Years ago, when I was just a young lass, fresh out of a Northern University with a shiny new Literature degree and a specialism in crafting thoughts into long, thin poems that fell off the end of the page, I came down South to work as a writer. My first proper job. I’d gone to the interview in London on the train, in a red suit, a white shirt and a blue and white spotted neckerchief. I had dark hair cut in a bob, and a leather satchel. Just imagine! Very French. Very 90s. A few days later, I’d squealed down the phone when they called my parents’ landline to offer me the job, and my new life began.
Once arrived, I was brimming with endless curiosity about all the interesting differences between the North and the South of England; the skin on fish and chips, the taste of the tap water, the way no one chats on buses. Though I was excited, it was hard work learning how to work - proper writing jobs were taxing, I soon found out, with deadlines and colleagues and word counts - and I was pretty bewildered by London and slightly lost, both in the big city and even in the smaller outlying town of my first rented flat.
A neighbour, Grace, kindly took me under her wing, and invited me in to join her family one long, rainy weekend afternoon. I remember being so grateful for the invitation. My flat was quiet, and new. The fresh out of the box china was pristine and perfect. Nothing was chipped. My new life hadn’t acquired a patina of wear yet, and it felt strange. Grace’s home, on the other hand, was bright and fun, full of noise and chaotic bustle. Her very house itself seemed to wear a comfortable expression of family life; sticky handprints decorated the hallway at toddler height. The floorboards bore the scuffs of scooters and rollerskates. Grace had two children under 5 and a baby girl, a delightful bundle I was briskly handed as soon as I walked through the door. The bundle cooed and looked at me with wide eyes, and Grace said ‘Tea?’.
I loved it at Grace’s house. I found her astonishing. How did she corall all this chaos so efficiently, so that at 7pm, at which time, after a while, I began to turn up to babysit, everyone was in bed - fed, rosy pink from a bath, stories read and the day resolved? It was like a film, or a storybook from days gone by. Those robust children slept like ocean liners, calmly and solidly sailing through the night and aiming for morning.
My new life became easier, steadily, as I learnt which was my bus stop, where i ended up if I missed it, my way round the Tube map and where to go out for the best cup of tea locally after a walk by the river (Tide Tables, under the bridge in Richmond. Still the best).
Grace and the children moved away, and we lost touch, as people do when lives flex and change. But when I had my own babies, I thought a lot about Grace and her ease and economy as a parent. She was so unflappable, so capable, so kind, and usually in possession of a sense of humour too; I wondered how on earth I was going to do it myself.
…to be continued.