Lost in London

Given the gloomy nature of German weekends London’s came as a relief. This was in no small measure due to the fact that bus fares on Sundays were 30p, no matter the zone or distance (this generous pricing scheme has, of course, long been discontinued). Bus outings on Sundays therefore were mini-vacations for the very poor such as myself.

As I wasn’t very familiar with the sprawling metrolands of London, I’d fairly randomly pick destinations on the outer fringes and take  the bus there, always sitting in the smoky top at the front, get out, explore a little and then take the bus back to whatever cold little room I was living at the time. So I’d go to Harrow, or Brent Cross, Highgate, Peckham, Richmond, Kew, Wimbledon, Southall, Greenwich or Seven Sisters, slowly forming some kind of idea of London as a whole, rather than just a few central tourist destinations.

The other method of exploration was driven by my interest in cemeteries. I’d found a book in the library that listed all of London’s many cemeteries and I made it my mission to visit the most significant ones. Brompton was an early favorite, as much for its busy double life as meeting place for Earls Court’s clone scene as for its beautiful monuments. Highgate I liked too, for its famous inhabitants and hilly location, but soon I discovered Nunhead, Kensal Green, Abney Road and – forever my favorite – Tower Hamlets. London Cemeteries were not well kept then and many had turned into quasi-Amazonian jungles, wonderful places to hide in during the summer, with their soothing promise that however miserable life, rest was within reach.

I did not know many people, and almost never had any invitations for Saturday evenings. But staying home on Saturday night seemed to me then to be the most shameful thing in the world. That’s why I would go on very long excursions on Saturday nights, through dark London Streets, walking purposefully, as if I had somewhere to go to, but going nowhere in particular, turning left or right at random intervals. I’d come home exhausted, having seen only the outsides of whatever life other people were living, a spectator, window-shopper on reality, hiding in the shadows.

That way London slowly became mine, neighborhood by neighborhood, mile by mile.

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