Day 89: For reading so well.

One evening, when the elder and I were flopped lazily upon the bed in my Mum’s spare bedroom, I glanced across at him and noticed he was reading The Little Prince.

“Oh, that’s my old copy!” I exclaimed. “Where did you find it?”

“Just over there,” he said, gesturing to a bookshelf.

“Can I see?”

He passed the book over to me. The cover was very smudged and slightly yellowed.

I opened it and gasped. There was an inscription from my father.

“To my Poppety Pop –

S—- [1]

For reading so well.

Dada —

21/3/80”

I would have been five years old.

It was like finding a message in a bottle. I had talked wistfully earlier in the year to Dr. F about how I remembered my father calling me Poppety Pop, and how I loved that name. And then there it was! In blue biro! It was real! I sat for a long time staring at the inscription. The elder shot me a sidelong glance.

“Mom. Are you getting emotional?” he asked in a long-suffering voice.

“Yeah! I am a bit!” I said laughing and simultaneously blinking back tears. He sighed and reached over to take the book back.

***

The day before flying home, the younger and I stopped in at the newsagent’s on Highgate High street. The younger had received some money as a present and wanted to spend it on one those children’s magazines that has little plastic toys enticingly attached to the front cover. When, after painstakingly examining every option, she finally made her decision, we went up to the counter to pay. I didn’t have any cash and had to pay with a credit card that required a signature instead of entering a pin. Almost no-one in the UK uses signature cards these days, so the newsagent frowned slightly upon seeing it.

“I know! It’s American!” I said, by way of explanation, and I threw up my hands and made a those-crazy-yanks-with-their-signatures-face. [2]

At the word “American,” the newsagent looked at me with new interest.

“So where do you live then?” he asked.

“America — Los Angeles. But I grew up here,” I explained.

“America!” he exclaimed. He looked at me thoughtfully for a moment.

“So you’ll know, then, because you’ve lived in both places: which is better, America or London?”

At first, being a little slow that day and misunderstanding my role, I immediately started hemming and hawing. “Well … you can’t really compare America and London … I mean … those aren’t equivalent … you could compare Los Angeles and London …”

“All right then,” he continued, unfazed. “Los Angelees versus London: which is the best.”

As he was speaking, dear readers, I realized that this was not a question so much as a hail; we were not having a conversation as such; we were rather performing a particular kind of call and response. Now, I remembered my lines.

“London,” I said, without hesitation. “London, hands down. London is the best city in the world.”

He beamed at me. I had said exactly the right thing.

“Ain’t that right!” he said. “Best city in the world,” he repeated, shaking his head as if he couldn’t believe his good fortune.

“Best city in the world,” I repeated again, and he beamed even more.

“And the whole world is in London,” he added, his inversion suddenly, and oddly, reminding me of those eighteenth-century paeans to London’s infinite variety: “LONDON is a world by itself,” says the narrator of Tom Brown’s Amusements Serious and Comical (1700). He continues, “we daily discover in it more new countries and surprising singularities than in all the universe besides.”

The newsagent had hit his stride now. “I can go anywhere in the world,” he said, “and I’ll be in a five star hotel …. And all I want to do is come back to London! Nothing like it.”

“Yeah,” I agreed. “No place like it.”

“Except Istanbul,” he added. “London and Istanbul: the two best cities in the world.”

I paused for a second and, as memories of Istanbul flooded my mind—tea, carpets, bazaars, tiles, call to prayer—I found myself possessed, somewhat to my surprise, by the conviction that this was indisputably true. London and Istanbul are the two best cities in the world. I entered into my part with new gusto.

“Yeah!” I exclaimed giddily. “Yeah, London and Istanbul are the best cities in the world! That’s right! I think that’s really right!”

By this point the credit card had long gone through and a man behind me was waiting to pay, so our conversation ended there, and we walked away with the younger happily clutching her Octonauts magazine with the little sea creatures attached to the cover. I felt oddly buoyant.

***

Just one more quick thing: I noticed today that I posted my first dispatch from this blog exactly a year ago today. Thank you, dear readers, for reading so well all this time! It means an awful lot to me, more than you can possibly know. Much love &c., D-R.

Notes

[1] Obviously he wrote my name, not S—-. But I don’t think I’ve ever used my name on this blog, and I’m not going to start doing so today.

[2] It may be worth mentioning here that in American English “Yankee” refers (correct me if I’m wrong, Yanks) to New Englanders or Northerners whereas in British English a Yankee or Yank is simply an American. Period. Or full stop. You know what I mean.

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