I remember being young and that feeling of excitement mixed with apprehension of adding somewhere new to your own personal map of London; when the boundaries of your existence would be stretched and a new place conquered. What would it be like? What would the people there be like?
Croydon, Norbury, Streatham and more, all were discovered in that blissful age between 12-18 and none lost there lustre, allure or novelty till long after. Back then it was still the case that I never considered just how exactly all the places I knew were connected in any real way, just that I’d arrive and then at some other point return home. All these places were like little islands and buses and trains were the boats I used to navigate the seas of my London.
This increase in the area of London that my feet had touched if not my mind fully assimilated, went hand in hand with a burgeoning sense of freedom and a belief that I was an adult and deserved full control of every decision and needed no more advice from elders and I refuse to laugh at the nonsense of the notion because that was the emotional truth of the time. I certainly miss those first forays into knowledge of what lay beyond the edge of the town I called home but in many ways I miss when that same town was my world.
I remember when the parameters for any adventure were as simplistic as venturing further then my mother’s gaze could reach from any window inside our flat. So just going to the sweet shop was an adventure; venturing to the estate my cousin lived was another one; travelling to where my best friend lived on his estate another.
West Norwood was my home and my adventure playground. I miss my council estate and all the other surrounding ones. I miss the high street when Woolworths was still there. I miss walking home from school and choosing one of the five, six different routes I could take, my favourite probably being the long road next to the cemetery that followed the 322 bus route. Strangely, I miss that bus too, and the 68, and I miss West Norwood train station. I miss the alleyways and shortcuts. I traversed the whole town gleefully by foot and filled in all the details. It was the first place where I knew the territory as well as the map, how it all fitted together and my place within it.
It is this filling in of details and a true comprehension of the city I call home, that has brought with it a longing to view London as I once did, as a series of little islands, isolated, exotic. Now I know and understand things too well, and how each and every area connects. I can connect all the dots and ride what is a roller-coaster of emotions with no respite from the extremes of happiness and despair and the fact of the matter is that I hate roller-coasters and always have.
There’s heartache in Balham, lost friends in Streatham, wasted time in Twickenham and painful nostalgia for West Norwood. Nostalgia and longing.
My world was undoubtedly smaller back then when I lived there, when a few miles in any direction from my home was all I knew or cared for, but my enthusiasm, my zest for life, my sheer unbridled joy at each passing day was gargantuan and infectious and sometimes the echo of that younger version comes through with it’s care-free lilt and mocks my cleverer, smarter, more experienced self.
The featured image is the block of flats I grew up in