Tuesday, May 17, 2016
Return to London after 34 years
By Dr Nihal D Amerasekera FRCP (UK), FRCR (Lond)
I stepped off the Swissair flight at Heathrow on a warm summers day in June 1974. I was beginning a new life and a new career in an alien country. Although this seemed a daunting prospect, my youth gave me some protection, courage and confidence. Within 8 gruelling years of that fateful day the National Health Service decided to offer me their top job in Radiology 50 miles north of London. I left the city that gave me refuge and training with a heavy heart. The loss of the proximity to the cinema, theatre, music and the cricket wore heavily on me. But my busy professional career and family responsibilities took precedence.
We moved to a house in a picturesque town surrounded by green fields and a golf course. It was a town specially designed as a Garden City with tree lined streets and beautifully laid out parks and gardens. Being a Quaker town it had no pubs. Time passed swiftly as the blink of an eye. Watching the children grow up was a sublime experience. They left home leaving an empty nest. We are all now used to this ritual of modern living. After a lifetime of study and work my career came to a close with my retirement. My wife and I were left rattling in a large sprawling house. Living in the countryside had lost its lustre and appeal. We felt a move back to London will revitalise our lives.
Our decision to return to London was made with our eyes wide open. All through the ages from its Roman origins in AD 49 London has had its share of abuse and compliments. In the 15th century Dick Whittington thought its streets were paved with gold. William Blake (18th Century) spoke of a corrupt and corrupting city. William Wordsworth (19th Century ) was most complimentary in his poem “Composed upon Westminster Bridge”. The city is still a mixture of all those observations and remarks, ever ready to surprise us.
I wouldn’t bore you with the perils of buying and selling property in England. The experience was unpleasant, mentally draining and stressful, in a word, a nightmare. But that is behind us now. We bought a flat in North West London within 10 minutes walk of the Lords Cricket grounds and 5 minutes from the beautifully laid out gardens of Regent’s Park. There are 3 hospitals within 30 minutes travel – The Royal Free, St Mary’s, Paddington and the University College Hospital. This is important as our bodies creak from time to time needing some care and attention.
Lords is the home of cricket and I look forward to the summers. Cricket at its best is the epitome of elegance and grace. My seat at Lords has been reserved for the past 15 years – I’ve got the best seat in the grounds, just under the bowlers arm. As the champagne corks pop all round the grounds I sip my glass to enjoy the spectacle in the middle. The Sri Lankan games give me the opportunity to meet old chums to reminisce, reconnect and put the world to right.
I have always loved cars and driving. I purchased the best I could afford to travel in safety and comfort. In London a car is a liability and parking is difficult. Night driving was getting increasingly hazardous. Public transport in the city must be one of the best in the world with the underground, surface trains and a fine bus service which all come free to senior citizens that live in London. I sold both cars and use public transport. It is marvellous not to be looking for parking when I reach a venue. I still do miss the freedom of car travel. Life is a big compromise!!
It is said “if you are tired of London you are tired of life” How very true. There is so much on offer. Since my childhood classical music was my passion. There are so many venues for music lovers all within striking distance. From the theatre and ballet to a multitude of museums and art galleries we are spoilt for choice. They are indeed some of the best in the world.
It was through luck more than judgment I found my nest for life. Living in a flat requires a different mind set. The block is a community although not a close one as we hardly know the neighbours. Everyone is busy with their own lives. There are house rules some written and other unwritten and also civic and social responsibilities. We must respect others' privacy while sharing the space. Looking through the window at night, I see the geometrically arranged lights from the surrounding blocks. This creates its own beauty. Each light represents people with their joys and sorrows which are a part of the rich tapestry of life.
The London I left in 1982 was quintessentially British. It was then slowly moving away from the colour bar that existed before the 1970’s and the horror of those familiar signs “No Blacks and Coloureds”. Now it is truly cosmopolitan. Walking the streets we hear a multitude of languages and I feel more at home. Being part of the European Union and the influx of people from those countries has tipped the balance towards integration. Society has bent over backwards to eliminate discrimination. I remember when I first arrived in the UK, my surname was amusing to many and I was embarrassed when they pronounced it horribly wrong. Some of the Polish, Czech and Hungarian surnames are longer than my own with many more consonants than vowels. My surname is part of my heritage and a crucial connection with my past. Now the locals make a genuine attempt to pronounce it correctly. London certainly is more welcoming than it has ever been.
London like all capital cities is a place for young people. They earn and learn in the big city in a variety of organisations and institutions. There are hordes of tourists who pound the streets shopping and absorbing the history and the atmosphere. The hectic pace can at times be overwhelming for us seniors, but thankfully there are places of refuge in the parks and the arts dotted around the city.
I am pleased to be in London at this stage of my life. This will be my home away from home for the foreseeable future. I am constantly aware of the fragility of life and will do my best to enjoy it to the full. The forces of destiny will decide the rest.
What amazes me most is the turn of fate that has changed our lives since that fateful goodbye in 1967 at the Faculty.
I dedicate this short account of my present life to those of our batch who are unwell and in mental or physical pain. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.
Where there is sickness, let there be healing;
Where there is doubt, let there be faith;
Where there is despair, let there be hope;
Where there is darkness, let there be light;
Where there is sadness, let there be joy.
This is our own Blog for the batch. It is your privilege and discretion to respond or not. This is our only unifying forum, a reminder of times past. It floats on cyberspace to reach your homes in any part of the world. Do try to keep in touch. Nothing is forever. Write a comment – short or long. Post a Blog or send us a photo. It is easy if you try.
We thank Lucky Abey for maintaining this Blog. This can be a lonely thankless chore. It is a tough task well done. One needs the wisdom of Solomon and the patience of Jesus Christ to keep the forum clean in a world full of division and discord. We have had our debates and differences which have been resolved amicably as responsible adults. This requires a thick hide and broad shoulders. For all this we must be grateful to Lucky. His warm hospitality is legendary. Through thick and thin he has been my friend for over half a century. Time has not dimmed our friendship. We last met for an Indian cuisine at the Cinnamon Grand in 2012 where we discussed life, friends, family and everything else. I do hope we have the good fortune to meet again.