Lockdown did many things to me and in very strange ways and came with its own blessings in disguises; one of which was an abundance of free time. I don’t recall any other moment in my adult life where time passed but I was still, almost stuck in the same place without the option to escape and explore.
My home, a place I only came to for solitude when I needed to get away from a busy world was aggressively and suddenly transformed from sole sanctuary to my office, gym, virtual-social hub, church and so much more. I needed to get away, to hop on a plane, touch down and feel the heart of a different country but in this corona pandemic, travelling became tedious and sometimes felt like an unnecessary addition to an already alien season.
The longing to get away presented itself in so many forms, in the lowest moments where I felt sorry for myself and grappled between the somewhat selfish need to get away VS ‘reading the room’, I spent endless hours looking back at photos and videos from last year’s travels – from the mountain in Morocco I and a friend climbed in flip-flops (not planned, we thought we were going to spend the day lounging by waterfalls, also, not our brightest idea but totally worth it), to the polylithic and beautiful display of Blackness at Afro Nation in Praia Da Rocha, Portugal. I even looked back at photos of the suya spot in Ikoyi, Lagos I went to every night when I spent two weeks in the city. That’s how much I craved a trip abroad but then again with travel plans thwarted and foreign exploration itineraries on hold, I decided to take a trip down memory lane to Carfax Place, Clapham Common. A place that was once home and familiar to me but somewhere I hadn’t been back to since I was 13.
Thoughts of the upper ground flat where we lived instantly reminded me of the floorboard under the carpeted stairs, the one I had to go up 1…3…6 to avoid the creak. I remembered how that creaking sound seemed to go on for longer on days when I really didn’t want to get caught sneaking around the flat.
As I stepped out of Clapham Common station, the first thought that came to my mind was just how much smaller the space seemed; I remembered it as this big and endless space I rarely passed through without adult supervision; walking around now as an adult was such a different feeling, I was amused by my childhood naivety.
Clapham Common has always been busy and even now in the middle of a lockdown, a time when many other parts of the city were effectively ghost towns, there was still vibrancy in the air. It was still a melting pot of different cultures, prominently African, Caribbean, South American and English; there was always something new to introduce myself to. In retrospect, growing up here played a major factor in why I am so comfortable amongst different ethnicities and embrace cultures at home and abroad.
Even with my mask on, the air still smelt the same, a mix of roasted coffee beans, fresh pastries and earth thanks to the local coffee shops, patisseries and the large Clapham Common park. It brought comfort and a strong wave of nostalgia; like finding a toy you never let go of as a child but then forgot all about until a clear out reunited you with it. I immediately remembered all the reasons why I loved and was attached to SW4 and also intrigued by how quickly I moved on and never looked back. The sense of familiarity and strength of the connection was not one I would have expected to have for a place I never returned to even though I had passed by on the train countless times.
Each step I took towards my old block of flats was a trip down memory lane, it brought on a soothing feeling that mirrored tranquillity I instantly related to having knots softly kneaded out of my body. On the surface not much seemed to have changed, the rows of flats still looked the same but it felt like it had lost some of its character, the mini playground which I recalled was always filled with sounds of children playing was empty but I convinced myself that this was as a result of the pandemic and not because children no longer played out.
Although Clapham Common has always been a well to do area from my walking, I could see that a lot of regeneration had taken place in the years since I moved. Some buildings were completely erased and replaced with new-build flats, other places like the library and leisure centre had benefited from a makeover that made picturing the old almost impossible.
I moved around, attempting to navigate the area through the memory of my 13-year-old self, at times, it was easy as most things still remained where they were, like the Catholic Church whose spire I could see from my bedroom window; other times, I hit a brick wall, literally and figuratively, as shortcuts I knew as a child no longer existed, instead, I was now met with the back of a new build’s block.
Familiarity also came in the form of the Jamaican food spot that introduced me to jerk chicken and the Trinidadian takeaway I read about years ago but had never visited until now – I was glad to see these family-run businesses still around, providing the authentic food from their cultures …. Some other businesses had clearly diversified like the mobile accessories store that now also sold an array of gorgeous houseplants amongst other things. I decided to buy one; even if I never returned again, I’ll be a plant mama to my latest addition, a flowering cactus which I’ll now always link to Carfax Place.
Without even seeking it out, trips abroad tend to teach us things about ourselves. From the mundane like finding out certain foods we absolutely cannot stand, to deep, perhaps unnoticed character traits in ourselves and others which could only be noticed when away from home.
This year, I did not have to go away to find out new things about myself. I viewed myself as someone with no super strong ties to a particular place, comfortable wherever I ended up; a trait I gained partly due to moving around a number of times as a child. I had subconsciously learned and trained myself to be at home wherever I landed.
It was interesting to watch my present self go back in time and notice just how deeply rooted and connected I am to this area. It allowed me to trace back where certain personality traits and hobbies had stemmed from. Like my love for attending gigs; Clapham Common has always had live music playing, from the buskers I watched to and from school, to the venues that played live music at night. I would listen from the kitchen window patiently waiting to be old enough to be able to attend them too.
To most, I believe I have always come across as someone who navigates life forming incredible and sometimes intense connections but never attachments yet this short trip down to my old stomping ground showed me the roots are deeply planted; intertwined.
To quote the rapper Stormzy, I too “I’m so London, I’m so South.” Clapham Common will always be special to me and I am grateful for this 2020 vision that has allowed me to see myself in this new light.