London: Rich Stories at their Best

by on July 6, 2009 at 1:35 pm

I always go to a melancholy place when I head back to the streets of London, even moreso when I visit my old stomping grounds. I suppose you could say that this is the case for everyone when they return to anywhere in the world they once lived, yet having lived in more than ten countries, England is different. London is different.

I think part of it is its heritage. Part of it is the left over piece that feels embedded in you as if some part of some generation before you walked the same streets before the turn of the century and their passed on DNA shows up at the oddest times….whenever I have a cup of English tea brewed the old fashioned way for example.

It also shows up when I feel the sense of community in both rural and urban pubs that has been watered down in the states over the last two generations.

And so, I cherish these melancholy walks. They take me through narrow alleyways with a surprise around every corner, crowded obscure bookstores near Tottenham Court Road, into cafes and wine bars where the tables are close together and people are wearing hats even in summer, past well manicured lawns in London’s northern burbs and well behaved dogs in Regent’s Park.

And then there’s Camden Town. Every time I think about my need to return for a meander for old time sake, I sometimes wonder how much of a hippee I was, or whatever the equivalent of that was in the late eighties.

I was drawn to the place then and still am today, despite the fact that my first introduction to it was 25 years ago and it’s become a very different place and I’ve obviously become a very different person.

Yet, it all still draws me in for the taking. The colorful stalls, the tattoos, the edgy haircuts, the funky boots, my favorite creperie that is still in the same place it always was, the incense that burns upstairs and that fabulous material and linen shop I can never remember the name of.

When you think about the energy of the universe and how it works, it’s no grave surprise that an old South African friend I first met in London before I hit the big 21 has returned to live here with her husband. She still lights candles and drinks Cabernet Sauvignon.

We were both blondes at the time and are now both brunettes or close to it. We both sold art from around the world – or so we tried. We both threw fabulous international parties where we danced and drank cinzano and lemonade until dawn.

Mine were held in my Earls Court basement flat which opened up to a small but tasteful garden courtyard. I still remember the faces as if it was yesterday and what a fascinating representation of friends I had at the time: Morocco, Ireland, France, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Holland, Sweden, Iceland, Russia, Italy, Denmark, Israel, Greece, Belgium, Scotland, Zimbabwe…..

As you can imagine, the food was diverse and an important part of our experience with one another and we were never tired of conversation. We’d often land at someone’s flat for espresso at 3 in the morning after stopping into a famous Jazz Club near Kings Cross.

It was nearly a daily part of our evening routine for months until the big Kings Cross fire and then suddenly the bus, train, bus, and then bus again hassle to get there forced us to find a new locale.

Did I mention that we never tired of conversation? Everyone had a story, a rich, diverse and emotional story they were passionate about, and so, passion ruled our every exchange with each other, through some other form of expression we shared: art, music, dance, cooking, poetry or mime.

Although the international diversity was much less when I moved to the country, the stories remained an integral part of my experience living in the U.K. and now an integral part of my memory.

My neighbor Bill was the managing director or some such close to the top of the food chain title at Harrods Department Store in Knightsbridge, which was always a bit too much for my budget in those days.

I remember recruiting him and his wife for a play I wrote, which involved the launch of a marble tile company. I wove in Vivaldi to one of the scenes and Bill would dance around out of character, pause for a whiskey sundowner and then return with a smile and say “shall we begin?” Yes, but of course. And so, we’d begin again. And again. And again.

Life was much simpler even for the workaholics around me. I did a stint at Saatchi and Saatchi Advertising which was near or on Goodge Street at the time. We had an American Managing Director and his office was always open for any of us to waltz in to solicit advice.

People worked late and instead of beer and pizza which is what I think of when I think of late nights in Silicon Valley, particularly if engineers are involved, it was gin and tonics and cheese and crackers.

Account management merged with creative and vice versa and the place was a dynamic one, full of bright and interesting minds I learned something new from every day. We worked hard and then we played hard. It was always like that and results came, award winning ones.

So that brings me to this trip, which is different than any other I’ve made to London in the past couple of decades. Nearly every memory and experience I’ve had in this place, whether it was 25 years ago or two, was centered around creative energy: artists, designers, travelers, authors and musicians.

I’m here to contribute to a different kind of creative energy, one which just like every other English memory, involves storytelling.

Along with 11 other writers, bloggers and content creators, I’ll be capturing people’s stories on and off stage, company backgrounds, tales of technology successes and perhaps failures, lessons learned in business and government, and how emerging technology and new media is being used in innovative ways.