Last week I spent a couple of days in London. In an outer reach of which I was born and raised; in a different outer reach of which I spent the decade or so prior to moving to Berlin. If, that is, you consider that suburbs belong to the cities they surround.
The shock was hard. Being elsewhere, I’d slipped without realising it into a cosy fantasy memory of what London was like: vibrant, psychogeographically networked, full of tucked-away gardens of community imagination. Once I landed back there, I slipped into cracks. Between the ponderous pace I’m now accustomed to move at and the breakneck beat of the accumulating city. Between breathing and vascular constriction, the showcase and the scaffold, mental space and full-volume media shriek. Into slit-second manifestations of dark, soma-fed speculative fiction futures, the kind which otherwise only fire-eyed op-ed jeremiads proclaim have come to pass.
Of course, I’d gone and traversed the concourse of Waterloo station at rush hour and headed out into the rain, rather than slowing my way through a warm Whitechapel afternoon. London is filled with the stuff of my fantasy, as a longer stay along the right ley lines would surely have revealed. I went there anyway mainly to savour tucked-away pockets of friendship, to which the unreal city plays shifting backdrop.
But still the shock. Monumental self-delusion banging to earth; a severe jolt to my confident insider’s perception of London. A realisation that, whatever admissions and qualifications I might layer on, the city has gone somewhere too far for me to meet it any more. And that had I stayed in London, I would never have noticed. I’d have carried on stepping over the cracks. Adapting.
A friend who lives away from her family, visiting them a few times a year, was the one who first spotted the warning signs of her mother slipping into dementia. Until one serious incident tipped the balance, her siblings were reluctant to believe her. They saw their mother practically every day, and as well as not noticing the gradual accumulation of slight changes in her behaviour, they naturally didn’t want to believe the worst. Didn’t want to take that first step towards facing the disease’s betrayal of memory.
Adapting, carrying on regardless, hoping for the best and knowing things could be worse are saving human graces in the harshest of circumstances. But when they split off and start shielding us from the glare of what’s now, what’s become of, where we’ve actually arrived; it’s no longer so clear whether it is better to be saved.