Monday, October 29, 2007

Through the looking glass

We went to the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich and on the way in I saw a sign that my favorite patisserie had opened a cafe there. I gasped, bringing the buggy to a stop and making the four-year-old stumble slightly. My six-year-old said: "What is it?" I said: "It's Mummy's favorite cafe darling...We can get hot chocolates. And cake. We can have cake." He looked at me, accusingly. He said: "Are you crying? Mummy, you must love coffee a lot if you cry about it." I pushed the buggy forward. I said: "Mummy's not crying. Mummy is just very pleased."


The whole day went very well till the loud crash. That evening, I was in the kitchen of the house we had borrowed from friends while they were on holiday. My gay best boyfriend had come round for supper to keep me company. I started to make tea and the boys chose just that moment to decide to play with the large silver exercise ball in the basement TV room. They could have rolled it gently between them but that would have been no fun at all.


Luckily when they broke the large dressing table mirror balanced on the cast iron stove, my gay best boyfriend was still with me. He took over cooking tea while I swept up the shards of etched glass and glittering dust that littered the carpetted floor. I said to him: "The baby had already pushed over one of the speaker's for the stereo and broken the front off it. I think she may have peeled off and eaten some of the pink gel hearts on one of the bedroom windows. There is also a suspiciously straight bit in a metal slinky which I don't think was there before. But apart from that, it was all going so well. What am I going to tell them now?" He said: "They've got children. I'm sure they'll understand." I picked out a fragment of glass from the ball of my index finger and watched the tiny globe of blood rise to the surface. I said: "They've got teenagers, not children. They might have forgotten." What really worried me was the fact I thought the husband might have been left it by a dear departed ancient relative. I thought: "He'll have said: 'There's only one thing I want from the house - her mirror. Maybe one day, I'll look into it and see her little wrinkled face smile back at me'." I did not sleep well that night. My friends rang the next morning from South Africa. I said: "I'm so sorry. I'm afraid we broke your mirror in the basement." I explained the how's and why's to the wife. I said: "We're just on our way out to get you another mirror." I said: "It wasn't 'Granny's' mirror was it? He wasn't left it in a will was he?" My friend said: "Don't worry. We got it from a skip."


Since they said they did not want another mirror, I thought I would get them a photograph of London as a thank you for letting us use the house. My husband took the children to a playground and I had an hour to myself in Greenwich market. In retrospect, maybe I should not have been allowed out on my own. Maybe I should just have kept busy. On my own, I wandered into a photographic gallery and felt myself seized again by London in all its black and white beauty. The exile home again; I stood before my past. Each view opening up a wound in my soul: Big Ben spiking the sky, a rainy embankment with a solitary woman, a riverscape at night - the Eye, Parliament, the bridges and pontoon, the magnificence of a city sky. My soul trembled to see London within my grasp again. I thought: "I can buy a photograph. I can buy two. Or I can move back." I bought a photograph. Two. I thought: "Are these photographs enough? I don't think I should feel this way."

28 comments:

Swearing Mother said...

Hmmm... it's all still there, just under the surface, isn't it?

The question is, will your longing for London ever be replaced by your newfound love of "up North"?

And can you live with it?

Tough question.

Tina said...

Oh WITN, that sounds like a difficult question. Will the photos be enough, do you think?

Liz said...

Oh wifey, that was a mistake, going in that gallery - or was it? Didn't you just know, really, what those images would do to you? I'm a northerner - I think - who has lived in London for over thirty years. I often hate it, but I am not so foolish as to believe I could escape it. Maybe if I lived in some other huge, iconic city, like New York, I might, but natural beauty and country ways can never replace that grainy evocativeness. Even Wordsworth found it irresistible. Two homes, the only answer.

Wisewebwoman said...

I see it now, that lovely summer cabin, right on the Thames, in the middle of London.....

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

When you leave a place for pastures new you leave much of your heart behind. Time passes and your life takes on new landscapes and landmarks and reference points from which to measure your life. In time, you come to realise that bit by bit, without you noticing it, your heart came with you. Eventually, visiting a place for which you once were deepy homesick, makes you realise how very much you hanker after your adopted landscape, friends and lifestyle. Home is where the heart is.

On the other hand, if none of that is true in time, get yourself wired up to a drip laced with vodka - you won't care where you live then.

Valleys Mam said...

you sound so sad ,such a deep longing,hieraeth we call it here in Wales.
Why do you have to stay in the North if your heart is not there, is it just practial issues

debio said...

Really feel for you, WITN.

The two homes suggestion might work?

Potty Mummy said...

Wifey, the moment you mentioned Greenwich market I knew what you were going to say. I LOVE Fergus Noone's photos. I gave Husband 3 of London when he moved to Russia and they made me feel better when I used to visit him in the Frozen Wastelands, so I hope they make you feel better up North.

Fergus Noone used to do wedding photos - did you know that? A friend of mine used him for her wedding and the photos are fabulous... Unfortunately he stopped before we got round to it. Darn it.

mutleythedog said...

I think it is really quite embarrassing to keep describing me as gay. I am just non-sexual thats all.

lady thinker said...

Oh Mutley you're not are you? I thought GAY just meant happy.

lady thinker said...

WITN - sorry but you are now contaminated in the same way anyone of us who left our first home area becomes. Doomed to be never quite at home in any one spot from now on. When in the north you'll hanker for London and if you move back you'll hanker for your place in the north. 'Doomed Doomed we're all Doomed ...'

AlisonK said...

In my experience, if you spend the last few days of your holiday (or all of a short break) miserable & grumpy because you are dreading going "home", something needs to be done.

I had this for a while - hated my job, hated the house and ruined the ends of several hols feeling down 'cos I didn't want to go back to either. Luckily OH felt the same, more or less, so we made a change & moved.

This summer we cut a holiday short because we both felt we'd had enough & wanted to come home. That to me is a good sign - after all you're stuck at home most of the time, so if it makes you miserable it's no good.

So that is my yardstick now - how do I feel, when away, about having to go home?

I will say that after a glorious week recently in Embleton, it was a damn close run thing! :)

motherandother said...

Oh I know how you feel WITN.

On Saturday I met my three closest friends for lunch. They are still embroiled in the smoke, I am in the countryside with two little babies. We met at Borough market and sat and ate tapas and drank red wine for four hours and laughed and laughed. When we had finished we came out into a cold, grey afternoon and I rang my husband to tell him I needed longer. I walked across London bridge, took a black cab along the Embankment and out into the middle of Waterloo Bridge and I watched the night creep upon the city. It was truly beautiful. I think a little part of you always belongs where you have lived and loved and been truly happy.
Hopefully this is how the North will be to you in time.

Belladonna said...

Run this by me again, just one more time, because I haven't quite got it yet -

Why are you living in the North?

I read something about the husband loving it, but he's not there most of the time. Why not have a smaller house and a holiday home in the North. Best of both worlds, see?

Iota said...

I have recently found this thought very helpful. Someone who has resettled abroad told me to allow myself to be happy. She said "I think a big part of me convinced myself for longer than necessary that I was a fish out of water... that it wouldn't do to let myself get too comfortable. I've done it though, and I no longer wake every day wishing I was back at home. I miss it, but I have managed to make here feel like home, too."

I am still some way off where she is emotionally, but I found it useful to think in terms of moving into a new identity. To become someone who is at home, rather than to hold on to being someone who isn't.

If that's a helpful thought, take it. If not, leave it to one side. I don't want to be guilty of dealing out unwanted advice...

@themill said...

Oh dear....

Mean Mom said...

I moved from the Midlands to a country village many years ago, and loved it whilst I was at work. I felt very isolated by the time I had 2 children, however, so my husband agreed to compromise, and we moved a few miles away to a country town.

We have lived here for 21 years, in a quiet road, but within 10 minutes walking distance of the shops and other ammenities. It's been ideal. If it is not possible for you to move back to London, perhaps you could do something similar.

Retiredandcrazy said...

Your pain is so deep I could cry. I have had to endure enforced relocations, the first when I was 15 and moved from the idealic Channel Islands and the last when we moved here 26 years ago. The sign outside our house read Grimsby 50 miles. Who the f... wants to live that close to Grimsby? My heart bled everytime I saw the sign.

But, hey, guess what? I actually love it here now and when I go back "down south" I can't wait to get back to civilisation and big skies again!

I know this doesn't help you, except maybe reassure you that things move on and change and we DO adjust.

wife in the north said...

re valleys mam
thank you. I have been looking for that word for more than two years. I am keeping it. I hope you don't want it back. Now all I have to do is figure out how to say it.

Rachel said...

Maybe this poem would help. My sister sent it to me at the start of university when I was struggling:

I may live on until
I long for this time
In which I am so unhappy,
And remember it fondly.

(Fujiwara no Kiyosuke, trans. Rexroth)

I soon grew to love life at university and now look back on it as one of the best times of my life.

Hope everything works out for you.

Mike said...

Why are you staying up north if you hate it so much and love London so much? I just do not understand, mimi not mike

knifepainter said...

Great post, sums up how we all hanker for a past we can't ever retrieve.

If you went back everything, and everyone, would be different.

mutleythedog said...

London is horrible by the way - I had to go there a few months ago...*shudders*

margot said...

Oh Wife. I've been reading your blog almost from the beginning. I too left London in 2006, but I am much further away now. No quick trips home. No weekends in Greenwich.

I read what you write here, and don't comment, because what else is there to say? You say it all so beautifully. Often I read what you write and it so painfully articulate how I feel. Sometimes I don't read here for a while because when I am feeling OK, it just brings it all back, that rawness.

I came willingly to our new home, and also knowing that it was possible for us to go back, so in some senses perhaps I am luckier than you, in that to go home to London for us will just be something that happens, not a choice we have to make.

But today, reading about the photographs, I sobbed my heart out. I know Fergus Noone's gallery too, and I know those photos. I manage not to cry about missing friends and school, but a panning shot of the city on a TV programme makes me weep. I had not realised how much I would miss the place.

The worst thing is that people will tell you that this will pass, and after only such a short time, how can you possibly know how you will feel. But I don't believe it, can't believe it, because although I know that I could be happy where I am now, deep in my heart I know that it is not Home, and never will be.

Rachel - I like the poem. Thank you.

wife in the north said...

Ah Margot hinny, I don't want to make you cry. I shall attempt to write something funny and dedicate it to you. Hmmm. let me see...(it might take a while though.)Read Mutley while I think about it - that will take your mind off being sad.

elizabethm said...

Life is not long enough for this. Either like it or move back. It's only the sparrow's brief flight through the lighted hall (inadequate paraphrase but you get the idea).

Moi said...

i'm with margot on this..i was wat ching top gear last night and was brought to tears by richard hammond cycling through london and clarkson powering down the thames in a highly charged boat....after 8 years away the thought of not being in london can still cast a pall over my cheeriest day...but it's not home any more and every return visit makes me feel more of a stranger

Sandra Montgomery said...

Ok, I am going to say it - that which I have been thinking all along.

It seems immensely selfish to me for your husband to make you move somewhere he loves and then leave you alone there while he spends most of his time where you love. I could understand it if he worked from home and wanted out of the city. But for him to go back to London all the time and leave you alone just leaves me shaking my head. And for you to put up with it... why??? Why would he do this to you? And a post way back where you wrote that he said he couldn't wait to get back to London... huh? Really? Have you thought of the possibility that he has a little 'something something' on the side down there? I mean, I hate to be the one to say it, but I am at a loss to explain it otherwise. It seems to me like he wanted you out of the way so he wouldn't get caught.

I hope I'm wrong but as someone looking in from the outside with no bias one way or the other.... I'm just sayin'.

Oh, and I followed the link to your favourite bakery. I wish I had gone there on one of my trips to London. Just reading the names of the streets on the maps made me long to be back there. I miss London. On the other hand, my daughter - who has lived there for two and a half years hates it there. She liked it at first but now she can't wait to leave. The level of crime and poverty she sees coupled with the rudeness of people has done that. Also, she is a substitute teacher in the East of London and she is appalled at the behaviour of the children she has in her classes. She is fearful of what London will be like when they all are adults. She comes back to Vancouver in January and she can't wait.

But I love the London I experienced when I was there. But that was just as a tourist/visitor.