On Saturday I, wrapped in trailing scarves and a woollen jacket, stood in a street in north east London, a street wrapped in razor wire as far as I could tell, waiting for my son to emerge from the flat he’d gone into. He’s about to move there, to London, to work. On Olympic Park. Lucky boy I tell him. Lucky boy say most of my friends. But he’s nineteen and too cool to exhibit palpable Lucky Me glee. So he needs a home. When we found the addresses we’d identified as alright (On the Page: obviously we couldn’t see the razor wire wrapped environs and nobody thought to mention them in the ad), he ducked inside whilst I stood shivering on the street. He did, mind, have the grace to articulate a modicum of concern at the razorwirewrapping, ‘will you be alright?’
It is an odd feeling this. This slow, tentative opening of my cupped hands so that this boy can fly. You imagine that it will be intangible the letting go: you feel the aftershock but you don’t necessarily witness the step-by-step loosening of tethers. Unless, of course, you’re obliged to stand shivering in E15 trying not to look nervous.
There is a crash course in grown up jargon. ‘What’s pcm?’ he asks. Per Calendar Month, I say (as in razor wire wrapped address – a room in a flatshare – 600 quid pcm ‘exclusive of bills’). What bills? He wants to know, eyes widening. Electricity, water, poll tax, internet, Sky Plus … When I flat-shared back in the dark ages (when, as far as my children are concerned, Londoners tossed the contents of chamber pots out of windows and lit street lanterns at night with a drop of oil and the strike of a match) my rent, in leafy SW6, was less than a quarter of that. Back then though there was no internet, no Sky Plus and mobile phones were as big as shoes. My children don’t believe me: the lighting of lanterns and emptying of chamber pots seems more plausible.
There’s the navigating of the underground. So that, in the swell of late Friday commuter traffic, it all rushes back to me: Keep Left I urge (so that you don’t get mowed down, I explain), understand the way the Underground works and have an idea about the general geography of your destination: North, South, East or West. My son looks blank. He’s more interested in keeping an eye on the cricket score on his Blackberry as we whip through London’s bowels. I stare at my reflection in the glass opposite. It’s much older than the one I used to gaze at. The reading glasses pushed atop my head are new. So are the lines.
We eat brunch watching the ducks and the tourists enjoy the Serpentine. ‘I’d quite like to live around here’, observes my son.
I don’t know if any of it helped. I don’t know if towering nearly twenty year olds listen to middle aged mothers who dig embarrassingly in cavernous bags for tube tickets they’ve misplaced en route. I don’t know if I made it clear how to use an Oyster card, that the Piccadilly line was the one he needed to take when he flies home, that he’ll get his deposit back, that he needs to be careful about razorwirewrapped streets late at night.
You do your best. That’s all. Your unfurl a hand and you let them go and you think you’re lucky to have been allowed to be a part of those shy and cautious early steps.
Even whilst playing Gooseberry to a Blackberry.