I didn’t feel too badly about the onset of 2016 back in the heady days of 2015 (remember them? amazing days, innit?). I was happy with my job, my social life, had a few things to look forward to, some pleasant daydreams, and I felt well-prepared to cope with the negative things I could see lurking on the horizon.
Early January in Oslo was very cold – but that was ok. I have warm coats, good boots and an impressive collection of scarves and gloves. I went to see the excellent Jason Isbell in concert with a good friend and the very next day flew back to the UK to spend a week with my mum and travelling around visiting friends and family.
That was when it all started to go tits-up for me. I love my mum but she is very used to doing things in her own way and has limited tolerance for having anyone else in her house who might have different ideas to hers. Even her own daughter can be something of a challenge. So, when the taxi arrived 15 minutes early to take us to the railway station and I wasn’t ready to leave that was my fault. One should never inconvenience the taxi driver. Also, when she says ‘I usually catch a train to London about 10:00’ what that actually means is ‘I will arrive at the station at 09:45 precisely’. And so it went on, suffice it to say by the time we reached the station I had already been told ‘shut up, you’re really annoying me today’ (with my lateness and twisted ideas of flexibility). So, we took the long difficult trip from Reading to Winchmore Hill (where my brother lives) pretty much in silence.
Luckily when we arrived at Chris’s he fed me copious quantities of tea and my wonderful niece and nephew are quite fond of their auntie Denise so Mum and I could remain in distant politeness mode without anyone being any the wiser. Mum left in the early evening and I stayed over, watching movies, eating Chinese food and hanging out. I told Chris what had gone on with Mum, and how it made me feel. He was sympathetic and surprised. Chris and I have never really been close for a whole host of extremely complicated reasons but we get on OK when we see each other considering the only thing we have in common is some genes.
The next day we scoffed pancakes and chatted and played and hugged and then we all bundled into the car for a brisk trip to the station. I was headed across town to Esher to visit my lovely friend Sarah and her family and doggy. I took the tube to Green Park and dropped into Fortnum and Mason’s to buy some of David’s favourite classic loose leaf Earl Grey tea. And a few other things. It is a wonderful shop and they don’t pesterise you with any of this 5p for a carrier bag nonsense either. So I was walking along Piccadilly with my orange cabin bag (aka Baby Jaffa) and my F&M bags. And I was propositioned by a chap who I can only describe as a male prostitute. I’m quite old now so this was quite a nice surprise, although of course I declined politely.
My walk from Green Park to Waterloo station on a sunny Sunday afternoon was the first significant amount of time I had spent in London for about 8 years. The last time I had been there I had also been asked by a young man if I wanted any ‘company’ – surprised I said no but in retrospect the man reminded me so strongly of an old friend that I sometimes wonder if it actually was that friend, whose life I knew had taken some strange directions since we had parted company. I’d forgotten about that entirely until reminded by the new encounter. London has echoes.
So there was the Prince Charles cinema where I’d gone to a 24 hour Twin Peaks watch in 1991. And here is Trafalgar Square and the Old Admiralty Building where I had attended training courses. And so I walked on, as an Oslo girl these days not used to all of the people everywhere all of the time. But, being alone, moving fast. Down Northumberland Avenue to the bridge across the Thames, which is my river and always deserving of a respectful pause.
I took another pause when I reached the South Bank. I have walked along this part of the river with every man who has ever been important in my life so right here, by the London Eye and Shell Building, doesn’t just have echoes, it has reverberations. I indulged in a daydream of not being alone right here, right now, but time was starting to press so I started moving again.
Remembering the last time I’d been there, January 2008, staying at the Premier Inn whilst attending a Foreign Office training course. Coming back to Waterloo after seeing a friend in Sussex who smoked – which gave me such a powerful migraine I was dreaming of cool pillows, strong drugs and oblivion all the way home – and coming across a homeless couple on the overpass in a clean white double duvet settling down. I gave them a few quid and we wished each other a good night. Don’t see my Sussex friend any more – I will always love her but she was broken by life and she went to live in World of Warcraft and strong Cider and cheap weed..I couldn’t follow her there. Miss you Wizzybum.
So I found my way to Waterloo, hiding behind the new retail developments and eating opportunities. Onwards to Esher, or Hinchley Wood to be precise. But that’s for the next instalment of 2016, and how it is plotting to break us all into tiny pieces.