20 Feb A Brief History of Me. Chapter Four. London for the Last Time.
On our journey down from Scotland we passed through Blackpool as intended. It was a wet, grey day, but we walked along the beach stopping to prod jellyfish and kick cans across the sand. That night we stayed in Manchester with Jim’s cousin Gerry and his wife K’ria, my first introduction to the family we would now become part of. Gerry, Jim and his ex-girlfriend Carmel had formed a band in the early 80’s while at Manchester Uni, and had gone on to have some success in the UK and Europe.
Mum was waitressing at their recent album launch when her and Jim got chatting. She mentioned that she had recently opened a business with a friend of hers, a vintage Boutique in Soho. The next day Jim would visit every vintage boutique in Soho with a bunch of roses, hoping to find the woman he had met the night before. Eventually he landed at The Dispensary. Mum wasn’t working that day, but he left the flowers and his phone number.
Their relationship felt important from the start. Jim helped mum believe in herself and helped her regain the confidence to confront my grandmother and bring me back from Scotland. They bought a small flat in Kilburn, North West London. We moved in and I enrolled in the local school.
Jim carried on with the band, often away on tour. Mum split her time between The Dispensary and her business creating themed cake sculptures with elaborate backdrops. Years before Pinterest offered up spectacular cakes, it was a unique and exciting idea, but also a physically exhausting undertaking. Every other weekend I would visit my dad Gareth who still lived in a flat off Portobello road. I remember so many Sunday mornings sat at his wooden dining table drawing all the people in my mind’s eye across infinite pieces of paper.
My favourite pastimes were building homes for my jumble sale barbies out of cardboard boxes, reading any book I could get my hands on and drawing elaborate pictures of parties full of ladies in ballgowns. I had a wonderful teacher called Rosa who encouraged my creativity and told me that she fully expected to pick a book off a shelf with my name on the cover one day. I had also started my habit of collecting little pieces to decorate my room and inhabit my imaginary world. Mini clay figurines, wooden animals, dried conkers and old cigar boxes and tins. Around this time Carmel and Jim wrote a song for me:
Tender is your life
Of sweet romance.
Like a glass menagerie. All the little animals
Sitting in a row
One by one we fall, down into your hands, all my little pieces.
I was happy to be back with my mum, but I also missed my life in Scotland. After my grandmother’s manipulation, I didn’t know how secure this new life was and often had nightmares of being abandoned and lost in London. I was also intensely jealous of Jim. I resented having to share my mum with him and see how much they loved each other. It made no difference that he was kind and fun and gave me new sets of paints or rented videos that he thought I’d like. I would occasionally pack a small cloth bag with a used train ticket, some pencils and a notepad and declare my intention to escape back to Scotland.
Then one day I met Malika at school and everything felt less lonely. She had a wildly mischievous grin and the ability to make me laugh until my belly hurt. Malika wanted to be an actress when she grew up and I wanted to write and illustrate books, so we would sit and plan our exciting futures, spending every moment we could together. She was my first true friendship love and she opened up my heart at a time when I felt a lot of mistrust.
Another special friend was Yuko. She had just moved to London from Japan and spoke very little English, yet we somehow communicated perfectly and made each other laugh, especially when playing with our barbies. Her mother Keiko invited me over to their home to eat traditional Japanese food and teach me how to use chopsticks. I remember feeling deeply embarrassed by how clumsily I used them. Yuko and Keiko would become life long friends. Years later, Keiko would choose my yet unborn brother’s middle name.
And then, once more, everything changed. Mum and Jim started making plans to move to Spain. The Tories had been voted in yet again, mum was tired of the long winters and the relentless pace of London life. Their idea was that Jim could carry on touring and mum could take her cake business to Spain. I was devastated. I didn’t want to leave Malika, Yuko or my teacher Rosa. Mum and Jim tried to convince me that it would be an adventure and I would eventually love it, but I refused to get excited. I wanted to stay put and have friends that I had known for longer than a year.
The move went ahead: they rented out the flat to tenants and found an old farmhouse down a dirt track outside of Ronda in Andalucia for a few months, while they figured out what to do. Jim had recently bought an Alfa Romeo Spider with the chunk of money from a recent record deal, so the plan was to take the ferry to the North of Spain and drive down to the South. On our last day I remember holding Malika, both of us in floods of tears, clinging to each other. In the early morning Yuko and Keiko left a bag of Japanese treats on our doorstep for the journey. It was 1992, I was 8 years old and the next adventure was about to begin.