I had to make an unexpected trip to London earlier this week to talk cooking with some people from a foodie show, and before you get too excited, no, you won’t be seeing me on the small screen anytime soon, but it was an adventure, and if you read my last post, you will know that I’m up for a year of adventures. Sadly it was a short-lived one, but still it was a start and I am now brimming with excitement and anticipation and dying for the next one to come along.
Anyway, I’m not here to bore you silly anymore with this adventure malarkey, what I wanted to waffle on about, and, forgive me, is to reminisce about past times. That’s the great thing about blogging, especially if it’s a personal one that can pass as a journal, you can write whatever you like and it doesn’t matter a fig if it’s a load of utter rubbish. It’s my rubbish, but if anyone cares to read it, then that’s one big lovely bonus!
Two paragraphs in and I’ve still not said what I’m actually posting about. Queen of the waffle or what! Well, it’s about London, a city I moved to when I was eighteen and lived there for the next twenty-six years. So that makes it the place where I’ve lived the longest, although in all that time I actually moved eight times within the city. Hard to believe that when I was a nurse in my mid twenties I was able to buy a two bedroom garden flat five minutes walk from the Northern Line. I paid £36,000 for it back in the 80’s and was able to easily get a 100% mortgage. A few months ago, out of curiosity I searched on Rightmove for flats on the market in my road in Colliers Wood. I have to tell you, I nearly fell off my chair when I found out how much they are going for now. Such silly money and well beyond the reach of any staff nurse without a penny saved up for a deposit. How times have changed!
At 18 I left home with a small suitcase and my mum and dad’s old stereo system that they’d given to me as an eighteenth birthday present and moved into a tiny room in Abercorn Nurses Home attached to The West London Hospital on the corner of Hammersmith Broadway. I’d only ever been to London once before on a school trip to the Ideal Home Exhibition and having lived in a village just outside Bristol, moving to the capital was a bit scary and at the same time hugely exciting. I knew no one but then neither did the rest of the student nurses of the Charing Cross Hospital School of Nursing September 1977 set. Within three days of arriving in London I found myself on a tube train to Oxford Street with newly made friends for late night shopping and discovering the culinary delights of MacDonalds. That first Big Mac was the best thing I’d ever eaten. Obviously my experience of eating out up to then was very limited! From then on London was huge, exciting and I loved it.
I was incredibly lucky to live so close to the likes of Kensington, Knightsbridge and Chelsea and have money in my pocket to make the most of city living. I loved nothing more than hopping on the number 9 bus, sitting upstairs and staring out of the window watching the sights of London go by as the bus crawled from bus stop to bus stop. Shopping in Top Shop and French Connection, eating and drinking in wine bars where I discovered that a cheese and onion flan was called a quiche and wine had names other than Blue Nun! I watched films in Leicester Square, got freebie tickets to West End plays (a perk of being a student nurse) and flirted with foreign visitors in a bar on Kensington Church Street. I ditched my Marks and Spencer’s sensible anorak and started wearing ethnic inspired clothes. I would walk for miles just looking, exploring and discovering what this vibrant city had to offer. I just loved the hustle and bustle, the noise and even the being squashed on a rush hour tube was to me pretty exciting!
I found my first big love in London. We were both at a medical school bop (nurses had discos, med students had bops) and he took off my clog that I was wearing and refused to give it back. That was the start of a relationship that lasted for several years and we still exchange Christmas cards nearly forty years later. He was handsome, cultured and clever and introduced me to independent cinemas showing films directed by Fellini, Visconti, Truffaut and Herzog. We ate out in Fulham and Kensington and gave dinner parties in his South Kensington flat where classical music played in the background as we ate trout with almonds and discussed current affairs.
I returned to Bristol at one point but within six months I was homesick and moved back to London, and that’s where I stayed until 1992. By then I was married and had two small children. We wanted them to grow up in the country where there was space, green fields and fresh air and freedom, so we moved to a tiny hamlet in Kent. I ditched my city living clothes and wore wellies and waxed jackets. We walked to the village pub by torchlight and dodged sheep poo as we walked across fields. We didn’t turn our back on London entirely though as my then husband’s family lived there so we were forever popping up.
I still get a buzz whenever I go to London. Most of it still looks familiar, but some of it has changed a great deal. I miss hopping on and off the old Routemaster bus with a conductor and pull cord bell. I still love hearing the rumble of a tube train approaching a station and having to find my bearings once I leave the station. Whereas once I felt like I belonged to the city, I now feel very provincial when I visit. I’m back to wearing my sensible Marks and Spencer anorak and have long-lost that air of confidence that Londoners seem to have. I may not belong there anymore and long stopped regarding it as home but I still love it and I don’t think I’d be the person I am today without experiencing living there, especially in my twenties when I soaked up everything it had to offer.
Would I live there again given the chance? The answer would have to be no. I couldn’t keep up with the pace nor could I live with the constant attack on the senses, especially the noise. I need a quieter, slower pace of life these days, but given the chance to go and visit and I’d say yes every time!
I’ve searched high and low for photos of my life in London, but alas I haven’t found any which is such a shame. So, a word of advice, go mad and click away with your cameras.Take a shed load of photos of where ever you are, with whoever you are with and of whatever you are doing. I promise you, you will regret not doing so thirty, forty, fifty years later.