Today my kids begged me to take them to Harrow on the Hill for something called bubble tea. A quick search revealed we could find this Taiwanese delicacy just down the road. But to utter that fact aloud would be to become a killjoy. I succumbed to their pleas and agreed to take them. Taking the mainline train from a neighbouring town, we would set out on our adventure forthwith.
In the event, as we neared the station, the recollection of a recent meltdown had me pausing for second thoughts. I admit that the lockdowns that characterised the UK’s response to the pandemic have totally messed with my head. I decided it was safer to drive all the way, than have some weird anxiety attack in the midst of a crowd, on a train, mid-journey.
I was surprised to discover on our arrival that the bubble tea broker was nothing but a stall in a shopping centre. There I was imagining that I was being asked to take them to a diner with comfy seats, where I would be able to tune out from their bickering while enjoying a hot mocha.
No, apparently wandering though a shopping centre with a very expensive mango juice is the height of culture for my youthful companions. So it was that I did my duty, pretending to be a nice parent for an hour, accompanying them through one shopping centre, along a pedestrianised street and on into a newer shopping centre, while they sucked on a straw, little bubbles of mango puree utterly delighting them. Simple pleasures.
My thoughts were meandering far from them however. Have I really become such a country bumpkin that the crowds intimidated me? On my return to the car, I turned to my kids and said to them:
“This is going to sound really daft, but I’ve just realised there are a lot of people in the world.”
Daft, yes, but I was overawed by the encounter. Afterwards, on our way home, we pondered passing through Ealing to revisit the landmarks of the early years of my life with my beloved, but the weight of the traffic aborted that plan. Instead we headed back west, out of the city, taking the motorway all the way to High Wycombe in pursuit of lunch.
Ah, the relief. What a sedate lifestyle out here, even in one of our bigger towns. Walking amidst the quieter crowds, I immediately felt at ease. We ordered lunch from the German Doner Kebab company, enjoying a reasonably civilised meal in pleasant surroundings.
On our way back to the car afterwards, we passed numerous establishments offering bubble tea. The kids agreed, yes, maybe the trip into London had been unwarranted after all.
Never mind. As I drove back to our little market town, it began to occur to me: “No, I haven’t lost my marbles after all. We have just grown used to the quiet life out here in our little valley.”
And then another thought: forget dreaming of a new job, necessitating a long commute back into the city. No, I am content with our life of obscurity out here. We left that life long ago, and now there is no going back. Not even for bubble tea.