The first love for an object – Nutella-soaked breakfast crackers, Glenn Gould and his variations on Goldberg, before Florence in May, even before the nimble feet of Fred Astaire – the love that came before all others was England, and more specifically: London.
Like all other first adolescent emotional attachments this love was abstract, idealistic, unconditional, blind, pure, destructive, passionate, self-indulgent, all-consuming, inspiring, inspired and absolute. It remained unrequited, deliciously unfulfilled and took its allotted place amongst a number of other objects of the same fate.
Unrequited love unravels itself thus: you change, the object of your affection changes or quite simply: you learn to live with it, growing a secret inner chamber in your heart.
Now and then coming face to face with your elapsed past you are projected back into this particular moment. The London that hit met full force all those years ago was raw, ugly, beautiful, honest and angry like Paul Weller screaming about injustice for The Jam.
London was the living embodiment of contradiction (one of the worst malaises of adolescence) where Punks hung out on King’s Road and bowler-clad gentlemen ambled along the same path. Both could turn out to be equally polite if asked for directions.
London, the only European city where colour, nationality, social status REALLY didn’t matter and one’s worst character fault was severe sense of humour failure.
Where the Royal Family was sacred and aloof, but you could find yourself next to the Prince of Wales on the Windsor Polo Field, treading down the divots between chukkas; where you could bump into Terence Stamp, have lunch with the Duchess of York and watch John Malkovich antique hunting. A strange romantic urban paradise that still follows the of small lanes first traced out in the Middle Ages.
But slowly and unperceptively this handsome unique boy turned into a middle aged sell-out: self-satisfied, spreading mid-waist, materialistic, pre-occupied with insignificant little indispositions and always, always looking inward and into the past.
London was so easy to love, but has downgraded its heritage. Where there was literature, we find confessional autobiographies of second tier never-have-beens. Instead of culture, there is Celebrity Big Brother.
Individuality and personal freedom are confiscated at security, education and knowledge eyed with suspicion. Liberal tendencies are only admitted if they fit into a 16oz Ziploc plastic bag.
The fainting couch at Brown’s Hotel has been replaced by bland European chic, Earl Grey tea time with hooded cappucinos. Tastelessness has been elevated into a style.
Now and then it’s urgent to return and track down these hints of a memory that can suddenly spring into your face on Piccadilly where some men still wear orange corduroys. Or it hits you in Hackney where Caribbeans live in pride and poverty and you bump into the Morrissey wannabee changing trains at Angel station.
Some loves are harder to forget.