January 31st, 2011. As the black cab negotiated its way through the heaving streets, my adrenalin was rising as quickly as the meter. London. What would this sprawling metropolis hold for me? Where would I fit in?
Fast forward five years and it’s time to say goodbye. I’m returning to my home city in Scotland and wondering, once again, what the future will bring. A new chapter beckons.
As I contemplate my imminent departure I’m sad and nostalgic, but very thankful. They say that life’s what happens to you while you’re busy making plans and it’s only now that I’ve had time to reflect. I’ve gathered so many memories along the way. Those difficult early days when I thought I’d never learn the job (I did, and it got better. Much, much better). Getting used to the Tube, the hustle and bustle, the shockingly hot summers. The places I’ve lived, the friends I’ve made. Running the marathon. Drinks in the balmy sunshine. Strolls through the parks. A tour of Westminster, braving the Wimbledon queue after a nightshift. Covering the Olympics. Field producing in Italy. A trip to Oxford where I’d meet the man I’d marry. Endlessly losing my way, literally and metaphorically. I always found it in the end.
Of course it’s easy to look at things through rose-tinted glasses, as we all do when we realise something we once took for granted will be no more. London’s not for the faint-hearted. Everything operates at breakneck speed. Travelling takes forever. The prices are extortionate. Organising a simple night out with friends involves meticulous planning. But by god, it’s a wonderful place. The summer after I arrived, the city was rocked by riots. Yes, there was horror, yes there was shock, yes there was outrage. But in its aftermath, a spirit and solidarity emerged, the likes of which I’d never experienced before. For a city armed with a reputation for being cold and clinical, it unearthed a hidden heart of compassion. The following year the Olympics arrived and the capital united once again. It was friendly, it was fun, it was incredibly hard work. I felt privileged to be part of it. I’ll never forget embracing strangers as the hazy summer sun streamed through a ring-adorned Tower Bridge and Mo Farah’s jubilant face beamed from the massive TV screen. I knew it there and then: This was London at its very, very best.
However as the years went on, I found myself increasingly longing for home. Leaving Aberdeen after a wee visit became harder and harder. I yearned for the clean, fresh air. I longed for those head-clearing runs in the stunning countryside. I missed my loved ones and wanted them closer. It’s not been an easy decision. But I know it’s the right one.
So for me and my family, it’s time for pastures new. And this brings just as much nervousness and excitement as the day I arrived in London. Although I’m returning to the city where I was born and raised, I’m aware it will be very different from the last time I lived there. Despite spending most of my twenties and thirties leapfrogging around the country (Glasgow, Leeds, London, with a bit of Oxford and Swansea thrown in), it’s this move that’s the biggest step into the unknown, and not just in geographical terms. I know the true friends I’ve made down south will continue to keep in touch, and I know I’ll be back in London in the future – indeed I look forward to taking my son to the city of his birth when he’s older. I also know that from tomorrow I’ll be looking very much ahead instead of back. But for the moment I’m content to sit back and cherish everything I’ve gained over the past five and a half years. Farewell for now, you crazy, wonderful city.
Composed Upon Westminster Bridge – William Wordsworth:
Earth hath not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendor, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! The very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!
The Northern Lights of Old Aberdeen:
The northern lights of old Aberdeen
Mean home sweet home to me
The northern lights of Aberdeen
Are what I long to see
I’ve been a wanderer all of my life
And many a sight I’ve seen
God speed the day, when I’m on my way
To my home in Aberdeen
When I was a lass, a tiny wee lass
My mother said to me
Come see the northen lights my boy
They’re bright as they can be
She called them the heavenly dancers
Merry dancers in the sky
I’ll never forget that wonderful sight
They made the heavens bright
I’ve wandered in many far off lands
And traveled many a mile
I’ve missed the folk I’ve cherished the most
The joy of a friendly smile
It warms up the heart of the wanderer
The clasp of a welcoming hand
To greet me when I return
Home to my native land