Journey Back to Old London Town


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Europe » United Kingdom » England » Greater London
October 28th 2019
Published: October 7th 2020
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My mom had not left the country since 2008. In fact, she hadn’t so much as left the state of New York since 2015. This was because my dad, God rest his soul, had reached a point of severe immobility by that year. It had gotten to the point where Mom needed to hire home health aides to come help him simply get up in the morning and get to bed at night. It was a lot for my mom to handle on her own, so I did what any dutiful son would have done. I moved back home from Texas to help out in any way I could. But still long trips and journeys for them were completely out of the question.

However this year, one peaceful summer morning, my dad passed on and departed on a fantastic spiritual journey of his own. We were sad to see him go, but all things, even the best of things, eventually come to an end. In that moment two souls were released. My dad was finally free from the body that had come to betray him. And my mom was now free from the burden of care and was ready to see the world once again.

Mom and I had a lot of tasks to get accomplished in the next few months. However, before getting started we bought plane tickets to fly to the United Kingdom at the end of October. The trip would be for three weeks and stretch into November. This booking simultaneously gave us a deadline for when we needed to accomplish everything and a well-deserved reward at the end.

We chose the United Kingdom because of all the family we have there. My uncle lives in a flat in London, my cousin and his family lives in Edinburgh, and there is a house on a beach in County Fife that has been in our family since the 1500s. The choice as you can see was a simple one. When one family member passes on, surround yourself with more members. To be able to do so in such renowned settings as London and Scotland was a precious gift.

***

Our plane descended into London in the middle of the night. There was a confusing new immigration system at Heathrow and we both wound up getting shifted into separate queues. I sailed through easily, but after waiting around a while I realized that was I still all alone. I peered over the immigration booths only to discover that Mom had withdrawn herself to the middle of the immigration hall. She was frantically scrabbling through her carry-on bag. Oh my God! Mom had lost her passport!

I don’t know if what I did next was even legal, but I went back into the immigration hall. There was no way I was going to leave Mom there to fend for herself. Sure enough she could not find her passport. Luckily with some joint searching we managed to unearth her passport from amongst her possessions and were on our way.

The plan was to stay in my Uncle’s flat, but not wanting to make our way into central London so late at night we had booked an airport hotel right in the terminal. However, the hotel turned out to be in a different terminal and we spent over an hour wandering to and fro in various underground garages and parking lots asking bemused airport maintenance men if they could please point out the way there. Things were looking bleak. I was wielding both my mom’s and my luggage, Mom was cratering in jet lag desperation, and I was having doubts that maybe this trip wasn’t such a good idea. However, eventually and quite miraculously the fog of late arrivals lifted and the way became clear. Seldom, have I felt more relieved to climb into a large comfy hotel bed. Lights out. Goodnight Heathrow.

Next morning and feeling brand new, we hopped into a cab bound for my uncle’s flat in Chelsea. I had stayed with my uncle back in February, but Mom still hadn’t seen his new flat. Uncle Walt greeted us exuberantly at the door. He was so happy that my Mom, his sister, had made the trip this time. He kept showing her all his precious things around the flat exclaiming, “I can’t believe you’re actually here.”

From staying with him back in February, I knew that Uncle Walt was not the best one for planning daily things to do. So I knew to plan things ourselves. Before the trip Mom had mentioned that she would love to have a traditional High Tea service in London. I thought that this would be the perfect thing to do on our first day. Uncle Walt wouldn’t have to plan lunch, and we would not have to walk all around the city sightseeing. All we would have to do is sit in a cozy room and be served sandwiches and cakes. Works for me.

Uncle Walt didn’t know the best place to go for High Tea, but I did my research and found a hotel with a very nice tea service right around the corner from his flat. We wouldn’t have to go far at all. The three of us were ushered in and seated at the best table right in front of a welcoming fireplace. Mom and Walt snuggled next to each other on a small sofa, while I sat in a comfortable chair looking at them and thinking how happy they seemed to be together.

It was all quite decadent and elegant to be stuffing our mouths with tea sandwiches, various delightful confectionaries, and the most delicious scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam. I was quite amused at the large amount of the communal jam that Uncle Walt managed to cram onto his overburdened scone. After our afternoon “exertions” we retired back to his flat to take a much-needed lie down.

That night we decided to stay in and eat dinner in the flat as we watched some British telly. Way back when we had booked our trip it seemed like there was a chance that we would be in London right on time for a Halloween Brexit. Now not only was that date off, but there were animated discussions of possible imminent parliamentary elections instead. Never a dull moment and with the dulcet tones of Boris Johnson ringing in my head I fell into a dreamless slumber.

The next day it was up to us again to figure out the day’s activities. That morning the idea of the National Portrait gallery appealed to me. Paintings of people from the past are always thought provoking. Who were these people? What were their hopes and dreams? How comfortable were they posing for so long in their stiff neck shirts? These are the kind of things that people want to know. The Tudors and the Stuarts were all there, holding court. For some reason the museum had interspersed garish modern portraits of celebrities like Liam Gallagher and Amy Winehouse in amongst the sober visages of the centuries old royals. I did not feel that it worked and thought that the modern icons should have had gotten an exhibition of their own.

After the museum we wandered over to St Martin-in-the-Fields, which my mom had loved ever since she lived in London back in the sixties. We had been thinking about possibly going to a concert there, but were in luck as a group of talented singers and musicians were there rehearsing away as we entered the church. The music soared and filled the old spiritual building, past the hypnotically distorted east window all the way up into the ancient eaves.

That night we went out to Uncle Walt’s favorite Greek restaurant. There we met up with Maria his longtime girlfriend, my aunt having died almost two decades ago, and Maria’s son who was a young fledgling barrister. I had been to the restaurant on a previous trip to London and the owner and my uncle have become firm friends. We knocked back some bottles of Mythos, ate some delicious food, and finished the meal off with Irish coffees. All in all it was a perfect evening as we got to know a new “family” grouping.

Uncle Walt had some business to attend to the next day, so Mom and I were on our own. Mom had lived in London for a couple of years in the 1960s and had a job writing for a national newspaper. She speaks of those days which such fondness and the area she speaks of the most has always been Fleet Street. Fleet Street is where all the British newspapers used to have their headquarters up until the late 1980s. It was here that she used to work, socialize, and soak up the hustle and bustle of the British journalistic set. London in the sixties, ya know.

We decided to spend the day tripping down Mom’s memory lane. Mom also frequently mentioned the #11 bus that she took every day to get to work, and all the sights it took in along the way. We were fortunate to get great seats on the upper level of the bus right up front. She was certainly right about the sites. As the bus rolled along we passed such iconic places as the King’s Road, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, and Trafalgar Square. What a treat it must have been for Mom to get to see these things on her morning commute.

Upon our arrival in Fleet Street we wandered around looking for her old office building. The building wasn’t well labeled, as the newspaper had moved its headquarters to Canary Wharf years ago, but we found it all the same. Mom seemed to come alive in her old haunts. Her eyes sparkled with the thrill of her youthful endeavors. She next wanted to eat at the Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese where she ate many times on her lunchbreaks back in the day. She remembered how none of her set would eat there during the summer when the “tourists” were in town.

The old pub was pretty full, but I encouraged her to persevere. I was not going to let this opportunity pass by for her. I kept moving until I spotted an empty table sitting in a cozy corner of an upstairs room. I sat Mom down at the table, and went off to the bar to place our order: two portions of fish and chips, a ginger beer for Mom, and a pint of stout for me. The centuries old room was really atmospheric and we were having great time. Mom even had made friends with the English couple at the table next to us. I can’t leave her alone for a second!

After lunch we walked over to Samuel Johnson’s house, which was nearby. Samuel Johnson was a famous English writer who in the 1700s wrote a massively influential Dictionary of the English Language. He also was quite the quotesmith writing such things as “The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good” and “To be happy at home is the ultimate result of all ambition.” I can get on board with those.

We both had a pleasant time strolling all throughout the small house examining Mr. Johnson’s things and looking out the windows that he would have looked out for all those years. Our final stop that day was St. Bride’s Church, which was designed by Christopher Wren. It also has become kind of the patron church of journalists. There was a moving exhibition and candlelight vigil set up honoring all the different journalists who had lost their lives in pursuit of the truth.

That night we reconnected with Uncle Walt and walked over to Maria’s house where she had prepared a lite supper. Tea and a variety of homemade sausage rolls. Just my kind of thing! She even managed to make scotch eggs, which had been on my list of things to try when we got up to Scotland. While walking home afterwards we passed by all sorts of trick or treaters. A bit of Americana had come to the streets of Old London Town.

The next day the three of us drove over to Uncle Walt’s friend, Simon’s house in Clapham bearing cappuccinos and almond pastries that we had picked up along the way. We all spent the day in delightful chats. Besides that, we also were there so that Simon could help us purchase train tickets up to Scotland where Mom and I would be going tomorrow. Uncle Walt and Simon would be joining us a few days later. So as the day drew to a close, we thanked Simon for all his help and bid him a fond “See you soon.”



Note: I was not planning to travelblog about this family trip, but since all my other international trips have been put on pause I figured why not. However, I did not take any notes while I was there. So I am relying on my year's old memory for these writings.

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8th October 2020

Return to the Swinging Sixties
A wonderful reminisce of some special times you brought back for and shared with your Mum. And it says a lot about you Tommy. I was touched by the warmth of your words and relationship. Thanks for sharing. Well worth the telling.
8th October 2020

Journey Back to Old London Town
Thanks Dave. I guess it's best to write about what you know. Little did we know what the rest of the year had in store!
21st October 2020

Traveling with mom
What a great trip and thanks for sharing. Mom must have been frantic not finding the passport. We loved the concert we listened to at St. Martin in the fields. I'm so glad she was able to make this trip before things changed. Hopefully, again soon.
22nd October 2020

Carpe Diem
Thank you. The lesson of taking advantage of the time given you has definitely been hammered home this year. If/when international travel opens back up Mom now has her own travel list: Greek Islands, Chauvet Caves, and of course more return trips to Britain!

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