Sunday, 28 May 2023

There and not there

 In his tragicomic novel Coming up for Air, George Orwell writes as a man attempting to rediscover his childhood haunts, only to find they have changed, and not in ways he likes. Showing that nostalgia just isn't what it used to be! 

I lived in London most of my life, sold my house there five years ago and moved abroad. Last week I needed to go back to London and, although I was busy, I had time to check out some of the places I used to frequent. The results were interesting!

I started with my old office, which has been demolished and rebuilt as brand new office suites. A good thing, I'd say, given the age of the building and, frankly, who seriously misses a workplace anyway? A small firm I worked for has gone, as expected on the retirement of the owner, a decent man I liked working for, and is now a Waffle Café. I tried to have breakfast at the café just to see what eating in my old workplace was like but, bizarrely, they weren't open at that hour. And I thought waffles were supposed to be ideal for breakfast! Despite the disappearance of my two main workplaces, the art studios I one rented a space in are still there, despite having been slated for demolition twenty years ago! Now that is very weird. Perhaps the council planning department is being artistic with its scheduling!

I took the London Underground and it was vile. Now, the "Tube" has always been crowded and cramped but the warm, oily smell blowing down the tunnels always had a tinge of efficiency. This time the place stank of dirt and the trains were filthy. I couldn't get off fast enough. Yuck!

It was frightening to see Oxford Street, London's foremost shopping street, half boarded up. This is where the flagship stores of all the big chains are so that suggests a pretty big economic recession. 

In the days when I organised London lunches for the Angels we had a number of favourite places that welcomed us. I don't know if Salieri restaurant in the Strand has gone for good or is merely being redeveloped (for a second time in 10 years? Unlikely). But the Chandos pub off Trafalgar Square remains. This belongs to the Yorkshire brewery, Samuel Smith, and always charged Yorkshire prices, which were markedly lower than London prices. But not any more. Which was a shock to my purse when I met a friend for lunch there last Wednesday.

One source of joy, though, was that the Scooter Café that I reported had closed last autumn has worked out its issues over its fire certification and has reopened as it was before (but presumably with better fire safeguards!) A friend took me there for one of their classic hot chocolates in the cosy back yard on a sunny evening and that was lovely, very much like old times.

Another lovely thing was that café and restaurant staff in various places recognised me even after these years away. That surprised me, given that they have many customers, and their taking time out to catch up with my news was so nice of them. 

I also caught up, albeit briefly, with several friends after all these years, including Grace who is the membership secretary for my professional body. She explained how the Covid lockdowns forced everyone to work at home for months on end to the extent that that arrangement is now to become permanent and the organisation will be abandoning fixed premises once the lease on the current building ends next month. They will merely rent a space if and when face-to-face meetings or conferences are needed. She doesn't like it as going to a workplace is an important part of one's social life, one's interaction with the rest of the human race, and she's right. The hardest part of working for myself was the isolation, which is why I built morning café time and evening shopping into my working day so that I saw other people twice a day every day even if there was no other socialising lined up. But this is the way the world seems to be going, so hotdesking and working at home are likely to become normative. If your home life is good then that's a great thing; if it's not, then heaven help you.

Anyway, I managed to buy the things I had set out to buy, notably a cute shoulder bag, my favourite bras, my favourite sunscreen that I couldn't find in Switzerland even though it's made there, and also replenished my makeup stash. I also got some of my female clothing from my storage unit that I intend to take home to Italy, so all in all the trip was worthwhile.

Feeling silly

I saw this book prominently displayed in a museum shop. I guess it could come in handy if your human relationships haven't been working out!

Sue x


  1. If a venue mostly sells breakfast things that's not open at breakfast time ironic.... or just very bad planning? 🤔

    There's probably a rude joke to be made about dating a building and something about a trade entrance, but over assumes neither of us would understand such shocking language 😉

    As to former haunts, I visited a park that we (my sisters and I) played in as nippers. It felt so much smaller as and adult compared to the different memories I had as a kid.

    As to old jobs and buildings:
    First office job, the building was converted into fancy apartments.
    Second job, the building is now a warehouse (rather than the modern dark, satanic mill of a call centre).
    I'm surprised the old council building hasn't been flogged off to be repurposed as posh flats. Perhaps it's too 70s.

    1. Thanks for all your comments, Lynn. Seeing stuff that you knew as a kid is often the weirdest thing especially when, as you say, what seemed big may actually be quite small. Sue x