Notes

The revolution that takes place in your head, nobody will ever see that.

Rootless metropolitan trash

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What I’ve struggled with since returning to London is the enormous distances you have to travel to get anywhere. From departing my flat in Stamford Hill/Stoke Newington, I traipse through street after street, after street, after street (25 minutes to be precise) before alighting on board the 149 to Hoxton.

Stamford Hill is a Haerdi Jewish village and it makes for a beautiful and sinister handmaiden’s tale. I’ve become fascinated by the visual segregation of the Jews since I’ve moved here. The passive hostility you feel walking past swarms of men in long black coats and side curls.

Watching shaven headed mothers with wigs pushing buggies, the ultra-Orthodox community is a frozen repository of piety that dates back to the 18th century. Global souls like me are ignored to preserve the other-worldly purity of their sect. I’m just a passing visitor with no social responsibilities. I wear my headphones as ear muffs and sport £40 Americana jeans and Nike trainers.

N16 does feel incredibly isolated and with no tube or central train line, you can only escape by taking multiple red busses. The social insularity of Stamford Hill is simultaneously suffocating and quaint. I unwisely entertain unsubstantiated theories about what might happen behind closed doors. You should never do that, but I’m probably not alone in wondering how other people live their lives.

From walking along a crystal arrow in Florence with its magnificent arrangement of green hills, geniuses and endless blue sky…to trudging through Stamford Hill on an overcrowded bus, I’ve given up on London (again). I used to think nothing of travelling to the West End or south of the river, but recently just leaving the house feels like a chore.

With its occasional flourishes of glamour and entertainment, London is a machine to live in alright, one filled with rootless metropolitan trash.

On that note, my next stop is Lisbon.

 

Mirrors

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stoke-newington

Walking along Scandi wooden floors in my new living room, I see my reflection smoulder like an Instagram picture. Techno base lines reverberate from the upstairs landing and blonde ambition pours down from the skylight. Stoke Newington is my fourth home in less than six months.

With its Georgian ceilings and sash windows chilling my winter bones, I wake up in an Lennon-esque bedroom. My possessions fill up the white-cube shelving and black wires dangle unceremoniously from the wall. The bed looks better than it feels, but its only six weeks and you can’t win them all.

Sitting in the living room opposite a plasma television, I wonder how I would do it differently. How would I decorate a blank canvas? I wouldn’t know where to start. I still can’t even work out how to use the Smart TV remote. I’ve never had to use one until now.

 

 

 

God bless

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A grungy heap of sorrow with doe eyes asked me for some money tonight. She needed somewhere to stay. The girl must have been in her late teens or early twenties; the night’s shadow made it impossible to discern.

When no is else is around, strangers become humans and harder to ignore. It’s funny how the pneumatic roar of traffic and pedestrians render the most vulnerable into a passing blur.

Frost was biting my cheeks and the girl looked desperate for warmth. I had been at the cinema and was walking home along an empty concrete aisle to my friend’s apartment in Stepney Green.

It’s cold and desolate here after Christmas, populated only by abandoned cars and stragglers in chicken shops. I can’t speak favourably of the area – it’s depressing and ugly even during the summer months.

I began shuffling in my pockets and found some loose change. I didn’t even know I was carrying any. Embarrassed by the meagre amount, I gave her about 37p and said that was all I had on me and she replied “I’ll take anything you have”, but I was lying to her. My wallet was burning with greed.

As she walked across the road, I felt a pang of self-disgust and put a tenner in her hand. Her eyes widened in astonishment and she said “God bless you” in a soft cockney accent and I felt horrible for not giving it to her earlier.

The cruelty of London hit me as I entered the landing. How many times do you just walk away like I did? Say nothing or pretend you have no money on you. I couldn’t stop crying as I stepped inside the kitchen. Switching the lights on, the artificial heat smothered my cheeks and my phone vibrated with an emoji smile.

Looking out the window towards the city, I realised I should do more for people. Kindness is all we have when God wrought to make this world so sad.

House of cards

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Living in Florence, I feel isolated and cocooned from reality. In the urban metropolitan sense of the word I mean – delayed trains, surly commuters and existential terror threats. Occasionally, I miss the culture and entertainment of London. It’s easier to strike up a conversation with randoms and hope that someone, somewhere cares.

Falling into limbo along the Arno valley, where God meets science and the leaves never fall. My errands are gorgeous and I have the luxury of getting bored. Buying mundane items or attending a movie underneath a sea of light, I am aesthetically richer than ever before.

Watching kingfishers hunting alongside canoeists massaging their perfect bodies. I cross bridges where Nazi munitions once roared and couples in bubble coats take meticulously framed photos. Even with the luxury of time, I can’t stop taking identikit pictures of stars and stripes and Romanesque facades.

Sometimes I wish I appeared in more photographs. Taking pictures of churches and statues, I often feel life is passing me by without anyone noticing. I have no reference of my time here beyond these words. As the numbers thin out, I feel grateful to have stayed here in a period of idle normality. Like I’m experiencing the ‘real’ Florence before our planet swelled dangerously out of control.

Where you could feel reciprocal energy and passion by virtue of being eligible. I don’t know how others find it so easy, but this longing never goes away. I came here with good intentions. I really did you know. Wandering the streets of Florence on a winter’s morning, where the wind never blows and nothing ever seems to stick.

 

Stony-hearted walls

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Even when I have no pressing desire to see or do anything, I always go for a walk along the Arno at lunchtime. Tank up on sunlight and watch the terrible beauty roar down the valley. You can walk for pleasure here. Florence is one of the few towns whose name has an abstract quality and it means ‘taste and fine workmanship’.

Wrapped up in a woollen scarf and a paper thin jacket, I walk past antique workshops and impenetrable doors with iron horse rings. There is an aloofness to this sweeping symphony of stone.

It’s not at all welcoming or open. The Renaissance facades and Protestant-esque churches are designed to keep people out. Florence feels immaculately defensive to anyone walking on the perimeter of her doors.

As the days grow colder, the visitor numbers thin out and I have a winter countdown of my own. Excited and worried about the year ahead, I walk back along the river, trying to catch a sunbeam with my bare hands once more.

Safe house

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One morning a vicious buzzing sensation awoke me from my laptop. It had never gone off before. I mean why would anyone ring my door? Nobody knows that I live here and those who do would call me first. My visitor was a handsome lanky man in a 1920’s prohibition style coat and he immediately addressed me in incomprehensible Italian.

“Non capisco. Non parlo Italiano, mi dispiace signor.”

“Okay, sorry to bother you, what are you doing here? Are you on holiday or is this a safe house?”

Somewhat perplexed by his ‘safe house’ line of questioning, I muttered something about AirBnb and he appeared satisfied with my answer. The door slammed shut. Is that what my invisible neighbours are thinking? That I’m a fugitive on the run. Returning to my desk, I began to think they may have a point.

 

 

 

 

The Stationery of Florence Observed

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She drinks pints of coffee and writes little observations and ideas for stories with her best fountain pen on the linen-white pages of expensive notebooks. Sometimes, when it’s going badly, she wonders if what she believes to be a love of the written word is really just a fetish for stationery.

David Nicholls, One Day

When the internet numbs the soul, I surrender to my daydreams and frequent bookbinding and paper marbling shops. I know I could never write anything to justify spending €120 on a leather diary – I just love looking at them. Sometimes I wish I could buy the entire shop, even if my sloppy handwriting would blemish the paper.

Since moving to Florence, I realise that I need very little, aspire for so much and feel constantly bewildered by beautiful things. My London possessions are asleep in my neighbour’s bedroom; a dusty festoon of boxes, bags and cracked plastic crates. A life reduced to an indoor skip.

I’ve never lived in a place remotely worth decorating so I don’t know why I’ve become fixated now. Maybe there is something tangible about wanting to decorate a place that doesn’t exist. A place that will never exist.

It’s hard to say really, but I love the solitary dedication of local artists. Living somewhere renowned for its genius in science, engineering, painting, architecture and sculpture, I remain unenlightened and provincial, but not necessarily in a bad way.

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