City Women

 |  September 1, 2011

I was born in London and I grew up in London. Big cities don’t scare me, I’m used to them – I thrive in them. Well at least I did…

I was back in the UK last month for three weeks and a large part of this time was visiting friends and family who are dotted around the capital. It was only two years since I last visited, but wow, so much had changed. I felt like a stranger – a provincial yokel in the big city, checking tube maps, watching traffic rush by and clutching onto my bag in case Fagin’s legendary ruffians snatched it.

I was no longer a Londoner and despite never really wanting to be, this was who I was for the first 26 years of my life – a girl in a big city, anonymous in amongst all the crowds. In a mere six years, I had become a wary visitor unsure of my place in the madness of the West End.

Simple things suddenly became increasingly problematic. Shopping in Tescos turned into an almighty palaver when I stood grinning at the checkout lady instead of packing my own bags and then looking like I’d just stepped out of the 1950s when I had to use chip and pin. Then there was the fact of remembering that you have to get your own petrol, that cars won’t simply stop if you walk out in front of them and that you can’t go out for even a quiet night with less that 5,000 baht in your purse.

One evening early on in our trip, we were meeting up with friends in town. Babysitters (Granny and Granddad) were booked and the night was ours for the taking. After trying and failing to top up our Oyster cards (a cheaper alternative to pay-as-you-go on the underground), and trying to ignore the countless ‘tuts’ from people waiting behind us, we had to admit defeat and ask a kindly elderly gentleman for help. I mumbled something about not living in the country anymore, which of course went down like a lead balloon.

Once on the tube, I was surrounded by people with the latest phones, gadgets and fashion. People were immersed in their own digital world trying their best to avoid any kind of eye contact. Everyone knows where they’re going but none of them looking very happy about it. I looked down at my old Nokia phone and my not-so-expensive bag and felt like a bit of a lost soul. As usual, me and Chas were talking just a bit too loudly and were greeted with stares from those around us. I’d forgotten just how private life was in London and that even sound intrudes on others’ space.

It finally dawned on me that London was no longer my home. I might have once kept up with the Jones’s but now I was quite happy to be one step behind. Chiang Mai might not be the centre of the world, but it is home.