All out at sea

I’m writing this on a slow train from Margate to London St. Pancras. It stops at ten stations in total and it’ll take me about two hours to get back to the city – two hours in which to revel in this full feeling, this warm-and-fuzzy feeling, this feeling of being (as somebody just described me) one smitten little kitten, before the London Underground starts to smother it all.

I hadn’t been in Margate twelve hours before noting that you can rent a one-bedroom flat (a whole flat! not a studio!) for less than I’m paying for a single room in South London…

Granted, I was blessed with a weekend that boasted Mediterranean-esque temperatures and picture-perfect sunsets, the likes of which even the locals hadn’t seen in a while. Mid-January in Margate is probably a bit grimmer. But it was the way people kept saying “good morning” to me. It was the way the cafés and coffee shops that would’ve been rammed in East London were almost deserted. It was the way I could walk for a mile along a stretch of unspoilt coastline with a caramel brownie and only see six other people the entire time.

It was the coffee shop that’s also a record store that offers yoga classes upstairs. It was the way everybody seemed to know everyone else. It was the locals’ gripes about gulls nesting on rooftops – the same gulls that woke me from sleep each morning.

It was the fresh seafood in a sun-trap of a restaurant garden. It was the converted double-decker bus, now a café serving brunches with views across the sea. It was the abundance of dogs and the absence of car horns. It was the ice-cream cone as big as my face and the fish and chips on the sand. It was the solo glass of red wine on Saturday night, which I forced myself to enjoy without scrolling through my phone, despite being hyper-aware that I was alone in a bar.

It was the swathes of uninterrupted hours to lap up Amy Liptrot’s memoir, The Outrun, stopping every couple of pages to fold down another corner and underline another sentence. (I’ve finally become a person that annotates her favourite books and I couldn’t be happier about it.)

Amy writes about moving to London from the wilds of northern Scotland, about wanting to rub the city into her skin, about running headfirst at her new life, about seeking connection with a fired-up fury, about flitting from one thought/flat/job to another, about feeling rejected by her new home, about waiting to feel normal every day.

They were all bits I underlined.

I’m not done with London yet and I don’t know that I will be any time soon. But the sea air has seeped right into my skin and I’m giving this much more forgiving town the eye.

London’s hard.

Almost four years in and I nearly always feel adrift.

I flung myself, full-pelt, at my London life from the get-go. I know all the cool coffee shops and all the best poetry nights and all the top places to see all the prettiest views. I know writers and photographers and designers and businesspeople – whether they get paid to do these things or they define themselves by their side-hustles. I know people with children and people without, people who’ve found their ‘ones’ and people riding solo. I know people who love London and people who hate it, people raised in the city and people born on different continents. And each and every one of them is brilliant and interesting. I’ve met some of my favourite humans on the face of this earth on the streets of that grimy, shiny, difficult city. Looking at my own Instagram feed gives me chills at how fantastic my life can be. But none of that stops me from feeling stranded, like every day is just a new chance to wake up and try to feel normal, settled, OK at last.

I’m still high on a weekend of sea breezes and salty chips, so my perception may be skewed. But this past year in particular, aside from presenting circumstantial shit-shows that knocked me for six, has been a weird one in the ol’ head. Thankfully, I’m learning to be more self-aware. I’m learning to self-soothe with nice things and fun times (hence the hellooooo to Margate). And I’m learning to take the rough with the smooth and not to blame a certain city for a messy life.

London and I ain’t done yet. There are way more walks to be had where I’ll get a buzz off the view from Waterloo Bridge or crane my neck to see the tip-top of the tallest buildings in Canary Wharf. There are so many more black Americanos to have made for me by bearded baristas. There are a hundred more long Sunday runs to be done with my newest favourites in my running club. And while thoughts of the seaside make my insides all squishy, fleeing to a one-bed in a town where I know no-one isn’t the answer to any of my problems.

For now, Margate is a mere 75 minutes away on a fast train. I can leave work at 6.30pm and be on the beach in time for sunset. And I’ll settle for that pretty damn happily for now. Meanwhile, one sunny afternoon in the park and one portion of plantain at a time, me and London will make peace with each other again.