Above Ground on the London Underground: Day 7... Going home

I’m taking a virtual walking tour ‘above ground’ on the London Underground. Using my Tube guide and my fitbit® device, my goal is to walk at least 10,000 steps a day roughly following along the Underground route, reporting back here on Fridays with my findings. I'm currently following the Piccadilly Line. This is Day Seven.

There’s nothing to it, but to do it. No more dilly dallying around, I’m heading out from The Swan Inn in Isleworth where I’ve spent the night across the river to Richmond, and the house where I was born. 

First things first—even though I’m dithery with nerves and eager to see the house and area—a quick stop for breakfast before I head out on my 1.8 mile walk. I pick Greedies, a short 3 minute stroll down South Street because they open at 7am for breakfast—and for once I’m actually up at 7—and because they have hanging flowers and outdoor tables. I’m a sucker for ambience.

I looked Greedies up on Trip Advisor where the comments range from ‘best scrambled eggs on earth’ to ‘okay’. I figure I can live with something in between and order the #2: one egg, back bacon, beans, toast and tomatoes. I laugh at the idea of asking for bacon, crisp, the way I order it at home. Back bacon is thick, more like ham than bacon. 

My dad would love it. I can see him in his beige Sansabelt slacks and white dress shirt topped with a soft blue sweater vest, almost dancing over to the table in his burgundy leather slippers, sitting down to a sloppy looking plate of beans and runny fried eggs oozing all over the place, mopping it up with a piece of toast, pointing with his chin to ask my brother, sister or me to pass the salt and pepper. 

“Lovely grub” he’d say, while we ate our Raisin Bran or Kellogg’s Corn Flakes before we raced off to school and our mother went off to work at General Telephone leaving him home to do the washing up. 

The smell of tomato pricking at my nose, I briefly debate ordering an egg white omelet instead but in the end I ask for the egg, scrambled and request they hold the beans and tomatoes please. The guy behind the counter, raises his eyes ever so briefly at my foolish American ways and I take my cafe latte outside to a table in the sunshine. If I was back in the states I’d ask if I can substitute cottage cheese for the beans and fruit for the tomatoes but I’m not and so I don’t. 

The walk along the River Thames blows my mind. It’s nothing like the Los Angeles River I can tell you that. It’s not like I’ve never seen a river before. We lived in Niagara Falls when I was little; there’s a river for you, a powerhouse as it pounds over the falls. I took long walks along the Hudson the summer we lived in NYC,  went river rafting on the Columbia River in Oregon when I didn’t know I was pregnant. I’ve eaten Mexican food at a riverside restaurant on the San Antonio River in Texas and I’ve strolled along the Seine in Paris, stunned by its beauty at night. I’ve seen where the mighty Mississippi pours out into the gulf at New Orleans. But this is different. It’s rural, not urban. It’s not in the City of London where the river is treated more formally, with big brick pavers along the walkway and a neat array of benches for tourists to sit at. Here, crossing from Isleworth over to Richmond, it’s friendlier, somehow. The river curves and meanders through Richmond, the pathway seems more organic. It’s not a tourist walkway, while it’s officially part of the Thames Path and the National Trails it’s really just a path locals use as it wends along the river, joggers and bikers, families out for a walk.

Soon enough I come to the Richmond Footbridge, also known as the Richmond Lock & Weir. According to the TeddingtontoCalais website: Two hours after high tide the sluice gates are lowered to block the river. This keeps the water level navigable up to Teddington Lock 3.25 miles away. Two hours before high tide they are raised again to let the tide flow normally. While the river is blocked boats can pass through the lock on the Surrey side of the bridge.

I’m not sure whether that affects my bridge crossing, high tide, low tide, so I hurry across, barely pausing to take an imaginary picture. 

Safely on the other side, deciding to detour off the Twickenham Road, I stride towards Richmond Green passing the White Swan on the way. Didn’t I say there were going to be a lot of pubs named ‘Swan’ in England? The pub has been around since seventeen seventy something and they actually offer that ploughman’s lunch I’ve been craving (the rustic bread, cheese and ale thing) so maybe I’ll stop in on my way back, after I’ve been to see my home. My home. My son laughs at me. “Why are you so interested in seeing the house you were born in?” I don’t know what to tell him. When I was his age I didn’t care about the past either. Where I was born, where I came from, held no interest, only where I was going. Sixty years changes thing.

Image via David Wilson at Paranomio.com

Richmond Green, one of those open spaces that England is famous for preserving, understanding the need for its citizenry to reconnect with nature, has been around since the middle ages when there were jousting tournaments for knights! No doubt I’m in England now, there’s even a cricket ‘pitch’. 

Familiar names and phrases tumble around my head in my mother’s beautifully accented voice. ‘Kew Gardens ... I used to take you and Russell to feed the deer at Richmond Park...Your dad and I liked to pop down to the Shaftsbury for a drink.’ 

I pick up my pace. I’m just over half a mile, 15 minutes tops, from Salisbury Road. A quick left onto Little Green, an absolutely beautiful little street bordered by lovely old houses, many of which have been there for the last 400 years. It’s named for the lush little green it wraps around. 

Then a right turn onto Old Station Passage, another left at The Quadrant and I’m on Lower Mortlake Road, a street of mixed use properties, shops underneath, flats above. 

It’s not so posh anymore but I like the energy. Salisbury Road is just ahead. My heart and my pace quickens. There it is, there on the right. 

I turn, and like my brother told me I find the house about halfway down the block, on the left. The house where I was born, the house with the black door. I was born in the upper unit, helped along by a midwife who sent my father downstairs to boil water. It was just a few days before Queen Elizabeth was crowned in 1953 in what I’m fond of calling a scene straight out of Call the Midwife. 

I stand there staring stupidly up at the window. Now what? Should I knock? Of course, I have to knock. I can’t come all this way, grab a picture, then walk away.  I wonder what they’ll think, a stranger at the door, asking if she can come in and see their flat, the place where she was born. How many people have come and gone since we lived here in the early 50’s? Then I wonder what I’d do if the positions were reversed. If someone, a stranger, came by our apartment one morning, wondering could she have a look around? It’s not even 9am. My beds would be unmade, my dishes undone. I’d still be in my pajamas, in bed writing my blog and drinking coffee, immersed in my own routine. 

“Of course” I say, not really meaning it, endeavoring to be gracious but uncomfortable all the while. Uneasy in my skin as someone, even a nice older woman such as I am, peers around, taking in my walls, my floors, my windows, my pictures, my furniture. The turquoise throw that disguises the ripped seam on the old brown leather couch has slipped, revealing the ugly tear. Embarrassed, I pull it back over the spot, straighten the pillows left in disarray from the night before. My things have nothing to do with her life. My sea shells sitting on the dusty window sill belong to me. The memories they evoke are my memories. Mysteries only for me to decide whether or not to share. They don’t belong to her, she was here for awhile, and then she was gone.

Of course I don’t knock. I can’t. Wolfe was right, you can’t go home again. But it didn’t hurt to try. 

49 South St, Hounslow, Isleworth TW7 7AA
+44 20 8560 8562

The White Swan
26 Old Palace Ln, Richmond, Surrey TW9 1PG,
+44 20 8940 0959

The Shaftsbury
121 Kew Rd, Richmond, Surrey TW9 2PN
+44 20 8291 8640

The Thames Path/National Trails UK


Back to Day 6: Richmond 

Go to Day 8: The Deer at Richmond Park

Join fellow anglophiles at Joy’s

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