I am in love with London. Of course from a distance. Still, that’s ok. Not everything can be perfect.
I’ve had a long, estranged view of this city. London started off as a place I never wanted to live in. Flying into the city almost thirty years ago, after having unsuccessfully begged my mum to stay in America where we’d lived most of my life, the London houses seemed so small and crushed together. Like brick cans I thought. I remember claustrophobic bile rising up my throat. Of course, if we’d have come here as a whole family and not as half a broken family, then it would have been ok. I can see it now. Damn you hindsight.
Thirty years later, we’re back for Delphine’s dance class. The once-a-month adventure from Borth to London and back again. Made easy by Delphine attending InterHigh (flexible schooling) and having my mum live in London (free hotel where I never need to pay for food).
We got off the train at Euston, but instead of going straight to my mum’s house down the Piccadilly Line, we went to meet my old friend Poppy and her daughter Elvie. It was a busy, commuter time of day.
‘Do we have to go?’ Delphine kept asking me. ‘Oww, people keep bumping into me!’
‘Yes,’ I replied firmly, threading our way down Green Park station’s long, platform-connecting tunnel, ‘it’s only a few stops from Euston.’ Heavy rucksack on one arm, pulling the trolley suitcase with the other and in between, managing to herd a travel-bedraggled Delphine.
We got to Brixton station and surged up to the fresh air with everyone else. The station entrance was flanked by a stall of burning insence. Soca played next door where a man was sitting on the cold pavement. He was holding a guitar but wasn’t even strumming it. When we passed, he leaned over, pressed a button on his speaker and a new song pulsed out. A Lion of Judah flag wafted in front of us. I suddenly relaxed. I hadn’t been back in Brixton for years.
It made me remember. Before we sailed from Wales to the Caribbean, I just knew I was going to go there. Like twenty years before. I don’t know how?! I’m half Polish for heaven’s sake. Not exactly a cultural crossover. I didn’t even hang out with West Indians. I did spend a lot of time in south London as a teenager though.
Delph and I trundled across the road to the little department store opposite Brixton station. It bore an uncanny resemblance to Cave Shephard department store in Bridgetown, Barbados. Smaller than Barbados – Brixton’s version was in miniature. This still didn’t make it a less welcome sight.
Then Poppy arrived. ‘Welcome back to Brixton, Hannah,’ she said, looking at me with her big, soulful eyes. We’d spent our teenage years in this neck of South London. I swallowed down that bittersweet taste looking at my friend. We’d been together at the age when anything seemed possible. Now life had taught us some lessons.
Still. We were together again. ‘Thanks P,’ I replied.
We made our way to a pizza place she’d recommended. It was both delicious and good value and had a singing, dancing waiter (this turned into the only questionable part). But Poppy and Elvie sat together, happily people-watching the market street beside us.
‘We can’t help it. It’s part of our compulsive London nature,’ Poppy giggled.
I nodded. As we’d approached the restaurant, Poppy had showed us the shop next door. You could buy candles which burned from both ends simultaneously and floor cleaner which both gave the floor shine and it warded off evil spirits. It was busy in there.
Now the waiter was doing surely an accidental version of the splits and we were eating tasty, filling pizza, talking about our lives and laughing the belly ones. Ok. I think I’m finally beginning to understand what London is.