Once upon a long time ago I lived for a while in London. I am not sure if every large city is like it but there was a particular vitality to the place especially after dark.
I remember the day I arrived; wet behind the ears, fresh from the deepest depths of the Devon countryside. A fervent member of the Young Farmer movement; having found them the closest beings to inhabit my remote youthful existence, this urban world was totally alien to me. I knew plenty about butter making, pitching in during haymaking and the thrill then loss of baby lambs, but a world full of loud, fast always open buzz was non-existent on my radar. I took my first intrepid steps into the metropolis of the capital with a heart seized in terror at the unknown.
I was lucky I was cossetted by the trappings and security of an affluent household in Hampstead where I joined the family as a live in nanny. With my basic needs provided for I was able to embrace London life to the full.
Late nights and early mornings became the norm, mixing with rich, famous and notorious celebrities as they came and went became the accepted pattern for my new exciting life. I managed to shed the country bumpkin skin away emerging as a young party animal. I attended premieres, I partied with the most sparkling in stars, I acquired tickets to all the prestigious events and I loved every moment. The lights shone and the day never ended just merged to the next.
I would go home to my family still deep within the countryside and not be able to party or buy a kebab on the way home. The only light in the world after midnight would be the stars or the moon or a distant barn heralding a soon to be new little life; but it had lost it’s fun and wonder for me. I yearned for the hub bub of the town, I needed the noise and smells and I craved the vivacity vibrancy and vivaciousness only offered by the diversity of a busy city. I had to get back to get my fix of the fun and frivolity that had become my life.
Inevitably I grew up, met and married Sexy Sporty Dad and we had our children who grew and developed in their own special way.
This week I was offered tickets to an Arsenal match at their home ground. My first hit of nostalgia; I had given up being a supporter or any football since the children had been born. Rugby had dominated our need for fanaticism over recent years and there was little time to remember that before children I supported the team as well as other sports.
No 1 Son was staying and working on a boat docked in St Katherine’s Dock and I was invited to spend the weekend with him. Mini Son is the only avid footie fan in our family and despite his possibly paternal passion for Man U, it seemed sensible to take him as they were Arsenal’s opposition.
Stepping off the train at Waterloo I was hit by a familiar excitement in my stomach. The noise was rising, there was a distinct smell of fresh food blended with diesel and the close proximity of perfume as we queued to go through the barrier.
A walk along the embankment dodging pedestrians, runners, bus queues I gave a sporadic history lesson as sites came to view and remembered stories of old ran through my mind. Music and laughter drifted across the Thames as we walked. Street sellers called to us enticing us closer to try their wares. People of all nationalities brushed past us, gabbling away in their native tongue as I tried to identify and inform my young son.
We didn’t reach St Katherine’s Dock by foot, the distance prooving just too far. Standing by the road Mini Son waved and hailed his first London cab. It was not far to go but by then the relief of having a seat was welcome, it also served as a slight reminder of the years that had passed by since I would jog along the embankment for fun! We reached the boat and a very welcome cup of tea, tour and tutoring to get on and off the craft, through the barriers and where the slightly more stable roomy pontoon toilets and showers were situated.
It was time then to take the tube. Hanging on for dear life to a reluctant twelve year old as we hopped on and off trains, cut through from tube line to tube line and joined and ever increasing heaving mass of bodies, singing anthems, cheering and moving inevitably towards the stadium. If I ever imagined I might not find the way; I had forgotten my own mantra; “to follow the crowd”. The swelling crowd moved methodically through the mechanical motions towards the bright, loud alluring ground.
It was sad that probably my only opportunity to see the team I once supported so avidly lost to one of their greatest rivals but for my young son, his first ever footie match was quite a spectacle to behold. We were of course in the home team stands and a very contained little boy cheered inwardly as each goal against us was shot.
At the end of the match and amidst a fairly hostile and emotional crowd we moved momentarily closer to the tube as the thousands of fans poured along the streets towards the station. Finally hanging closely onto Mini Son with No 1 Son leading the way we made our way through the underground to where we were meeting friends for a meal.
This was the night life I remembered, a brightly lit, noisy esplanade spilling over with restaurants, wine bars and nightclubs. Different cultural aromas emanating from each kitchen tantalising the taste buds as people thronged past. We were headed for a little Indian place our friends knew well but when we arrived it was no longer there. Not lost for choice we opted for the Turkish place next door.
A mezze of different authentic dishes were placed on our table. We tasted, tried and tested tiny morsels and larger bites of unpronounceable delicacies. We drank house wine and finished off with more delicious sweeteners leaving the area still fully alive and thriving despite the later or by now early hours of the morning. Before grabbing a cab we ran into a 24 hour supermarket to pick up the essentials like milk and cereal for the morning.
I fell asleep on a bustle of clashing dreams, colours vibrant and strong, noise chasing through my mind, my nose wrinkling at the memory of the mass of varying menus and the hustle of being part of a throng. It was a nostalgic pull to my past.
We woke, the rain poured, the light was dull and it was cold. I clambered off the boat inelegantly and showered in the block. There was no way back but through the torrential rain and to scramble back over the rail to the warmth of the deck below.
I had planned to take Mini Son to the Tower of London, I wanted to see the remains of the powerful poppy exhibition remembering the fallen from history and he had just finished studying the princes in the tower, at school. We did go but the short walk across to the entrance drowned our spirits with the monotonous drip drip drip of rain. Through two layers of coat and hoody the water seeped chilling the bone. We followed a few other brave souls round through the ancient historical rooms unable to feel anything but cold and damp. By the time we reached the room the little princes were kept; all remaining empathy had been diluted and washed away and we returned finally deflated to the deluged docks.
Deferring plans to visit the science museum we headed back to Waterloo and took a long winded journey home avoiding engineering works before Mini Son alighted from the train and exploded with all the enclosed excitement into his father’s waiting arms:
“We won, we beat them. Man U won the match!”
Tripping down memory lane and sharing the places with my children brought back the fun and excitement of visiting London but the welcome smell of my husband’s home-made meal and a large cuppa reminded me of where I really want to be; tucked up at home watching the telly with my family. Nostalgia just isn’t what it used be, it has its place tied up with memories and emotion but not necessarily a tug to go back.