Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Living Abroad Matters Six - Daughter Delights

Justine Discovers London
I am not wearing my glasses so the rush of faces is just a blur as we stand staring at the arrival gate at Heathrow, waiting for our beautiful daughter to come skipping down the aisle. We’ve been here an hour since 7.30 am, dazed and riveted to the spot. Should I get a cup of coffee? I know the instant I move will be the instant she arrives and I could spoil the precious moment. I succumb to the lure of caffeine and sure enough I’m juggling a scorching paper mug, Danish and dangling handbag as she appears, relieved and crumpled from the arduous flight. I shove the lot into Andrew’s unsuspecting grasp and run to fling my arms around her, trying to play it cool. After all, she is nearly 20 and mothers must refrain from public acts of embarrassment. But nothing can muffle my inner squeals of elation. She’s here! She’s here!

We present Justine with an envelope containing her own Oyster card and English pounds, a fitting welcome from HRH, and she is immediately inducted onto the Tube as we spirit her to the tiny loft in Acton for a hot shower and make-over before a reunion with Big Brother Daniel and the Triumphant Events team, who are busy preparing for a major Wealth Dynamics seminar, over a late lunch at a stylish pub at Parson’s Green.

We hang out at Daniel’s comfortable apartment in Fulham, before a stroll in the rain, clutching umbrellas, around Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square and Trafalgar Square. Although it is officially summer, the cityscape is smudged in a grey chill. But in an attempt to educate Londoners about whimsical Sunshine Coast fashion, Justine is bravely sporting a flimsy camisole over thin tights and bare ankles in open shoes. I know her toes are freezing. But it’s not for me to bring up the touchy subject of sensible footwear.

The West End show Mamma Mia is not what I expected; a spectacular romp based on the antics of the Fab Four of the Swedish variety. It takes me until interval to wipe the perplexed expression from my face as I try to comprehend the odd assortment of actors in casual beachwear, not lavish Abba costumes, weaving the familiar catchy tunes into an implausible storyline set at a Greek Taverna.

Jetlag is setting in and Justine’s eyes are as big as saucepans. She’s giggling in the wrong places and her head is drooping on my shoulder. But in the end the show is saved as the middle-aged glam babes and dorky male leads squeeze into sequined lycra for a big finale and the audience gets to sway to Waterloo and Dancing Queen and leave happy. All is forgiven.

Justine crashes at midnight, poor Darling, after a marathon endurance test on her first day in London. We push together the two small sofas to create a soft cradle of fluffy duvets, an innovation of newlywed Aussie travellers Ben and Alice, who sofa surfed at our miniature abode enroute to Europe.

The next day the sky has cleared to blue and the sun is shining amiably. Joke over. Justine and I are perched on the top deck of the Big Bus and the commentator reminds us of England’s cruel history of incarceration, torture and executions. As we turn into Oxford Street, originally known as the notorious Tyburn Road, he points to the site of public hangings up until the 18th century. Condemned prisoners from Newgate Prison were allowed one last drink at the nearby pub on the way to the gallows hence the saying “one for the road” while the dour chap driving the horse-drawn wagon did not imbibe as he was “on the wagon”; fascinating etymology for this wordsmith.

Just the previous Sunday, after attending Hillsong church at the Dominion Theatre, we wandered around the National Art Gallery, giddy with awe as we absorbed the sensual works of the famous Impressionists. Van Gough’s original Sunflowers is almost as good as the copy Justine did in Grade Seven! This opulent building houses the richest collection of Italian Renaissance paintings outside of Italy. The biblical masterpieces are stunning, if not a little eerie. Amongst the Da Vinci school, Salome is gloating over the head of John the Baptist. There are dozens of depictions of the suffering Christ, the infant Jesus bonding with the Virgin Mary draped in blue robes and the angelic Mary Magdalene looking skyward in red robes. In contrast elaborate battle scenes capture the genteel art of decapitation.

There’s a jolly good beheading or hanging everywhere you turn in London! Ghoulish tourist attractions abound. On the Thames River we glide past the famous Tower of London with more gory stories of inventive executions and assorted torture techniques. And for the DIY enthusiasts, the Tower Bridge, the prettiest bridge of all, was once famous for suicide leaps. Today there’s a £6.50 charge, all credit cards accepted.

Meteorological Redemption. The weather is now glorious and daylight stretches on until late at night. Justine has quickly discovered the joys of evening shopping and comes home with a new designer jacket and is bubbling with excitement about the endless places to go and things to do.

Today she is meeting her English friend Tom to experience the amazing London Eye, which commands views for hundreds of miles across the city. And then she’s off to see the magical musical Wicked.

Her weekend in Paris with Daniel is already organised and internet-savvy, Justine, in under an hour, has booked super cheap flights from Paris to meet her girlfriend Sam in Barcelona then she flies to Malta, then Rome and back to London. All done and dusted. No worries. This young woman of the world is all set to take off. And I am happy to witness my daughter launch into a full, unlimited life.

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