“I fucking love it!”
I had this not-very-French mantra repeating in my head over and over again when I got off the train at Waterloo station. Butterflies dancing salsa in my belly. The kind of excitement in between realising you still fit in your teenage pants and finding £20 in the washing machine when you are really really skint.
The F word wouldn’t have been very appropriate at the station where Camila and I departed from that fine morning, with our borrowed pushchair, ready to conquer London.
Claygate, in quaint Surrey, is where our journey begun. We have been staying at Aunty Irene’s, where Fintan was contracted to work on the beautification of her house.
Claygate is a village where the milkman delivers organic milk in glass bottles at your doorstep, where lawns are mowed on Saturday mornings, where floral-patterned bunting makes sense and strangers would still say Hi, how do you do? to you. F words don’t exactly flow gracefully here.
But in Waterloo, in the midst of the nearly-lunchtime bustle, amongst a carousel of different ethnicities, purposes, trajectories, languages, fashions, moods, all spinning around us, oh yes, it made perfect sense there. It added to the urban feel. People trotting around checking train time-tables, drinking take-away lattes, buying Cornish Pastries and last-minute flowers, meeting people, leaving people, going to work, wasting time. We were in-the-buzz! The F word fitted perfectly: it was the only word my mind found suitable to contain so much passion.
I was meeting my friends Kris and Joe and their boy Leon, born just a month after Camila. I purposely arrived earlier to our appointment so that I could walk around and absorb on my own that corner of my old world, the neighbourhood where I used to work. I shared everything with Camila. She was very interested. She looked around from her throne on wheels, casting her eyes over the graffiti, the old bus converted into a frozen yogurt shop, people jogging, clowns juggling, she witnessed the selfie-obsession of passers by, the skinny jeans and bad tattoes, the abundance of concrete and tarmac, the little green and the absence of humming birds. And the buzz, oh the buzz! I bet that rocked her world!
It rocked mine when I first landed there 14 years ago. It was meant to be a 6 months experience to learn English, before returning home and decide what to do with my life. Continue studying? Finding work? Disappearing?
I loved the variety: multi cultures, multi ways of thinking, multi ways of dressing, multi cuisines, multi backgrounds. I remember the ecstasy of walking to the corner shop to buy cigarettes in my pyjamas, being seen but not looked at nor judged for the peculiar outfit choice. In Italy I wouldn’t have left the house without make up and a thoroughly selected dress code.
I found my real self here, I had a rebirth, inadvertently marked by a change of name. As I found the English pronunciation of my name rather cacophonic, I turned from Claudia to Biba (my school-days nickname) and those 6 months turned into 10 years. A decade of life lived by my own dictum, in the quest of exploring myself and the world, a very deep and velvety rabbit hole. I lived and worked all over the place, met many un-ordinary people, learnt many lessons. And after all these years there I was with my daughter Camila. The same way I was exhibiting her to her grandparents, family and friends, so I was showing her off to a city who made her possible. London is where I met her father, the person to whom I owe knowing what Love is.
So I decided to give London a big hug. But how to hug a city?
Camila and I did it by getting lost in it. We disappeared in its texture, in the anonymity of its crowds, road by road, neighbourhood by neighbourhood, train by train. We tasted it shop by shop, cappuccino by cappuccino, supermarket by supermarket. Yet another nostalgic pilgrimage to all the areas that cuddled some of my memories. Together we discovered new things that weren’t there before, we witnessed the glorification of gluten-free and selfie-sticks and showed admiration for those who were still reading books and newspapers on public transport and didn’t succumb the charm of their digital versions.
I think even Camila was able to note London has a personality disorder. The schizofrenic quality of its make up is what made it so alluring to me, I was able to blossom freely as who I really am in a place where diversity is celebrated.
As I sipped on an exuberantly frothy macchiato by Clapham Common park, I questioned myself if London could also be the background of my mama-days. Whether that park that saw me drunk on cider many times could also see me running after my cheeky barefoot daughter. I visualised the logistics of a life as a mum in London and the scenario was certainly not as happy-go-lucky as the cider-drenched one of the past.
It became apparent that my peregrination through London’s streets was not only the essence of a virtual hug but also a dramatised depiction of the official end of a chapter.
Realising to be in the middle of an evolution felt kind of exciting. It has been nearly 6 years since we have left London, and albeit somewhat a delayed reaction, it felt good to savour such moment of transition onto something new, by simply admitting I could no longer live in a city, I accepted myself as a true Rural Virgin.
And therefore opted for returning home through the park rather than via the main road. Just to make the point.