London was exciting and vibrant to two young Midlands girls. Lots of places to see but for us there was only one we wanted, Carnaby Street. A perfect hot summer day, a place buzzing with excitement.
Excerpt from my memoir Shadow Across the Sun.
It’s not so bad, this ride on the tube. This time of the day isn’t peak travelling time and although we are standing we are not crushed. Stations flash by, bright interludes where we stop for moments, punctuating the blackness of the tunnels, then it’s our stop and we emerge once more into the brilliance of the day.
Where to start? There is so much to see and do, but we’re not here to see the sights, we’re here to shop.
“Let’s have a coffee first shall we,” suggests Eloise, “then we can plan our day.”
That decided, we find a small café where we buy cream cakes and coffee and try to form some kind of strategy. The café, like everywhere else, is buzzing with people, some are tourists, you can tell by their accents, and some are people who work in the city going about their everyday life, dressed in smart suits, carrying newspapers and briefcases. Eloise and I decide we’ll look in as many shops as we can on our way to Carnaby Street.
Out on the pavement the atmosphere is as effervescent as an ice cream soda. I’ve never seen so many people all at once, except maybe on a crowded beach sometimes. The tramp, tramp of their footsteps is loud on the still, sultry air. Voices hum and traffic hoots. London is the most vibrant place I’ve ever visited.
We do all of the souvenir shops, buying little nic naks with union jacks on for our families, then at last we arrive in Carnaby Street. This place is pulsating! There are lots of hippy types with flowing hair and kaftans, frizzy heads with beards, people wearing huge crosses round their necks, round, John Lennon sunglasses obscuring their eyes, and Jesus sandals seem to be the almost compulsory footwear. An aura hangs over it like a haze of marijuana smoke and I’m half expecting some hippy to lean in my face and say ‘Peace man,’ but no-one does.
We wander in and out of several boutiques before finding the items that we want. I’ve spied the most gorgeous sky blue satin jacket that I absolutely must have! Eloise has chosen a white mini dress with bell shaped sleeves, and we’ve both selected cheesecloth shirts. I’m in a quandary as to what to get for Emily. Shall I get a cluster of cherries like I’m getting for myself to accessorise the jacket, or shall I get her the large satin rose? Cherries or rose? Cherries or rose? I never have been very good at making decisions. Ah! On further rummaging through the basket of cherries on the counter I spy a cluster of black ones – the ones I’ve chosen for myself are red. I’ll get these for Emily. We march out of the shop brandishing our bags, very pleased with ourselves indeed.
Checking our watches we realise we’re going to have to run for the train. We manage to hail a taxi and as we get out I most generously tell the cabbie, ‘Keep the change.’ Well it’s what you do in London isn’t it, and so what if the change is only ten pence and the cabbie looks at me incredulously in my act of generosity. Ten pence is better than a poke in the eye with a rusty needle isn’t it!
Back at the house we spread our purchases on our beds to admire them.
“I think I’ll wear my dress for dinner,” says Eloise holding it up by the shoulders.
I have to admit it is very pretty but I am more delighted with my blue satin jacket. I pin the cherries on with a loving touch; I have to get them in just the right place on the lapel. There! That looks good. I’m not going to wear it tonight, I’ll save it until we go to the pub.