I'd been living in London for about seven years when a family emergency in 1994 meant I had to move back to Devon for a while. One disaster followed another for a few years after that - a death in the family, redundancy, problems with my eyes - and it was not until 2003 that I managed to move back to London full-time.
I did so with a whole new appreciation of the capital and everything it had to offer. My years in exile - and, yes, that's exactly how I thought of it - had left me determined to make up for lost time, so I started going to the theatre every week, seeing a few of those gallery shows I'd always meant to get to and educating myself on London's history.
That last element was prompted by reading Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell's From Hell, a magnificent graphic novel using the Ripper killings to examine London's dark and convoluted past. The novel led me back to Peter Ackroyd and Ian Sinclair - two of Moore's key sources - and, the more I learned, the more fascinated I became. Every square foot of London pavement, I realised, concealed a long-forgotten story, and I had only to step outside my front door to see the people in those stories materialising all around me.
This simultaneous experience of past and present is a gift London gives all its inhabitants and, if you'd care to stroll with me for a while on the pages that follow, you can share it too.
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