South of Watford
From a metropolitan perspective, north of Watford is seen as the place where ‘there be dragons,’ strange folk with strange customs, funny accents and cheap beer. North of Watford is believed to be not just a location but a state of mind. From London, life outside the M25 might seem a strange and scary place: there are even different nationalities out there. The Welsh. The Scots. The Irish (orange and green varieties available). Game of Thrones is not so much a fantasy drama series, but a drama documentary. But my, aren’t the natives friendly. They talk to you in shops and in queues just like ordinary people..
One consequence of this metro-centric perspective is that many of those outside the capital have embraced the claim. ‘We’re not fancy or sophisticated, but take a look at yourselves sometime and you’d be surprised what you might see.’ In part, the referendum result was about the rest of England putting two fingers up to what Londoners wanted them to do. And there’s an ambivalence about those who migrate to London by those who don’t. On the one hand there’s scepticism with claims that there’s nothing to be done in London that you couldn’t achieve by staying put, and on the other there’s a sense of pride that their grandson, or niece, or cousin, or daughter has gone to work in London. And maybe all of us migrants have had to live with the consequences of those beliefs whenever we return home – whether it manifests itself in scorn, sarcasm, envy or unrealistic expectations. And maybe another consequence of those beliefs is migrants can never go home. By making the break, we change ourselves. If we should return, we’re tourists.
I’ve lived south of Watford for over forty years and until a few years ago tended to think of myself as being in exile, but the places I left behind are barely recognisable any more. The people haven’t changed much but many of the buildings I knew and the places I haunted have gone. Most of the people I once knew in Liverpool, in Nottingham, in Sheffield, have passed on or moved on. I hadn’t considered myself a Londoner and I’m not sure that the people I know now would accept me as such, but I couldn’t help but notice that some more recent arrivals, from different parts of the world and not just different parts of the UK, have embraced this identity.
In response to migrations such as these, another city has for a long time asserted that ‘If you’re in Madrid, you’re from Madrid.’ I’ve now embraced my inner Londoner. This is a partial record of the city I encounter, and the way I experience it.