“It is as though London stretched unbroken from St. Albans to Southend in a tangle of ten-lane four-deck super parkways, hamburger stands, banks, topless drug-stores, hippie hide-outs, Hiltons, drive-in mortuaries…all shrouded below the famous blanket of acrid and corroding smog.”
–James Cameron wrting of Los Angeles in the Evening Standard, 9 September, 1968
Like it or not, most of my adult life can be pinned to a map of the Southern California coast. The privilege of the emigrant is to know home through absence, perhaps better than those who’ve never left. I have been researching 19th century California history, a quixotic and surreal endeavor as I sit in my London flat overlooking a street where a Morris Minor and black cab park nightly, a street with a pub which plays the footie and a green that was quite recently glowing with daffs.
The friends and lovers from the past were all tied to the Southern California beach. There was no place else to go. Drunken nights, wandering, the ocean was always there cradling us, setting an infinite boundary to our boldness. Cruising up and down PCH, all of it was ours. And then I left.
Like Dick Whittington and his cat of the pantomime, I heard the two-syllable bell of Lon-don tolling for me. I packed up Lemmy-cat (and my SoCal husband) and crossed the ocean. I know many of my fellow ex-pats have surrendered certain aspects of their Americaness– they have closed themselves in that London po-faced way or have let the tumbles of immigrant life smooth their broad accents to something rounder and more placeless. But the longer I reside here the more American I become, or, even more West Coast.”…to speak in superlatives, to live out-of-doors, to tell tales…to believe what isn’t true, to throw dignity out the window, to dress dramatically, and, last but not least, to tackle the impossible.” I have embraced Lee Shippey’s list of California traits without knowing it. And more and more I am struck by how completely UnLondon it all is.
London, in its present manifestation, is a hard place of fiscal facts, of interiors and conformist decorum. Increasingly it has become, for me and probably most other writers and artists working here, a place defined by the narrow possible.
I find myself perpetually in a mind of two maps; the jagged, golden coast twisted round the M25.