My Lon­don

The London Magazine - - RACHEL HURD-WOOD -

I was born South of the river and spent my first eight years in Streatham. Af­ter a ten-year in­ter­lude balancing an act­ing ca­reer with ex­ams, it was time to re­turn to the big city to at­tend uni­ver­sity. My first set of keys opened up stu­dent ac­com­mo­da­tion off the Gray’s Inn Road; the sec­ond were for a coun­cil es­tate flat in Eus­ton where, as a col­lege drop out, I’d sit in a wornout red cardi­gan, chain smok­ing Vogue Men­thols out the win­dow of my box room. This pro­gres­sion north led me to a wonky but cosy flat be­hind the Shell sta­tion on Up­per Street in Is­ling­ton where I’d fre­quently buy my body­weight in Snick­ers. I was nineteen, trem­bling sweatily in the door­way to adult­hood.

A year later, I headed to Stoke New­ing­ton via Far­ring­don, where my act­ing agent took me for high tea one af­ter­noon in Spring. Mid­way through my third scone, he gen­tly asked if my gippy ap­pendix and wheat in­tol­er­ance were the rea­sons why I had be­come so fat. Re­gret­tably, it was due to rum and ke­babs. I de­cided not to fret, and in­stead ob­tained a per­sonal trainer boyfriend with a yoga-teach­ing mother who both lived in Stokey.

I took to juic­ing and jog­ging, and got a part time job at an in­de­pen­dent cof­fee shop. In­side, white walls dis­played black mu­rals, mostly in­de­ci­pher­able ‘right-on’ pat­terns. The shelves bore mini smooth­ies for kids, ar­ranged as traf­fic lights, the most pop­u­lar flavour be­ing ‘red’. In this en­vi­ron­ment, cus­tomers re­laxed, lead­ing to a ten­dency to over share; gladly vol­un­teer­ing their thoughts on the state of the coun­try, their mar­riage, their guts. Par­ents let their off­spring make an un­holy mess, some­how man­ag­ing to fuse gluten-free cake to ta­ble, then gen­er­ously do­nate a whole penny into the tip jar be­fore breez­ing out. The best re­sponse was to smile, and stay on a steady drip of soya lat­tes un­til the caf­feine con­vul­sions be­came in­ca­pac­i­tat­ing. The corner­stone mo­ment was the day some­one left be­hind a copy of se­lected poems by Dorothy Parker. The pre­ci­sion of her ob­ser­va­tion

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