Odd, perhaps, that recently I was quoting the line about the past being a foreign country (“they do things differently there”). Here am I visiting a foreign country – though it was home to me for six years or so – and, though I am resolutely unsentimental about such things, I yesterday felt a strong urge to visit the place where I’d once lived on the south-western outskirts of London.
Perhaps I should have realized the foolishness of the undertaking as soon as I got to Waterloo station, and realized that not only were the trains entirely different (no longer British Rail), but that my station, Hampton Hill, was apparently no longer served. But I persevered, and proceeded to the nearest station I could – though I no longer recognized my route from there and had to ask for directions.
But oh, Hampton Hill High Street was transformed (just Cavan Bakery, the Chinese takeaway and a very few other shops appeared as they did twenty years ago when I last visited (I lived here even further back than that, until 1986 when I returned to South Africa). The little art gallery, art supplies and framing shop where I’d worked as a picture framer for three years was there no longer. Somehow, I’d counted on it being there and Tony Wilson, my framing partner, still there too. And the kitchen furnisher in its place had taken over from a failed Italian furniture shop, I was told by an unsympathetic young man who was bored by questions from this old guy telling him he’d worked in hubris space some thirty years previously. Who cares?
Well, not even me, all that much. I was somehow bewildered, but not upset.
So I walked on (I was to walk a great deal that day, nearly till exhaustion) to the tiny house in which I’d lived. I didn’t try to get past the front door this time, but was rather pleased to see that it remained the same, the same dark green with the same ugly, heavy black knocker. Though I’d never had flowerbaskets like this.
Time for another long walk in search of the railway station again.
I was never much interested in wine in those days, here in one of the world’s great wine-drinking capitals. I used occasionally to buy some stuff off the lower supermarket shelves – Corbieres and Minervois, I remember.
But I do recall clearly the first great wine experience of my life happening in this house in Hampton. For some reason, perhaps just curiosity, I’d bought from Marks and Spencer a bottle of Piesporter Michelsberg (not knowing in those days what a degrading invocation that was of the great name of Piesport – I’d never even heard of Piesport, let alone visited its splendid walls of vines along the Mosel). I’d also bought, from the deli next to my workplace (now also no more) a slab of “German blue Brie” as it was called then. This proved a match made in heaven, and I finished both in an ecstasy of gluttony.
My second wine-related memory of that time and place is of buying a case of wine for my neighbours as a present, as they’d been very good to me. They drank the stuff often, but also not ambitiously or expensively. I decided to buy for them 12 bottles from 12 countries. So on a few trips up to central London (I’d generally go every Monday, my day off) I acquired these bottles, with enormous pleasure. I suspect I’ve never since had such fun buying wines, probably because I was so ignorant then and lacking any anxiety at all. Apart from the need to get stuff from around the world, I was guided only by price and whether or not the label appealed to me. (To this day, I do not discount the significance of an appealing label on a bottle of wine.) The only wine of the dozen I can now recall was a Rioja from Faustino – because of its lovely label.
Little bits of the past remain, fortunately or not, indestructible – or, at least, as coterminously indestructible as the rememberer.