Thursday 1st September
I may have mentioned before that when we were first decamped, quite unceremoniously, from Cyprus, we stayed at a hotel in Holborn. I was seven at the time, and remember all of this quite clearly. Although I had been born in London, and had lived there until I was about two or three, I cannot remember that at all. My first memories, and getting fuzzier by the day, are of Cyprus – of sunshine, of blue cloudless skies, of the little beach near our house where I used to play and the sharp spiky grass that used to grow in the sandy dunes.
So my return to London never felt like a homecoming; more like being banished into exile. Rain, I can remember rain; and grey skies every day. Dark, tall and grimy buildings everywhere; where in Cyprus it was all dusty grey or dazzling white. And the noise, I was shocked by all the noise, the traffic and the people rushing everywhere were quite frightening for a seven year old used to a slow languid pace of life. I don’t actually remember much about the hotel itself, or our accommodation within, but I do remember the Dining Room. How peculiar it felt to be eating in such a large and impersonal room, and everyone eating together, at separate tables, but eating in silence. The heavy, were they green, drapes at the windows and the silence; everyone ate in complete silence. I can remember the clatter of the plates being cleared away, and Grandma, one finger to her pursed lips, as she shushed me quiet.
And the tube, I can recall with startling clarity my first time on the tube. The long clacking wooden escalators with the lights on vertical poles with their yellowed-glass lamps shining up to the circular ceiling, and me, trying to hold onto the moving high handrail, which moved a bit slower than the steps moving my feet along, so I had to keep sliding my hand forward, and looking over and seeing the rows of moving faces and hats on the opposite side, then the platform with its’ yellow-cream tiles which seemed to go on forever, curving into infinity, and the noise of the train, the roar as it hurtled out of the dark maw of a tunnel, its’ one eye of a headlight bearing down on me. And me, the only child in the carriage as I sat on Grandma’s lap, and looked at all the pale and old faces opposite. And then more people got on, and were hanging by real leather loops in the ceiling. And everything so dirty, the greasy windows, worn seats and grubby floor with rubbish everywhere, and in Cyprus everything had seemed so clean.
I was devastated, in my naivety I thought of it all as some sort of punishment; I thought this would be forever, and I would never see the sea, or Cyprus, my home, again. They had taken me away from the sunshine and had locked me away in a London cupboard.