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visiting the past

London is an assault – phenomenally crowded and noisy, construction everywhere, tourist busses, every nationality on earth jabbering at top volume, traffic mind-boggling. After some time figuring out my schedule and checking busses and timetables, I set out this morning on a trip down memory lane. A few hours later, when I happened on a bus that would take me straight back to Christopher’s, I got on immediately. Escape to the quiet apartment, to recuperate before the next onslaught.

I got the tube to Barons Court to go photograph the home my British grandparents, my mother’s parents, lived in for 30 years, from the beginning of the war until Mum moved them to Ottawa in the Seventies. But first, my friend Harriet Walter told me that our drama school, LAMDA, had moved to Barons Court, so I found it and took a look. It was a tough year for me there, 1971-72. I saw some of the current crop of students; hard to believe I was ever that young and dewy.

Got completely lost looking for 26 Gledstanes Rd., and finally figured out why – we used the West Ken tube stop, not Barons Court. There it was, now a million times more chichi than it was then, when Ma and Pa, poor as church mice, rented a flat on the main floor and the damp, mildewy basement. That basement was being renovated, of course, and I walked down the steep stone steps and peeked inside, remembering how we toasted bread by their gas fire on a long pronged fork, how tiny the fridge was that they barely knew how to use, how freezing cold the bathroom with its trickle of expensive hot water. Not any more.

Percy and Marion used to shop on North End Road, the high street, as they called it, where they knew all the shopkeepers. Now there’s a Thai restaurant, an eco dry cleaner, an acupuncturist and reflexologist, the Al-Ghazaleen Supermarket with signs in Arabic, an array of exotic foods, and halal meat. P and M would have had a hard time with that. They had a hard time with the fact that my father was Jewish.

Nearby I found 51 Gwendwyr Road, where I lived for my year at theatre school, and sat often in the little park opposite. The second floor windows were my bedsitting room’s. Again, a mixed lot of memories. I had just turned 21 and the school was a huge challenge, even if my grandparents were nearby.

Got on the tube intending to go to Tate Britain and instead got off at South Ken, just because it was such a lovely day – sharp but sunny. Went to the Victoria and Albert Museum, one of my favourites, a complete jumble of treasure from every country, every period

and then out onto Brompton Road, where of course I had to go into Harrod’s, which is beyond a zoo, just packed – and worth it, too, it’s an incredibly beautiful store, every room different, some so ornate it defies belief.

This is where they sell fish.

Emerged into the million-people morass and hopped onto the magic double-decker bus that took me back here. Sat on top, looking down at the crowds. There is so much wealth in London, it seems much more than in Paris or New York – a parade of very expensive cars and clothes. So much energy here. How could the Brits have cut themselves off from Europe? It makes no sense at all. But then it’s all about the grandeur of these old nations. I saw Marine LePen briefly on French TV, before I couldn’t stand to watch her nasty face any more, and she went on and on about the great nation of France. Make France great again with the Front Nationale. Make Britain great again with Brexit. Deadly.

Penny arrives later today; we’re meeting at 6.30 for a drink, going to the theatre and then she’s coming here for the night. At the moment, all I can think of is a nap. Oh, and a cup of tea. Because I am half-British, after all.



2 Responses to “visiting the past”

  1. theresa says:

    Beth, I'm always overwhelmed in London. Last time we went to a play and walked back to our flat in Bloomsbury through streets so crowded we could barely breathe. Just a regular Saturday night, I was told when I asked someone if there was a reason for the hyper – busy atmosphere. I love the V&A. And the buses, which give you a different sense of the city than the tube. Have you ever been to the Chelsea Physick Garden? A treat…

  2. beth says:

    Thanks for the recommendation – yesterday the crowds were so ridiculous, I thought, I'll never come back, this is my last trip to London. And then Penny and I saw a superb piece of theatre and I changed my mind. So – we just slog through the madness, I guess, and sit in parks as often as possible. Which, luckily, London makes easy.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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Chris Walks
This blog evolves. It once was about travels. Now it’s a reason to be at the keyboard that I value.

Theresa Kishkan
Theresa Kishkan is a writer living on the Sechelt Peninsula on the west coast of Canada.

I walk on. With my feet, and in my mind as well.

Carrie Snyder
Wherever you’ve come from, wherever you’re going, consider this space a place for reflection and pause.


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