As a young-un, my family home nestled quietly amongst the verdant and rolling hills of North Yorkshire. It was a quaint and wholesome childhood – rather like something depicted in a Hovis commercial – interrupted only ever by annual pilgrimage to the Mecca of culture and sirens: London.
In being transported from the slumber of my rural solitude, those long train sojourns – replete with bottomless bags of boiled sweets and games of ‘I Spy’ – seemed heady and deliciously exotic.
A quote attributed to Thomas Wolfe reads ‘One belongs to New York instantly, one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years,’ and, for me, he may well have spoken of London. I adored her from the first moment of our meeting.
One particular memory from my childhood has me bundled like a sardine on the tube – melting in a heat unbeknownst even to Hades. I curiously looked around at my unsmiling carriage companions and pondered why they seemed miserable.
‘I won’t care to be so unhappy when I live here,’ I had thought.
It was a childish quixotism borne of days filled with wonderment: whether they were spent visiting the theatre, quaking in my little patent-leather Clarks shoes at the Tower of London, taking tea (well, orange cordial) at Fortnum’s, giggling at the penguins in London Zoo or, one of my most favoured activities, shopping at Browns.
Whilst the adults played dress-up, I would sit beneath the rails – the scent of newness and wealth all around and so different to the thin, smoked air outside – and romanticise the day when I would finally be old enough to belong to London.
That day seemed so faraway…
The Great Wen can be a cruel mistress and there are times when my love for her fades. Times when, amidst the crucible and merry sing-song of seemingly a million languages, I long only to hear a friendly Northern voice. Times when, on observing my own, I startle at how softened it has become. The intrepid girl, who only ever saw wonder in the teeming metropolis, seems lost to me.
After six years of cohabiting, even Romeo and Juliet would have squabbled and so – as any trashy self-help book might advise – I make every effort to rewalk childhood steps and ‘date’ my city. I escape to the penguins once more. I smile cheerfully at passing strangers. And, of course, I flee to Browns for the sanctuary and soothing of retail therapy.
Voyaging through the underworld of London, there may be occasions when a child alights upon my face and meets with only a look of sadness from her carriage comrade. However, if I were to be sporting these Nicholas Kirkwood shoes – exclusively designed for the Brown’s Future Collectables capsule and worn by Sarah Jessica Parker during the SATC2 press junket – something tells me that she would instead find greeting with my smile.
Even better? They may just make everyone else smile, too…*
* Either that, or I’m headed for a mugging.