I am trying not to think of London as home; to think of it instead as "London", a place I used to live. A while ago, driving the children to the beach, we came over a hill, the narrow road falling away, cutting through the fields, out to the links. Tucked behind the golf club was a big red London bus. My first thought; "There's a big red London bus." I am nothing if not obvious. My second: "Can I get on it?" Third: "Will it take me home?" Tsk. Tsk. I mean London. Will this magical bus which I have brought into existence through the power of my own sweet and heady will, take me back to London? I glanced quickly at my husband as he pulled the car tight over into the side of the hedged road. I thought: "Can he see it? Can he see the bus? Or is it only me?" I am not sure whether I was disappointed or relieved when he said: "Look kids, a bus." He turned off the engine. "Make sure mummy doesn't get on it." I thought about running for it. I decided against it for fear the bus would pull away in a cloud of fumes and dirt just as I reached for the pole. They often do. I did not want to see the children's grim faces when I turned back to them, having bungled my escape.
Yesterday, I was braver. I hopped on. The Number 19, stopping at Finsbury Park, Highbury Barn, Highbury and Islington Station, Islington (St Mary's Church), Islington (Angel), Theobald's Road, Holborn Station, Tottenham Court Road, Piccadilly Circus, Hyde Park Corner, Knightsbridge, Sloane Square, King's Road and Battersea Bridge. At night, it even went on to Clapham Junction Station. This is a good route for me. Ding Ding. All aboard. One of my best friends lives in Islington. I could drop by, drink dry wine and eat sweet cake. Say: "You're looking well". Try not to feel too old beside her blonde and lustrous beauty. Or, I could carry on, stop off at Holborn, close to where I worked once in TV land. I could walk through to Covent Garden, browse a while among the shops. Then again, my hairdresser is in Knightsbridge, I could call by. Say: "Darling. Look at me." I could hold my hair out from my scalp. "Can you fit me in? Can you? Can you?" Sob, when he says: "No". I could console my shaggy, silvering self with French coffee in Sloane Square; then cafe fortified, mooch with intent up the King's Road, spending money I don't have, buying back a life that is no longer mine.
Instead of all this, the big red London bus rumbled down along the A1 towards Newcastle. There is something about a bus journey, even if you are heading for nowhere you want to go. You think: "OK, this time is mine. I am excused a little while. Now, where is it that I'm going? Why? And who is it that I am again?" I sat on the top deck at the front of the bus. You have to if you want to pretend you are driving. You could tell you weren't in London. I think it was the little things: green fields and cows, giveaways both. I have rarely seen winter barley growing up through the cracks of the city's mean streets. Also, no sniffing, mumbling lunatic sat beside me with a leatherette shopper; its handles held tight in knuckly hands.
My conductor, a former management consultant, and the driver, a former miner, bought the Routemaster bus two years ago. It costs £15,000 to buy and do up a bus. It has done 3 million miles since it was first commissioned in 1966 and carried an estimated 3 million passengers. They call the bus "Kenny" after the mayoral man who sacked it from its city job. Now, instead of commuters and shoppers and metropolitan folk, it carries golfers and tourists up and down the a 39-mile stretch of Northumberland's sandy, castled coast. Yesterday, it was gentle and retired folk from Worcestershire admiring the oats, asking interested questions about sheep, heading for a day of puffins and history.
I like Kenny. I put my hand on his proud metal bonnet and felt it throb. I could tell Kenny likes me. I rang his bell. Twice. We have a lot in common the two of us. We're about the same age, we've been around, we've seen things, we're natural Londoners, we're probably both a bit too big, back end wise. Admittedly, no one points at mine like they do when he thunders past but Kenny and I have a bond. If I ever run away to London, I am taking the bus.
I feel that way about trains. I never met one I didn't want to leap on (even a boxcar would do) and let it take me wherever. Most places would work. Sleeper train would be best of all. I think mystery rides should be started on buses and trains......break out of the drudgery and make like Boxcar Willie.....H'm....
Seems you're feeling a bit out of place again. Such a shame, for a while you sounded quite happy. I hope this road smooths out for you soon.
You know what, I think eventually you just might have to give up the struggle to feel at home up North and go back to your southern roots at some stage.
Are you pining for London itself or the life you left? Could you pick up those threads again successfully, or would everything be different if you went back now?
Only questions you can answer WITN, but I definitely think the time is coming for them to be asked.
Are you trying to live someone else's dream? Can you envisage living up north for the rest of your life? Where would you rather wake up tomorrow morning?
Tough choices, but has the time come or are you just feeling home-sick at the moment? I truly wish for your happiness, I know myself how miserable it is to feel displaced and nostalgic for a life left behind, but I wasn't brave enough to do anything about it at the time.
When your house is finished and you can invite people round, maybe you'll feel differently, but if you still feel the same as you do now, I hope you will have the courage to say "that's enough. I gave it a go but I just didn't like it". No shame in that.
I also like sitting at the front of the bus. It's nice sitting on the driver's head.
I used to feel like that about the big Victorian house we lived in for 25 years, and in which our children had been born and grown up. When they had gone away, we moved to a smaller version of the same, just two or three streets away.
But I mourned the old house, and for the first few years would dream about going back there,and wandering round to see what had been changed. So vivid were my dreams that I'd wake weeping - and began to fear that one night I might actually find I'd sleep-walked, and broken in...
It's only now, almost fifteen years later, that the new house feels like home, and I can pass the beloved old one with scarcely a sideways glance.
Come to think of it though...I don't know that this will be of much comfort to you!
Do you really want to have to wait fifteen years to find out, I wonder? My advice is, wait until you see how you feel when you have moved into your new house. Which sounds so absolutely idyllic - pantry and all!
Hold very tight please. Ting! Ting! We are back on track. As an ex-Londoner, whenever I have to go to the capital I honestly can't wait to leave there and head back to Devon.
You're quite lucky to have found a bus around the Northumberland coast! They came in hoards when I used to be a 'townie', however, you suddenly realise how isolated we are when Amy gets all excited at seeing a double decker, bursting to get on it. It's actually a novelty experience for her to go on one when we visit my mum.
Kenny came to see me and left a pool of oil, but took half my hedge. Hey ho!
At least Kenny knows his way around
There are a couple of London buses here; as I stare at them the complete surrounding vista fades and I see just the bus, smell the fumes and 'feel' London - just for a second....
London is home to me and always will be - although I was not brought up in London; I have probably only been on a London bus about five times anyway. But still...know how you feel, WITN.
I've been living in NYC for almost two years. I still miss London and all my friends so badly, even a huge city can feel as lonely as Northumberland. I literally dream of London - still. You're the most fantastic online companion for this experience, thanks.
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