Saturday, 12 July 2014

I Return to Highbury

I am an Arsenal supporter for a reason - I grew up in Highbury, North London, and, although I only went to one Arsenal game during my childhood, the red and white striped scarves my granny knitted for me and my three brothers helped me to tie up my identity.

Now, whenever I stay in London, I stay in Brixton which is at the other end of the light blue Victoria line from Highbury.  When I arrive at Euston from Shropshire, I have to turn south deliberately, though I'm always tugged north.

Yesterday, on a whim, I decided to go north. Once I'd given in to it, my body remembered the journey, remembered the length of time it takes to travel from King's Cross to Highbury and Islington, the longest tunnel on the underground.  I remembered to turn right on the platform as I got off the tube, to bear right on the stairs, then left at the top before reaching the escalator.

There've been some changes in the ticket hall: there are automatic barriers activated by the touch of Oyster cards, the additional platforms for the new overground lines, the new way out.  But the ticket offices are exactly where they were when my mother used to buy my season ticket for my journey to school.

It's twenty-five years, nearly, since I've seen my mother.  It's thirty-five since the last time I came past the ticket collector to find her waiting, just inside the entrance, within earshot of the cries of the seller of the Socialist Worker.

It didn't happen often, but I loved being met by her, then walking up through Highbury Fields, chatting about my day as we passed the Georgian terraces, the pool where Vera taught me to swim, the grass where I found out I was good at hitting a rounders ball, the tennis courts where we pretended to play at Wimbledon, the netball courts where I spent hours practising my shots.

Before I was old enough to travel on my own, I used to walk the same route with her back from the library, from the swings. from visits to parishioners.  At one point, where two parallel paths are divided by black iron railings, I'd habitually go to the left, my mother to the right.  Yesterday, I noticed that the gap created by a missing railing, through which I used to wriggle eagerly to get back to her, is still there.

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