The Thing About London

Big BenLately I’ve been pining for London again. Actually it probably hasn’t stopped since I left, but there are times when the emotional pull of London is stronger than others, and there doesn’t seem to be any pattern to the yearnings. It can wash over me when I’m walking through the streets of Sydney, when I am swimming in one of my happiest spots here at the North Sydney Olympic Pool, when I’m busy with work, out with friends, or even when I’m comfortably at my flat, reading.

I’ve been trying to establish why I keep experiencing these moments of really deep wistfulness, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it is, if anything, homesickness.  I don’t think I’ve ever really experienced homesickness before, as such.  As a rule, I make a home wherever I happen to be. I’m very comfortable on my own and I shape my personal spaces so that they reflect my immediate needs.  And there are, of course, many reasons to be blown away by the sheer beauty of Sydney Harbour, as well as excited by my businesses and opportunities in this market.  But memories of London just seem to cut through all that beauty and excitement, and I find myself missing the place immensely on a semi-regular basis, even three years after leaving the place.  I felt very much at home there, and I can only imagine that those yearnings must be what it is to be homesick.

But why would I feel homesick for a place that was my home for such a short period of time, when I’ve lived much longer elsewhere?  I think it all comes down to how connected you feel to people and places.  For me, London was a place where I could dive in, head first, to the social technology community, where I could engage in deep level conversations, build interesting things and be part of a movement for business and social good.  There were always things to learn, a cavalcade of inspiring experiences and there was a culture of sharing.  The people I met there were generous, even to a fault.  It probably wasn’t until nearly the end of my time there that I fully appreciated how extraordinarily generous they were with their time, their ideas, their communities and their warmth.  I’m not the most diplomatic person in the world, and yet people there just accepted me for what I was; rough and ready to argue, but also really moved by the amazing achievements of others.

Almost without noticing it, London got under my skin – and very deeply, indeed. I always loved the city.  But after a time, there was forged a level of connection to the people and the place that now defines who I am.  That doesn’t mean that Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney have not had an impact. I have friends and favourite experiences from all places, and feel absolutely blessed to know and have worked with some amazing people.  It’s just that the connections I made in London – not just to people, but to the architecture, the museums and galleries, Covent Garden and Trafalgar Square, Oxford Street, Liverpool Street and King’s Cross, the Underground and my little flat in Shepherd’s Bush – were perhaps such a cultural shock to me, that I became tethered to the place.  It changed my character permanently.

And the connection still rolls on.  I’m often struck by the fact that when I communicate with London friends and business contacts, I’m treated as though I have hardly left the place.  There’s a longevity and potency of mutual respect and affection that often sends me sideways with gratitude.  While I have maintained great friendships with people in Australian cities (some of which have endured decades), you do lose track of people over time.  And unless you work hard at it, it’s often difficult to stay in touch with everyone.  Not true with my London friends and colleagues.  It’s just so easy to get back in touch.  And even people with whom I had little to do, still touch base every now and then, for no particular reason other than the fact that they are decent, caring people.  It’s phenomenally humbling, really.

So I have decided to accept that I will always be a little bit London. And I’ll always pine for the place.  Will I ever live there again?  Maybe, maybe not.  I guess my ideal would be to have at least a few months a year there.  When you feel so deeply connected to a place, it’s hard to go without it very long.

But in the meantime, I want to say to all the people I ever met, worked with, or was privileged enough to have as friends in the UK: thank you all.  You have given me more than I could possibly deserve, and I am eternally grateful for your continuing contact and care. Know that you all hold a very dear place in my heart. And to London itself: thank you for the best time of my life.

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