On moving day, as we approached the city, I felt like one of the kids in those Disneyland ads, I was so happy I cried tears of joy and H said it was as if I’d never even seen London before. I also embarrassed myself somewhat; as we approached the turning to our new road I leant out the window shrieking ‘LOOK, LOOK, it’s BIG BEN!’, waving frantically as a couple of tourists complete with baseball caps, bum bags and a map walked past. They looked over and gave me a knowing smile, I sank into my seat. I’ve lived here for nine years, for goodness sake.
Of course, I knew exactly how I’d feel about being back, but what has taken me aback is the friendliness I have encountered since returning; the kindness of strangers. Yes yes London is famous for being unfriendly, blah blah blah, and you either accept that and get on with it, or you don’t. And anyway, it’s hardly as if every single person in London is rude and in a hurry and hasn’t got time to hold open a door or give you a seat on the bus. But now I come with a baby in a pushchair, I am smiled at as we walk along the street. Total strangers strike up conversations with me over the aforementioned coffees in the morning. Little children in the gardens under the London Eye come toddling over to look at Zee, and therefore their parents come over and we chat.
Two weeks ago, as we walked from Lambeth to Tower Bridge and I grinned like a fool the entire way, a young couple and their little girl were walking just ahead of us. ‘Look Mummy, look!’ cried the little girl. ‘It’s Blossom!’ I realised she was pointing at Zee.
‘Blossom! Blossom!’ she exclaimed again and came running over. ‘Hello Blossom!’ she said as she peered into the pushchair. Her parents followed and we assured the little girl Zee is in fact not named after one of my favourite TV programmes of the early 1990’s. We all had a chat, they wandered off again. Public transport has been a bit of a revelation too; at Embankment station recently as I stood at the top of the steps, a man approached and said ‘Madam you simply must let me help you with this!’ and proceeded to sweep up the entire pushchair, complete with Zee and the nappy bag, and cart it down the steps for me. Obviously I am perfectly capable of lugging it up and down the steps myself, it’s good for my arms and is fairly easy to do. But people will also stop me halfway up or down (there’s a song in there) and offer to help, and I appreciate it.
Last Friday as we approached the underpass at Westminster Bridge I could hear the refrain of an accordion. As we strolled past I glanced at the musician and he momentarily played a little quieter, smiling down at Zee. I smiled too, I thought it was really nice. Now, I am yet to travel with Zee in rush hour (I will avoid it whenever possible) and there are no doubt tricky negotiations with buggies on buses to come. But London has taken me by surprise yet again. It’s time to live the London experience with a baby. There is something about having a baby that makes it so easy to strike up conversations with total strangers. Though I still draw the line in telling the baristas in Starbucks my name.