Sunday, 7 March 2010

Life writing

Yesterday I took a trip into London for a day school on Life Writing. On my way there, I did some reminiscing about past journeys into the big city. 

When I was young the no.3 bus wound its way from Crystal Palace to Camden Town past my front door. 

We lived in between two bus stops, so journeys always started with a brisk walk, half-run, down the road, constantly checking over our shoulders to see if the bus was coming. Shopping trips with Mum usually meant sitting downstairs with the other mums and the old people. But journeys into London only ever happened with my Dad, and that was an entirely different adventure. 

We'd jump on the bus, swinging around the yellow pole, and climb the stairs to take our seats in the smoke-filled arena of silent working men and chatting teenagers. If we were lucky we'd get to sit in the front seats, so we could pretend to be driving the bus ourselves. 

At first all we could see was houses - bigger and grander than ours - but still just houses. Then, as we got to the bottom of Croxted Road it started to get more exciting. Past Brockwell Park, where years later I'd spend the hottest, sunniest summer of my life swimming and tanning at the Lido. On to Brixton where we'd crane our necks to see the green banana stalls in Electric Avenue, then Kennington, where I knew there was a cricket ground because Dad always watched the 40-over games on TV on a Sunday. We knew we were nearly in London when we came to the Imperial War Museum, its two huge guns a silent warning to wayward children. 

Dad would point out the buildings and streets he knew, so we'd always end up singing 'Doing the Lambeth Walk - Oi!' as we neared Lambeth Bridge. Then it was over the river and into London proper - past the houses of Parliament and up into Whitehall. In those days there were no black gates and railings blocking off Downing Street, but there were still those two silent horseguards sitting motionless outside Whitehall Palace, impervious to the taunts and teasing of tourists posing for photos. Ahead of us, we'd see Nelson's column rising up out of Trafalgar Square, surrounded by people and pigeons in equal measures. 

Sometimes we'd stay on the bus, through Piccadilly, up Regent Street, to the magical world of Hamleys toy shop. But an even better treat was to get off at Trafalgar Square to feed the birds.

It's strange for me now to think what a thrill that was - nowadays the thought of a pigeon perching on my head would send me running for the hills. But one thing has remained the same - I still think sitting in the upstairs front seats of a no.3 bus is the best way to arrive in London.

Oh - and in case you're wondering - it turns out Life Writing has nothing at all to do with writing stories of naked people...........


Philip said...

like this a lot. pigeons are horrid. ooooold tiiiight!

La Belette Rouge said...

When I went to Trafalgar Square I did my best to eschew the overly friendly birds. I am a big lover but I will admit to being anti-pigeon.

Terresa said...

I love this sentence of yours, "I still think sitting in the upstairs front seats of a no.3 bus is the best way to arrive in London." I think it would make a lovely first sentence in a novel.

PS: I visited Trafalgar Square a few months back for the second time (I'm a West Coast American girl). I was riveted. And wrote an essay about St. Martins in the Fields on my blog: