By Paul Bleakley
IT is not as easy for an Antipodean living in London to find a sense of localism. It is understandable: we are strangers in a strange land, always transient and always planning our next trip abroad or weekend away. In many respects it doesn’t even matter what part of London we live in. Most of us know that we won’t be there forever, and we did not set out to find a new ‘home’ anyway.
I remember the first time that I realised that I had become a local in London. I had been sitting at a pub with one of my best friends from home, enjoying the last days of summer. That was when we met Reg. We had been asked to join his table after looking after his friend’s dog – a slobbering bull terrier – while they went to get drinks.
It quickly became clear was that Reg was a well-known figure in the local community. Every person that passed the pub stopped to shake his hand and have a quick chat. He wistfully told us that it was a good area, “but not if you are part of the street life”. He was open about the fact that he had not always lived on the right side of the law, telling us that he had cleaned his act up “at least until (his) baby daughter turned eighteen”.
My friend went home after a few hours, but I sat with Reg and his friends for hours after the sun went down listening to his stories about our little corner of West London. When the time came to leave, Reg walked me down the street introducing me to everyone we crossed paths with along the way.
That could have been the end of the story, a chance experience with a London identity. It wasn’t. Three weeks later I was sitting by myself in the same pub, waiting for a friend and reading the paper when I heard the sound of knuckles rapping on the window. It was Reg. He had spotted me through the window and stopped to say hello and see how I was.
That was the moment I discovered London localism. That was the day that I felt home.
Image by Howard Selina