Yesterday was the one year anniversary of our move. Last June we went to Paris on the train from St. Pancras to have that last fling in Europe, with killing time in parks and eating dinners in cafes that did not involve chicken fingers or hot dogs.
My older daughter voluntarily ordered pigeon and ate whelks, peut-être les winkles, mollusks she extracted from the shell with a spike like some kind of crazy, “Metropolitan Diary” fantasy. We queued at Ladurée for a crayon box selection of macaroons filled with ganache, the recommendation of the Texan mom whose family had moved from Paris the year before.
I went to Paris armed with a printout of places to take children for ice cream and treats, advice on public transport and parks and how best to deal with the Eiffel Tower; we walked up to the second platform, from there, the elevators are free.
Last spring, planning the move on laptops, aided by satellite maps and snippets of advice, we had had the good sense to join a community pool so that we would have somewhere to take the girls when we arrived. I sensed a slight feeling of anticlimax and fatigue; everyone was tan; swim season was almost over; I understand now the stamina it demands of the swimmers, the coaches, the volunteer parents. Late June is the true midpoint of the summer holiday here, school having been out since May.
The pool seemed to close arbitrarily for meets or practice, but we were so grateful to have it, a place to go at the end of the day that felt like a holiday. We used to have to wait until the Late May Bank Holiday (Memorial Day) for the wading pool in Queen’s Park to open and it would be packed, packed, with very little sitting space, none of it dry, no chairs. The dark bathrooms stank of Dettol disinfectant, an unkind, Band-Aidy (Elastoplast) smell. But we spent summers at that park — a discovery when friends started buying houses there, and only a bus ride away — watching the children and our friends’ children grow up and learn not to throw sand or get lost in the crowds, to master the climbing equipment, to learn to claim turns on the big swings, ride bikes and finally to brave the zip wire. It was a park with a free petting zoo. They had goats, chickens, rabbits and guinea pigs.
Weekend upon weekend we met people for breakfast at the caf, sausages and chips and lattes, big mugs of tea, crisps, carrot cake — not a combination you will find in America, at least not here, or met friends with picnics, packs of biscuits, sausage rolls, those plastic cups from Ikea. On special weekends there were community festivals, used book stalls, inflatables, a fun fair, crafts, lucky dip, bake sales.
We had our last Easter Egg hunt at the Queen’s Park bandstand, the year the kids were too old, but begged to do it anyway. It was a pot luck picnic, with Spanish tortilla, chicken wings, Turkish veg, cinnamon rolls and Mexican cascaron, decoupaged eggshells filled with confetti that you crack over each others’ heads. I brought pimento cheese and celery sticks, a nod to our Southern heritage, recipe from the Frank Stitt cookbook, a Birmingham, AL chef we’d heard on NPR while on our annual spring break trip to the South to see family.
After a day at the park, we walked back to the bus shelter off Kilburn Park Road where there was always an old souse with a mashed-in face and tons of people waiting. Exhaustion at the end of a day, the beach bag filled with the empty picnic things, wet swimsuits, a fat, damp weekend Newspaper, and the recorded voice of the bus, with its neutral-as-possible accent calling the stops and Stand back, Doors closing. A rowdy clot of giggling teenagers, moving as a hydra of sound, energy and mass through the aisles. We’d arrive home and collapse.
It seemed like those days of the small child years would go on forever, but the spring and summer before last, people weren’t spending whole days at the park. There were rainy days, swimming lessons, soccer games, birthday parties, other friends. Children growing up and outgrowing things means that even if you stay where you are certain times will come to their own end.
We drove to the community pool, parked at the gate, so easy, no traffic. When people learned we had come from the UK, they told us about the (other) (real) British family, known locally for riding bicycles. As it turned out, their daughter was on my daughter’s soccer team, a fall sport here, and we met at the first game, where I found myself (without a folding chair) sitting with three mothers, two of whom were British and had lived in London, one an EU citizen, all of whom have experienced the cultural disjointedness from there to here.
One of my best friends has become a father since we left. He posts pictures of his daughter in familiar-looking playgrounds or at her playgroup, where he is re-learning childhood songs in British. He, too, will watch Noddy, but I hope he is spared The Hoobs. I hope he gets to see Clangers and Bagpuss. Those years are gone, one way or another, before you know it.
We didn’t realize it had been the one-year anniversary until today. We had unwittingly marked it eating Domino’s pizza in front of the TV, gone native.