two miles apart

The lack of postings is closely related to a move, two miles East, across the beautiful marshes and up to what is alleged to be Europe’s longest market and is most certainly one of the longest stretches of plastic goods from China in the northern hemisphere. I never imagined that such a small geographical shift could feel so much like much larger ones I’ve made in the past, & how changing London boroughs could feel so similar to changing continents. I have wandered a little during the last few days along lanes that have felt completely alien, despite the familiarity of Victorian terraces & Sainsbury’s signs & markers for the tube etc, and have had to summon the same courage I learned in about 1991 when I began landing in and living in foreign places with foreign languages where I did not know any longer who I was or where I was going. This move, this slight twitch East, has made me feel a stranger to myself. I have been surprised by the difference between the people who live in E5 and E17 and how substantial it is, in terms of wealth particularly. Hackney has become very rich. Moving though, I have felt the same sense of alienation that I felt when I first dropped down in Luanda, unable to understand anyone around me beyond a simple greeting & yet fired up to report on a country that was about to return to full-scale war within a week or two of my arrival. What am I doing here when I’m sure I don’t belong and I know I haven’t got a clue what I’m doing? Everyone is looking at you and everyone knows you are new. Everyone has noticed you have moved in, and is watching to see how you deal with that tramp on the corner & the rotten vegetables you were sold at the stall outside the fishmongers & the dustbin men who no longer take cardboard & the kids who hang out at the tube station. Are you up to it? Will people understand you? How will you communicate with them when they don’t? When will you stop being noticed? There is an act, a skill, in being new, in bluffing familiarity so that you don’t get picked on. When you are new, you remember what it is to be bullied and how it is that humans bully each other. They look for the weak. When you are new, you are weak. Which is why moving is so difficult: you leave as an old-hand, as part of the furniture, as street-wise, and you arrive ignorant, nervous, unknowing and weak. So the excitement when you are served twice or three times by the same shop assistant at Lidl’s – finally, they look at you with some familiarity – is an excessively joyous experience full of relief, and certainly is far more enjoyable than any Lidl’s experience should ever be. And you look forward to the two other houses on the street being sold, so that when the new neighbours move in everyone’s attention will be drawn away from you to them. Then you too can start to ask the questions about why they moved here, where they came from and whether they know the area or not. You can be part of the in-crowd inspecting the strays at the back.

Currently reading: The House of Hunger by Dambudzo Marechera (whom Helon Habila has written about here), & studying the LRB letters with amazement.

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