The place inside my head

by Suw on August 24, 2005

Walking through London in the muggy sunshine yesterday, placing foot in front of foot, my mind wandering streets other than those my body travelled. A corner turned to find the cerebral and the corporeal suddenly, forcibly and unexpectedly brought together, geographically but not temporally.
London is not a city. It's not a place. Not anymore. It's a mosaic of memories, as scattered through time as they are over the landscape. Five years of inhabitation followed by another five of constant visitation. Experience layered upon experience like thick coats of paint on old walls. Chip at it, pick at it, see what colour lies underneath.
Here at Spitalfields Market where now I find myself talking to Matt from because he's spotted the web/geek stickers on my Mac and on the screen of my lunch companion. Peel off that new memory to find the Spitalfields Market where I learnt to inline skate and learnt to fall, losing my weekly battle with gravity in the most spectacular – not to mention painful – manner possible.
Trace that thread back to Paddington station, a place of departures, of frustration, of waiting. Remember the evening, commuting back to Reading after a day in PwC's offices in Farringdon, a day heavy with so many looming deadlines that I forgot to eat, my blood sugar crashing and taking me down with it, a kind woman commuter helping me up from the platform where I'd tumbled as I fainted stepping off the tube train.
Layer over that the 15 or so coppers standing around, armed, dangerous, bored, looking for terrorists. The realisation that it was a Thursday, two weeks after the failed bombings that themselves came two weeks after the first terrorist attack. But then chip away again, and find me trying to get a good photo of the locomotive shed, me stumbling home blind drunk at 2am, me crying silently to myself after my heart was again shattered by someone who no longer loved me.
That takes me back to Soho. Years ago. Friends from work, out on the lash. A meal in a restaurant – Italian, maybe. The suggestion that we carry on drinking. The realisation that it's midnight and the pubs are shut. The hint that someone knows somewhere. Following through the streets of Soho, seedy and taboo. Realising my friends have ducked into a sex shop. Hesitating. Following. Down the staircase behind the door behind the really big bouncer to find a shabby, seedy drinking den, illegal and expensive and full of hard and uncomfortable plastic chairs. Drinking. Staggering home on the night bus at some point in the night when it becomes morning. Sleeping. Having to get up and cross London to go to my first ever bass lesson. Having to ask the teacher to turn the amp down a bit, my head pounds and pounds and pounds with hangover.
And over that Soho lies another Soho. Underneath that Soho lie countless others. I stand and look at it now and I see into the past. Images from times gone projected onto the facade of today. Some years old. Some months old. Some only weeks. A wry smile, a wicked glint in my eye, a slow blink as I recall. That's not even enough for you to realise that the vivid, delightful memory that consumes my senses as I pass a familiar bar even exists.
Some days the past impinges strongly on the present. Like transparent images on panes of glass layered between me and reality, each a different scene, a different moment, a different me. My past makes London what it is, my present always coloured by the constant presence of my past.
Suddenly, a memory of the fish I saw on the pavement in Rotherhithe. There it was, a huge fish, still twitching, gasping, wanting water. It sat on the pavement in it's own little puddle of water in the middle of a hot summer's day, just yards from the Thames. There was no one in sight. When I come out of the corner shop, it's gone. Just a damp patch to show it was ever there. But still no one around.
I wonder if I'll remember that when I am old. I wonder how far into the future my past stretches. How much that is gone forever will be here forever? Where does my past end?

Anonymous August 24, 2005 at 11:21 pm

A beautiful piece of writing. I've had similar thoughts, though haven't managed to articulate them quite as vividly as you've done. Bravo!

Anonymous August 25, 2005 at 6:26 am

Is this why we're so disappointed when we return to a place we thought we once knew so well?
I am a foreigner in my own land and my adopted country.

Anonymous August 25, 2005 at 7:58 am

Sometimes I feel even like a foreigner in my own head, but that's a different story.

Anonymous August 25, 2005 at 8:09 am

Beautifully written.
Reminds me of a book I recently read and enjoyed.
'The Art of Travel' by Alain De Botton

Anonymous August 25, 2005 at 9:07 am

Try spending a little less time out of it. ;->

Anonymous August 25, 2005 at 9:43 am

Actually, I think the problem is that I spend far too much time in it.

Anonymous August 25, 2005 at 10:21 am

Hang on…
When did Neil Gaiman start writing your blog?
Fantastic piece!

Anonymous August 25, 2005 at 1:21 pm

Then it sounds as if, despite a promising start, your career as a bass-player was doomed from the beginning… ;->

Anonymous August 25, 2005 at 3:12 pm

It's these kind of pieces that keep me coming back. (Apologies, but I'm really not a geek.)

Anonymous August 25, 2005 at 3:14 pm

I can't help thinking that, after such an overwhelmingly positive response to this piece (for which, than you all!), I should write more like this. Sometimes it's easy to get lost in geekery, but there's more to life than that.

Anonymous August 25, 2005 at 3:24 pm

There would be great benefit in writing more pieces like these. If this were all you wrote, there might be a detriment too. You are a wonderful writer, Suw. I wouldn't want to give up all that you write, including matters like digital rights, technology, travel, and the whole spectrum of arbitrary topics, as well. Keep on keeping on.

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