Trafalgar Square, January 2014. Photography: Francis Botu.
I have lived in my north-western London flat for 1 year and 5 months now, and I don't know whether to call this part of town my home. London is a sprawling mass of buildings; it grew so far outwards that now all that's left is to build up. Within its many dark corners are pocketed villages with close-knit communities; families you'd never be part of even if you noticed them. Yet it's ever-shifting; it's always changing; indeed, it has changed and so much over the past 5 years. With still more people constantly passing through, staying for a day a week a decade or more, who can really call it home when its identity is some constant kind of flux? And who are you to think you'll always stay, when the ground beneath you is different from one day to the next?
The London now is not the London that so many of us Londoners grew up with. You catch the edge of your shoe in a paving slab, stumble and trip, look up at your surroundings as your head snaps backwards in the fall and see grey and glass glinting, glass where previously there was only space.
I grew up in a north-eastern suburbia, where most of the houses were still actually houses, not chopped up into flats. The parks there still had trees, not tower blocks; and there was only one tube line to choose from. The house was my home; but the area a mere dwelling place. I made my stomping-ground in Soho, or down the Southbank; I went to the Tate Modern every weekend, worked in the West End, shopped in Spitalfields. All these places have changed because they've been made clean. Curfewed, modernised, gentrified. Where to turn to?
Now, in my NW-something flat, in my twenty-something years, I don't know what place should claim me. I fear that something real may get lost in this big old mess of a city.