I am not what anyone would call a spontaneous individual. The pattern of my life for the most part has bordered on the somnolent. So it came as a shock to me-myself-and-I, as well as those who knew me back then, that I should leave behind a successful career in Library-Land to pursue a degree in interior design. I had all sorts of explanations and rationalizations, none of which amounted to much more than a cloud of obfuscation. In reality, I just needed to be somewhere else. I felt as if I had fallen into an alien life devoid of creative endeavors. I needed a change, and as my grandmother was wont to say, “You’ll never get any younger to try.” So when I came across a reference to a school for interior design in London, I applied and was accepted into a year-long program at the Inchbald School. It was a no-brainer. New and exciting experiences, travel, education, adventure, and artistic exploration … what was not to love. I could make it work!

Thank God I didn’t know any better or I never would have gone through with it. However, ignorance being bliss, I carried on as if I knew what I was doing. As it turned out the transition, once started, took on a life of its own, and there was never an opportunity to change my mind. Just as well. We slow-moving, deliberate turtle-types need to stick out our necks to get anywhere. So I resigned from my library position, said goodbye to my friends and colleagues, gave up my comfortable little apartment, and transferred my goods and chattels into my parents’ basement. There they sat, carefully stacked on a waterproof tarp, boxed and labeled, awaiting my return.

The Anxiety Express, carrying old fears and new worries, began to chuff its way through the familiar territory of my life on newly laid tracks. It really picked up a head of steam when I sold my car and transferred the funds to pay my tuition. No turning back now! Through the school, I made arrangements to rent a room in London for a year, made out a money order to pay my landlady, and contacted her with an estimated arrival date. I bought traveler’s checks, transferred my life savings to Barkley’s Bank in London, purchased a bus ticket to Kennedy Airport, and a one-way ticket to Heathrow Airport. And at last, with my bags packed, my passport updated, my teeth cleaned, my hair newly curled, and my pockets to let, I was good to go. Grasping the back rails of the caboose as it left the station, I took a deep breath waved good-bye to my old life, and careened into the future. What could possibly go wrong?

As fate would have it, nothing actually did go wrong. I made my flight, fidgeted twitched and dozed across the Atlantic, wended my way through immigration, and customs, collected my luggage and took a cab to Lexham Gardens, off the Cromwell Road in Kensington. There I was greeted by my landlady Liz. Liz Russell was a Margaret Thatcher doppelganger who was then serving as the Head Mistress Assistant Majority Whipper-upper for the Royal Borough of Kensington, Chelsea & All Points West … or something like that. She took pride in her political stature, and over the course of the next year, I learned more than anyone needs to know about conservative British politics at the local level. However, I had yet to learn all that, and upon arrival was pleased to find her pleasant and helpful. My little shoe-box of a room, while pedestrian in the extreme, was adequate to my needs. So I off-loaded my bags, got directions from Liz, and with a promise to be home for supper, set off to explore London.

In an age before cell phones and GPS, when one always carried an A-to-Z guidebook and telephone booths still stood on every street corner, when boxy black taxis and red double-decker busses ruled the streets, and the tube map was a universal icon, when you bought your train tickets at a grilled window with a metal cup to catch your change, and the train announcements were unintelligible, and you had to know where you were going to get there, when wine bars and pubs lived cheek by jowl, and Peter Jones had the best inexpensive lunches, when punks strolled the Kings Road with spiked multi-colored mohawks, and Laura Ashley dressed the well-to-do, I was there, in London, setting out on my great adventure. As I explored and found my way that day, I was gob-smacked to be a part of it all. This amazing city chock-a-block with history and classic architecture, home to Harrods, teashops, parks, and palaces, this was going to be my home.

On that first day of exploration into unknown territory, I managed not to be hit by traffic wheeling down the wrong side of the road, found the Gloucester Road station, purchased a monthly pass, took the Circle Line going in the right direction, managed to exit up the correct escalator without stopping to ask directions, and arrived outside Sloane Square Tube station. It was a grizzly sort of September day, and as I stood there, surveying the glorious vista of London, I felt alive with the opportunities in front of me and exhilarated by leaving life as I knew it behind. I was setting off on an amazing adventure. The Anxiety Express had left the station and I had arrived. My future was at hand.

However, apparently my past still clung to me, because as I stood gazing at the mad pandemonium of traffic and people before me, a pair of tourists stopped to ask me directions! Oh, wow! First time ever in Sloane Square, a million miles from Library-land, surrounded by thousands of Londoners, and I was their go-to option for information? I realize they most likely approached me because I was standing still, or perhaps they caught a glimpse of my A to Zed. Whatever. It is as if I had a sign on my back … I am a Librarian, just Ask Me. I know after all these years; people will always ask me for directions no matter where I am. But on that first day in London, I took it as a compliment, a recognition of my achievement. Yes, I might have been carrying some excess librarian baggage, but let’s face it, every little bit helps when navigating the future. I knew where I was, and where I was going.  And if I ran into trouble, it turns out I could always ask myself for directions.

14 Replies to “OFF OFF AND AWAY”

  1. This explains some of the how’s and why’s your art works is always unpredictable but vibrant exposing us to a bevy of turns and textures in your ever modulating geographic interests but even more interesting is your willingness to display your social conscience consistency. We love being a part of the meandering expression of what’s important in your world.

  2. What a gloriously readable account of your very brave upheaval, out of the civilized comfortable zone in Connecticut, to crazy London. Funny thing is that you always seemed to me to be confident in every way -always very focussed and competent too, in tackling our design projects. In comparison to back then, I doubt that in today’s money, either of us could afford the Inchbald fees these days. It was a most wonderful experience. As always I love reading your epistles and was so pleased to read the other comments, encouraging you to ‘publish and be damned’…that is, your style as I have always let you know, is so readable, pithy, highly enjoyable there should be no-one and nothing holding you back!
    Of course I have to add a couple of things here;
    1. My own tale of getting into The illustrious Inchbald is many layered, from deep sadnesses in the wrenchings in our family not long before the beginning, but also good fortune, luck and immense kindnesses and great advice – and also included the sale of my car, and a move to the wider reaches of that city.
    2. It led to more changes – due to stresses, but also supportive good advice – for an even more monumental move to the States. There, after a while I was given tremendous opportunities for which I shall always be grateful. Indeed it led to us to a better sort of friendship than we had managed in London (you were ‘in’ with the cool crowd, I was ‘in’ with no group in particular!) And wonderfully, we are still friends, across the ocean.
    3. Do you recall Johnny Grey, our tutor on kitchen design? He was pretty acerbic towards us and we were all dreading the presentation we’d have to do to him and the class for our project. I wa so fearful that I prepared a ‘joke’ to give me courage – and which alluded to his politics. My presentation in front of my rather unfinished visuals (plans and elevations were fine; visuals/perspectives were hurried crap). ‘For the design of my kitchen, I decided to be a fascist bastard and dictate the flow…’ He laughed..and there was some giggling from the rest of you.
    Well, the memory had come back to me again when my (Irish) husband and I were watching a Netflix film entitled Romantic Road. It was about an eccentric barrister and his wife, well into their youthful 60s, who head off to drive around India (‘Injah’) in his daddy’s old Rolls Royce. At one or two points in the documentary, his brother was one of the interviewees… Guess who? JOHNNY GREY!!

    A blissfully contented, fulfilling, healthy and PUBLISHED NEW YEAR, dear Connie.
    Rosalind xxxxxx and hugs

    1. OMG what a huge tiny world we all share! I am glad you continue to read my epistles. This one was fun to write as it involved so many wonderful memories. And of course the anxiety is long forgotten.

    1. typos are okay as long as spell check keeps the correct word. And it doesn’t help that the type is getting smaller and smaller.

  3. I was sorry to see you leave. the library world. What would I do without Viper 3! It was a good choice and I have a piece of art to prove it.

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