London calling

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The city of our imaginations was London. In Lagos of the 1980’s “London” was a magic sound: its very utterance conveyed unattainable sophistication, hipness, style, escape. London stole my father for a few years of study. London bathed the in-crowd at school with the “been-to” glow. A wash of light followed even those whose cousins-fathers-sister-friend-daughters-boyfriends were rumored to have visited that fabled city.

Like many schoolchildren, I knew the London of Dickens, of the Queen; the London of black taxis and Big Ben. So when this Terence Trent D’Arby video slid into heavy rotation on state television, I was unprepared for this other, intensely romantic London, of warehouses and dive bars, of motorcycles, dandies and miscegenation. This is when London became a real place, a tangible desire of mine.

Of course, this desire maintained intensity for a brief season, and I spent my adolescence in that unlikely emerald city, Seattle, and later New York. With each new city, London’s call grew fainter. I doubt I will ever live there. But thanks to the internet, I’ll always have Terence.

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4 thoughts on “London calling

  1. Your experiences about London seem to be limited. London has always been a city that attracted people from all over the world. Students from Lagos used to spend their summer holidays in London. Meeting a long lost friend in the West End of London did not use to be surprising. It was fun riding the tube.
    The almost constant threat of terrorism has caused many to stay away from London.
    To me, I used to visit London, mainly to shop for the nicely-cut English suits.

  2. dele, you are quite right. my experience of london is different, not necessarily limited. nigeria of the 1980s was not the same as nigeria of the 1950s, 60s or 70s. the experience of growing up in lagos during the lean years of structural adjustment, of increasingly difficult visas and international movement, of inflation and a devalued currency was much different from growing up during the halcyon days just after independence, in which the world was more open to africans.

    as such, london became increasingly difficult for many school children to visit on holidays. most children at my school, or in my neighborhood did not visit london regularly for holidays.

    after moving to the united states, london remained distant, and receded from view. i eventually visited london, not as a school child on holiday, with a nigerian passport, but as a working american adult on a brief holiday. i was unable to afford nicely-cut suits, although i do appreciate british tailoring.

    thank you for your comment! it has allowed me to reflect on how quickly the promise of africa, and african cities, in the 1960s and 70s changed drastically with each passing decade. i think many people only know the africa seen on television–an africa of wars and starving children, but obviously this was and is not the only africa.

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