It was raining, dark, drab walking briskly through the still grey run down streets of Hackney Wick on the way to the British Rail station at just after 5 AM one August morning. This was to be my last sight of Britain’s green and pleasant land for a long time. The rest of the journey was to be down the underground and whisked rapidly across London to the timeless fluorescent departure zones of Heathrow airport. No lasting memory of the rose scented gardens or freshly mown lawns or sounds of leather on willow and chiming village green clocks was to be my fond recollection of how my journey started. Just grey, drizzle, drifting unkempt refuse, ubiquitous tower blocks and forty-year after the fact still unused overgrown bombed out blocks from the war prowled by dogs of indistinct colour. A side of London few cared for or even saw and not one that would ever be found on some tourist regalia but a real and in this case apt departure memory for an unknown and new journey. A journey that would end in nothing but descent. A descent into the realms where such things as humanity and any attempt at true meaningful personal relationships ceased to exist in the constant drumbeat of personal gratification and the exploration of pushing personal human barriers to whatever the next extreme was with no care for how it may impact on anyone else. A journey that was never going to have any good end, but a journey that was or at least became like some ever speeding rollercoaster going faster and faster but with no way to get off once started. Or maybe that is just an excuse. Maybe it was I who just didn’t want to get off, while others stronger than me would have seen what stripped of your basic humanity you end up becoming.
Heathrow, one of the worlds main transit points on those lines of interconnecting flights sending people temporarily united in some hub off to every corner of the world on sleek efficient airlines with sleek efficient cabin crew and seats far too small for anyone slightly fatter or taller than average, was even in the early nineties constantly busy. Normally I would have enjoyed the sit for an hour before check in just watching people and life pass me by. I know this because I had decided to get there early deliberately but this time the normal satisfaction of observing others was missing. I paced and sat and I sat and paced. I even smoked and smoked again or at least that is how I remember it, but maybe I am wrong and even then you couldn’t smoke in the terminal. Memories are strange. Some little seemingly irrelevant details are remembered with clarity for so long while others dissipate in the mist of experience seemingly instantly, and of course there are the things we would all like to forget that are permanently seared into our minds. It was time to move on. I knew that.
Running away, you are always running away from things is a constant refrain I hear whether in my mind or from the voice of others I am not even sure anymore, but can you deny the truth from whatever direction it comes. Was I running away from London, my home of some 30 years or was I just moving on to broaden my own experience or to start another life. I was born, raised and lived most of my formative years in London, mostly north and east with a very brief foray down to south of the river in a variety of areas, never rich areas but some OK and others that were definitely covered by descriptions of urban decay and poor urban planning and blighted by the myriad of problems that go along with such places, but they were good places for me. London for me a Londoner and not some visitor was about community and finding it which is often so different. London was also about art and music and food and parties and more and well it is hard to explain if you haven’t lived there for at least a decade but London had it all. There was no specialisation of art or limited genre of music and well the food is probably more varied than in any other city, and finding at least a party three times week was not a problem. Quite simply everything was available, and if you knew what you were doing and where to go it wasn’t even expensive, which may surprise some who never really knew the place, and there are many including many born and brought up there for London had everything and it was available to all but London was a hard, fickle and difficult to understand mistress but one who if treated right responded well.