This morning, like most Saturday mornings, I walked the few minutes to my favourite cafe. Past the restaurant where the owners and the head chef sit by the window, planning the order of service at a laptop among the empty tables and polished glasses. Past the kitchen door, open ajar, with sound of the radio and frying, empty cardboard boxes that probably held trays of mushrooms or greens stacked on the recycling bin outside.
People keep asking if, after six months, I am happy in London. They ask in a way that makes me feel self-conscious, that they doubt I am. Have I been too forthcoming about my awareness of the bullshit traps it's easy to fall into when you live in the capital city? Have I told the story of my colleague spending £8 on a smoothie with activating charcoal minerals too many times? Have I talked too readily about how much I love Manchester? I do love London. But I do not forget how living here means choosing to tolerate a certain level of comfort. A level that is probably slightly below the level you aspire to, or could have elsewhere. Smaller rooms. Inevitable acquaintance with other people's armpits on public transport. You throw yourself into a cycle of earning money to spend it quickly, and to spend it in a public way. To eat out. Go to markets, go to the theatre. To send the money back out, instead of putting it somewhere to pile up. Everything is transcient, especially the money. What I do love is that every Saturday I wake up and know there is something new for me to do. I meet people I might not meet in another English city. But maybe you can't love a city wholly when you live there? Any city becomes embedded in the ebb and flow of daily life, the fast tides of mood change, when it is home. I don't know if love is the right word for a city. Swells of happiness one moment, and domestic irritations the next: maybe love is entirely the right word after all. I haven't yet loved long enough to weather the highs and lows over a long period of time and see what's left at the end.
But walking to the cafe I felt heady off the low sun filling every corner, and the sight of a tall Christmas tree through my neighbour's window. (A house where children live.) On December 1st I saw the Dad dragging it down our street and felt the inner child, that jumps up and down so much more readily in December, rising inside me. "I'm really happy living here, right here," I think.
I meet Simran at the cafe and we decide we both ought to get Sea Salt Hot Chocolate. The room was filled with other women, all having their Saturday morning catch-ups. It often feels like that. Most mornings I get to listen in because i'm there by myself. A few months ago two friends in their fifties were talking about the break up of a marriage. Overhearing it made me feel claustrophobic because it was the same conversation I was trying to avoid having with myself. "The thing about being an adult," the reassuring one said to the sad, reluctant one, "is that you have to learn to be your own adult."