Last night we had a Sarah's Book Group social on the theme of journeys/places. We could either read something we had written, read something written by someone else, or talk about a journey. This was my effort:
First trip to London
The first time I visited London was in 1968, when I was ten years old, on a school trip. We went on a specially chartered train early in the morning from Bolton station. The journey took about three-and –a-half hours.
On this journey, I had a real problem. The problem came in the shape of a big, brown leather bag in which my mother had packed my lunch. The bag was about four years old and had a picture of the Beatles on it. The Beatles were no longer the group of smiling mop tops shown in the picture. They had transformed into tripped out and rather hairy looking hippies. At ten the idea of being so publically out of date was already an anathema. And out of date in London! (sigh) It was almost too much to bear.
The bag was a cast off from our next door neighbour, Pauline Kimmer. Pauline was buxom, married to a pleasant, greasy haired biker with the largest workman’s bum in Bolton and was the owner of two Alsatian dogs. These dogs were a trial to me. They barked constantly and regularly placed their front paws on the wall between the two properties and stared at me with menace. One day one of them got over the wall and chased me down the yard, where I hid in the outside lavatory for over an hour. And so, having condemned me to a life long anxiety about Alsatian dogs, Pauline innocently contributed to a longstanding fear of potential social embarrassment.
Eventually, we arrived at Euston. I walked across the concourse, photo side of bag face inward and gripped firmly against my side and was directed to a coach where we began our itinerary.
First stop was the Tate Gallery. This was full of landscapes and paintings of large ladies wearing nothing more than thin strips of floating fabric, which occasionally covered their 'naughty bits'. Everyone, apart from a few rude boys and the teachers, rightfully condemned this as very boring. Next was Hampton Court, where we not allowed in the maze in case we got lost and I imagine that’s where we probably ate our sandwiches. I have no memory of how I managed to hide the picture of the Beatles as I opened the front of the bag to free my lunch. I assume the memory to have been so traumatic I automatically repressed it.
Having checked no one had accidentally wandered into the maze, the teachers led us back to the coach and we were bound for Windsor. On the way there we went through Harrow and were shocked to see teenage boys dressed in tail coats and top hats walking through the streets. We banged on the windows, pointed and pulled faces at this bizarre spectacle. However young and uneducated we might be, we knew our class enemies when we saw them.
I liked filing around Windsor castle with its roped off walkways, its chintzy chairs, Indian print carpets and paintings of noble stags in Scottish glens. This was where the queen lived and, despite the class war, I still share her taste in carpets.
From Windsor we were placed on a boat for our trip down the Thames back to central London. It was a sunny afternoon and we took photographs of each other and the river. I think it was the first time I was let loose with a camera: a Kodak 125. For years I had a photograph of a smiling Elizabeth Nowak partly obscured by my thumb.
As the afternoon drew on, we began to get hungry. ‘Don’t worry,’ said the teachers, ‘You’ll be having tea soon.’ Mmmnnn we thought, tea. Images of sausage rolls and cakes or maybe sausage and mash, or maybe even boiled beef and carrots – wasn’t that what they ate in London? - floated into my mind.
Eventually - it takes forever to sail down the Thames on a cruiser - we were called below decks for our tea. On the table in front of us were placed piles of jam sandwiches and plates of jam tarts. Jam sandwiches! Only the poor – or the kids in Enid Blyton books actually had jam sandwiches for tea! And jam tarts? Jam tarts are shite, especially when the jam is orange and yellow! This wasn’t tea. It was rubbish!
I don’t remember much about sailing past the Houses of Parliament or getting off the cruiser or getting back on the train. I was probably too cross about the terrible tea. The journey home seemed to take even longer than the one going, especially as I was starving: one packed lunch and three tiny jam butty quarters were not enough to sustain a growing girl.
The next day a small delegation of mothers turned up at the school demanding a partial refund on the £5.00 they had paid for the trip. What none of us realised was that, in London, such fare could pass for tea. Brought up on the Industrial North-West, we described what the South (and possibly the Northern Middle Classes) called dinner as 'our tea'. But, on reflection, it really was a piss poor afternoon tea. Where was the salmon? Where was the cucumber? Where were the scones and cream?
I don’t know if the delegation of mothers ever got their money back. What I do know is that I never took the brown leather bag with the picture of the Beatles on the front anywhere ever again.