Monday, 25 February 2008

London’s Final Chapter

One year ago today, we left our jobs, our house, our friends and family, bought a motor home and began a 12 month European adventure to unearth a future for our little family outside of London. Since arriving back in London before Christmas we’ve been staying at my parent’s house in Dulwich. But today we are moving back into our old house at number 34 Shardeloes Road in New Cross to pack it up ready for Portugal and the new life that has been made available for us there.

We came back to London to do a few important things. Sell the Motorhome, sell the house, catch up with family and friends, and for Joshua and Eloise to have their last ever birthday parties in London.

For Eloise’s 9th birthday in January, she travelled up town on the bus to go ice skating with her friends Connie, Livi, Anoushka and Hatti outside the charming setting of Somerset House in central London. Ellie also bought her first ever guitar from Hank’s, one of the many cool old music shops in Denmark Street just off the Charing Cross Road. Eloise, as always, is happy.

Hanging out with Vonny’s mum Arlene and sister Anne has been wonderful. Anne is 17 and studying drama at Lewisham College. She’s already a superstar to us, but I have a feeling that one day the rest of the world will know it too. It was very special to be here to see her first professional performance as Chanice, in the short play Scenarios. The first of many to come. You go girl! Once Anne is settled into her career, I hope Arlene will come out with us to Portugal and Anne can join us all whenever she needs to recover between shooting movies.

It’s been great to see my Aunty Sally too, who has very kindly been giving the kids intensive piano, guitar and knitting lessons. We took her for lunch to say thanks, in the middle of 300,000 people (plus a few dancing dragons) celebrating the Chinese New Year in Chinatown. Although Sally has lived fairly close to central London for over 40 years, she like me, had never been to these before. It’s a funny thing about London and I imagine other big cities, that all these incredible events go on around you every year, yet very few join in. Anyway, this time we did and loved it.

Joshua had the longest ever 11th birthday. It involved a whole week of stuff. We were staying at my friend David Gold’s top floor flat in Notting Hill, and thought it an excellent idea to be tourists for the week. The camara shops in New Oxford Street were the first port of call to buy Josh a good quality, second hand, close-up lens so he could experiment more with his gifted eye for detail. We battled with rogue prams and screaming kids so we could sniff the sharks and fish in the Aquarium. Nipped into the brilliantly inspiring Dali & Picasso exhibition next door. Took walks in Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park bizarrely without Moses who was staying with Papops and Grandma. Walked to the movies to see the film Jumper at Bayswater Odeon. Marvelled at the stunning winning entries for the Wildlife Photography Exhibition in the Natural History Museum.

We also rummaged around in all the tatty but demonstrably well loved book and magazine exchange shops round the back of Portobello Road. Those old-school book shops are the antithesis of the modern day, sterile, globally franchised, advertising laden, coffee selling book stores so prevalent everywhere else. In the midst of the must and dust and chaos, you feel that the books actually magically find you rather than the other way round.

At the weekend, we hired a powerboat from the Ahoy Centre in Deptford and sent Josh with his mates Halim, Tyran, Noosh and Hatts along with his cousins Sam and Joel, up and down the Thames for the afternoon. Josh even got to drive the thing himself, right through the enormous silver Thames barrier. We had an amazing week, so thanks Joshi for being 11.

And so it comes to pass, the final chapter of our life in London. Our time in my home city of London is coming to an end, and we’ve had heaps of fun. Now we’ve finally found cash buyers for the house and the motorhome, we’ve booked a removal firm called Armishaws to pick up the contents of our house on March 11th. We should be booking flights to Lisbon for the week after that. Although the last 10 weeks have sometimes been frustrating simply waiting, doing very little here when we have so much to get on with in Portugal, it has been good to have the time to say goodbye to the places and the people that have made London our home for so long. But it is, without question, the final chapter. As Caroline Purday said to us this week after they decided they are planning to join us in Portugal at some point in the next few years, she is acutely aware that she is now living in her past. Their future, like ours, is in Oleiros, Portugal. London is just the place we used to live; already it has become our past before we’ve even left it.

Last night Von and I began watching the DVD, Into Great Silence, a documentary about a monastery of monks that live most of their lives without speaking. Their experience of a silent life is in such stark contrast to the nature of this vibrant, pulsating city. But it is a contrast that calls to the very depths of me. I don’t think Von will allow me to become a silent monk, but we are both truly excited by the prospect of the quieter, contemplative, gardening life that awaits us, along with all our friends, in rural Portugal. Enough said.