I took Jessie and Mia up to London this weekend to visit the grandparents. It’s quite a big deal for us. We only go up once or twice a year and for the girls it’s a real adventure. As we drove into the outskirts of the city, the huge tower blocks rising up around us, six-year-old Jessie whispered, “We’re not in Somerset anymore mummy!” She sounded like Dorothy when she first arrives in Oz. And I knew just how she was feeling.
I love our life out in the sticks in deepest, darkest Somerset but whenever I return to London I realise how much I enjoy city life. As they say, you can take the girl out of the city but you can’t take the city out of the girl. I spent my teenage years in London, until I left home and moved to Bristol for university at 18. London was an amazing place to spend those formative years.
A longing began to ache inside me as I remembered what this place does to me. Driving through old haunts I could feel my heart racing with excitement and anticipation. The promise of London on a Friday night. So much colour and sound and buzz and energy and heat and flavour and scent on all sides. I love the people, the buildings, the places. I enjoy the contrasts between the ultra modern, the ancient and traditional, and the shabby and decaying. For someone who adores words and pictures, the potential for stimuli is incredible. From billboards to bus destinations, there’s so much to absorb and I have to remind myself to keep my eyes on the road.
Continuing on through places like Camden Town and Holloway Road, I’m transported back to my teenage years, to school friends and boyfriends, favourite shops and cafes, pubs and clubs.
It’s rather strange remembering my adolescent self with my own children sat behind me in the car. It doesn’t feel so very long ago but it feels like a completely different me. A me full of ambitions without plans. There’s a blank canvas stretched out in front of me – I can be whatever I want to be, I live in the moment and for the moment because there is so much time ahead for me to do everything. Whereas life now can seem to be all about the planning without the enticing possibilities of unfettered ambition. Action plans and to do lists are the order of the day. Always looking ahead and forgetting the here and now.
Is that what makes London feel so exciting? Am I seeing things through the eyes of an 18-year-old girl? It’s certainly part of it. But it’s not all about nostalgia.
I love the way London makes me think. There’s so much here to feed the mind. Wherever I look my head is taken off on new journeys and tangents. Thoughts jump, switch, merge. There is so much inspiration here.
But perhaps there’s too much. Could I live in London now? You know what, I don’t think I could. I’d enjoy all the inspiration, but I think I’d find it just too overwhelming. I’d never have the time to develop ideas into something tangible. Where would they go? I’d be on to the next thing before I had a chance to do anything with the first.
Here in Somerset I have the space to develop my own unique thoughts, rather than bounce off others’. They have room to bloom, swell and mature. I’m working on my first children’s novel at the moment – I haven’t started writing it yet, it’s still in the incubation and research phase – and I don’t believe it would go anywhere if I lived in London. Before I’d worked out the plot for my first novel, I’d already be hatching ideas for novels two, three and four!
So all in all I feel pretty lucky. I get to live in one of the most beautiful counties of England, where people come for holidays and long weekends, and can call on the old folk in the big smoke whenever I need a new dose of re-energising inspiration.
And how did Jessie and Mia enjoy their London weekend? They loved it. But what they enjoyed most of all was climbing trees and building dens in Highgate Woods, the same things they love doing here. So I know that Somerset is a good place for all of us to call home.