Saturday, 16 July 2011

My Ber-Lon Holiday

Unfortunately, going back to London for a week mostly reminded me why I had left in the first place. Despite calling my visit a 'holiday' it was something of a chore to shift my gears back into the rhythm of a lifestyle that I had chosen to leave behind. Add to this the fact that I was there to move my stuff out of the city and it wound up feeling more like a working holiday (minus the salary).

I guess the payoff was that I got a few novel glimpses of a city which until then, I thought I knew too well. One image that was worth a thousand words came while I was riding the tube from Heathrow. I was gazing out the window of the train at the countryside trundling past when I suddenly noticed that I was the only person doing so. The entire row of people sitting opposite me had their eyes riveted to the screens of I-phones and MP3 players and their bodies were contracted into tiny knots on the child-sized train seats. They looked like physical embodiments of the phrase "wishing the ground could swallow you up".

It was the first of many reminders of how ill-equipped London is for big city life. The knock-on effect is a populace which seems hounded by a continual sense of imposition, both given and received. I notice how people seem to forever be cringing about some offense or another, either real or imagined. For the first time I understood the discomfort of being in a place that is simultaneously brimming people and cripplingly isolated; unavoidably immediate but devoid of intimacy or personal connection. I was really put out for a few days about my utter lack of nostalgia for the place. But while London ain't my cuppa tea no more, but I felt lucky to have some friends on hand who could offer me a cup of tea, and sympathy.

I got an even rarer view of London while flying in to Heathrow, however. How often is one graced with a clear sky while flying low over the city? I think it was only the second time this had happened in 15 years so I took full advantage of it.

Then there is the photo below - a stereotypical tourist shot (which is something of a freak event in my world) taken in Hyde Park.

I also got to visit Saatchi Gallery... finally! I literally stumbled across it by surprise, while out shopping with a girlfriend in King's Road (window-shopping, that is). The exhibition on show was called 'Shape of Things To Come: New Sculpture' and it allowed for me to indulge my penchant for psychedelic photo editing again.

Then I nipped up to Oxford, where the tiniest global city on the globe was warming up for the Truck Festival. The festival has its origins in a time when indie bands used to play from the backs of trucks in a field but has now been absorbed into the mainstream festival circuit and, in the view of some locals, has been over-hyped and overpriced accordingly.

We maximized on the opportunity it provided to see some free gigs around town, one of which was in a converted loading bay in the city center. In typical small-city fashion, everybody who knew anybody somehow ended up there. Nicola, a partner of one of the performers (and a friend of a friend) asked me if the gig space reminded me of venues in Berlin. "I've never been to Berlin yet," she said, "but my friends who have, say it looks a lot like this." My friend Julian and I looked around, pursing our lips doubtfully. "No," we said almost in unison, "it's too clean!"

I find that whenever the English try to adopt something foreign or exotic, it always seems to emphasize their English-ness anyway. The furniture, for example, always seems to dominate the room no matter what style it happens to be... almost as if it is self-consciously posing for you on a stage. Must be a touch of that sitting-room aesthetic that has persisted from Victorian times.

Before I could get too homesick I was back in the real Berlin, sitting on the Spree on a clear cool evening with friends Sandra and Klemens. The city had emptied out since I left a week ago and its natural beauty held center-stage. It reminded me of my youth: endless bike rides along the river; the freedom of mind and body to make your own fun; friendships that seem as permanent as the landscape itself. Who even needs a holiday when you live in a city like this?

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