The here and now and a bit of way back then

I relived my journey to 40 and found there's so much more to say

Love London

on November 3, 2014

I’ve been back in the UK for a month now. A whole month you know!

It’s been a busy, packed to the hilt, constantly on the go month.

It’s impossible to take it easy if you haven’t been back to the UK for almost three years. I’m sure you would have a long list of people to catch up with and places you want to be.

As you know I love Newcastle and all things Way Up North. But if you have ever lived in London, I’m sure no matter how long ago or where you may live now, the allure of London never fades.

I love London. LOVE London! Even more so now that I know I’ll probably never live there again. I only realised this fairly recently when thoughts of returning to the UK have presented itself.

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London represents a part of our lives that epitomises youth. Long boozy debauched nights and carefree lazy days. Where lifelong friendships were formed and where you truly can’t help but feel vibrant and alive.

Where else can you find such a buzz of activity and so many different ways of life. It has old English charm and the richness of a multicultural society living right amongst each other. The sights, smells and sounds of London offers a fervour you can find in few other places. Perhaps this is sentimental nostalgia and no doubt I’ll feel the same about Singapore when the time comes.

Regardless of this, I bet even you can’t deny the famous words of Samuel Johnson, “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”

Yes, sometimes the frenetic pace of London can wear you down. The crowds, the dirt, the heat of the Tube, the queues are not always pleasant. The fact you’re never far from a rat makes me vomit. The mice on the Tube tracks freaked me out and brought me to tears to find them scurrying across the exit stairs at Finsbury Park station.

But the beauty of its famous landmarks and glorious parks are something to behold. I never did as much as I ought to have. Rarely a frequent visitor of the many museums, theatres and art galleries. They’ll still be there in years to come.

But I remember the outdoor gigs in Hyde Park, the Charity League softball games, the dingy pubs and swanky bars, the Christmas lights, the River Thames, the old church right next to the latest modern structure, the walking routes overland that take you from A to B far quicker than by Tube.

I arrived in London with no real plan. No urgency to stay. Perhaps a couple of years maybes. Famous last words. But in London time seems to slow down. Less need to settle down and become Grown Ups. Weekends are booked up months in advance because we are all so busy working, socialising and being places.

If the opportunity hadn’t come up to move to Singapore, I imagine we may be living on the outskirts of London. Perhaps still working there but hardly enjoying the life we once had. Perhaps it’s just as well to have had a concise, clean break. For London will always remain that wonderful place of our youth.

It would have been a real shame to have all this time in the UK and not find myself amongst this familiar place again. And I am very lucky that my in laws gave me the chance to relive a London experience for 24 hours sans kids!

I enjoy driving and the freedom it gives but equally love a solitary train journey with nothing to do but look out of the window. Even paying the extortionate fare from Leeds to London seemed worth it just this once. And as my Mother in Law was responsible for booking my cab to the local train station, I was guaranteed to arrive on time. In fact I was a whole 20 minutes early for the train which Husband says is the earliest I’ve ever been for anything.

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So, after a few hours I arrive at London King’s Cross train station. The excitement and anticipation I’m feeling is insurmountable! I’ve got my day mapped out of lunch with Mr Cupping, a wander around town towards the Tower of London and then back to an old haunt for drinks with old friends and colleagues.

Then suddenly I’m floored.

Where the f am I?

I don’t know where the f I am. Truly I don’t.

This is King’s Cross station? You have got to be kidding me. It was a dump. Where has the dump gone? When it was there, you sort of wished it could be a little bit more like it’s sister Euston station (which wasn’t even all that) and it wasn’t a patch on the revamped St Pancras that was all done up just before I left the UK.

Why does no one prepare you for such things?

Then when I get my bearings and find the Underground (which is downstairs), I’m confronted with queues that go this way, then that way, then this way again. I’ve got three Oyster cards in my hand and my confidence in knowing what I’m doing has taken such a battering that I’m not even sure they’re still valid.

I find myself a uniformed person to ask if they are and she helps me jump the queue to check they are still indeed valid but with only 200 shillings on each of them. The queue is humongous. There apparently is no other way to top up. ‘Unless you have cash?’, she asks. I do and so she offers to top up for me if I just wait over here in the corner.

Within 10 minutes of arriving in London, I’m handing over £20 to a stranger who wanders off with it. Even though she’s wearing an authentic uniform, I’m wondering if perhaps I’ve been away too long and am now well and truly one of ‘those’ naive tourists. But how wrong to have such little faith. She comes back shortly after and has saved me queuing for at least an hour.

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I’m meeting Mr Cupping at Moorgate station. A place I once knew with my eyes shut. Where exactly to stand on the platform to get off nearest the exit. Which ‘Way Out’ to take to get me exactly where I want to go. Clearly you lose such knowledge as soon as you no longer need it.

When I get my bearings though, I remember and I recognise roads and shops and places I used to spend hours at. We head for lunch at Whitecross Street food market round the corner from where I used to work at the National Deaf Children’s Society some nine years ago. You can actually take your lunch inside a nearby pub you know. How brilliant is that!

After lunch I head off for a whistle stop shop at Oxford Circus which is absolutely heaving and I don’t get very far. It’s sort of the same but there are shops that aren’t. A sign of the economic downturn I guess.

One thing I really wanted to see after all the media coverage that made it look spectacular, is the poppy installation, Tower of London Remembers, commemorating the fallen soldiers of World War One.

So Uncle Monkey and I took a walk together along the South Bank of the River Thames from London Bridge to Tower Bridge. The last modern structure I marvelled at was the Gherkin and now there is the Walkie Talkie and the Shard. Can you believe that was the first time Uncle Monkey had seen the Shard before? He lives five miles up the road. Both are ok but having seen all that the Singapore skyline has to offer, it doesn’t appeal to me anywhere near a fraction of the ones of old.

Tower Bridge is still absolutely glorious. Stunning. A reminder of my London Marathon days as we battled with the crowds to get across it to the Tower of London. It was so worth it. The poppies are amazing and it sends shivers down your spine just thinking of what it represents. The light was fading on an overcast day, the photographs I took didn’t do the scene justice. So I’m glad Mrs Steamer and I went back the next day on a warm and sunny Halloween. Apparently temperatures reached 21 degrees.

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And then of course, it wouldn’t be a London outing sans kids without reliving some of your errant ways in a place that bore witness to much of your errant ways with people who encouraged your errant ways like Mr Cadbury’s Eclairs who is sporting a lot of facial hair. In fact a lot of menfolk in London are sporting facial hair. To hide the wrinkles I think. Saves on Botox.

We are all a few years older than before but it seems few of us have learnt much restraint. Well we have. How could we not with multiple children in the mix and trains beyond zone 4 to catch. But it was so good to catch up with people I’ve told you about and people I haven’t seen since my London leaving do more than six years ago.

How funny to hear Scrivvers hark on about my northern accent that she forgot I had and how hilarious I find her posh clipped tones. There was much to celebrate and catch up on. It was a shame a few other faces have moved so far out of London Town not to have been there. You were sorely missed.

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Unlike the awful hangover that was sure to follow the next day when drinking on an empty stomach. (Do you ever learn?) So I stay over with Mrs Steamer because the alternative was to stay with Uncle Monkey whose flat has no working bathroom and I won’t tell you exactly how or where you need to do all your personal evacuations. Little Miss Steamer is up bright and early and it’s my first introduction to her. This gorgeous girl that keeps popping her head above the bed to check on the strange person that can’t move without feeling dizzy and sick just yet. A great lasting memory her Mum is going to remind me of I’m sure.

But later on that day Mrs Steamer herself wasn’t entirely so smug when her first hangover in nearly two years kicked in with a vengeance. That’s what you get for dragging me out around town when I can’t look down for a Hawksmoor breakfast that includes bone marrow in the mix. It was actually surprisingly palatable even with a severe hangover.

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When you haven’t been somewhere or seen someone for a long time, you imagine much has changed. At first glance you think they have but actually give it another glance and you realise the core of things don’t really change. The essence of people you know well certainly don’t.

London is still the same. It’s an amazing place to be and I’m so glad it was our home for nine years. I miss it and I love it but it’s not where I would choose to be right now. Not with #1, 2 and 3. I want them to discover all that London can be and all that London can give in their own time.

London was once that mythical place. The capital city of England that was so far away from Newcastle Upon Tyne. Even when we did go when I was a child, we hardly ventured beyond Chinatown! But that was ok because you got to eat some really yummy food.

As a consequence, I will never take London and all it has to give for granted. I still marvel at the sights and I don’t care if it makes me look a complete tourist and uncool. It makes me happy to be there.

Lucky for me, I get another night out next weekend sans kids with Husband and another group of friends who also encouraged errant behaviour back in the day. Perhaps I’ll be more restrained as we are taking #1, 2 and 3 for their first London experience the day after.

I’m definitely not tired of London and especially when I’m in London with you too. Until next time, London, may others enjoy all that you are.

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