“I am Isambard Kingdom Brunel. I am an engineer from the Victorian age, and I am here to recite some Shakespeare”, said the Northern Irish Knight of the Realm. Because London’s all about fine poetry, crap weather, industrial revolutions, class systems, and, most of all, exquisite contradictions.
So, last night was a heck of a party. Some of it was delightful, some of it cringeworthy; all of it just so accurately representative of the way my adoptive country sees itself. It was a fine show, and for the first time I felt a glint of excitement about this great big corporate monster of a thing that’s taken over our city.
Even more amazingly, the opening ceremony of the Olympics reminded me of all the reasons why I came here and why I stayed for so long. Truth is, I came here because of Kenneth Branagh. And because of Mark Rylance, the actor Branagh replaced in the ceremony when he was forced to pull out following a family tragedy. Talk about twists of fate: it was these two men who brought Shakespeare into my life; then theatre as a whole, and poetry, literature, cinema, and everything followed from there. They put down the cornerstones at base of my life as an adult. And then they forced me to come here and complete the rest: bricks, mortar, windows, facade, furniture. They provided the material to build me.
London can be a stressful, harsh, depressing place to live. But last night at a great theatre party where minor and major celebrities were just hanging out, drinking free Pimm’s, cheering for Kenneth Branagh and the NHS (!?) and Team GB - and especially the parachuting Queen! - it all felt rather special.
Even better than that; BT and I cycled home - wind in our hair - across a deserted Waterloo Bridge, and caught sight of the lights and the skyline, the fireworks and the flags. Oh my, it was beautiful. An epiphany struck me: once upon a time a true Londoner was certified solely by the accident of having been born within hearing of the sound of the Bow bells. Nowadays London is something else, and after twelve years which were in equal parts exciting and maddening, I feel like a Londoner through and through. This is where I belong.
2012 is the year I finished my PhD, and I may be about to embark on a proper, non-academic career. This week, between the celebrations of our third wedding anniversary and the beginning of the Olympics, BT and I purchased our first apartment together. It’s on the 22nd floor of an imposing, austere Bauhaus/brutalist building in EC1, and it has sweeping views over London that can only be described as awesome.
Turns out that Samuel Johnson’s overly-quoted line, “who is tired of London is tired of life” may actually be true. I have been so tired of so many things, but I think I have fallen in love with London again. I am not tired of life. Bring it on. More London. “More life.”