My initial attempt to 'romanticize where I live' began by posting on Instagram. I used to take pictures of Peckham during my second year at university, things like the gorgeous red convertible sat in front of my house for weeks on end, stuffed with newspapers and garbage piled up in the two front seats, or the picturesque view of the sun setting off Queens Road Peckham’s barren platform, or the idyllic row of lit houses down my street one summer night. I started this because I was beginning to dislike my area and that didn’t sit with me very well. In tandem, many of my friends and relatives, even strangers, carried around a prejudice about where I lived. In their eyes, the souther part of London was poor, ugly, and bleak. Above all else, it was dangerous.
No one understood that I actually loved living in Peckham. And how could they? They didn’t wake up to its blistering heat, or walk down Rye Lane and listen to people shout in a range of foreign tongue, hear reggae music blare, buses honk, then there would be that stench, the smell of vomit in the corner, the raw fish on ice, and meat hung up, pigs hooves and chickens stripped. It’s true. Peckham is chaotic and beautiful, but more importantly, it does not need you to exist.
I remember walking home one night exhausted and bitter. I had three assignments due and just finished my 10-hour waitressing shift at Smithfield. As I trudged home between the lanes, an older man suddenly turned the corner on the street opposite of me. He was carrying a boombox on his shoulder and a spliff in his mouth. He was grinning at me. I smiled back. He turned up the volume and bobbed his head, turning the block and out of sight.
There is something raw about Peckham, a realness that frightens people. It stands liberated and carefree, opposing anyone who dares to walk with a high nose: your opinion does not matter here, stand down and melt in.
Fast forward three years later and I am now living in Hackney. It’s different, to say the least, but what has significantly changed is that I have now, more than ever, become terrified of opinion...
I look back on that period as a student and think of the question that tormented me most: what’s the story? Time and time again, I would walk into class, sit in my creative writing workshops and tear at the pages, breaking myself in half and digging deep in search for a story. Every time I thought I found it the question would echo in my head: no, but really, what’s the story?
The question that torments me now is: what’s your ambition? It seems like everywhere I turn I am confronted by eager eyes, waiting for me to announce my life long career goals or at least, the stepping-stones to one. Once again, I’m being asked to cultivate a story and it’s humiliating because the only harsh conclusion I wind up with is that frankly: I don’t care.
I spent three years at university, hovering over a plot line, sleeping with my protagonists, and dining with their nemesis, and yet I never considered myself a writer. After all, to become a writer, you needed to be published. At the same time, I hardly considered myself capable of being published because being capable meant writing something so brilliant that the world needed to see it published.
I long for the days in Peckham when I didn’t care for the world because the world didn’t care for me. And it’s not like the world cares much now, but I’ve become more conscious of what little time I have left in it and how what I love to do most in the world, I do little of. I’ve not yet figured out what my ambition is, but I am excited to be alive - can this be enough?
London is hard and ever changing. It is a city where you can easily lose yourself and everything with you. That doesn’t sit with me very well. So, I return to my idea of romanticizing where I live, and I invite you on this journey with me as I go every week from borough to borough to explore this wild metropolis and the reasons worth living in it.