Thirty Thousand Streets

Sunday, August 17, 2008

West Hampstead

This afternoon I hiked up to West Hampstead, to say hi to my friends Will and Sam, and their wee bairn Zac, who is small, cute, and generally baby-ish. I even held him, with the aid of an odd cushion that sort of resembles half a life ring – especially as it's engineered to sit around your midriff. It was good to hear Will's got off to a good start with the lad's education, by reading him science fiction (James Tiptree Junior) and watching horror films with him (Rosemary's Baby).

But West Hampstead: I forget about West Hampstead, though actually quite like it, in spite of its slightly prim, moneyed demeanour. And why not. In spite of my Southside blogging credentials, many things aspirational appeal to me, so a place as peppered with delis and the like as West Hampstead is right up my street.

And of course, before I'd even moved to London, many, many moons ago (10 years worth of moons, in fact) I used to visit West Hampstead a lot, as that was where Will and Sam lived, in a tiny flat between 'Wampstead's' main drag, and the bustling environs of the Finchley road.

For this reason it always evokes a faintly cosy sense of nostalgia, as I wander alongside those gentrified mansions, especially as West Hampstead is, for London anyway, fairly non-threatening – or as Douglas Adams might have it 'mostly harmless'. Yet it did serve to illustrate how living anywhere redically changes your perception of it – or to put it another way, the closer you get to something, the more it seems to disappear.

I think there are many examples that point to this slightly sombre truth, but an example that springs to mind was given by a lecturer at university at Bristol, who described the analogy of two lovers running to meet one another across a field, who at the moment prior to embracing discover they are separated utterly by an invisible barrier, which they detect when their breath condenses upon it. Either that or by clobbering themselves unconcious, one presumes.

My early memories of London were of its utter cyclopean vastness – huge avenues yawning off into the theoretical distance. But as you live somewhere, you gradually piece together the composite parts into a tapestry of sorts – that promptly shrinks in the wash. That vast, fobidding London is gone for me now, to be replaced by something smaller, more prosaic, though still exciting, challenging (and really, still impressively vast).

But I catch glimpses of that other London still – in a shaft of sunlight outside Selectadisc on Soho's Berwick Street, pushing through a mass of bodies at Notting Hill or crossing Waterloo Bridge in the evening. Perhaps no more than in West Hampstead though, where I sometimes feel a nostalic affinity for the ghost of of my younger self, out and about in London, and this sudden shift in perspective is like glimpsing a street you know well, from the window of a swiftly moving train – fleet and momentary, to be relished while it lasts.

From such sub-philosophical rambling I returned earthward to my flat, to discover my housemate huffing, puffing and generally martyring herself because she's doing her chores after a stint at the pub she works at. Working in Victoria tomorrow, more on that then, no doubt.

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