gone. I’m sorry you had to know mortality and I’m in awe of your sublime parting note. Our lives are so much the richer for having had you in them. Oh, to capture just one drop of all the ecstasy that swept that afternoon. To paint that love upon a white balloon and fly it from the top-est of all the tops.
Now that I’m safely ensconced in a new year – read: have rediscovered how to work, use the tube and live without six helpings of cheese a day – I think I’m ready for a moment of reflection. There I was, busy thinking 2015 had passed by pretty unremarkably, until I watched one of those year in review things on the telly (right in the thick of my festive laze) and came abruptly to my senses. It was right then that I looked back more mindfully, considering each month in turn, and realised that, actually, 2015 was filled from top to bottom and side to side with all the richness of life.
When we left London, we left it for Copenhagen, Naples and Paris. From Naples, we had the privilege of visiting Pompeii. In the summer, we went to the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Festival No.6 in Portmeirion and, of course, indulged in those precious few days at Glastonbury in Somerset. (Scotland, Wales, England – you don’t half put on a good show.) Throughout the year we ate some sensational food in sensational places. We laughed at comedy, cried at stops-you-in-your-tracks theatre and – well, I lost count of all the gigs. Some highlights, off the top of my head: Joanna Newsom at the Salle Gaveau, Blur at the Wolverhampton Arts Centre, David Gilmour at the Royal Albert Hall, King Creosote at the Barbican, Mavis Staples on The Park stage at Glastonbury and Gaz Coombes in the Town Hall Sessions at Festival No.6 (and that’s not to mention The Who, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan & His Band, Morrissey, The Libertines, Patti Smith, The Staves) (and so many more).
And, as is life’s wont, the year brought with it sadness and grief too. Sometimes, we even found ourselves feeling totally disillusioned with the world. But there was also a beautiful baby, who arrived in our lives and altered so many futures – just like that. We were able to make our home even more of a home. Then there was that elated day when I watched one of my oldest, dearest friends marry the love of her life. While the extraordinary may have escaped me directly, life – extraordinary, detailed, fabulous life – certainly didn’t. And if 2016 is half as full as that? I’ll be a lucky girl.
Though I love London – and ardently – sometimes I feel like I’m getting it all wrong. Sometimes we’ll wonder where to go for dinner – and minutes, hours, or even days after that, we’ll still be stumped. I deliberate on decisions like this so much precisely because I don’t want to get them wrong. I have a list longer than I could show you with my hands of places I want to go, but in that moment, none of them ever seem to quite fit. Too far away, too busy, too expensive, too niche, too deep-fried. He wants bao buns, I want mac’n’cheese. Sometimes we’ll go somewhere off-list and it’ll be brilliant and after revelling in that for a while, I’ll feel despondent and defeated because it wasn’t on my list at all and how many other brilliant places are there that haven’t made it onto my list, that I might never uncover?
And that’s just the food. The same goes for the music, the art, the comedy, the views. Our city couldn’t be richer in it all and it’s exactly that which makes me feel, all too often, like I’m getting it wrong, looking the wrong way, missing a trick. But every now and then there are the long Sunday afternoons in the pub, where the lights are just right and the rioja just flows. When you step out into the cold to catch a gig and you’re so glad you did. When you glimpse a view by chance and you feel privileged to have done so. And so, below are some of the times we’ve got it right, in this order: Elvis Perkins at Dalston Victora | Sunday afternoons at the The Red Lion, Leytonstone | This Is The Kit at the Scala | reflections on the River Lea | Sunday roasts at the Hackney Plough, Homerton | John Grant at Eventim Apollo.
Last Monday, we were in Paris. We walked along the river, lit candles in Notre-Dame and lunched at Holybelly – a few steps away from the Canal Saint-Martin and moments away from a future tragedy. Then we caught the train home. Cut to this Monday, and we’re starting the week a little sadder. Feeling connected, but disconnected; weak, but strong; despondent, but proud. I took the photograph below this time last week on the Rue Lucien Sampaix. I like to think it speaks – in its own little way – of beauty, community, tradition, love and unending hope.
We nipped to Paris over the weekend, mainly to see Joanna Newsom at the Salle Gaveau, but also because – well, why not? We stayed in South Pigalle (SoPi if you’re in the know), generally lapped up the 20-degree, blue-skied November days and may even have bumped into Steve Coogan in my favourite jazz club. Oh, Paris. May I recommend Buvette for breakfast, Miznon or Holybelly for lunch, and Le Bon Saint Pourçain for dinner. Of course we left with a to-do list longer than the one we arrived with. Always the way/must nip back.