Mary Beaton Spicer is one quarter Scottish. She is now living in Spain, teaching English
I haven't been home for nearly a month now. Much to my surprise, I have developed some of the sharp-eyed empathy with the city that used to fascinate me because it was so alien. When I walk down the street, instead of looking at the sky, at the weather, at the moon, I look into the cars to deduce their owners, notice whether shop front displays have changed, anticipate the queues for broken escalators to the Victoria Line. Some days, walking home from work, I feel a self-contained elation, holding myself aloof and feeling bold; shouldering past the tourists, facing every new stranger with an inscrutable watchfulness. I'm still too weak though, there are traces of straw-sucking ingenuousness--my eyes sometimes widen in spite of themselves, and let people in. So I'm asked for 50p in the Chinese takeaway, I blush in shops, and I smirk at wolf-whistles. Only occasionally now.
I now know when I'm in a "good" area--when I arrived here in November, the streets were homogenous brick; now trees on the pavements, swag curtains, the cars parked outside, all have a sense to them, where previously they streamed by, unnoticed or insignificant. I have picked up the Londoner's trick of creating a sense of place, a little village mythology, about my own hundred square yards. This is my off licence; when friends come to stay, I walk in with a noticeable air of propriety. This is our supermarket. Look, isn't that the car that's usually parked next door, the one with the white patches of rust-filler? Our traffic lights are much quicker than the ones down the road. Because my territroy is now so small, London, in its complexity, becomes the whole world. I disparaged this tendency, and now cannot myself avoid it. Hammersmith, four miles away, is "abroad." I can imagine standing there, turning round and round slowly, looking up at the buildings in a Southerner's wonder at the Western world. I'm from Balham, I explain, as I ask a passer-by the way. London (Balham) England