Don’t you agree that sometimes we may feel we possess pieces of wisdom about certain aspects of our lives, yet when asked about it we find difficulty even articulating the simplest idea or opinion?
I was staring at my laptop screen night after night, drink after drink, chill out song after chill out song, photo after photo and yet no matter how much I thought I possessed, I owned, I mastered to a large percentage the concept of travelling, courtesy of my travel life, I could not find – select being a better verb – a single sentence to start talking about travel.
Well, when one finds difficulty in things in life in untying his personal Gordian Knots I guess one can just leave aside the meaningful, sophisticated, arty-farty meanings and emotions and just look back and state how things actually started…
It was 28th of September 1998.
Just like in TV, even though the official start of the TV season does not coincide with the actual start which is usually one month before, in the same way my personal travel life line – and travel is not used with just the literate meaning of the word – had its actual start with some trips in Europe and a 5-month stay for studies in Lund, Sweden, but the true official, stylish, with all bells and whistles start was in that September evening.
Clapham was an area I had never heard of. Of course it was not that I had spent my whole life in London and I had never been there, but as a student in London one rarely gets to visit places where the concentration of universities, student residencies or in general with student-induced interest locations is low especially when those places are south of the river.
It was late September and it was a weird period of time.
One year of study had come to its end and all friends I knew in London had gone back to their home countries and very few had stayed to make a new and fresh start. I was ready to make a new start myself in London but I had not actually grasped what was about to happen. I was slightly mift and unhappy of losing my cosy, happy and carefree student life and on the other side I was really looking forward for that new start. Yet, none of those feelings and emotions could prevail…so I was left in despair – just like standing on top of cross roads and never knowing if the direction you are about to take is the right one.
It was around 20:00.
Me and a very good friend of fine – a virtual friend of Bernard Tsumi as I used to say because I liked the sound of that name – had finished a nice walk in the area between Clapham Junction and Clapham Common and were already digesting a splendid Italian dinner in St John’s Rd – an area that I was to keep in my heart for the coming years. (When I am in London I always try to find some time to walk and stand and marvel the simplicity of an area with yet the strange ability to trigger heavy and diverse sentimental memories to people).
After buying some stuff from the local Asda and going back to my newly rented flat to prepare for the night, I found myself in the entrance of Clapham Junction train station.
It was a warm and peaceful afternoon. It felt like a late-summer afternoon yet there was all over the air diffused a message that summer has ended and we are heading to autumn. It was warm but a slight touch of breeze could be felt in the air. I stopped for a while and attracted with a child’s greediness into my eye nerves pictures of the neighbourhood, the people, the buses, the houses, the house architecture, the movements, the odd take-away, the small corner shop or the big shopping centre on the corner of St Jones Hill and Lavender Hill.
I had all the time of my life and I did not rush. I took my time easily. I wondered how it would be to live around there. I wondered what kind of sentiments I would get to feel and live. Is the neighbourhood nice? Will I get to like it? How will my life going to evolve in one year? (I just could not go any further into the future)
The light was still quite present around. Even though it was late evening it felt like the sun had never set for good. It felt like those times that you feel – in the summer – that God has stopped the spin of the globe and for some surreal reason the dusk goes on forever – well at least for some time, more than what the MET office has predicted and calculated.
I sighted and moved on. Got my ticket, waited patiently on the platform feeling the then light breeze that was still giving me slight shivers as it was moving in the small alleys under my white summer shirt and all over my back and when the Victoria train arrived, I boarded, although not very sure as it was the first time I was taking the train to central London and I had to double check by asking a middle aged guy standing next to me.
The train left Clapham Junction and started slowly moving towards Victoria. I found an almost empty from people and sounds train compartment – there were only a couple of bubbly girls sitting and I relaxed my year-old tired body.
It had been a rough year and an even rougher last two months. I had finished writing my dissertation in the University, had searched for a month for a new home, had found it, moved my stuff over there, I had settled the practicalities of my new job, I had even completed my presentation on my dissertation some days ago, and for the first time after two intensive months, I felt as if the tiredness was slipping away and escaping slowly my body and I felt relaxed. I felt as if the hard part was over and I was ready to start appreciating and marvelling the new life that was in front of me.
I started making some small plans – not about my future professional carrier but about simple and plain things like that I needed to start scouting the area, that I needed to buy a sofa, that I needed to sort out some things in my old student hall that I needed to settle my next trip to Lund in a couple of months’ time etc. It all had to do with the new life that was in front of me and no matter how trivial such small plans were and sounded it was this summation and fusion of micro-trivialities that created such a mega-excitement that in few occasions in my life I felt.
After Battersea I felt as if it was slightly warm in the train compartment. I stood up, opened a small window and let the cold and shiver-causing air to enter the compartment. I shivered – but for a funny reason i did now know if this was the air or the excitement of the unknown new start.
After Battersea the train slowed down and I took a look outside. I saw a view that thrilled me. The city lights, the London city lights were coming closer to me and I felt strange. I felt I was entering a new part of the city – that of excitement, style, new experiences. I felt I was leaving the bosom of the small, cosy, humble, friendly virtual neighbourhood and moving close to the virtual city centre. In that same way I felt that I was saying goodbye to my past humble student life and entering a new phase- so big and so huge that one could call it a new life. It felt surreal. It felt nice. It felt marvellous. On my left I saw in style Chelsea and Albert Bridge and then the Thames was in my view. Light were all over and I felt excited – just like a Saturday evening when one leaves his home and prepares for a great night out. My night would last for some years.
I decided that this time and instance I had to keep forever in my heart and mind. I decided that i should create a time and space sticker in that specific space and time instance and remember in my future life that evening. I decided that this was a change in life. Yet I could not think of a way to put this in my memory forever.
Exiting the train and heading for the buses – we had decided to meet somewhere in Chelsea – I approached a bin to throw away my ticket. I hesitated for a while and looked at it. Without realising at that point how much difference and how important such an action would be, I decided to keep the ticket.
I kept it in my small memorabilia boxes for the next days, the next months, the next years…
After many years of moving to numerous places in London, around the world and in other locations, moving houses …, this ticket managed to survive.
I still keep this ticket in my personal memorabilia. And it is one of the cases that such trivial and plain things – like a train ticket -, when being looked at, get metamorphosed to pictures and movies that unfold and expand in front of one’s eyes – my eyes – every time I look at. Every time I hold it in my hands I feel I am being teleported in London in that afternoon, looking in awe the city lights of a city that was to become my second to my hometown home.
It was a new and glorious start. And most importantly, it proved to be and to be called a worthy and new and glorious start.
It was the start of a new life but it actually constituted the start of a life where travelling was to play a major part.
And London was to be my base for this endeavour.