10 months’ since my last visit to London, it’s not just long overdue. It’s become a necessity for my morale and general equilibrium. The main thing that’s been stopping me is my irregular accommodation situation back in the UK. I last stayed with a friend who gave me a warm welcome, although the environment was chaotic. Mum is of course pleased to host her baby but doesn’t currently have the space.
A few months prior, I thus contact my old landlady to check if she has any spare rooms. Indeed she does, for a steal, the floor above where I used to rent.
The journey to and from London is mercifully drama-free. No missed connections. The only mild gripe is a fellow passenger who appears to have verbal diarrhoea, intent on punctuating any silence with a running commentary in a transatlantic whine to his significant other.
On arriving, there’s a bit of a hitch. Despite having sent her a reminder the week before, my former landlady has an evening class and forgets. She lives all the way in Kingston. I’m standing outside my old flat in the rain, the no doubt Climate Change-induced premature summer having inconveniently vanished when I touch down. After several unsuccessful attempts to phone her, she finally answers. Profusely apologetic, she sends her husband down with the key. It’s at least an hour’s drive. To kill the time, I bring forward a planned surprise visit to my aunt and cousin who live in the neighbourhood.
I am only in town for what is effectively a long weekend. I squeeze as many visits into as many available windows. Meeting up with friends across the City, we discuss amongst others, the male: female ratio and gender politics in the church context, debate evolutionary biology vs. social constructionist theories, Brexit (inevitably), ponder the latest R. Kelly scandal and the impact of the controversial new MJ doc, my plans for the mid-long term but surprisingly little about my current life in Strasbourg. Considering. Maybe that’s for the best. I’m in London for a change of scene after all.
I’m under no illusions of having strong nostalgia for the city itself. Cramped into the tiny, dusty room which is my temporary residence, keeping my use of the poorly-maintained communal areas to a minimum, I’m reminded why. The money-bleeding transport system is another rude refresher. I also reflect on the increasing aptness of the (admittedly quite pretentious) Citoyenne Mondiale descriptor that I have facetiously adopted on occasion. Geographically, I don’t know where I belong. Everywhere and nowhere.
By contrast, my visit to my home church is a soul-enriching and centring highlight of the trip. I’m always nervous about these guerilla cameos when I shouldn’t be. The outcome is usually reassuring. I meet new babies, some of whom I don’t know where their parents found the time to conceive and give birth within the period I’ve been away. After church I head to a local Wetherspoons with a couple of good mates, including fellow aspiring writer, Pete and mutual friend Amelia. She’s a captive audience to our latest creative efforts.
The following morning, I head to my old employers, The Medical School. I pass by the Chaplaincy for a well-needed refresher meditation session as well as a catch-up with the good Reverend. En route, I stop by the security lodge of my old office building. I run into some of the old gang; two of the ‘dream team’. It’s more of an anticlimactic visit than I expect. I don’t receive the superstar welcome that my vanity anticipated. In spite of giving some advance notice, my timing still isn’t the best. The fellows are cordial but distracted. During my visit Josh learns from his wife of the death of one of his idols; Keith Flint from The Prodigy.
Josh is dazed.
Josh is dazed.
He’ll have to go up on the wall of death, suggests a colleague, matter-of-fact. This is in reference to a makeshift homage of photos to celebrities that have passed, mostly-but not all-during this decade. Flint will take his place alongside Tupac and Big Pun as one of Josh’s lost heroes.
The rest of the day is more auspicious. I spend a therapeutic afternoon with a church auntie, mutually comforting each other over the distressing experience of the old 'ministry' where we met.
That evening, I pass by mum’s one last time before I fly out the following afternoon. She effuses enthusiasm about my visits. She treats me to favourite foods and all sorts of creature comforts to take back to Strasbourg, as well as graciously giving my twists a much-needed tidy up. Mum approaches my hair like a sculptor does their raw materials. She’s always seeing some new angle to adjust.
Back at work later that week, I hit the ground running. There are several big meetings to prepare for in March and April. Sophie’s just back from maternity leave and a new project is about to be launched in another part of the former Eastern Bloc. Lucia, one of my several managers, seems to be in relatively good spirits. Despite protests to the contrary, she appears well-rested after a recent trip to the UK which she says went very well. Alas, as I suspect, this ceasefire doesn't last very long. That's for a different blog post, maybe.
By the end of that week I am exhausted. I harness enough energy to make it to my choir’s long but productive AGM. The following day, it is late afternoon drinks with Gael in a new restaurant he’s come across; the waggishly-named Chez Mon-Ex (Round my ex’s). Original indeed and not, as I first thought, a veiled reference to Gael's unresolved relationship issues.
Soundtrack: Art + Studio by Benny Sings.
Soundtrack: Art + Studio by Benny Sings.