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Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Summer In The City

Airplane jet streams leave a trail of white through a cornflower blue sky as they to and fro from Heathrow.   The city suburbs slow as people depart.  No Londoner wants to spend their summer days on a packed commuter train in conditions akin to a cattle transporter, or sleep at night in 30 degree heat in a poorly ventilated loft conversion. Those that can, leave.  Those that stay accept their fate; the close, concrete absorbing heat rarely tempered by breeze,  the news articles that talk of reflections from skyscrapers melting cars, the standard TV bulletin on the hottest day of the year showing an egg frying on the pavement.
 
In commuterville there is a feeling of peace. Even a sense of relief, that some have left, creating extra space for those that have stayed.  Those that stay, make the most of it;  city parks with parched grass become beaches; bikini clad women and bare chested men lounging on towels as if in the Med.  Al fresco eating becomes the norm, as pavement cafes and pub gardens brim and overflow with people, whilst indoor restaurant spaces appear grey and empty.

Many families in these parts depart to second homes in the ‘Country’.  “We’re off to the Country” is a phrase I’ve heard surprisingly often.  I've never quite worked out where the country is.  A loose term seemingly only understandable by those privileged enough to be in the second home club.  Suffolk, Dorset, The Cotswolds, perhaps.  I’ve never experienced these houses; but I imagine them to be rather grand, red brick piles, with sweeping driveways and meadows full of cows surrounding them.

It’s never bothered me spending the summer in London.  It's home.  That’s not to say I don’t crave the great outdoors, don’t wish sometimes that I was in the ‘Country’, under a canopy of trees or enjoying watching butterflies dance together on a country lane abundant with wild flowers.  But I have found that even in London, it is possible to leave behind the greyness, the concrete monoliths, to find plenty of green and open spaces. One just has to try a little bit harder.

Pip, EB and I spent countless days at Kew Gardens this summer.  The Incredibles exhibition was indeed, incredible.  Pineapple Island, a feature in the lake, became one of Pip’s favourite things. He loved hiring a boat and wearing 3D glasses to sail through the grotto underneath.  I loved the edible table with trees growing through it’s centre and it’s bespoke informative crockery. We all loved watching the various vegetables grow, as we meandered there throughout the summer. The wonderful straw mushrooms - the perfect prop for photographing little ones.


On other days we ventured to Richmond, to the park to search for deer, or climb trees, or to forage for blackberries.  Stopping to take a short break for tea and cake at Petersham Nurseries - after which, I stood open mouthed wondering who on earth can afford to buy the items from their shabby chic shop.


If we were feeling lazy, even the local meadow with splash pond and adventure playground was enough. A picnic tea on the grass with friends, and we were done.  Or a small paddling pool in the garden, filled with stacking cups. Watching EB good naturedly gulp and gasp whilst his older brother poured yet another cupful of water over his head...and laughed.

For the most part, summer in the city seemed easy. We got to green spaces, it didn’t feel claustrophobic. We got away too, for a week to coast / country. We came and went, and I surprised myself, as sole charge of two small children, how easily I rolled along, how easy the days seemed.  Managing the house project in tandem was tricky, but do-able.  Perhaps it was the sunshine that made the difference.

Yet shadowy thoughts crept in, framing the corners of my mind. Like a softly dripping tap, doubts gathering in a small puddle of water.   

'London, I love you so much.  Don’t do this to me now, not 12 years in - I thought we were in it for the long game?'

Some things took their toll this summer.

The relentlessness of salesmen knocking on the door; "I’m homeless", "I’m unemployed, can you take a look at my basket?"  £5 for a shoe shine or some micro fibre cloths.  Expensive by high street standards.  Backchat when you don’t buy. A feeling of being intimidated at your own door.  Suspicious looking individuals claiming they were raising money for a charity bike ride, and then not calling at any of the other houses on the street (I noticed.)

"Would you like a door intercom?" asked the architect.  I wondered; if these people are just faceless voices, will they be less intimidating? And then I wondered - what does this say about the world we live in? When people cease to answer their own front door and just talk to callers (known or unknown) from a phone inside their house?

Opportunists with ill intent.  My elderly neighbour was visited by a man who claimed he had just fumigated our property. (Not so). He was told he needed to pay half of the £4000 costs there and then, in cash. Another neighbour, an older woman on her own, answered the door  to a man with a tall story about a cat on her roof and also had a narrow escape.

My father’s car was broken into when he visited.  His retirement present of gardening vouchers stolen from the glove box.  The travel sweets from the tin scattered down the road, a taunting trail of boiled sugar in red and yellow shouting; ‘You can’t catch me’.

The suicide of a stranger; seconds before I was due to walk past,  jumping from a roof, adjacent to a London square.  Twenty minutes or more for an ambulance to come, and behind box hedges all the while, Londoners continued to laugh as they sunbathed and sipped iced lattes, oblivious.  It seemed wrong. All summer I was unable to shake the memory of it from my head.

The closure of Pip’s local play park, and the realities of living in a big city.


Two sides of the same coin. 

London, I love you, but city life lost some of it's shine for me this summer.  Autumn is your time to woo me back again.


Linking up with the very talented Older Mum in a Muddle for her #oneweek series.

one week

18 comments:

  1. Let me tell you that to you, we probably live in 'the country' (better described as Suburbia!). We still get countless 'homeless' and 'ex-offenders' knocking on our door - it's no different out here in the sticks!
    Your pictures are fabulous, especially of Kew Gardens. That one is on my bucket list for next summer :) x

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    1. Kew Gardens is fabulous - definitely recommend putting on the bucket list - and Kids go free too. I have an annual pass which lets me take a friend in free which is great too, as it means we can have playdates with another Mum/Kids there at no cost!

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  2. Oh gosh, I think something like that would stay with me for a long time. Sadly it is not peculiar to London; we live in a much more rural area, but next to a railway line. And in the 8 years we've lived here there have been 4 suicide attempts. But I do take your point, especially about the phone to answer your door.
    Your photographs are stunning and your post is so beautifully written as always. I love the idea of Pineapple Island and those lily pads look so perfect! xx

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    1. I think it was the cumulative effect of everything - sometimes it just gets a bit much. Thank you for your lovely comment.

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  3. Your photos from cue gardens are absolutely stunning to say the least. Sorry to hear about these bogus callers and that your Dad's car was broken into - that's horrid, bound to leave an unpleasant taste in your mouth. Yes, the country is quieter (LOL 'the country')but every city and town has its problems, although it can seem so much more intense in London, the melting pot it is. And I agree, there is something wrong when someone commits suicide and everyone in the area carries on chatting and eating sandwiches, I guess all part of life's dark underbelly. I hope the winds of autumn blow all the unpleasantness away.

    But.... so glad to hear that you, Pip and EB enjoyed lovely summery days in Kew Gardens and Richmond.... I'm missing Kew Gardens.

    So for the delay in my comment - been prepping for the Writers Festival.

    Beautiful writing (as always). XXX

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    1. Thank you for allowing me to link up to One Week. Fantastic linky - and have very much enjoyed reading all the contributions this week. x

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  4. We get a lot of those callers too, especially the ex offenders and the "last month I was made redundant" ones. A beautiful post and a disturbing post, all in the same one. Some terrible things happened but some lovely things happened too. I hope the autumn makes things seem better.

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    1. Thank you Polly. Here's to autumn...x

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  5. Kew gardens looks wonderful, sorry to hear of all the bad things x

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    1. Heartily recommend Kew Gardens, a great day out for the family.

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  6. Oh honey, I'm so sorry that you had these bad experiences. I was a London gal for a long part of my life and I loved it then but visiting again this Summer the initial excitement did wear off rather quickly. If you ever fancy a little bit of country come and visit us for the day - we're just a quick train ride away!

    And like she said *points above* beautiful writing as always xx

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    1. Thanks Bod for Tea. Mostly I love it, but occasionally the veneer can wear a little thin. x

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  7. How awful that you witnessed the suicide of that poor individual. I'm not surprised it's put you off living here. There's so much that's good about London life, but it can flip in an instant. The recent riots are an example - I too wanted to leave after they'd erupted. Give it time: like you say, Autumn could change your view.

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    1. Yes, you're right, it can flip in an instant. And sometimes it's the little things; fear of my Husband being stuck in a broken down tube tunnel in searing heat, or, his work location being targeted by terrorists, things that in all likelihood won't happen, but add to one's worry list anyway.

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  8. I hate being made to feel uncomfortable in my own home. I'm not cut out for city life at all. Beautiful photos and writing; I hope London in autumn wins your heart and makes you fell at home once more.

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    1. Yes, I know, we had more last night, at 8.45pm which is too late in my book. What annoys me is when they still keep ringing even if you don't answer the door. Sadly I think I will probably go the way of the intercom.

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  9. Such a beautifully written post that lifted and saddened my heart at the same time. And such lovely photos. I hope that London can woo you back in the Autumn and you're able to share that with us too...

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