Greenbelt was where I’d hoped to be last weekend. Sitting eating Goan Fish Curry in the balmy afternoon sunshine, sipping chai in the Tiny Tea Tent from an unhygienic mug, listening to Shane Claiborne inspire me to live in community, and bumping into random people who I hadn’t seen for years.
Instead, due to the imminence of A) my brother’s wedding, B) my new job, and C) my dissertation deadline, something had to give and that thing was Greenbelt.
To be honest, I am less inclined to feel sad about that given the torrential downpours we had on Saturday: I’m a grouchy camper at the best of times. Plus, I was probably a bit scared I’d be disappointed by the real-live author of the Irresistible Revolution, a book which came at one of those life-junctures a few years ago and swivelled me round into a way of living differently. Although, that said, I was a bit jealous of Laura when she texted me from a Giles Fraser gig that she was enjoying.
Anyway, needs must and I wound up in London. At my desk. At my computer. My high point was skyping Bec in Sydney which was great until my aging laptop found it all a bit much, overheated and crashed. Bye-bye Bec. For a change of scene I sold my soul and my principles for a slice of raisin toast and free-refill filter coffee in Starbucks. At least when you drink in they don’t do that horrific charade of asking you your name so that they can write it on your cup and pretend to know you.
Holland Park Starbucks irritated me. I don’t know if it was the Holland Park component or the Starbucks one that did it. It was very un-Greenbelt. There were too many stylish women tucking into muesli (what a waste in a coffee shop!) and making me feel guilty about the lashings of butter that were undermining my early morning swim. And a weird amount of men with pushchairs getting coffee to go. And lots of ladies with unnecessary little yappy dogs: ‘Down Oliver’, said one woman to a particularly spindly specimen in a doggie coat. Then there was the man and woman who greeted each other with a peck on the cheek: he went in for a second on the other; she didn’t. It was awkwardly English and made me chuckle to myself as I turned back to my laptop.
Harriet texted me : Emily, East London is overrun with the young tourist and the vintage and the cupcake. Thinking I might have to seek authenticity in Harlesden…!
Harlesden. That’s where I get to when I cycle from home in the opposite direction, away from Holland Park. I am smug that my new job is in Harlesden. I tried to encourage Harriet to move West and be my housemate, to no avail.
Finally an August Bank Holiday when I’m in London. I decided to cope with all the wannabe rastafarian white people and go to the Notting Hill Carnival. My camera and I sought out carnival images, but it wasn’t to be. The carnival I remember from my youth is long gone – no more steel bands, or feathery costumes, just sound systems and people in tiny shorts splattered with paint. A far cry from the chilled calypso songs about mango trees that they taught us at primary school, or the sad ones about leavig Kingston Town which always made me miss the unknown magic of Jamaica. I sat on a wall next one of the ubiquitous piles of litter and ate my rice and peas and jerk chicken, feeling a little bit ripped-off that the Authentic Carnival Experience is now one that is drenched in alcohol, drowned out by police sirens and characterised by violence. Or so it seems from the stabbings that happened just around the corner.
Holland Park. Greenbelt. Carnival. Harlesden. [Jaded-and-tired-of-dissertation-writing sigh.] Still looking for authenticity, innit.