Here is an excerpt from the novel All The Way, offering more vicarious travel as Covid lingers, casting a damper over travelling abroad. It’s from the chapter where the principal characters in the book, Susie and her husband, Jack, are recalling living in London just after they were married:
Susie closed her eyes and sighed, wading back to their years in London.
She loved their Battersea flat despite the floral wallpaper that was always damp and bubbly from rain and fog, and the coal fires that were almost impossible to light.
Of course they could be replaced with paraffin heaters but that risked other problems. Sometimes Jack started one in his greenhouse studio to warm the space while he had breakfast but if he lingered too long in the kitchen, the heater filled the greenhouse with smoke. As a result some of his paintings ended up so covered in soot that he had to throw them out…Susie believed they might have stayed in London their whole lives except that, as Jack put it, they always felt as if they were camping out.
Susie loved teaching in London–mud-splattered little urchins in striped football jerseys and short pants, their mouths stuffed with candies from the local sweet shop: gobstoppers. jelly babies. drumstick lollies. “Please miss,” they would ask her politely, “‘Ave you got a plaster? I’ve scraped my knee, I ‘ave.” Or “Please, miss, I need a biro. Mine’s as buggered as me dad’s arse.” They were always coming into the classroom with jars of little fish they’d caught in Battersea Park and thrusting them in the faces of the girls, freckle-faced little mischief-makers with pigtails and big red bows in their hair. They would shriek with feigned alarm until Susie shooed them to the playground to skip rope.
I had a little puppy, his name was Tiny Tim.
I put him in the bathtub to see if he could swim.
He drank all the water, he ate a bar of soap.
The next thing you know he had a bubble in his throat.
In came the doctor, in came the nurse,
In came the lady with the alligator purse…
A couple of the boys would stop playing conkers and have a try but they were hopeless at timing their jumps and would end up holding the rope ends…
Later, when she taught in Toronto, Susie found the kids weren’t that different, but they never spoke as colourfully as her biro boy: “When I get home from school, me mum’s always busy in the kitchen, but me dad’s just kippin’ on the settee.”