My friend has recently made a few documentaries, which are part of a larger project called 1000 Londoners. The project attempts to encapsulate and archive the diversity of voices that represent what it means to be a modern Londoner, creating a massive social portrait of the city. These narratives portray not only the lifelong Londoners, but those who decided to make London their home. It’s a very cool project that will be updated every week.
I’ve also included a few more, just to show the breadth of voices:
Make sure to visit the site here to learn more and to see all the questions that were asked for each interview.
Where I started five years ago, Goldsmiths, New Cross.
The days have shortened; the sky is illuminated by the pale winter sun. The frost has left reminder of its touch on the remains of leaves on the pavement. London is at its best during winter. Autumn has passed me by in a whirl of new work and visa application panics. My fifth London anniversary passed without much fanfare in September, as I was preparing for my Life in the UK test- which I passed with remarkable ease, despite my rather rusty study habits. My sixth Thanksgiving, a moment of calm amidst the chaos, was spent with my friends, a holiday which my husband has taken to for its culinary possibilities (though I found his latest endeavour of turkey-filled turkey dubious). On Tuesday I finally completed my last visa, after a night spent wide awake with fear that I’d forgotten something important. It feels like a milestone in my life, the SET(M) form (also known as indefinite leave to remain/settlement), a culmination and documentation of a lifetime of dreaming and struggling and risk.
If you had told me ten years ago that a uni trip to London for a week would have led to the events occurring now, I wouldn’t have dared to believe it possible. In the past 5 years, I have earned a second degree and possibly set upon the path of moving towards a doctorate, made close friends and married one of them, and explored even more of England. I’ve picniced in front of a henge and looked for fossils along the Jurassic Coast. I’ve walked along an icy beach along the North Sea at Christmas and stood on neolithic burial grounds. I’ve seen my favourite actors on stage and witnessed my teenage music heroes front row centre in concert (oh Pulp). I’ve travelled all over London and seen such wonders and delights, not mention absurdities. I’ve also been fortunate enough to travel outside the country- with three weeks of massive cultural shock in North Africa, travelling through the Atlas Mountains on rain drenched roads on a mad local bus, driving along the edges of Moroccan desert, walking around medieval cities and dealing with complicated, friendly, infuriating people. It has only made me greedy for more experiences in more places, from Finland to Peru to Mali. Life in London has expanded my world and given me the confidence to live as I want, with passion and wonder and enthusiasm. The world feels so close, so within reach, that I sometimes take such marvels for granted. Other times I am shocked into stillness, amazed that I have managed to stumble into a life formerly only dreamed about.
As my fifth year here draws to a close, I feel ready to start anew. I want to move past the precarious existence that the visa process seems to encourage. Constantly applying for visa creates a sort of identity crisis. It is jarring to know that after becoming part of a community and beginning to amass items that speak of permanence and shared memories, it could all be so easily taken away if the right t’s aren’t crossed and i’s aren’t dotted on an application. I began to feel as though my experiences and memories were being flattened and forced into a specific narrative of evidential documentation. If this visa comes through next spring, I will be a few steps closer to being able to integrate fully in British society, to participate in electing officials who affect my life and to feel as though I truly belong. That burden of foreignness that remains long after I’ve stopped actually thinking of myself as foreign will finally dissipate. After five years, I’m happy to say that I’m still very excited to what the future will bring, as long as I have biscuits and tea at hand.
I am incredibly excited for Zadie Smith’s new novel, NW. To celebrate, here is a link to her talk at the New York Public Library, reading one of my favourite essays, ‘Speaking in Tongues’. I actually have this clip on my mobile, it is great to listen to while travelling on the train. This essay voices a lot of my thoughts about the creation of personal, social and national narratives, inhabiting and navigating through different worlds, whether it be the duality of the immigrant, or the unsure existence of the educated classes. I hope that you enjoy it as much as I do.
Speaking in Tongues: Zadie Smith.
(note: it took three years to gather my thoughts enough to write this post.)
I was watching a series about Perfume a few days ago on BBC4 and the most intriguing idea was discussed. Christopher Brosius, an ‘alternative perfumier’ was making a custom perfume for an Anglophile designer who wanted the smell of England (from his apartment, it was clear that this meant Victorian/ Edwardian). He highlighted the smells of wet tweed (pungent due to the urine traditionally used to make it softer), whiskey and scotch, pipe tobacco, cobblestones and old books. Brosius then travelled to London in order to find the scents that would be recreated in perfume form. He was dismayed to find that the London he loved as a young man had disappeared; all the familiar smells of pub smoke, worn taxi leather and phone books in phone booths had vanished. Only a few recognisable scents remained that hinted at “England’s sense of eternity”. For Brosius, his memories of the city all revolved around scent.
It made me think about how we process our memories of urban space and cities. My memories of London (and England as a whole) are visual and auditory. For me, music is how I recognise and remember London. There are songs that represent London as I first witnessed it, when it was both new and achingly familiar. The Clash reminds me of 2003, when I was a college freshman in my dream city for the first time, in a Dead Kennedys shirt with Walkman in hand. Music acts as personal memory and archive. Blur’s ‘Oily Water’ symbolises my first trip alone on a London bus, seeing South Kensington for the first time in 2005. Entire albums and oeuvres act as representatives for certain periods in London, and my past can be charted through track listings and now obsolete audio devices. My personal London could even be divided into the Walkman/CD era (2003- early 2006), with music that was mostly Anglo-American and 1970s-90s inclined— and the MP3 era (late 2006 onwards), which represented an explosion in how I experienced music and the city. The act of hearing the scratchiness and skips of songs taken from LPs also were important parts of the urban soundscape for me, lending an air of the cinematic and creating an optimistic feeling that this was the day that everything I knew to be true could change forever. Music also allowed me to experience London when I wasn’t in it. Through familiar sounds, the sites that I held dear were transported to my local surroundings. There were times were I felt the presence of London so strongly whilst listening to something in Maryland or Philly that it felt physical; the clarity made me feel like I was hallucinating.
I also trace the histories of streets and neighbourhoods with music; New Cross and Lewisham are mapped by post-punk and Northern Soul. Through these sounds I see an area rebuilt after the destruction of WWII, hear echoes of melodies in buildings that have been transformed over and over again for each successive generation. Through music that combines English and Caribbean rebellion I see the resistance of communities and activists against the National Front and racist authorities in the 70s and 80s. Listening to certain music from the 50s and 60s allows me to think of a country in flux, where 50s rationing gave way to new ideas of social housing and architecture, and how Britain changed with the coming of high rises and estates. Music allows me to walk through these varied timelines; to understand the shadows of these changing geographies as they coexist, like translucent map overlays. With music I am an urban flâneur attempting to understand the soul of London and other cities, towns and villages across the country. English pop music is extraordinary in its geographical abilities; streets, architecture and various mundane artefacts of modern living are described in anthropological detail through pop songs. Riots, subcultures, people and histories can be understood through albums, making listeners into historians. My archives are vast, with England existing in every scratched LP, cassette tape and CD I own. It is even digitised, with music folders on my computer carefully labelled with the places and years that I first heard tracks.
The most interesting aspect of having music assist memory is that places are constantly revisited in a way that sidesteps nostalgia. Memories and areas already seen are deepened by a steady flow of new music that reminds me of barely remembered details that are then given a new significance. London is a series of physical, social and intellectual spaces that constantly change and expand, and I consider myself quite fortunate that music will always be there to help me find my way.