I have felt a little lost lately. I have been getting up in the morning, heading off on my commute, going to work, coming back home, eaten late dinners and gone to bed early, and I’ve been doing it all as if I wasn’t really here. I haven’t had a lot of time or energy to write, to go exploring or to photograph. It has just felt like an endless amount of days on repeat. Trying to get through one day only to have it replaced by another that looked exactly the same.
Most of my weekends are in the middle of the week and I used to spend them dancing around to music while tidying, writing blog posts and getting some writing done and they would make all the other days feel more exciting, too but for the last two months I just haven’t had the energy to do anything fun. So two weeks ago, after having spent another day off not having done much to make myself feel happy, I thought: “You know what? Why not go to London tomorrow on an adventure, spontaneously and discover something new?”
So that’s what I did.
When I woke up Wednesday morning and looked out through my bedroom window towards the sky above the tree tops, I knew it was the perfect day for photography; partly overcast, partly sunny, giving me an option between even light and summery shadows.
I could feel my excitement building as I walked down to the station with three (yes, 3!) different cameras in my bag and got on a train to St Pancras, an excitement I hadn’t felt for a long time. A long time ago I had stumbled upon a description of a ruined church lying in the middle of the city that I thought might make a good photo location, so I decided to go there without knowing anything about it.
As I got off at Monument Station, I felt a bit out of place with all the tourists looking up at the Monument and the suit-wearing office workers standing outside their tall, shiny glass tombs, smoking a cigarette by emergency exit doors or walking hurridly back to offices with takeaway salads but I knew from earlier experiences exploring this area that hidden treasures can be found here. Treasures like St-Dunstan-in-the-East.
I never knew the church existed when I lived here and although it’s hidden away deep within the City of London, it’s not exactly a big secret. During the Blitz in 1941 the church was nearly destroyed by bombs and instead of rebuilding the church it was turned into a public garden. When I found it on that Wednesday afternoon it was lunch time and most of the benches in the garden were occupied by City workers having their lunch and doing paperwork.
It must have been beautiful once, really beautiful but as I walked into the garden and through the open doorways of the free-standing walls, looking through empty windowpanes free of glass and walls covered in Ivy, I thought that maybe it’s more beautiful like this, with carefully tended trees and colourful flower beds inside what would once have been the nave. It doesn’t feel like an empty shell because there are plants, flowers and tall trees everywhere, fighting to climb through windows and take over the otherwise bare walls.
On the other side of the walls outside of the open iron gates, tall office buildings in blue glass, rough concrete and red brick loom over the small, tranquil garden, belonging to a different world of modern technology, speed and efficiency. You see these buildings rising up over the broken church walls and spot glimpses of them through the empty window panes. I spotted the Shard in the background as I tried to take a photo of flowers climbing up one of these half-walls and it amazed me that these two places exist alongside each other, separated only by a few busy streets and the water of the Thames.
Like so many of the other green places I have sought out and discovered in London over the years, this one, too feels like a little, precious secret and by photographing it that day, I made it mine. The same way it belongs to the office workers who eat their lunch here and the friendly gardener who I met and talked to for a very long time. It made me long to live in the city again because that is where I truly belong and I know it.
That day I discovered a new place, I had three different and very interesting conversations with nice strangers and I walked around happy, content and free, not caring that people looked at me funny as I took out my little B&W disposable camera and my odd-looking Polaroid.
Today, as I looked through and finished editing all the photographs on my film roll from that day, I am so happy that I decided to go. Because this is me. Someone who goes out to experience things and meet new people on her own, even when she feels more like staying at home; someone who ends up having three memorable conversations and who goes home with cameras full of new photographs, one of them even magical. I have been carrying that day around with me inside, thinking about the conversations I had, the people I met and the photos I managed to take and I can’t stop smiling. It made me feel excited about something again and that was exactly what I needed.