It takes mere seconds in Heathrow Airport, amidst the sharp and curly accents, for me to fall in love all over again. Those canorous voices tickle my ear in delight. They remind me of the special place London occupies in my heart, and I concede that it has required being here in person to arrive at this realisation.
In truth, I am all too often inclined to fill the remaining chapters of my life with novel destinations. The Galapagos is testament to that. Undiscovered lands across South America and Scandinavia saturate my upcoming travel list. This trip to London changes things a bit. In the chase to see the world, it’s easy to forget the unique charm of returning to a foreign land as a tool for self discovery. So here I am in the Commonwealth’s capital, slapped in the face by an obvious reality.
As far as my revisited destinations go, London sits alongside cities in Italy, Japan, Singapore, Mauritius, and Germany. Those trips have often felt like rewatching a good movie. It’s never quite the same as the first time, and nostalgia propels a lot of the enjoyment. But London is an intriguing encore. Coming back is akin to the opening of my backyard door, only to find that nothing and everything has changed. My old and new friends are right here waiting for me with open arms.
Part of this is due the relationship many Australians like yours truly have with the Motherland. London, as England’s centrepiece, is both that place that made us who are and that parent we should call, but rarely do. Some of us out there would wish we never spoke to them again at all, with Labor promising a plebiscite should it win the next election. I am not as convinced to follow mum’s lead in breaking away from an established arrangement. Especially considering how confused she is now in her ambition to sever a long and fruitful relationship with the European Union. In that sense, visiting London feels like a family reunion, where favourites blend in with essential acquaintances.
This is now my sixth passport stamp in London. Although, my previous stints have been rather fleeting. Lengths of stay have inhabited the spectrum from days to fortnights. London has never occupied the prime slot of my itineraries this side of the globe. Instead, it has seen itself tied on as an incidental to ventures across Sweden or Turkey, due in large part to its function as a European hub. Although, that is not to say I did not take those opportunities to indulge in local delicacies.
This time around, I am here for the potential long haul. I have activated the trope of a 2 year Youth Mobility Visa accessible to privileged Australians, which bar costs, has been easy. It is the Commonwealth’s way of saying, keep coming back to where it all began and keep our economy thriving. In the era of Brexit, She needs all the help She can get. It won’t be possible to abuse the 2 years, either. For in any short acquaintance with the cost of living in London, one learns the need to start earning a salary in Her Majesty’s Pound Sterling to survive.
Unlike my many solo voyages of late, this first week I am accompanied by my brother, Matt, who is taking his first foray abroad this far out from Australia. His presence here has greatly influenced my experience. His inaugural view of the grey city inspires me to see things like I once did when I saw London for the first time. I am reminded of my younger self, somewhat accustomed the nuances of European travel. I was puppy-eyed then to the endless Harry Potter charms, bookshops, theatres, and red double-decker buses. Since then, trips to London had become a kind of unspecial experience. A bit like what I imagine seeing The Lion King on stage for the fifth time would feel like.
But in this past week, I find myself surprised to have uncovered more reasons to call London home than ever before. Indeed, for a literary aspirer, London holds the ostensible monopoly on relevant inspiration. And confirmation bias plays a main role. For every day feels like a privilege. To meander among the former abodes of Shakespeare and Dickens. To partake in London’s perennial embrace of the theatre and the arts. To dabble in the futile search for a Melbourne-like coffee. To sample the smorgasbord of fusion cuisine. To find surprise in chance encounters, and those facilitated by online apps.
London, crowned in refinement, wrapped in tradition, hemmed in the foul aromas of back alleys and sewers, sewn together by international cultures, continues to impress.
It may well be years before I find some corner of London to call home. It may never happen at all. Melbourne holds the title of home for now, but who is to say that I should limit myself to the one home? And is not this planet the truest home of all, in which every city of every country represents a different room of an ever enormous mansion?
Let’s touch base in 2020, and see how far we’ve come.
All photography by Frankey with his Google Pixel 3.