30 Days of Reminders

Name: Dale Atkinson

Occupation: Communications manager

How we met: Daisy and I went to university together. I’m a little hazy on our first liaison but I distinctly remember a first-year pub crawl he organised where I came home with a set of plastic golf clubs. There was the Ben Harper concert he dragged me to, which I can only assume was because I have diamonds on the inside. And an infamous occasion where we went to watch the tennis at Wimbledon and I mysteriously woke up with a tennis racquet and the Wimbledon Shop’s entire range of mens’ and womens’ towels.  During one of my more recent encounters with Daise, I was told Jesus thinks I’m funny.

Please meet one of my favourite people in the world, Dale:

I’m stuck at the office later than I should be on a Friday night sweating on clearance for a press release which has to go out first thing Monday morning. I’d rather not be here. Frankly I’d rather not be drafting this either. The pubs are open and the sun just about holding on. But a promise is a promise. Besides which, I’m too deeply indebted to Christie to blow it off.

When I arrived in the London eight years ago I pitched up at Christie’s Bayswater flat and moved into her room. She was out of town for the weekend and despite the fact we hadn’t seen each other since university she was kind enough to offer me a place to stay for a few nights while I got my bearings. Seven weeks later I was still there.

Daise with his prized Christmas tree It says a fair bit about Christie that she was willing to let me stay at all. We hadn’t seen each other in about three years and didn’t really keep in touch. That it took her all of seven weeks to start dropping hints and explicitly issue marching orders says a lot too, but mostly about me and not much of it flattering.

In all I probably tallied up about 40 nights of free accommodation. That kindness is a debt I will be paying off one night at a time for the rest of my life. Not in a sexy way. She’s suffered enough. Just, you know, with reciprocal lodgings.

At some point between those seven weeks and now, London ceased to be a foreign city and became my home. It’s impossible to maintain the first flush of any infatuation and although the early sense of wonder at the place has never entirely diminished it definitely fluctuates in intensity.

If I run home from work I travel a route which takes me through the grounds of Westminster Abbey, past the Houses of Parliament and Downing Street, up around St James’s Park and Buckingham Palace, through Hyde Park, passing Albert Hall and Kensington Palace, then on to Gloucester Road and home. If I extend the run for 20 minutes with a loop around the Thames I pass the former residence of a man called Fred Russell. A blue plaque on the front of that building declares him the father of modern day ventriloquism. It won’t be high on the must-see list for most but everyone has their Mecca.

I’m not really conscious of these landmarks when I run and don’t take much joy in them. I’ll be concentrating on the pain in my left knee or the oncoming phalanx of au pairs with Basra-proof baby buggies clogging up the footpath. There’ll be a fat man yelling at a dog. A hot chick in lycra will frolic into view and I’ll have to switch into Baywatch-stride until she passes. On I’ll run, impeded by the camera-laden tourists enjoying the postcardable attractions, which to me have become all but invisible. Then a Frenchman will step out in front of me and I’ll tell him to fuck off.

I sometimes find it hard to believe anyone could gain much pleasure from a streetscape that for me has become so inextricably linked to the drudgery of routine and blurred by the static of everyday living. Trapped in the six inch space between my ears I can become a bit blinkered to the good things around me – conscious only of that morning’s squabble with my girlfriend or the severe delays on the District Line, the injustice of a flame email from my line-manager at 6pm on an evening when I have other plans, or the erratic movements of an unapologetic Frenchman. Life happens no matter where you live.

It can take a bit of a jolt to shake me out of that mindset. The best is when a friend from home visits, which takes me out of myself and forces me to take a bit of pride in the place. It lets me see the city fresh through the eyes of my guest.

It can be simple stuff, like an ice-cream from the parlour that serves them in a brioche bun or a pint at a great pub they would never have found without me. It can be sweating blood to get us tickets to a gig at the Brixton Academy or a match at Lords. It can even be launching a three day bender through my favourite bars and clubs which inevitably reminds me why I stopped going on three day benders in the first place.

If I did this stuff every week it’d lose its cache and I’d probably lose my job. But it helps remind me what I loved about the place when I first arrived on Christie’s doorstep and it definitely refreshes my enthusiasm for a city which, like anywhere, has its downsides.

And at 8pm on this Friday night, when I’m still at the office waiting for word on that press release, it helps to know that come the Summer, a fresh batch of first-timers will be in the city and I’ll get to relive the first weeks I was here all over again.

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