England is like a helicopter parent always looming over your shoulder. It’s not the first time I’ve had this thought since arriving in London almost two months ago. If the tube station intercom isn’t telling you to “mind the gap” between the train and the platform, then your soda bottle will have the word “twist” written on the cap, just in case you were planning to gnaw the lid off of your Fanta. Which, by the way, is a murky yellow colour in the UK and not the vibrant orange we’re accustomed to in South Africa. I can taste the missing colourants and I don’t like it.
I’m sitting on a bench in Richmond Park, London. Home is 14000km south of here, but right now it’s my proximity to the North Pole (4300km away) that’s more of a worry. It’s late winter in 2017 and although my jacket from Coats for Africa in Cape Town is trying its best, it’s not what you’d call snug.
Still, I refuse to admit defeat. I’ve survived a night in Colesberg in the Karoo during mid-winter. There, you have to wear your boots to bed if you have any hope of retaining your toes. That’s survival. This is merely freezing.
“Molly, let’s go!” I call to my nine year-old charge, who is building a fairy garden in the snow a little way off.
I came to London as a favour to Molly’s mom Sonja, who works a gruelling schedule as a doctor in Windsor, about an hour outside the city. Sonja needed someone to watch over Molly during the Christmas break while she was at work. Since I was on university holiday, I had time on my hands and I happily traded in my Cape Town Sevens rugby ticket for the glittering lights of Oxford Street and a Michael Bublé-inspired Christmas.
London never seemed real to me before I saw it with my own eyes. It felt strange to stand in front of the Royal Albert Hall, imagining all the people who had attended concerts here since its opening night in 1871, with Queen Victoria in attendance. Since then, everybody from Albert Einstein to Muhammad Ali and The Beatles have appeared here, in one capacity or another.
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