Ticket to Ride [memoir]

It had been donkey's years since I'd seen my grandmother and my Uncle Robin. That's how my mother put it. Donkey's years. Still, she said, they'd love to put me up for a couple of weeks while I took a look round London. I was twenty, it was 1973, and I was itching to begin my grand and adventurous tour of Europe so I wasn't thrilled to be spending part of my summer visiting antique relatives. I had to admit though, my Uncle Rob's house in Chorleywood was just a half hour train ride away from the city, it was cheaper than a hotel, a B&B, or even a hostel, so it did make for a pretty decent base for my day trips. Then I was going to take off for the continent and have a real adventure. Despite parental worries. And despite Derek. 

Derek was my old boyfriend who I was supposed to go traveling through Europe with that summer. That had been the plan. The boyfriend I broke up with when he changed that plan. I can still see the look on his face, squinting behind his wire-frames when he told me his best bud had won a free trip to Europe for two and was taking him. A free trip to Europe that some radio station was giving away? I didn't believe it for a minute. He was lying and those pale blue eyes squinting behind his glasses were his tell. Derek was shocked when I told him I was still going.
"Alone? You're still going?"
"Of course I'm still going!"
Hell, yes! I was defiant. I was someone else, I was the woman in the Helen Ready I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar song. I didn't need him. I didn't need anyone. 

The day to day of being in England, spending my days taking the train into London alone, playing tourist mostly alone, wasn't like I imagined it at all. I'd cut my hair short, my attempt at London chic, but I was miles away from being that Yardley girl on the back of the motorbike I longed to be. The one who cooed Slicker under, Slicker over, Slicker alone with a real British accent unlike the fake one that I could only maintain for a few moments before it slipped off the map, drifted off somewhere else.

'Ello guvnah. Ave you seen me muthah?'

"Bloody hell, Simone! What's that supposed to be," my truly British dad would say when I tried out my Eliza Doolittle. "Irish? Cuz it sure ain't English, south or north country." 

So there I was, this British-born-but-not-really-British, sort of American, quasi-Canadian girl visiting her ancient English grandmother and her busy TV camera guy uncle at their lovely home with its well-tended rose-filled gardens and the intricate brick pathways my uncle built himself, watching Wimbledon with my grandmother on the telly, walking down to the shops to post a letter to my mum. 

Chorleywood was a lovely and quiet little village back then. So quiet. North of London, Chorleywood is in an area I later learned was known as Metro-land, part of the vast green countryside built up with houses under 'blue suburban skies' but commuter close to London. Like many English villages, there's a beautiful green open space but Chorleywood's Common is huge. 

The today me would love all that green and a peaceful walk down 'to the shops'. The 20 year old version of myself was bored silly. And utterly inept at reaching out to people, trying to make, if not friends, at least a connection. I'll be honest, I haven't changed that much. I'm still more INT than EXT on the introverted/extroverted scale. 

When I rode into the city on the train I kept my nose in a book or stared out the window. I bothered no one and no one bothered me. No one. No one on the train or on the streets. The conductor, the other passengers, shopkeepers, men and boys passing. Nothing. If I needed to ask a question about where something was or how much something cost, everyone was very polite but no one offered anything beyond the answer to my question. Donovan wasn't singing Mellow Yellow at Picadilly Circus. Mick Jagger wasn't murmuring let's spend the night together in my ear. If I thought I'd run into Paul McCartney on my trip to Carnaby Street I was wrong. No one was giving me a hard day's night, a good time, bad time or even the time of day. Damn that Derek! Even with my grandma and uncle providing meals and a bed, I was so lonely I could cry. 

When my parents suggested they fly my younger sister over for company, I jumped at it. They'd pay for the flight, I'd cover her travel expenses. The only other caveat was that we make a trip up to Preston, Lancashire, to see my dad's mum, Grandma Good, the grandmother none of us kids could remember ever even meeting. 

My budget had to be radically re-worked; I wouldn't be able to make it to Spain or Italy and definitely not Greece, but Nancy would save me. She'd make me laugh and we'd still be able to see Amsterdam, Paris and the south of France. Who knew, maybe we'd even see Derek.


British Isles Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Joy at Joy's Book Blog. Pop by and see what other Anglophiles are up to. This week I'm happy to see I got Joy hooked on Scott and Bailey! Have a gander at what I said about the show:The wise and wild women of Scott & Bailey

Read more of my British themed posts at my State of Britain page.

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