Showing posts with label London. Show all posts
Showing posts with label London. Show all posts

Monday, 22 January 2018

Going Back

Sitting on a commuter train from London Bridge last autumn on my way to visit family, I was musing about how, sometimes, I find myself coming full circle. It might be a book I am re-reading and find it is set in a place I know well now but which was completely unknown to me originally, or as in this case, a place where I once lived, which was familiar to me on an everyday basis but which I have long left behind.

As we passed through the familiar stations, I was transported back through the years to a younger version of myself, a girl new to London who regularly travelled on this commuter line in another life. A life I rarely even think about now as the present is so all-consuming.

The next day, I was curious to revisit the life I had so many years ago, to bridge the gap between the girl I was then, and the woman I am today. I would never wish to revisit my early twenties, sometimes a painful and disconnected time of life, when family and childhood are left behind and the life you will build for yourself is still in the future, but still it was interesting to be back in the place where I made that transition and reflect on that transient and unsettled time.

So I took the train back to Dulwich and walked into the pretty village, much more vibrant and fashionable than the sleepy village I knew then, but still a lovely place to spend time with its beautiful, spacious houses and wide tree-lined streets.

Autumn Trees in Dulwich Village
I stopped off at Gail’s Bakery, sitting outside in the autumn sunshine and watching the world go by, sipping a cappuccino and eating a delicious fruit scone, amused by the woman telling her daughter regretfully that they didn’t have almond milk, only soya!

Later I walked into the Park, admiring the trees and remembering other times I walked here long ago; then I wandered into the stunning Picture Gallery with its permanent collection which includes my favourite Rembrandt, 'Girl at a Window'.  I had a poster pinned to the walls of my flat in London for years till it fell apart.  I bought another to frame and keep as a memento, a link across the decades.

Dulwich Park
Walking back through the village, I passed the newly refurbished Crown and Greyhound pub, once my local and always known as ‘The Dog’.  Almost unrecognisable now as the scene of so many informal social gatherings, including my first date with my first husband.

Lots of water under the bridge, many ephemeral relationships that have vanished into the ether, but what endures for me is solid and strong and it was good to be back in that place and to be the woman I am now.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Favourite Things

Stuff accumulates. It creeps into the house bit by bit, initially eagerly justifying its presence before falling into disuse and skulking in drawers, cupboards, lofts and garages. I swear it is breeding there right now! There are definitely no-go areas in my house, drawers and cupboards full of discarded things that I can't quite decide what to do with. The loft is another country.

Of course, there has been much decluttering over the years, much editing of possessions as our needs have changed and we have moved from house to house. There have been car boot sales, garage sales and many visits to the charity shop and the tip, but still some things continue to make the cut for whatever reason. I still keep a few of the children's clothes from when they were tiny - nothing quite so well evokes a time and a place. The other day, I tried to throw out some old cookery books, but made the mistake of looking through them first and found myself lost in another world. Our eating and cooking habits have changed greatly in the 30 years or so since I first acquired them but still they engaged me and earned a reprieve.

I was thinking recently about what I still hold onto from the time I first came to live in London to start my independent life; my early forays into re-inventing myself and attempts at home-making and these are some of my favourite things.

I found this amazing dress in a vintage shop in Covent Garden shortly after I moved to London and started my first job, moved into my first London flat share. It is an original 1920's silk/satin dress and I wore it to the parties I attended at the time in South London with students from Guy's, Tommy's and King's. Wafting around in a long, flowing dress felt so good. Of course I fell for the handsome, raffish young medical student who promptly broke my heart, instead of the devoted, smitten but less viscerally attractive young dental student who would have cherished me!  I know better now.

The dress is nearly 100 years old and deserves another reincarnation soon - I think it still has a few more parties in it and maxi dresses are fashionable again. Perhaps one of my new daughters (in and out of law) will adopt it one day?

I couldn't afford this lovely cream throw which I found in Heals in Tottenham Court Road when I was working at the Middlesex Hospital, but I loved it so much that I bought it anyway and it has graced various sofas in many houses over the years and more than earned its keep.

Children have curled up on it to watch films after school, puppies have jumped up on it for illicit cuddles and it is a favourite venue for my cats who like to sit along the top, making a mucky indentation lined with shed fur and muddy paw prints, but it all just washes off and looks as good as new again.

This colourful enamel tray came from Nice Irma's Floating Carpet, a hippy emporium in Goodge Street, around the same time and it has brightened up the work surface in every kitchen I have ever had.  It is still in daily use for our early morning cup of tea in bed. I was drawn to the strong colours which are still as sharp today as when I bought it.  
I love the way some things just form the fabric of a life and translate from one place and time to another, providing a thread of continuity, each with their own story to tell and all part of my sons' memories of home, wherever home might be.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

London - Winter Walk

 I love the light shining through the winter-bare trees, just before dusk

the stark, strong lines of the Albert Bridge seen through the bare branches

the fast-flowing River Thames which continues to thread through my life

and the wonderful London parks, the lungs of this beautiful City.

Taken in Battersea Park, London, January 2014

Sunday, 1 December 2013

City of Dreams

The fast evening train to Liverpool Street cut through the darkening countryside, the hinterland, the outer suburbs and the inner city; high rise flats, little boxes stacked one on top of the other, each little box containing someone's life, their hopes and dreams, their fears and failures, every individual with their own path to follow, their own agenda and challenges to face. Lights shining out into the darkness.

Then suddenly it reared up, towering above the cheap, high rise blocks of flats. A wall of glass and steel, chrome and concrete, sharply defined corners and hard edges, bright lights, tempting, challenging. The City of London, the ancient Square Mile, city of dreams and towers, a city that can make or break you, destroy you and spit you out, or endow you with riches beyond your wildest dreams. Enter at your peril for it will surely change your life forever!

I first came to the City over 40 years ago, a young girl from the provinces, weaving her dreams, with an exciting new job in the shadow of St Paul's Cathedral and an entire life stretching before her. A crisp, white page waiting for a story to be written on it. It's a rather tattered page now, with lots of crossings out, re-writing and notes in the margin but there's still space for more as I work my way through my story. I worked in the City for 10 years, met the man who became my husband, had children and moved out to the country, living the dream, and it has been a constant thread running through my life ever since, although the marriage has long gone. But life turns full circle and so last night I found myself yet again in the City of London, dressed up for a formal dinner with my partner at his club, sitting chatting with new friends and watching the dark waters of the Thames flowing swiftly past the windows on its relentless journey to the sea.

I rarely come into London now and it is an expensive treat but there is a sense that, after all that has happened and all the changes in my life, all I have gone through since I first came to this place, I am at peace with this great City. In the end it is a mirror. It can only do to you what your own spirit allows it to do.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Wedding Bells

It was a very special day and despite still feeling drained by the wretched flu which is still pulling me down, I put on my best smile and dug deep. Wild horses would not have kept me away from my son's wedding. Of course there was a hat involved! Someone had to do it, and who better than the Mother of the Groom, smart for once in black and ivory.

The Winter Garden at the smart London hotel was the perfect venue for afternoon tea with the bride's parents, the first opportunity we had had to meet them, before the beautiful, simple ceremony at the nearby Registry Office. The Groom was suitably nervous and elated and the Bride, when she finally appeared, was beautiful and radiant as only a bride can be on her wedding day.

Afterwards the newlyweds, family and friends piled onto the specially commissioned red London 
bus, to be greeted with glasses of champagne as the party began and we set off across central London laughing and chatting as the tension was released, children waving to us as we stopped at traffic lights - for once part of the sights of London!

The Thames-side pub/restaurant with its stunning view of the river was warm and welcoming after the short walk from the bus in the still freezing-cold late March wind. The food was delicious, the atmosphere relaxed and informal and the party took off. Meeting so many of my son's friends and having all three of my children, as well as my new daughter-in-law, together in the same room was a special joy, and it was a great pleasure also to welcome three of my step-children who joined us after the dinner and speeches, the first time they had met my son's new wife; we are a combined family that is still evolving and growing.

As the evening progressed, fancy dress clothes and wigs were produced from somewhere, adding to the fun. Of course, there were cupcakes and very delicious they looked too, I thought, choosing one and putting it down on the table for a few minutes while chatting to someone, only to find, when I came to look for it, that my ex-husband was sitting in my place scoffing it. It was My Cup Cake!

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Putney Bridge

Liverpool Street Station teeming with people, scurrying about their business as I plunge into the Underground, crowded escalators carrying me into the bowels of the earth, then jammed onto a Central line train packed with strangers, fellow travellers. Unknown, unknowable lives. The District line is quieter, room to sit down, closer to the surface and, finally, three hours after leaving my sleepy Suffolk village, I arrive at Putney Bridge Station surfacing, blinking, into the bright February sunshine and take a deep breath of fresher air.

I set out across Putney Bridge, red London buses, cars, taxis, bicycles, pedestrians, all suspended over the fast-flowing Thames, creating its own spaces, microclimate and ancient rhythms, indifferent to the world that has evolved around it. Then I saw him walking towards me, the tall, dark, handsome young man with his Grandmother's vivid blue eyes and a warm bear hug for me. My first-born son!  We walk together, chatting and laughing, exchanging news, so pleased to see each other, into a bustling Saturday Putney High Street, then take a turning into a quieter residential road, following it through towards the Common and a quiet pub for lunch.

The next time I see him will be his Wedding Day.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Birthday lunch

It was 21 years ago when I first came face to face with my youngest son.  The time just flies by from baby to toddler, small child to large child, teenager to young adult.  

We met for lunch in a bustling London bar, all Farrow & Ball and mismatched tables and chairs; red buses swishing by on the busy, wet, Saturday streets, people scurrying under umbrellas in the relentless icy rain, but we were warm and cosy inside.

I miss my boys and the homes we made together, the lives we shared, but how lovely to meet up like this and share a birthday lunch.

Thursday, 10 May 2007


A sharp gust of wind blew my hair across my eyes as I crossed the road towards the Royal Courts of Justice. As I brushed it away, suddenly there he was walking towards me.

Smart in his dark blue suit, purple shirt, tie flapping in the stiff breeze, he was over 6' tall, broad shouldered with heart-stoppingly blue eyes, dark flowing locks curling slightly to his shoulders. He saw me and smiled straight into my eyes.

'Hello Mum,' he said, hugging me. 'Lovely to see you. Let's go and have lunch.'

My 25 year old son, on his birthday.