London never broke my heart Not like New York City, from whom I've never managed to escape...
When I told my doctor several weeks ago (with great glee, I must add) that I was off soon for a nine-day holiday to London with my family, he asked, with genuine curiosity, what I so loved about the city. The words nearly leaped out of my mouth, “The people.” And it’s the true. I love the Brits. I love the way all of them talk and their way of thinking and their civility. I’ve had a love relationship with London since I was nineteen, forty-five years ago. In late August1973, I ended a summer’s-long trek from Africa in London. I enjoyed the sun-soaked beaches of Nice for a week or so, living in a small inexpensive hotel and falling in love with an American girl. How could you be nineteen and be in Nice and not fall in love?
After my first week in London, one late afternoon, I zeroed in on the cutest little creature I had ever set eyes upon, a seventeen-year-old Belgian girl, a Bridget Bardot look-alike, who a few nights later would blow hot breath in my ear and make my entire body convulse. We never made love in the ten days we were together, we just kissed and kissed. When I went to Holland five years later, in 1978, I boarded a train to her Belgian village. This was years after she had sent me a flower-pasted letter telling me my dreams of reuniting were dashed, because of someone named ”Paul.” I took the train anyway. Halfway there, however, sick at heart, I got off and took the train back to the whores and hash of Amsterdam.
But that first visit to London was magical and I never stopped loving the city. London never broke my heart. Not like New York City, from whom I’ve never managed to escape and from whom, in vane, I’ve begged a divorce for decades. England had been true to me in my happy, protective fantasy. She allowed me to stroll her lovely gardens and listen to her sing-song voices. She gave me some of the greatest music of my life, more heroes than I could ever calculate.
In the summer of 1993, after getting my long-overdue BA with Journalism Honors from Baruch College and winning a summer’s internship with the Edgeware-Millhill Times, a north London weekly, I inhabited the city for about seven weeks. I made some wonderful lasting friendships, music guys mostly, writers and the like. And I easily adapted to the city’s mid-tempo groove. And I popped over for a weekend in 2005 for the UK Cream reunion (at my wife’s insistence, for I would never be so frivolous).
So, now I go back with my wife and teenage daughters and more money to spend than in 1973 I ever would imagine spending on holiday. Because as my dear recently-departed best mate Preston would tell me, if he could: “Richy, you only live once. If you’re lucky.” And it’s only money anyway. We’ll do lots of fun stuff and have a daylong chauffer-driven private tour of Beatles Liverpool, so I can finally see where my Boys were brought up. And I may get legless once again, as I did outside my wonderful mate Peter Gibbons’ home and had to be carried into his living room and made a mess because I loved the pints I did. Maybe I can somehow manage to enroll Preston Laris into an English Art School, where so many of his music heroes attended. He’d like that. And I’ll look back on the journey from cheese-on-a-bun breakfasts at Saint Christopher’s, absolutely skint, as they say, just living for the kisses and the small parties in the basement where I sang and played guitar for the first time in front of strangers and really liked how it felt, happy to have survived when so many other I know have not. “Life is a carnival/ Believe it or not/ Life is a carnival/ two bits a shot.”