In early 2007, I had to fly to London for business meetings, so I timed it to arrive on a Saturday to give time to shake off the jet lag before meetings started on the Monday.
That Sunday turned out to be gloriously warm for the time of year and it called for a good walk. I was staying in Holborn, on Great Queen Street, and that central location meant that I could explore in any direction. I decided to revisit our old neighbourhood in Kensington where we had lived in the late 1990s.
Setting out early on a Sunday morning and walking through Covent Garden and on through Leicester Square to Picadilly gave me a chance to revel in moral superiority – you pass many a bar that had been crowded the night before, and many a staggering thick-headed reveller just headed home. The tourists were out as they always are in central London, and our years living in the city gave me that sense of being a Londoner with the right to look down my nose at them.
Walking on a sunny day is most fun when it’s relaxed and meandering. I followed no particular plan, other than generally wandering west, and after awhile I found myself at Marble Arch having travelled up Regent Street and along Oxford Street. From Marble Arch I decided to go south through Hyde Park and aim for Knightsbridge Road and then west onto Brompton Road to pass Harrods. By then I knew I was getting anxious to see our old place, so I kept going along Brompton past the V&A and along Cromwell Road. West from there took me to Gloucester Road where I turned north and walked up to Kynance Mews.
Entering that little street brought a rush of wonderful memories – the house looked just the same, pale yellow paint and the planters out front. I stood for a moment to take it in, and then moved on, feeling self-conscious for having stood staring.
I kept going through the Mews and meandered north and west through the back streets of Kensington past Kensington Square and up to Kensington High Street. Lunch was a sandwich from Marks & Spencer – those were always a guilty pleasure. You have to try the cheese & pickle or the egg salad to know what I mean.
From the High Street, I started back east towards Kensington Gardens and on into Hyde Park to walk along the Serpentine. There were a benches for resting and basking in February sun, young couples with strollers, older ladies with dogs, and early spring flowers poking through. It was magical. We had moved to London in January 1997 and that year had featured an unseasonably warm winter. We thought it was normal to see daffodils so early and only with the return of a regular winter the following year did we learn that a more typical January in London was grey, wet, dreary, and cold.
That February day was bittersweet – we had toyed with the idea of staying in London but eventually grew homesick after a few years. And yet, the moment we arrived back to Toronto (on July 1, Canada Day, no less) we kicked ourselves and wanted to return. We missed London terribly for years afterwards, and only the arrival of our son a few years later settled us back into Toronto. Wandering Kensington on a sunny winter’s day brought back that homesickness, but this time for London.
After a proper wallow in melancholy, it was time to keep wandering, and my steps took me back to Marble Arch and on to Oxford Street. By then it was getting late and dark, so I went into Selfridges to raid the food hall for a takeaway feast and a nice bottle of wine, and closed my day in style watching snooker on the telly back at the hotel.
You can’t go home again. I learned that twice, once returning to Toronto from London, and again that day. Walks can create memories, and sometimes they can unleash them.