“Change your city, change your luck.” It is a Jewish saying, my osteopath told me.
In a Russian fairy tale, the Tzar bids his sons go into an open field with their bows and arrows, and aim into the air. Where their arrows land, there lie their fortunes.
In my case, I wrote the names of seven cities on small pieces of paper, folded them into tiny squares, put them in a mug and shook. I closed my eyes and pulled one out. So be it. I unfolded the paper and read the name of an old city, built on a land so flat, the horizon goes on for ever, and where the skies are colourful and moody; where there is no mountain or hill to tame the wind. A city of linguists and scribes.
I have lived in London for nineteen intense years. Intense, because it cannot be otherwise, in London. It is a city that flings open its doors and offers you the best of everything money can buy. Theatre, concerts, art, restaurants, libraries, etc. Whether you like the sophisticated boutiques of the Burlington Arcade, the self-styled scruffiness of Camden Town, or the quirkiness of Notting Hill, all you have to do, is ask – as long as you can pay. If you cannot pay, though, the doors of all those rooms of glitter and possibilities slam shut in your face. If you have no money, your London is a draughty, lonely corridor of unforgiving grey.
I am weary of looking through other people’s windows. Of spending Christmas alone because one of London’s aberrations is no public transport whatsoever for thirty-six hours. Of rents soaring while my income slumps. I am weighed down by my sackful of errors and failures, which London does not forgive.
I am black and blue with London’s knocks and am tired of focusing my energy on fighting back. My back is stiff and hunched. It is time to stop fighting and start building. I do not want to hear “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Instead, I will heed the warning of one of Literature’s most perceptive observers of human nature, Somerset Maugham, that “It is not true that suffering enobles the character; happiness does that sometimes, but suffering, for the most part, makes men petty and vindictive.”
Dickens shows us that it is misery and loss that gradually harden Ebenezer Scrooge’s heart. He is not born cruel.
If I leave London, I shall miss it. I think of hearing so many different languages on the bus, of warm crusty bread from the Turkish Bakery, of poppy seed cake from the Polish shop and of soft leather shoes from the Italian store. I think of the thrill filling up my heart when the orchestra tunes up at the Royal Opera House, and of the excitement at hearing the opening chords of a West End musical. I think of the high-gloss polish of a stage actor’s velvet voice, uttering powerful, soul-stirring words. I think of French breakfast on a summer’s morning, on the Old Compton Street pavement, before Soho is fully awake. I think of the luxury of a West End Opening Night party, where it is so easy to forget there is an economic crisis just outside the shiny revolving doors. I must remember that I can no longer afford any of that. Theatre tickets are now out of my reach, and Soho breakfasts seem like too much of an extravagance.
I think for as long as you are able to imagine good things happening, there is always the possibility they might happen. It is imagination that keeps you alive. But if you lose the ability to imagine, then it is time to move on, and look for something new to capture and revive your imagination. Time – at least to consider the possibility of change. Time to straighten up and look beyond the horizon.
And so, time to pack my suitcase.