Here’s a tip if you fly to London and you’ve never driven on the left side of the road: wait a few days before getting behind the wheel!
Fortunately, our sorry outcome was only a flat tire and the kids’ extreme mortification, stalled in the middle of a clogged roundabout on one of London’s notoriously narrow streets. (Me behind the wheel, not Henry.) That was Day Two, or technically, for my benefit, Day One and a Half.
On Day Three, the kids and I walked up the High Street and selected personal journals at the local Woolworth’s. When we got home, we each started writing a list of “Things I like about London”. We were missing our old lives, and the lists were a way to take note of the different-but-good things in our new city. I remember that “cute little cars” and “lots of charity shops” were on my early list. The kids’ lists started with the High Street, notable for its sweet shops and variety stores. It wasn’t hard to find many things quaint, quirky and lovable about our new locale.
We all came to enjoy life in London, although Daniel’s time at his mediocre-to-awful school ultimately soured much of the experience for him. (Noted: Just because the students wear white shirts, dress jackets and ties doesn’t mean they act like gentlemen.) Tassja liked both her schools, and quickly developed an enchanting North London accent that lasted until the day we left the UK, when she burst into a broad American accent halfway across the Atlantic. She also had a life-altering experience (well, almost) taking care of her teacher’s guinea pigs over Easter break and attempting to teach them somersaults. (Nobody died. And who knew that, given time, rotated spines can self-correct in guinea pigs?)
We lived in a multicultural neighbourhood, mostly non-British. But it was our eccentric English neighbours who first welcomed us with a four-page letter of introduction, focussed primarily on their extensive gardening experiences. I took the hint and started weeding the deplorable planter in our driveway; who should pop up but the delightful octogenarians, with trowels, watering cans, Latinate nomenclature, and lashings of plant cuttings in hand ! Our Japanese neighbours saved the day by showing up en masse for an under- attended birthday party, ready to celebrate with virtual strangers. The church too was a heady mix of cultures and nationalities, spicy and blended, full of character and characters. Henry loved nearly everything about London and still rates it his favourite city, with New York a close second. And I was smitten with the English countryside, not far from our front door, and the wonderful simplicity of school uniforms, false impressions aside.
And now to the London Church story. I’ve written pages and pages of detailed accounts and observations from memory, but for everyone’s sake, I’ve decided to shorten my treatise into seven briefer sections. I hope my abbreviated version is adequately illuminating; if you have a few hours and want more, just call and we can set up a very long coffee date.
A good title for this would be “A Perfect Storm”, because that’s what these seven segments amounted to. Chronologically, they are: A Very Tired Church; A Case of Compromise; A Huge Can of Worms; Dominoes; A (Failed) American Rescue Op; The Letter; and Execution: 101 Redundancies.
Seven simple and fateful developments — and I’ll try to keep the telling succinct.