I had recently been introduced to Keats’ theory of lasts, the idea that when an epoch is drawing to a close you begin to appreciate the everyday, and something which was once mundane becomes something sublime. And in these, my last London days, every action took on a new significance because it now had a limited lease. Memories were evoked with each passing moment. Senses were heightened and I began to discern and dissect every last detail. It strikes me now as a shame that this only happens naturally, without thinking, when an end is near , when death draws close, and that we should strive to become this all observing entity - greedily devouring life - at all times, regardless of how long we may think we have left. We may, after all, not have all that much.
Fitting, therefore, that I should spend my last evening in Keats’ old ward. Hampstead is truly old London; the Heath and the chimney stacks, the Victorian terraces and Georgian townhouses; nobody would bat an eyelid if a horse-drawn trap trotted passed HMV. I don’t think anyone would even begrudge a pickpocket or two plying their trade. Indeed, to return home empty pocketed from Hampstead would only feel real - an experience that money can’t buy. It can’t be long before the council start issuing licences.
Fitting, also, that Joe should live here. Much like his surroundings, Joe is from the old school; the very definition of charm, he has class to spare and lavishes it on his many friends. Tonight he was lavishing it on Nic and I in the form of much good food, much good wine and much good conversation. In fact, I believe this to be his very own holy trinity, the creed by which he lives his life.
We had met through work but had bonded through a shared love of music and bon homie, which ultimately manifested itself in The Big Sur. A labour of love, The Big Sur was a place for talent to shine and sparks to fly and it was, in turn, loved for that. I arrived home exhausted but elated after each and every one; it became a shared experience that entwined everyone who attended's lives together and remains one of my proudest achievements to date.
Towards the end of the evening Joe asked if we would like to go up on to the roof - not the roof terrace, you understand, the roof. A bit wobbly after much wine it was probably unwise but it would have been much less wise to pass up the opportunity. When I went to visit the VHS Video basement one of the first questions I asked was, ‘what’s the roof like?’, and, if you ever get invited on to one, even if pushed for time, even if worried about treacherous tiles, I suggest you accept that invitation in all instances.
A roof was designed with one function in mind, to keep you safe and dry. So it’s already your friend and protector. If you can find a way to pervert that function, to confound the designer's original intentions and create for it a new and unexpected purpose, then that can only bring you closer to it. Think of the skaters at the South Bank; unexpected outcomes are often the most joyful.
Furthermore, the roof has lessons to teach. Roofology 101 comes from a combination of height and the inherent danger involved in clambering across one. The heart rate is quickened and you’re on heightened alert; what a great time to be reminded that you, the individual, are incredibly small and insignificant. The great wide world is out there, you can see it all, the panorama, yet at any moment your little life could be dashed against the cobbles below; it takes off a good deal of anxiety.
The second lesson comes simply from seeing things from a different angle. A lesson that can be learnt over and over, as many times as there are angles - and in this world the angles are infinite - and remains as fresh and as relevant every single time. I have seen Hampstead high street many times, but never before from above. This new perspective is a good reminder that not everyone sees the world in the same way, that everyone has their own outlook. Empathy is increased as you try and see all the angles; be aware that you never, ever will but never stop trying.
Up there with the chimney stacks silently and steadily keeping watch over the good people of Hampstead I could see all of London. The shiny Emirates stadium, which I had never sat in and had only ever passed in taxis home to Turnpike Lane at 6am, each time catching me unawares and each time leaving me in awe as this modern monolith creeps out from behind the Victorian terraces of North London, illuminated at last by the very first rays of morning sun. The BT Tower, under which I had walked every working day for the passed two years; it would always make me draw comparisons with it’s sister structure back up in Birmingham, and make me think of home. Tomorrow I would be there but for now I was up on the roof with my friends – taking stock and surveying our kingdom for one last time.
I spent much of my last day packing and listening to Don’t Turn Around over and over, imagining instead that it was I who was the lover spurned. Don’t worry about this heart of mine, I’m letting you go. But, in truth, the city was blameless. It was I that was walking away and, like all beautiful creatures, she can’t help who falls in love with her - it’s not her fault.
I had one last London commitment to fulfil, working on the Children in Need appeal back at Radio 2. The shift had finished much earlier than anticipated which meant that I arrived at Euston with too much time to spare and really had no choice but to sit and wait. Nothing to do but reflect. I have a propensity to positivity but late night waiting in any transportation hub provides the potential for moments of melancholy to creep up unawares. They say you can never really go home again and I was about to test the theory.
The hour was upon me at last so I walked down the ramp and onto the platform with the rest of the crowd. In one sense I was in a world of my own, Speech Debelle’s Speech Therapy via headphones making mine a television set on mute, but in another I was very much a part of the world at large. I felt connected to my fellow commuters as for a brief moment, all funnelled in the same direction, we were as one in our hopes and ambitions. It’s nine-forty, or thereabouts, so every single one of these people is now going home and, hopefully, most of them will have someone waiting for them when they get there. Someone to be excited at the prospect of their return and relieved when they do walk through the door; someone to reconnect to. At very least the remainder will have a friendly place to lay their head, a little shelter - sometimes just having a destination is enough. Surrounded by all this humanity, it was in that instant that her wise words reached my ears, and a broad grin - the grin of a mad man who fancies he’s found salvation - flashed across my face: ‘life is learnt lived, and that’s all it is…’