This week I finally told my husband about the affair I’ve been having. It’s been going on for about ten years now; it started before we met and while I had thought it may lose its fiery passion over the years, the feelings have become deeper, more profound and harder to shake. I’ve been waking in the night in a cold sweat, terrified at the thought of ending it. I’ve found myself laying awake at 3am wondering if there is a way of making both relationships work. I realise that I’ve sunk so deeply into my love affair that I’m no longer sure where I end and where it begins and who I will be when we part.
The affair to which I’m referring isn’t with another man, or with another woman come to that, it is with a city, with London.
It wasn’t until I read Nora Ephron’s essay on her love affair with New York that it dawned on me what I have with London is no less of a romance. Hearing someone else expressing such feelings for a city – knowing that she too found herself with a city to so deep beneath her skin that she couldn’t imagine being separated from it – reassured me in so much as a mania shared is a mania halved (maybe?).
For a while now my relationship with the city has been in conflict with my relationship with my husband. He wants out. It’s not for him, and that’s ok, it’s not for lots of people.
But it’s also not ok because if he goes, Florence and I go too. Our family is more important than a city of course, and in turn the city loses its lustre without them in it.
But who will I be outside of London? Without the museums and galleries and the coffee shops? Without the tube and the frequent buses (because god, I hate to drive), and the multiplicity of children’s classes and libraries that we attend every week (sometimes two or three in a day)? Without the river (god I love the river) and the South Bank, which never fails to make me happy at my most despondent times. Without the warren of Brixton Village, or the graffitied edginess of Shoreditch with its city farms and the treasured Bethnal Green Museum of childhood. Without London Fields lido and the Hampstead Heath ponds. Where will I wander on lazy days without Upper Street with its never ending turnover of new cafes, bars and restaurants? Without Angel and Camden Passage? Without the parks, all of those beautiful safe parks where I love to run and play with Florence and picnic? Without the canals which taper from Regents Park to Stratford ideal for long runs without any risk of getting lost?
What will I do everyday in the countryside miles from my city and my friends? Bake cakes, getting gradually fatter? Oh god I’ll have a thick waist and pinched cheeks and be described as ‘homely’.
Of course I’m being melodramatic and perhaps more than a tad selfish. I know my friends are also moving out (or at least thinking of it) and I keep telling myself that it will be ok. That our family is more important than my love of the city and that like all love affairs, it must come to an end. But god I wish my affair was with a man, that would be so much easier to give up.