From this year's 'Love Letters to London' writing competition, sponsored by Almacantar, Footwork and Stiff+Trevillion.
Full details of the winners and runners up are here.
You can buy our printed booklet of all of the winning and placed entries here (£6.50 for members, £7.50 non members. P+P included). Or you can get the PDF version to download here.
If you'd like information on the next 'Love Letters' competition, enter your details here, and we'll be in touch later in the year.
It was the elbow that ruined our plan. It had suddenly stuck out from one of the passing posses of Christmas dinner office parties. Clopping unsteadily on heels, goosepimples rising like stigmata on exposed flesh, their breath wreathing their red faces as they looked for the next port of call. The night was still young for them. The elbow had knocked the open bag from my hand, scattering you as it fell on the ground.
“Do you know what you’ve done?” I shouted after them as they vanished, unknowing, into the city of lights. I bent down to pick up the bag as it lay on the wet pavement with only a few grains of you left inside. The rest was already being carried elsewhere.
This was to be my last ever flaneur trip to London with you. My long black coat, old school camera in one pocket and the bag of you in the other one. It was what we had agreed I would do.
“Take some of me back home again.” You had said from the hospital bed and, although most of you had been buried elsewhere, I took the rest.
At Haddon Street, after opening the bag, I left some of you by Ziggy’s phone box and then, surrounded by Chinatown’s red and gold, I left more by the window where the two female dumpling makers worked, seemingly oblivious to passers-by. This was where we had first met as we both raised our cameras at the same time. Until then, I had always been alone on my flaneuring explorations in the great metropolis, my photos recording London as it endlessly shed its skin. The Elizabeth line covering up a murder scene and medieval skeletons grinning up at demolition crews.
After that, we walked together with our cameras, through the dark, crowded streets, looking through lighted windows and following shadows. But London forced us out and we ended up on its borders, looking in and not out, returning fitfully, strangers in the city we had once called home. And now this would be our last outing together. Tears pricked my eyes as I stood up and dropped the bag back onto the pavement into the slipstream of the passing mass. The last few bits of you trampled underfoot.
And then I realised that this was what you would have really wanted, to be carried all over London, a city that you had never really left in your heart, to be taken to places and stations and coffee shops that you had never seen, on strangers clothes and shoes and handbags and fingertips and hair and into their lives, going home with them, an unseen visitor. How you would have loved that.
“You’ve become part of London again and this time you’ll never leave.” I thought, brushing the tears away, as I buttoned up my coat and begin to walk, alone again, as the city beckoned enticingly.