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Gayle Nichol's picture

London is calling

Fri, 06/01/2018 - 08:14 -- Gayle Nichol

Memory is a funny thing.

What we retain.

What we reach for, but can no longer find.

I remember curling up on my dad’s lap, cradled in his right arm when I was almost too big to fit, while he recited my favourite nursery rhyme:

Pussy cat, pussy cat,
Where have you been?
I’ve been to London to visit the Queen…

Sometimes he would sing it. Sometimes the heel of his foot would tap out the cadence of his words as I begged for him to repeat it again and again.

I remember the first novel I ever read: The Bobbsey Twins at the Tower of London. I raced to the kitchen to proclaim my accomplishment to my mother. She was standing at the sink, washing dishes. I was hooked on reading. And London.

I remember wandering into the history section of the library at Emily Carr Public School and pulling down a book about King Henry VIII. It had a pink cover, and the dust jacket crinkled when I let it fall open in my lap, as if it hadn’t been opened in an age. The king was depicted in the center of a ring of women. Some, as the book revealed, did not remain long – or wholely -- with the king.

It’s funny that I don’t remember any of the watershed birthdays of my life. Nor the grades listed on the last scholastic report card of my life. Or the first time I cast a ballot in a free election.

But I remember falling in love with history. British history. Kings and queens and the aristocracy in particular.

My grandparents on both sides hailed from the United Kingdom. I just recently learned that my grandfather grew up just blocks from Big Ben. Even as I write this, an historical shiver runs through me to consider that the majestic chimes from the Bell Tower were woven into the soundtrack of my grandfather’s youth.

I have devoured British history and sociology throughout my life. I melted into the romance, intrigues, mystery and magic of different times in a place far, far away.

It has always been my escape. Even when the harsh realities of life would suffocate me, I could find inspiration in the strength of Elizabeth I, the challenging nature of Henry, the great love of Albert and Victoria, the devotion of Elizabeth II.

Even at leisure I steeped myself in the romantics and their Britain of the day. Emily Bronte, Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen.

Joy, joy, joy.

I spout quotes from Pride and Prejudice every week, in relevant context to the life I lead: “We are all fools in love.”

And now, after a half century of reading and dreaming and studying and imagining – now, I am flying.

First to London and then on to explore the rest of the United Kingdom. To lay my eyes on the sites whose stories have steeped into my bones and become a part of me. To touch the ground, the castle rocks.

After all this time, instead of getting ready to go on vacation, I rather feel like I’m going home.

Home to London, to visit the Queen.

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