My housemate looks at me, smiles and shakes her head.
“God. I just can’t believe you’re moving to Manchester, Lé.”
I shake my head back at her, raise my eyebrows in an expression of mild surprise, and smile.
“Yeah, I know. I can’t believe it either.”
I can believe it, though. Change shimmers on the horizon, replete with opportunity, and I am impatient for it.
Recently I have felt like Alice who, having bitten the mushroom, watches helplessly as she shrinks to almost nothing. London is exhausting and unforgiving: a violent lover whose caresses can so easily turn to blows. I have been working hard to pay my rent and working hard to pursue my dreams. Both have left me unfulfilled. Most days are silent frustrations, with nights looming as dark clouds of anxiety about what will happen when the sun rises again.
I try to write songs, but can think of nothing. I sit myself down with a pencil and paper and order my brain to create but all I can see when I close my eyes is the neon flashing pound sign, blinking behind my eyelids. Every day I spend at a desk in an office I shrink further: a vision of defeat.
I can believe I am leaving.
Of course I can.
Suddenly, though, I realize what I am leaving.
I am leaving all my friends. I am leaving Soho. I am leaving Brixton. I am leaving the bus routes I know and the pubs I like. The pubs! I know they have pubs in Manchester but they aren’t the ones I know. I will miss all the things I know. I know where the good charity shops are, and where to get a great chocolate brownie. I know where you can get a drink after everywhere is shut and I know where you can go dancing. I know the bouncer on the door of Madame JoJo’s, who always hugs with just a little too much enthusiasm. I know how to walk places to avoid the tube, and I know to avoid Topshop on Oxford Street at all costs. I will miss the familiarity of the things I know.
Ben is going to Nepal (to do this) for all of November, by which time I will already have been in Manchester for a few weeks. He has promised to show me round and introduce me to people before he goes, many of whom I have already met. He will help me to find a nice little café/bar job somewhere, to help me settle in. Then he goes and I am on my own. This is good, of course, as it means I won’t be able to rely on him too much. I am not shy about meeting people. (I am shy about other things: making phone calls; eating cereal in front of people; walking into restaurants; maths.) I love meeting people, in fact. I would go so far as to say that I am quite good at it.
But how do I find those people? How do I create opportunities for myself, musically? How will I know where to go? What if people don’t like me? What if I am too southern and I can’t stop making jokes about working in mills and owning whippets? What if it rains too much and all my shoes are wrong?
Primarily I am scared of being lonely.
I lived in Paris once. Those months of loneliness and subsequent depression triggered so many of the problems I have had since. It was awful. Once my Mum came over for a visit and when she was leaving I begged her to let me come home with her. Not realizing the depths of the problem, she refused, saying that I needed to see it through, so I stayed. I regret that decision deeply, because in those remaining months I became more depressed and anxious, and more reliant on somebody whose psychological abuse will affect me for the rest of my life. (N.B This person was not a bad person, and if he is reading this I urge him not to contact me in self-defence. There is no more to be said.)
Of course this time is different. That was eight years ago. I was eighteen then, and shy. This time I am going to live with my grandmother, who is a lovely, caring and fun person to be around. I keep telling myself that the awfulness of Paris will not come back. I am a grown up (well, ish). I have travelled the world, performed in the strangest places, talked to innumerable strangers and faced a lot of fears. I am different now. There are (two) people in Manchester who already love me, so if it takes a bit of time to make friends then I still won’t be alone.
London has beaten me and I am running into the arms of another. But, but. Oh, I have had some good (great, amazing) times in this city. I do not want to run from it feeling sad. I want to remember how incredible London can be, and when I visit (regularly) I want it to still feel like it is partially mine, that I will always be a Londoner, really. For the last three weeks I am going to re-capture the spark. Take risks and live the London life I always felt that I should be living.
I am excited about moving: eager for change and reinvention (and a bit of a rest). It will be amazing to be able to see Ben more often. Wow, I am excited.
I can believe I am going.
I can believe I am leaving London, but I am not gone yet, and there is a part of me that will never quite be gone.
I have three weeks to conquer London in a way that I haven’t felt able to do for the last four years.