I was cleaning out my desk and I found an old travel journal I had kept during a trip to the UK and Ireland from a few years ago. This had been the first time I had returned to England after being expelled for working without a permit back in the late ’80s. (I have been back a few times more since) But I thought I would share the journal and some pictures with you all. (The first of a five-day series)
Well, I did it! I’m finally back here in London England after 12 years. This is been a dream of mine for so long, I never thought this day would arrive it’s now 11 p.m. London time and it is the end of a very long day. The night before I left I slept very little (maybe 2 to 3 hours tops) then I had to go to work from 7 a.m. to noon. Right after work, I flew from Kansas City to Newark, New Jersey and then flew onward to London The flight to London was a mess, it was crammed packed and I sat next to a real grumpy couple and the guy would complain if I even touch him accidentally (which was next to impossible as the seats were not designed for someone of my unfortunate girth) We got in ahead of time and I had to wait at the terminal. As I went through immigration I was very nervous because I was hoping they wouldn’t turn me away. I would have come sooner but because I had been asked to leave the country for working without a permit in 1989, I was afraid, they would not let me come back. I even had to fill out a form they gave my uncle’s address, my own address in the United States, the length of stay, my occupation, and the purpose of my visit. The immigration person asked me questions and asked if my uncle was English I said no but he was eligible to work in the UK. They stamped me and “Bobs your uncle” I was in!!
I then got on the Gatwick Express to Victoria Station. From the air, as we were landing, I was struck by how it looks like any other American city except of course people were driving on the opposite side. As the train rode through the small towns on the way to London I remembered what made me fall in love with the country. The dark brown brick row houses, the cathedrals, The houses with the well-manicured back gardens. Of all the countries I have been to, no place makes me feel like I am “home” more than the UK. I put on the headset and listened to some from the time I was there the first time and I felt just like I never left. I don’t know if there is such a thing of past lives, but if there is I was definitely in England. I have experienced more “Deja Vu” than anywhere else I have ever been.
I got to Victoria Station and it wasn’t at all the same as I had remembered it. The building structure was identical but they took down the small Bookshop that I used to hang out and replaced it with a much larger 2-story W.H. Smith. There was a McDonald’s and Burger King now which wasn’t there before, and there was a huge screen big TV. But it was still populated with kids with backpacks and pigeons like before. My duffle bag was getting heavy. I don’t know if it was because of the weight or the fact that it was fairly cool but oddly still humid, but I was definitely sweating quite a bit. I put the bag in a locker and went to visit some of my old haunts.
My dream was to go to Stockwell on the tube and then walk to Clapham from there. But when I got out I was disoriented and didn’t really know where I was going, it had been too long and so much was different, I couldn’t remember how I got around before. I got back on the tube to Clapham north tube stop and walked through Clapham Common to the house I lived when I was staying there. This time as I began to walk down the street, everything came back to me. I remembered the Italian restaurant I used to eat at, the local pub I used to spend a lot of time writing and I remembered how much I really liked Clapham Common. It was an expansive green park with a lovely lake. On my free time, I would often walk around the green and ponder things.
I got to walk by the old house that I used to live in and it was still there but empty. the neighborhood and much nicer than it was when I lived there the grittiness was gone and it was replaced by clean streets and nice cars. Much less working-class than my time, the area had definitely been gentrified.
On the way back I stopped by Westminster and took the usual tour shots of Big Ben with the other tourists. The city was really crowded. I had a reservation at a hostel but I decided not to take that because I was just so tired and I really wanted to have my own bed somewhere quiet. I found a hotel near Victoria and I probably could have found something cheaper but I was just so tired I was wanting to take the first thing I could find. The room costs well over a hundred pounds and all I got for that with a small room, but it didn’t matter because I was somewhere I wanted to be after so long.
I slept for a couple hours and got up and went to Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square. They still looked exactly the same as the last time I was there so long ago. I went to a kebab shop and had something to eat and came home and went to bed. I have the window up in my room, I am shocked by how quiet it is. A city of 8 million people and not a peep. It’s been a very long day I’m so looking forward to all the things I’m going to see on this trip.