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Posts Tagged ‘nostalgia’

I haven’t always lived in York, for the vast majority of my life until I went to university, I lived in central London. Really central too, within a twenty minute stroll of St Paul’s, Tottenham Court Road, Leather Lane Market and within a half hour walk of Piccadilly Circus. From the ages of 8 to 19, London was my playground.

I have a love-hate relationship with London now. I moved back after several years living in the North-West of the UK, and while initially it was good to be back in my old stomping grounds, when I finally managed to extricate myself to move north again (eventually ending up in York) , it was with a sigh of relief and a determination to never live in London again. I realised that I have grown out of my tolerance for the noise, pollution, expense and general unfriendliness of the big city.

Even so, as a place to grow up, London is pretty unparalleled. We had very little money, but fortunately a creative and inquisitive mind doesn’t need much money to enjoy London, just a sense of adventure and a love of walking. So without further ado, and to scratch my slight nostalgic itch today, here are 8 things that were totally awesome about growing up in London, in no particular order.

Routemaster Buses

London_General_Routemaster_bus_(RML_class),_Piccadilly_Circus,_route_14,_8_June_2005

My old school had two sites, Lower School (based in Sloane Square) and Upper School (Victoria) so for the first 2-3 years of my school career, I took the 19 bus to school. It was a Routemaster. A more joyous vehicle has yet to be invented – even the sensation of flying on Docklands Light Railway couldn’t match the thrill of hanging off the back of a Routemaster bus and leaping off while it was still moving. Or the undeniable usefulness of being able to run and catch up with the bus that you missed at the stop but which has then been trapped at a set of traffic lights 100m further up the road. I loved those buses, and I eternally curse the cretinous moron that pulled them from service.

 

Free, Fantastic Museums

British_Museum's_Entrance

Long summers gave me wonderful opportunities to explore the capital’s culture – aka play hide and seek in the British Museum. I really don’t know anyone else who could boast such an illustrious playground. We were good at treading the fine line between being mischievous and disruptive, so I cannot remember ever being evicted or receiving any more than a mild head shake and an admonishment to be quiet… As I grew older, I started to appreciate the British Museum a lot more, and also became a regular visitor to Sir John Soane’s Museum, a magical and surreal house hidden round the back of Holborn, packed with artifacts collected by Sir John Soane on his many travels. I loved the Natural History Museum, and the Science Museum too, although due to the (relative) length of the journey, I didn’t go very often as a child, and by the time I was a teenager I felt too grown up for such things. I have, of course, rectified this since, and I can say with some authority that ice skating at Christmas at the Natural History Museum is something everyone should do at least once.

 

Live music

London is a veritable cornucopia of music venues ranging from back street pubs to proper stadium events. I could rarely (read: never) afford stadium events, but I spent a lot of time in pubs and smaller venues. A place where I spent a large amount of my formative teenage years was the Marquee Café in Soho (alas, no longer there, in fact, I believe it’s now a Pizza Express…), which backed onto the site of the original Marquee. I waitressed there during my A levels, occasionally getting to go up and sing, and I loved it. My later teenage years were spent either working and playing at the Marquee, or at a local bar to our house, and I grew to love being around live music in that environment.

 

Local History

School holidays could be really long, especially the summer ones. Many of my school friends went away for the whole six weeks, so I was often left largely to my own devices, and this was how my interest in the local history of the area was born. One summer when I was about 14, I decided to find out more about the tunnels that ran under the houses on our street, and one thing led to another led to another, finally leading to myself and one of my friends wangling our way into Mount Pleasant Sorting Office and getting a tour of the entire building, including the now-legendary postal railway. In the course of several holidays I learned, among other things: where the Fleet river once ran, everything a curious and slightly macabre mind might want to know about the old prisons that once dotted the area, where the nearest plague pits were alleged to be, and what the coat of arms on the local pub stood for. It would be very hard indeed to beat the part of London where I lived for interesting little facts and I am really happy that I got such an early introduction to the idea of learning about where you live.

 

Covent Garden

Covent Garden was the go-to place for window-shopping and watching street performers, and at about a 25 minute walk from my house, was perfectly accessible. There were a couple of fantastic shops, one of which, the name escapes me now, (let’s call it Covent Garden Trading Post for want of the correct name) but it was basically a treasure trove of silly gifts, alternative clothing, rag rugs, light shades, lava lamps, pin badges, candles and all manner of random stuff. Perfect for a young teen with pocket money to burn. I could, and did, spend hours in Covent Garden, and it was considered a very successful day if I came home with some nice smellies from the Body Shop and some goodies from the CGTP. I think I still have a candle holder from there, somewhere…

 

Lunchtime picnics in St James’ Park

StJamesPark

One of the most underrated pleasures of going to school in the heart of Westminster was that, particularly once we were doing A levels and had that extra bit of freedom, we could spend our lunch-breaks out of school, and St James’s Park was a mere sneeze away. On a warm day, we would inevitably decamp there and spend a happy hour making daisy chains and chatting instead of revising. Awesome.

 

Children’s playgrounds that are only for children

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Picture 9 year old me. Or don’t, if you find it too disturbing. But anyway, there was (and still is) this park called Coram’s Fields. It had swings and slides, and a zip line, and a big tyre swing, farm animals you could feed and pet, playcentre groups in the summer with dance classes and workshops, and best of all, no adults were allowed. The sign is still there. No adults unless accompanied by children. Thus, I was permitted a level of independence most of my friends could only dream of, because as long as I was home by the agreed time, I was allowed to go, unaccompanied, to this magical place. As I got older, I learned about Coram’s Fields as part of my interest in local history. It really was, and still is, a special place.

 

The Tube

Yes, OK, I confess. As a child, I loved to open the window between the carriages, facing the direction of travel, and hang my head out like an insane labrador. It resulted in frightful hair, soot on my face, and I suspect is a contributing factor to my current asthma. But it was fun and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. So there.

There you have it. A nostalgic journey into the world I inhabited growing up. I sometimes forget just how lucky I was. Very lucky indeed.

 

PS. THIS was my school. Seriously.

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Ah, Thursday again. As I understand it, a very squelchy Thursday for much of the country, I hope wherever you are you are warm, dry and happy. FAWM is progressing slowly for me at this end, I have another demo up, of new song Leave a Light On – enjoy!

I had a very happy walk to work the other day, as I’d downloaded an album that I hadn’t listened to in ages – Erasure’s Wild. This album came out when I had just turned 14, and I remember buying one of the singles, “Star” on vinyl. So I lost myself in nostalgia as I wandered through York, and I pondered which other albums had had an influence on me during my formative years.

The first album I ever bought was The Stranger, by Billy Joel. I saved my allowance for this one, at 50 cents a week (I was in the US at the time). It came out in 1977, when I was two, and I doubt very much, given my young age, that I bought it at the time of it’s release. But I do remember, vividly, going into our local record store with my parents, and handing over a grubby pile of half dollars, and going home with the vinyl LP, which I loved, and played on repeat for many years after it’s acquisition. The net result of an early love of this album was an early love of the piano, and I was determined to learn to play. However, my parents could not afford a full size piano, and instead got me a small electronic keyboard. This was enough to start me on my long journey as a songwriter! (The other, more unfortunate side effect of this album was a determination to marry Billy Joel… in hindsight I’m rather glad I got over that one!)

Billy Joel – Scenes From An Italian Restaurant – Live at the Tokyo Dome 2006

Next up, although these aren’t in chronological order, Wild, by Erasure. I’d already heard and loved “The Innocents” , but “Wild” was the first Erasure album I bought, this time on cassette. At this time in my life, I was 14/15, and I was obsessed with this synth driven joy I was hearing. It’s hard not to feel happy when listening to Erasure, even with the occasional sadder song, and while the Pet Shop Boys had never quite managed to suck me in, Erasure managed to completely convert me to the cause of synthpop. My favourite song off the album is “Star”, although honourable mentions go also to “Blue Savannah” (that piano!) and “You Surround Me”. Several of Erasure’s B-sides are also superb from this album, “Dreamlike State” being the B-side for “Star”. I miss B-sides…

Erasure – Star

The next one isn’t an album, but it’s important for understanding my burgeoning synth obsession. Future Sound of London’s  Cascade, an EP, or mini-album. I was in 6th form when a school friend introduced me to this and I loved it. I’ve long since lost my cassette copy of it, and for a long time was unable to track down the whole thing. The power of the internet returned it to me recently however:

iTunes: “Would you like to download Cascade?”

Me: “Shut up and take my money, why isn’t it here already??!”

Here’s the first track, Cascade part 1.

A run down of albums that shaped me would not be complete without Tori Amos, and her fantastic album, Little Earthquakes.  I remember, one damp, long summer at my dad’s house in Lancashire, lying on the floor listening to “Crucify” and feeling like no-one could possibly understand how I felt, except maybe this woman, with her piano, her crazy lyrics and cracked, heartfelt vocals. She solidified my need to write, although it took another decade or two before I found the courage.

Tori Amos – Crucify (Live at Montreux, 1991)

Last but not least, the album that contains my favourite song of all time, Hounds of Love, by Kate Bush. My parents had this album in their music collection, and I remember hearing it repeatedly growing up. It wasn’t until I became an older teenager that I really rediscovered it, and learned to love it myself, I suspect I was a bit too young before. Something about the anthemic “Cloudbusting” always stayed with me, and it occupies the rare position of being my absolutely favourite song, it has never faded or become too familiar, and punches me in the gut every time I hear it. In a good way.

Kate Bush – Cloudbusting

That’s some of the music that has had an influence on me. It’s not exhaustive, but it’s a pretty good starting point. Thanks for reading/listening and I hope you enjoyed this journey through my past!

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