Define happiness? You’ll be pleased to hear that I’m not going to irk you all with my view of our current state, all holiday cum red wine induced nirvana. We are the last folk who should be defining happiness, because our current context plumps us smack in the middle of the happiness bubble and we would have to work very hard not to be content. It’s not a fair question.
Yesterday we met up with Elaine, one of C’s first girls and a maths student of mine. We have, for some unknown reason, kept in touch with her (and her us) since she left the school six years ago. She is a professional clarinetist who, through shear endeavour, confidence and tenacity is making a success in a business designed to make a couple millionaires and the remainder church mice. She has that warmth of personality and bubbliness that, combined with a steely determination, has opened doors for her and she now performs with some top ensembles and has a range of teaching jobs. She’s settled with a man (another musician) and they seem to live a full life. Without sounding too patronising, we are v proud of her and with the sun forgetting itself and beaming like mid-August we had a great picnic on Blackheath. We were there three hours, something in Stage 2 I would never have imagined doing…after an hour I would have wanted to be up and on. It was one of many defining moments on the journey we are now travelling and so good to catch up with someone we are v found of.
Sorry, back onto the question of defining happiness. Blackheath is v English middle-class, a bit like Clifton in Bristol. High on a hill overlooking the city, the green is surrounded by imposing mansions and the small town centre full of chic shops and bespoke coffee houses. It’s all Sunday morning papers whilst the roast cooks, if you get my drift. We left Blackheath looking for a few bits for our supper with Lucy (we had four hours to fill) and so cycled into Lewisham. Lewisham sits just off the heath and the cycle ride took us no time at all; one second we were in Blackheath, the next Lewisham. But the cultural change was as significant as a six hour flight to Freetown. The town centre is much bigger with a wide main street providing a home for a bustling market. The sounds and smells all had a strong multicultural twang, and the colours vibrant and strong. We weren’t the only white people in the market, but we were as outnumbered as if we had been in Freetown (C’s been twice and me a number of times – another story). Initially conspicuous and uncomfortable with our expensive bikes and hi-viz jackets, we very quickly settled in and relaxed; just as we had done in Freetown on previous occasions.
And why? Why did we feel unthreatened? I don’t know exactly, except there was a contented buzz in Lewisham high street. There was energy, almost a family feel. There was laughter and smiles. There was banter. There was happiness. Just on top of the hill in Blackheath there’s money – lot’s of it – all Bentleys and plush three-bedroom flats. But there’s no community feel. People are too busy and too up themselves to banter, barter, chatter and laugh. There’s too much middle-class stuffiness, and too much ambition. There’s one tight road junction just opposite the railway station where I waited whilst C went to the bank – the drivers here were impatient, unkind and stressed.
So we may not be the best people to define happiness because our disposition places us in the middle of something which we can only see out of. But I can tell you that in big chunks of stuff, the people of Lewisham seem a damn sight more happy than the people of Blackheath. And that just shouldn’t be so.
We cycled back out of Lewisham and down the quite fabulous route through Greenwich Park, stopping at the Observatory where I had no choice but to get my camera out. We came off the hill down to the Thames to twiddle away a few hours before we were due at Lucy’s. We sat down right on the Thames in front of the old Naval College which now houses Trinity Music College with asubliminal feel that we might bump into someone we knew (I’d already had a chance meeting with a former student in Barclays in Blackheath earlier in the day). Lo and behold one of C’s girls, Alice, popped up and the pair of them spent over an hour chewing the fat. When it all got a bit too girl-centric I popped along to gawp at the Cutty Sark, which was looking perfect in the late afternoon sun.
We cycled to Charlton and met up with Lucy and her boyfriend Laurence. She’s one of C’s ex-Deputies and has just finished her masters at Trinity. C cooked (always the mother) and we caught up with the news. Laurence’s, who we didn’t know, dad now lives and works in Georgia having married a Russian lady when they both ran a casino is Moscow. His anecdotes about Georgian life, Moscow under Putin and his visits to see dad added to my knowledge of things I didn’t know – they’re off there for New Year to go skiing. Best of luck to them!
We got back to Doris at about ten and slipped straight into late evening mode. It had been another full, but great day.
Having had a Wells day yesterday, today we’ve got an Army day. Coffee in Canary Wharf with my old adjutant, Alex, who now works for Barclays. And supper with Peter and Karen in their flat just down from Westminster. I think today we’ll take the train! You go and have yourself a good Tuesday.