Yesterday I came across a little blue plaque in Hammersmith, its dedicated to Ellen & William Kraft. Being a curious sort of person and not having heard of them before I did a little research and found that this husband and wife were born into slavery in the American deep South, Georgia. After escaping the US they came to Victorian England, learned to read and write – a skill not allowed them in the land of the free, with these skills they wrote a bestseller, chronicling their escape from bondage, they went on to travel the length and breadth of the country lecturing on slavery. In between they made Hammersmith home and brought up five children there.
As with Ellen & William London becomes a home for so many people, it always has been that, centuries of immigration large scale like the Huguenots in the eighteenth century, or Jews in the nineteenth, Indians escaping Idi Amin in the twentieth, Poles in the 21st, Mass migrations and minor ones like the Krafts, all come to London to find a better life. Whilst London can be cold in more than one sense of the word and can at times be an unfriendly place it gives people a chance to live and grow and make a home, I hope it will always be that. London is made by the people that come here, from wherever they come they each add to it.
I have a habit which I think many people find a little odd, if you share a taxi or sit in a restaurant with me you may notice I often talk to a waitress or a taxi driver, I am curious where they have come from, what brought them here and why, how they feel about London. Almost everyone I talk to who has made London their home talks positively about their lives here, even those with a sense of nostalgia for their place of origin, London gets under your skin, it becomes home. My own London home is being sold,the purchasers are a couple from Chile & Italy, they have a Polish builder who comes to quote for work they want to do once they move in and whilst he is waiting for them to arrive he chats to me, I learn he came to London from a small village in the South of Poland, there he felt suffocated, lacking in opportunity, stifled, London gave him a chance to work and earn money and build a new life and that he has done, he tells me that his partner is a Mongolian girl, from Ulan Batur, it is so surprising at times how things can pan out here, a Pole falls for a girl from Mongolia, they make London home. When I hear about connections such as these so implausible and yet in London so possible I see it as a place of endless opportunity.
I came to London from my little provincial city birthplace, to make something of myself, I wasn’t quite sure what other than some sort of success, whatever that might be? My sense of success changes with time, but throughout I have gained such a great deal living here, being a father and raising a child the most outstanding, and love let’s not forget love, here I found love and lost it, and realised in time it can be found again. Here so much is possible, so much is to be seen and experienced and done.
For now London and me are parting company, the last stage now is giving up the house I made home for twenty years. It’s an interesting process, now I yearn to be free of my home, it has become a place of echoes and of yesterday. In a few short weeks it will be home for a new family, they will be happy here,their children will grow strong and nurtured as my son did. For myself my desire now is to travel and see more of the World, I have earned my fifty something gap year or perhaps two. When I am away if I am asked where I am from I will have no hesitation in saying I am a Londoner, rather than English or British and in time when I’ve had enough of seeing the world I hope a fair wind will bring me back here and once again I will come to London to make a new home and a new life.