Life-long friends, Saira and Aisha embark on an eventful walk in South London, taking in a palace, bluebell-filled woods, and bustling markets while talking tech, investment and times gone by…
On a sunny Sunday morning in spring, I went on a walk from Eltham to Woolwich (Eltwood 3) with my friend Aisha. What better way to catch-up than checking a Slow Ways route and exploring new places?
On our journey, we visited the strange and wondrous Eltham Palace, walked through beautiful bluebell-filled Oxleas woods, enjoyed views across London and Kent from Shooters Hill, appreciated the most manicured gardens either of us had ever seen and enjoyed lunch at a small Vietnamese café in bustling multicultural Woolwich.
Further on, we opened gates that looked like they were locked and travelled down earthy stairs. We took in the skyline of mismatched Victorian chimneys, housing blocks and shiny new developments from various high places. We admired the effortlessly cool outfits worn by West African worshippers. As we went, we chatted, and we argued and we laughed. It felt like 2013 again.
Aisha and I have known each other for over a decade. In our early twenties – post-recession, broke and between jobs, we would spend our days going on long country hikes and unlikely urban wanders.
In the years that followed our lives converged and diverged at various points – Aisha got a job at the Guardian, then Buzzfeed and Al-Jazeera. She travelled the world and settled for a while in Doha, then New York before returning to London where she now works as a Fintech reporter for Bloomberg.
Meanwhile, I lived what felt like a dozen lives in a dozen places… and I walked… a lot…
The interesting thing about long-term friendships is the sense familiarity and consolation they offer – a deep sense of knowing. You know each other in a way you can only know someone with time – when you’ve been there during big life changes, through ups and downs, struggles and successes. When you’ve witnessed every version of each other. And you know that however far you drift away from one another, you’ll always find your way back. You’ll feel like you again, in their company, you’ll feel at home.
However far you drift away from one another, you’ll always find your way back
On our walk, once we had mostly caught up, Aisha asked me a string of questions on Slow Ways related to finance and tech (many of which -admittedly- I didn’t know the answers to). I asked her about shares and investments, her latest stories and whether we would ever be able to afford to buy in the city we grew up in.
It felt very different to the conversations we would share in our early hikes. Back then we’d often talk about boys and wanting to leave London. Now on the cusp of our mid-thirties – (older, not necessarily wiser – but striving, ever-striving) it feels like our friendship has entered a new era and that we’ve both turned a corner. We’re no longer chasing success or our ideas of success. Instead, we’re looking more towards gaining a sense of peace, and grounding – we’re seeking out and creating communities in which we can just be.
I remembered one such community as we spoke about South London and the joy and challenges of being back in a city we both love. I reminisced about my weekly meetings with Nepalese elders in nearby tropical Bostall Gardens in Abbey Wood. I’d spend long afternoons filming and singing and weaving – speaking broken Hindi, taking photographs and capturing stories as part of a project I was working on. At the end, the film I’d made with a friend was screened in Woolwich Community centre – there was so much laughter, and warmth – there was dancing and food. Woolwich, in another life, felt like home.
And this, we decided is what we needed to do: we needed to make London home again. For me, a big part of that comes from exploring, meeting new people, traversing spaces, and finding belonging in them.
And this, we decided is what we needed to do: we needed to make London home again
In some ways, walking the route from Eltham to Woolwich felt like a homecoming – I got to spend time with a close friend, explore new hidden gems and discover an area of London that I long wanted to visit. I got to fall in love with my city again.
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