Yesterday saw me sitting on a Northern Line train, staring in horror out of the window. Not at anything particularly horrific – just that the station we had pulled into was Angel and I was trying to get to Waterloo
I was on the wrong bloody branch
To put this into context, I grew up on the Northern line (High Barnet branch, naturally). I am a Northern line girl. Its ramifications are engraved on my soul, tattooed onto the inside of my eyeball. I hadn’t looked at a map, because I didn’t think I needed to (and also because I had managed to pack the Glasgow instead of the London A to Z, but let’s just pass over that one, shall we?). And here I was making the most basic of mistakes, something even newly arrived tourists could master. I have been out of London too long, that’s what it is. I am beginning to lose my city mojo.
It isn’t just the tube lines, either. I found myself walking slowly at times on the – entirely irrelevant – grounds that I wasn’t in a particular hurry to get somewhere (although I did make sure I wasn’t blocking the way of anyone who was). I smiled and exchanged a pleasantry with someone I didn’t know (she made eye contact first). I stood on the escalator instead of sprinting up (on the right, though). And when I wandered down the South Bank among the summer crowds I found that I didn’t automatically want to rip the heads off of the many many people who still – even at my most leisurely pace – got in my way.
And when I got to Foyles on the South Bank, with some time to kill in the heat of the afternoon, and saw that they had put deckchairs out for people to sit in outside the shop, even though my inner Londoner wondered what the catch was* and how much it might cost, my outer visitor – footsore and hot and weary – went and sat down. And spent a very pleasant time as the clouds boiled up over Central London, and the breeze blew across from the river, absorbed in my book.
I’ve been out of London too long all right. Or maybe I’m just beginning to have been out of London long enough.
Oh, and they were free.
*The catch of course is that once you are folded in the embrace of a deckchair, there’s nothing you can do but get out a book and read. And what better advertisement for a book shop can there be than a dozen people all intently reading outside their shop? Very clever.