the ampersand renaissance

The train journey down to London last Saturday morning, on a Pendolino bearing the rather unfortunate nameplate “Virgin Invader” wasn’t bad, the hour ambling vaguely around Euston to Victoria oddly wonderful. As my lawyerly ambitions gravitate gradually towards the capital, and as living in Birmingham most days further breaks down the still-odd idea of Bristol as home (I’m pretty certain that Brum, for all that’s good about it, will never be “home”), my old love for London seems to be resurgent. Home is where the heart is, and with every visit I’m more convinced mine belongs to the big city.

Then it was another train out to Redhill, the old apparatus of the post-station and the latticed silhouette of a distant bridge bringing back a jolt of surprised memory more than a decade old, and down on the steps I met Mum, Olly, Nick, a radiant-looking Cousin Steph, a suave-looking Cousin Mike and their associated young men. We got taxis out to Jennifer and Dick’s place out in the sticks, which was a bit embarrassing; Mum’s expectations of taxis are grounded in London black-cab competence, ie “a bloke who knows every damn street for thirty miles better than the back of his hand.” The cost-cutting realities of provincial radio-cab firms, ie “a car, a dude with just about enough English to get by, and a phone with GPS,” chafed somewhat… particularly as she didn’t know the postcode. But we made it to the Winny place in the Wilds of Dorking eventually.

And so we went to Cousin Jonathan’s wedding/welcome-back party, as he and his lovely Australian bride celebrated coming back from California (where they got married) and their new child. The party was half full of awesome cousins I haven’t spoken to in far too long (plus their awesome spouses I haven’t spoken to in far too long, and their ever-growing assortment of small adorable children) and half full of people they knew from work – ie big-shot City lawyers. My kind of crowd. So I did what’s referred to so cynically and clinically as “networking”: chatting, reminiscing and seeking thoughts, coming away with lots of good advice and a few useful contacts. The boat race, with most of my extended family divided one way or another between Oxford and Cambridge, was a particularly entertaining moment, and with a sack of useful law stuff from Cousin Katherine (who’s on a similar path to me, a couple of years ahead) I rolled off to Bristol on the train, with bros. Mum went back with Paul instead; she was going down to Dover, to scatter Pearl’s ashes.

In the Sunday morning at some aggressively early hour, Dad woke me up and we got in the car and cruised down to Dartmoor, where he was doing musical things; and he dropped me off at the house of the one, the only, the incomparable Philip Reeve. Where I had a Grand Day Out, ruminatin’ on tech and the world, ripping up brambles with wild and gay abandon, watching a few episodes of the utterly charming Noggin the Nog, and as the day drew to a close making a huge bonfire from our Manly Labours. I found a butter-knife buried among the thorns and took it as a trophy. When all was said and done I was absolutely shattered, covered in shallow cuts and thorn splinters, dirty and sweaty enough to warrant a shower then and there, and stinking of woodsmoke. These are all signs of a very good day. More of this over Easter, I hope.

The car journey back, through the swiftly gathering darkness, turned fun quickly as Olly and I, in constant text contact, realised I might be able to get on a much earlier train, if we looped around the city and went to Parkway rather than going straight into it to Temple Meads. Issue: Dad had never driven to Parkway from the M5. So the last three quarters of an hour of the journey were me whipping out atlases and A-Zs and trying to plan routes by the car light, working through the rubbish map software on my phone, plotting routes and having Olly doing my fact-finding at home like some Matrix operator; by text we wandered through constantly updating train times, junction numbers, computer-calculated ETAs and quick navigation decisions. Dad dropped me at the station with seven minutes to spare; I found the train, and on it a very friendly and erudite BCU student (doing a degree in… hospitality, I think?), and we chatted the evening away as the sodium-lit Midlands rolled past, and I got off at Selly Oak to fill my belly with cheap Big John’s chicken nuggets and stagger off home.


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