Half a lifetime ago, I spent 5 years in the British Isles; three of those years as a poor University student in London and apart from a short stopover, I have not been back to visit for 20 years. Very shortly, I will be making that trip and I will be meeting up with old friends for the very first time since.
I am excited and a little apprehensive at what I will find. I already know that at least one of my old haunts have fallen under the wheels of progress and the relentless march of time. Will old memories come flooding back or will I find I no longer have a connection with this great city.
The London and indeed the Britain I knew must be quite different from what they are today. Mine was a Britain under the iron rule of Margaret Thatcher; a Britain where the fish and chippie shop was still common place; a country that still faced the problem of terrorist attacks from the IRA (I was nearby when bombs went off outside Harrod’s Department Store); a country whose Queen was almost uniformly respected and adored; a country that fought a risky but (most people would agree) justified war for the Falklands; and finally, a country where Hugh Laurie played the straight-laced and proper mommy’s boy sidekick to Rowan Atkinson in the Black Adder TV series.
Today, the time of Thatcher is like a distant memory. The fish and chip shop has been largely replaced by curry and rice shops. Thankfully, there is hope of a lasting peace in Ireland but London has been attacked by Islamic terrorists instead. The once unsullied Queen has suffered much bad publicity over her relationship with Princess Diana. Today, a commission is investigating the reasons why Tony Blair’s government committed the country to an unpopular and possibly unjustified war in Iraq. And Hugh Laurie is almost unrecognisable as the caustic and cankerous Doctor House in the American TV series.
I have not seen the Millennium Bridge (or indeed any of the Millennium projects), the Princess Diana memorial, the London Eye, the Gerkhin etc. I’m hoping the old open air market in Fulham is still there. I’m hoping the kebab place near Golder’s Green tube station still sells the best kebabs ever. I’m hoping to visit my old University residence and find it largely unchanged. I’m hoping Somerset Cider is as delicious as I remember it. I’m hoping that U.K. food standards have improved!
Most of all, I am hoping my old friendships will pick up where we left off some twenty years ago. Wish me luck.