Today was a very exciting day – a half term trip to London with Daddy. A simple concept but whilst I expected the almost 5 year old to be wide eyed with wonderment for much of the day, I hadn’t expected to be quite so enchanted with the place myself. After all, having left sleepy Sussex at the tender age of 18 to head for ‘The Big Smoke’ spotted handkerchief metaphorically over my shoulder, the world at my feet, it took me more than 20 years to return to my roots, and I thought I knew the place pretty well.
But today I saw it from a different point of view, a 4 year old’s point of view. And whilst it is a scary and a dirty place for the most part, on second glance it is also filled with magic and excitement. And thanks to my little girl, that little blank canvas, today I was reminded of what drew me to the place all those years ago. Like Ella I headed to London as a very little girl, with my mum and my sister, to visit our beloved Uncle George. Now Uncle George wasn’t a real Uncle of course, and Uncle George was funny and lovely and lucky enough to have a nice little flat in Knightsbridge. My very first memories of London were an open top bus ride to see the sights, Bedknobs and Broomsticks at the pictures and my first ever creme caramel in a little bistro in Beauchamp Place. I remember thinking it was exciting and enticing and strangely comforting. And for the rest of my childhood, I knew that that was where I had to go.
Now, having spent the best part of my adult life in the London, I can honestly say that I would have seen it and done it all. I’ve lived through the highs and the lows, the headlines and the complexities of trying to build a social life, a career, an identity. It ain’t easy. It can be tough, it can be lonely, it can be scary, but my goodness it can be wonderful too. And today reminded me of that. So many things to see all the time, it’s like being in the movies. And it’s got to be said London is looking pretty swish these days – clean and bright – some would say downright dapper. And who couldn’t sit and watch the goings on at the front entrance of the Dorchester forever and a day, and my goodness wasn’t Selfridge’s looking its Christmassy best.
So it was with trepidation that I took my precious little bundle into the jungle knowing that there was a fair chance that she would be bewitched by the place just like her mother. Suddenly all of the headlines run through my head..Clapham Junction, the IRA years, the elation of winning the Olympic bid – I genuinely cried tears of joy that day, so proud of my city – and then the devastation and the terror a few hours later of 7/7. Crazy crazy stuff. Just stuff that went on around me as I carried on with my life. As Londoners we lived through it every day – as country folk it seems unthinkable that we did. As Londoners you are just that – one nation, one race – you are all Londoners no matter where you came from, and you are proud of your city, loving it and hating it in equal measure a times. That is what makes it so special.
So as I see my little girl holding her Daddy’s hand as she climbs with great excitement on to a big red bus, proudly waving her first Travelcard aloft oblivious to the disinterest of rasta driver, and as I see her take it all in her stride, her little eyes glistening with excitement, I see it all again. The sparkling jewel that any magpie would want to possess…the magnet that drew me and held me there for so long, and I’m excited, excited for her..terrified for her, and thinking how apt it is that the Christmas film this year is Paddington – another childhood favourite. Already every store window is bedecked in furry bears in duffle coats anticipating the forthcoming craze for what undoubtedly will be a British classic. And I think to myself that one day I am going to have to send my little bear off in her duffle coat, with her marmalade sandwiches packed in her bag, my heart breaking without a doubt. And I say to that city with all of my heart, when that day comes, please, please, please look after this very very special bear..just like you looked after me.