Having concluded that I don’t really have a home town (in) travelwithgma.wordpress.com/2022/02/15 – it was suggested to me, by Dr Jody Thompson, that there could be a third possibility for claiming a place as a home town. Dr Thompson suggested that maybe a home town could be where your heart and soul I had previously concluded that a connection to a place where I had not lived was not sufficient for that place to be my home town. Nor could I claim the place where I grew up, because I hated that place with a passion.
Being a “head” person, not a “heart and soul” person, I had not considered the possibility of a home town being where my heart and soul was, although I had referred to London as my soul city on occasion.
I knew London well, long before I visited it. Growing up in a country colonized by the British, the school curriculum was very anglo-centric. Kings and Queens of England and the history of Britain were taught, rather than the history of New Zealand-Aotearoa. It was as if the history of Aotearoa only commenced with the British invasion. Geographic features of of Britain were familiar. Our reading books were generally set in England, written by British writers. Enid Blyton made Cornwall pretty familiar, Peter Pan bought Kensington Gardens to life.
My Nursery Rhymes were set in London and other areas in the UK. I was very happy to finally hear the bells of St Clemens (of oranges and Lemons fame), London Bridge (is falling down), York (The Grand Old Duke of York), and many many more.
Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury writers made Hyde Park Gate and Bloomsbury familiar. My first visit to the British Museum did not feel like a first visit. I had read about and seen images of a lot of the items held there.
The British Royal Family were revered in New Zealand – possibly because of the percentage of immigrants from the UK. Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London were constantly pictured in newspapers and magazines as were Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament and of course members of the British Royal Family.
My ancestors mostly came from the UK, (Ireland, Scotland and England, with one outlier from Portugal.) A lot of my English ancestors were born and lived in Southwark, London after their migration from Suffolk a couple of hundred years ago. I have previously written about my search for Uk ancestors – see travelwithgma.word.press.com/2020/02/09
I was an adult when I first visited London. The red double decker buses, with destinations such as, for example, High Street Kensington, Trafalgar Square, Oxford Street and Regent Street felt familiar, as did all the major landmarks. I was quite at home in London. I have visited London on numerous occasions, with new discoveries on each visit. Threadneedle Street, Poultry Lane, the various Royal Parks, Dulwich Gallery, Frederick Leighton’s House and the Wallace Collection.
I lived and worked in London for a couple of years. In some respects it felt like coming home. I lived in several different areas in London, so got to know those areas very well.
My first residence was a little apartment in Bruton Lane, Mayfair – joy. Bruton Lane was off Bruton Street, a few steps from Bond Street. Berkeley Square was at the other end of Bruton Street.
There was a mock tudor pub on the corner of Bruton Street and Bruton Lane, the Coach and Horses, which is apparently the oldest building on Bruton Street. The food served in that pub was excellent. A picturesque pub, serving good food and only a minute walk from home was a delight.
I have very happy memories of a visit from NZ cousins while living in Bruton Lane. We decided to go to dinner one night at a “restaurant” in Berkeley Square (A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square). We did not realise that the second floor restaurant which we had noticed was the dining room of a private club. The receptionist looked a touch startled to be confronted by 3 people, one on crutches, not dressed in accordance with the dress code, asking for a table. To her credit, she let us in, and didn’t tell us it was a private club. Pretty cool for Mayfair. I don’t recall what we ate, but I do recall cousin Ken asking the waitress if she had heard many nightingales singing. She looked blank. You know Ken said, “A Nightingale sang in Berkeley Square”. She was too young to remember a song written in 1939.
We were actually at Morton’s Club, which had a magnificent view overlooking the length of Berkeley Square, from north to south.
I then lived in Middlesex Street (Petticoat Lane) for a few months. Hearing the Cockney accents as the traders set up their stalls was quite surreal. I had not previously spent any time in this part of London. My explorations were an adventure. Spitafields market and Brick Lane with its Indian Restaurants were a quite different experience.
My longest time in an area was at Putney Bridge, in a beautiful Mews House in Church Gate alongside All Saints Church, Fulham, beside the River Thames. The tower of the church dates back to 1440. The Bishops Park and Palace in Southwark was over the back fence. I frequently walked or rode a bike along the Thames Path, sometimes cycling as far as Richmond.
The graveyard at All Saints came alive in spring. A host of golden daffodils appeared. Wordsworth’s Wandering Lonely as a Cloud came to mind every time I saw them. Although the graveyard did not contain ten thousand daffodils, those in the graveyard “tossed their heads in sprightly dance” and although “my heart with pleasure filled” I did not actually dance with the daffodils.
The second and third floor windows of my Mews House looked out over All Saints and Putney Bridge. The view over Putney Bridge was ever changing and I never tired of looking at it. Morning mists in winter and at night, when it was lit up with red London buses travelling across it provided the loveliest of visions.
I could have climbed over the back fence into the gardens of the Bishops Palace in Fulham, but I resisted the temptation, and walked to the entrance. The gardens are the second oldest botanical gardens in London, and contain riverside gardens and a walled garden. I spent a lot of time in those gardens.
Sloane Gardens, Sloane Square
My final residence in London was an apartment in Sloane Gardens. Sloane Square and the Kings Road provided much entertainment and interest.
How good was it to be able to walk to the Chelsea Flower Show. This was the year Mary Reynolds became the youngest person to win a medal. She created the Celtic Sanctuary.
It was from this location that I was dragged kicking and screaming back to the Antipodes, bound for Botany Bay.
Fortunately for me – it was not “farewell to England forever”. I visit London at least annually, sometimes for up to 3 months. During these visits, I have become familiar with Islington, Primrose Hill and Richmond. When my flight arrives at Heathrow, I feel as if I am home. I don’t feel like that when my flight touches down at Sydney on my return. It takes me weeks to recover from my my return.
What is it about London which makes it a contender for my home town of the heart and soul? Is it possible to claim a town as a home town on the basis of heart and soul?
Growing up in London would have provided a totally different life than the life I experienced in London. Post war London looks pretty grim. Rationing was still in place. Post war, a little village in New Zealand showed no signs of the destruction London experienced. There was no rationing. The air was fresh and clean, and the rivers were not polluted.
What did London have that I would have found far more to my taste than what was offered by life in a village in New Zealand?
I have always loved cities. I was always in my happy place in a city, be it a small city like Hastings (which I attempted to appropriate as my home town), or better still, Auckland – when we arrived in Auckland in summer, I used to wind the car windows down (yes, wind) to smell the melting bitumen. Very evocative for a kid from the country where the roads were not sealed.
Visiting the Auckland Museum was one of the pleasures to be had in that city. There were shops, a lot of shops. The Farmers Trading Company, with a rooftop playground was a little paradise. There were lots of people. The anonymity of living in a city would have been so much more to my taste than the curtain twitchers reporting on my every move to my parents.
Living in a small village provided little exposure to culture. The first ever live performance I experienced was attending a performance by the World Famous Hogarth Puppets at the Municipal Theatre in Hastings. I was entranced – not just with the puppets, but with the whole experience. The Art Noveau interior felt very fancy.
The New Zealand Ballet Company came to Putaruru once. I can’t remember what they performed, but I do recall the thrill of “going to the ballet.” Attending a performance of Lay Bayadere at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden a lifetime later, bought back the memories of my very first ballet attendance in Putaruru.
The only musical I ever attended in Aotearoa was a performance of My Fair Lady in Auckland, in about 1961. I have never forgotten the magic of that night. Travelling to Auckland, dressing up and attending a plush theatre (well plush after the corrugated iron picture theatre I attended), and savouring every moment of the performance.
Live music performances were almost non existent, unless you can count one of the West boys playing a guitar and mouth organ simultaneously at the local hall.
Compare these cultural experiences with those available in London. I had a friend who had grown up in London at the time I was living it a little village. Coincidentally, she had lived around the corner from my house in Putney Bridge, so the Fulham Bishops Palace, park and garden were in her back garden. She went to the theatre and attended concerts. She visited the British Museum. The movie theatre she attended was not made of corrugated iron. She frequented the wonderful royal parks and gardens. London was always her home town, despite not having lived there for a long time.
If I had grown up in London, I would very happily claim it as my home town, but I didn’t grow up in London. I am sorry Dr Thompson, the head has overruled the heart and soul – I could not in all honesty claim London as my home town, but I rejoice in the fact that Charlie, the newest member of the family can claim London as her home town.
A comment on My Home Town blog (published 2002/02/15) has provided me with a home town. “Allover” is my home town. Thank you mitchteemly.