Two years before I had Tom, I wanted to work in advertising and managed to get on the best course in the country. It had good contacts in London, but it wasn’t actually in London. It was in High Wycombe. I spent a lot of time in the breeze-block halls, where older students roamed the corridors sniffing out the faintest whiff of cannabis and cleaners tried to fine us for toothpaste splatters on the mirrors. It was like boarding school and the course felt a bit like being on The Apprentice. It wasn’t long before I started visiting Manchester for the weekend and not coming back for a fortnight. I had spent the previous year living in Manchester city centre. I often referred to that time as the best year of my life and my time in High Wycombe as my worst.
After my first year Down There, I couldn’t bring myself to go back again and stayed in Manchester. It wasn’t quite how I remembered it though. People were spending more time studying and less time partying. I had gained a load of weight in High Wycombe and the dullness of the place seemed to have rubbed off on me. I never really recreated the Manchester I moved back for and a year later, I was pregnant.
So dingy were my memories of that place that I forgot that I did make a few really good friends when I lived there. We stayed in touch throughout the years and I always said I’d go and visit. I never forgot a text message I received from one of them when I was in hospital after having Tom: “Well done, you created life! Congratulations and I hope we get to meet him one day.”
So, on Friday evening, after collecting Tom from school and hopping on the brilliantly quick Pendolino, I found myself dragging him and his robot suitcase through leafy North London. “This is a peaceful street,” he said, “Whose house are we having a sleepover at?”
“My friends who I knew before you arrived on the scene.” I said.
“Who was my Mummy before that?” asked Tom.
“What do you mean?”
“Who was my Mummy before I arrived on your scene?”
My answer jolted me from reality for a second.
“Well, you didn’t exist.”
Moments like that raise all sorts of baffling questions about whether children hang around in the ether, waiting for their cue. It’s true what people say about it feeling like they have always been there. Similarly, as I stayed up late talking to my old friends, it felt like we had never been apart.
We had a brilliant weekend, spending Saturday afternoon at the wonderful Butterfly Explorers exhibition at the Natural History Museum then lounging around in the Hyde Park sunshine. Early evening, we met another friend for drinks in Camden, but Tom wasn’t allowed in the pub and we had to stand on the street outside. It didn’t matter though – he had made a big impression on everyone and was great company. In the past, I have been to London on my own to party, but this time was different. The older Tom gets, the more of a joy he is to share with friends.
Funny that in the worst year of my life, I met such good people. I ran away and never looked back, wanting desperately to recreate the best year of my life. Then along came Tom. That first year in Manchester was a lot of fun, but if I had to name the best year of my life now, this one would come pretty close.