London calling

On the flight to London memories come flooding back from previous visits to this amazing city.

I was twelve when I first came to London. We had recently come from Mozambique and, as Mom was living in London, we came to see her. I don’t really remember much of what we did but I do recall Mom taking me to see the musical “Jesus Christ Superstar“. I was absolutely fascinated. I had seen the movie and I knew all the songs by heart, but this was completely different, much more alive and real…from then on I became a fan of London musicals, of which my favourite ever is the unparalleled Phantom of the Opera. I also remember going to Madame Tussauds and taking a photo alongside Henry VIII and his six wives, a story that I already found fascinating at the time and that I still do.

Many years went by and then I came back on a business trip. Afonso was one year and a half then and I remember going to Hamleys, the huge toy store in Regent Street and buying him a Lion King toy, as he loved watching the movie and already knew the characters. On that occasion a British colleague took me to see a musical, as I had told him I would love to. It was Miss Saigon, beautiful but so sad, and I cried disconsolately during the second part of the show – fervently hoping that my friend would not notice! Still, it was exciting to see a helicopter land on the very centre of the stage right in front of our astonished eyes!

I continued to come for business meetings, mostly in the City, and I got to know some of the most iconic buildings there, such as the Lloyd’s building (from whose transparent exterior lift you can literally see the city at your feet) and the Gherkin, an amazing building designed by Sir Norman Foster with a gherkin shape (hence the name) and a commanding view from the restaurant on the top floor. Now of course there are so many more new incredibly tall buildings, such as the “Shard” and the “Walkie-talkie”, among others. My friend tells me there is a fantastic brunch to be had at the restaurant at the top of the latter.

And then we decided to bring the boys over for a Christmas holiday. Afonso was 11 and Pedro 8. We arrived after Christmas fully wrapped up as we had seen the temperature would be around zero degrees Celsius, which is very cold for us Portuguese. Worried that the boys should be well protected, I decided to buy warm tights for them to wear under their jeans, something they had of course never done in Portugal. This piece of clothing being considered “for girls” Afonso bluntly refused to wear them and there was no way to convince him. Pedro being younger we made him put them on, but of course he could not be aware his brother was not wearing his, so Afonso had to get dressed in the bathroom every day….

A lover of British history, in particular of the medieval and Tudor periods, I loved showing them the Tower of London and telling them the story of Henry VIII and his beheaded queens; in Hyde Park they were excited to see the squirrels come so close to them without any fear; we strolled down Regent Street and Piccadilly Circus and paid the mandatory visit to Harrods, where Afonso, who hates shops and shopping, much to our surprise declared himself a fan of that unique shop!

At Madame Tussauds we still hesitated about going on to see the chamber of horrors as Pedro was still quite young, but as I remembered it from years ago it was not too scary so we went. To my surprise it had changed a lot and now there were actors jumping out of dark corners trying to frighten us. Poor Pedro was becoming scared and strongly clutching to my hand but then something funny happened: when the actors saw him so small and scared they stopped trying to frighten us – on the contrary, they smiled at him and even patted him so in the end I think he quite enjoyed this VIP treatment!

We spent New Year’s Eve in Westminster but I must confess it was not really much. In addition to the cold and drizzle, there was a huge crowd and Miguel and I were terrified should the kids let go of our hands and get lost. So we were in permanent stress. In addition to this the place where we stood did not allow for a good view of the fireworks and apparently in Westminster no one sings “Auld Lang syne” as Mom had told me they do in Trafalgar Square, so I was quite disappointed and soon after midnight we walked until we got hold of a taxi – no easy task – and went back to the hotel. Still, it was worth seeing Big Ben strike twelve and the New Year and the boys loved it.

I have many other memories of later visits to London as in the past years I have frequently come over. I would not say I’m in love with London as with other capital cities I know, such as Paris or Rome. But London is somehow unique, special. It’s huge, with a hectic rhythm, life is harsh for working people who come from their homes in some cases more than a hundred miles away, the climate is not good either…but still, it is a city full of life and activity, with a fascinating history dating back many centuries and so many different people…English is my favourite language of all, so direct, so logical…there are so many things I like about this city and this country! I would not like to live here, but I do love coming over and enjoying its unique atmosphere.

This time I’m here with the boys for a long weekend – the main reason being to watch a rugby Six Nations match in Twickenham. But before that we’ll spend some time enjoying the city – we can feel London Calling, as The Clash sang in their famous song, so many years ago.