Jun 222012

Mark O’Loughlin

I’ve always felt proud to be a Londoner. I have friends with the same background as me, with two parents from Ireland who met, married and had kids in London, and some even consider themselves Irish. I don’t. I’ve only been there a handful of times in my life. I live here. Although I understand why people do it. People want to be proud of where they are from, to have an identity.

I get that, really I do.

Currently, I live in a house in Ruislip in the West. Every day I commute into Old Street in the East. I still very much feel like a Londoner. At work, it feels exotic being from London. So many people move here from elsewhere for the opportunities. But there are still a few of us dotted around.

I still can’t really imagine wanting to live anywhere else.

I was born in London just over forty years ago in St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, the same hospital where my youngest daughter was born in 2002. I got married nearly thirteen years ago in the same Catholic church that my mum and dad did in Bayswater. It was the same church where my mum’s funeral took place three months after my wedding day. I’m not particularly religious now, but I was brought up as a Catholic, and I can see why people take comfort in religion too. People find the ceremonial aspect of religion reassuring. It’s like being in a club and you know the rules.

I tried living somewhere else for nearly a year, in Australia, when I was in my mid-twenties. It didn’t work out. Other than that, I’ve always lived in London. My first memories are of living in a basement flat a couple of streets away from Portobello Road, in Notting Hill. From there we progressed to a Notting Hill Housing Trust flat on the same street. I remember being around six or maybe seven, and going to visit this empty flat that we were to later move into and thinking, wow, it’s huge. I had to share a bedroom with my older brother, although that was preferable to sharing a bedroom with my sister, mum and brother like I used to before. Dad used to sleep in the living room.

It was great moving into a big flat from a damp and depressingly dark basement. It was like moving from black and white to full colour.

Our neighbours upstairs were West Indian and we often heard reggae music above our heads. I found it strangely reassuring to know there was someone else there. In the late 1970s I remember looking out the window of our third-floor flat and seeing running battles in the street during the Notting Hill Carnival. Those were the days.

My sister moved out when she was seventeen; I was twelve, and I got her old bedroom. My two daughters have always had their own rooms. I often think about how they will never experience the excitement of getting their own room for the first time.

My old primary school in Notting Hill is now luxury flats. It was connected to the Catholic church next door via an underground tunnel. It was a small school in a Victorian building and in my last year there we used to go swimming once a week, in the Porchester Hall. They used to let us walk home from there afterwards, every Thursday. Thursday was also the day that 2000AD came out. I still remember walking up to the newspaper stall on Portobello Road, buying my comic, and devouring it at home over fish and chips from the local chip shop before Top of the Pops started.

One particularly lucky Thursday I found a five-pound note on the way. Thursdays were my favourite day of the week by far. I still have a strange fondness for Thursdays.

One of my best friends from primary and secondary school died a couple of years ago. He was only forty. Something drug-related from what I can tell. I don’t really see any of my friends from back then but, thanks to Facebook, I stay in touch with the news. There is now a picture of our school football team on the web, with most of the people tagged. When I first saw it, it was fun to see all the old faces, but then I was sad to note from the other comments that at least two of our class are no longer with us.

But some things haven’t changed. London is still here, and I still love it. I can’t imagine growing up anywhere else, or being anywhere else.

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