London at 19

London as a 19-year-old—friends and I hitched rides, visited Brighton, Bath, Salisbury, and Stonehenge. We met in pubs, drank lager, laughed, told stories, and philosophized about life. One friend, Cammy from my university, and I especially took many walks and short trips together.  We had plenty of work on our classes, visited art museums, studied in the library, and wrote papers. I got my first C in my college career on my paper on History of the Romans. This caught my attention. I began to work harder.   

Mrs. Curtis sat Scott, my roommate and I down one evening and gave us a talking to. She told us we had been very disrespectful to her. Here, we had felt she was mad, so had kept our distance. Then, since we had not spoken what we were thinking, she believed we were mad at her! All because we weren’t talking. I thought I was in trouble still for sitting up late writing letters, but she had not been bothered. Together we had woven a web of misunderstandings. It took some unraveling. I wrote, “I do hate situations like this. Well, I’ll really have to work to show we care. That we do! We do!” 

Fellowship at Muswell Hill Baptist was rich and dynamic. It was an oasis of relationships and deep Christian fellowship. I went to dinner with couples from the church, went to events and spent more time with Rev. Luce and his family. I found his preaching enlightening, deepening and challenging. He preached one time on allowing the light of Jesus to shine among others. He certainly lived this.   

In my journal I chronicled the many events, and my swinging emotions, but my language was filled with thanksgiving. I delighted in the weather, the sky, the crunch of leaves, the sounds of London. Roberta and Alistair from Muswell Hill Baptist let me borrow their small tape recorder, so I filled up cassette tapes with long stories I’d send to my parents and also with the sounds I had grown to love. I felt at home in England. I met two girls, Jenny and Sonya from Holland on vacation. Scott and I hung out some with them as well and showed them around.  

The constant theme of my time there was Karen. I’d promised her a date when she finished her Sociology paper and planned one. Since we had been to numerous plays and pubs, I booked reservations at the French Restaurant Au Bon Accueil in Chelsea and got us tickets to see the newly released movie Watership Down. Chicken in wine sauce, veal with mushrooms, broccoli with hollandaise, long string beans, a sweet German White Wine, and dessert was a great foundation for a long conversation. Karen and I laughed, told stories, joked, and lingered.

A favorite meal still for us is chicken with green beans…

We left realizing we had not allowed enough time to make it to the movie on time, so, raced from the Tube to the Ritz Theater in Leicester Square for the last evening performance. We ran up to the theater, 15 minutes late, but the movie had not started as we sank in to the plush, comfortable seats.  

At 11 pm it ended, we were exhausted, and began the trip home. I was perplexed in my journal. “The evening wasn’t as good here simply because I was quick to let Karen rest on the Tube, but instead of resting she was thinking that I hadn’t enjoyed myself. I tried to pick things up but felt as if I’d lowered myself into a mother/son position. I was the little boy being comforted by his mom. I hope I didn’t ruin her evening. She seemed as if she enjoyed it, until we reached her house. I kissed her good night and we talked a bit more. But still sensed, something was off, odd at the end.”  

What I didn’t know, then, was this: Karen was bothered about only one thing, that she had enjoyed being with me. This left her feeling perplexed, since her roommates didn’t like me and what would she tell them? All five of them were from my school, frustrated that I had been allowed on the program bypassing their upperclassmen friends, so had formed the unofficial “Hate Brian Club.” Karen was an honorary member. But this didn’t slow down our journey. 

The next day, Patty, Paula, Karen and I met up in the afternoon at Harrod’s for High Cream Tea. I wrote, “We had a gay old time eating all the sweet things. I felt nearly sick from all the sugar! Raced home, changed and went out to dinner with friends from Muswell Hill.”  

A week later, as Karen and I talked about our plans to go the Messiah Sing Along, and possibly travel to France together that she told me something else. “Did you know not everyone likes you?”  

It was a bombshell thought. I had no clue. How could someone not like me? Paula and Patty, two of her roommates, she told me find me awful, immature and obnoxious. Those were the two we had just enjoyed High Tea with. She told me she saw through my immature exterior, which can be bratty, to my core, and really liked what she saw. I received this but felt upset by it.  

“I hate the thought of someone hating me because I am me. I thought I was out of that stage, but apparently not. There must be a way to really make a change and settle into my core which is good. I want to be liked, respected, not hated. Oh, this is painful,” I wrote. “It takes a great deal to be slapped in the face. I want to grow through this.” The thing which amazed me was I appreciated Karen’s straight-forward honesty. I found her mature and wonderful. I was convinced we would have a special friendship. Karen to this day is embarrassed that she had said these things to me. She looks back aghast wondering how she had felt it necessary to speak thus.  

The next day had me still pondering my life. “Torrents of feelings are pouring over me as I seek to decipher how I act and what I feel for Karen. She is bound to open up my life a great deal. Having someone close is good. I need someone who can say, ‘Hey, Bri, it ain’t that bad. You’re a super guy!’ But I feel false. Am I kidding Karen or myself? We don’t want to lead one another on so are trying to keep one another in touch with how we feel. Last night we talked for 90 minutes and then I got lost finding my way home.” 

The next day, I spent a day with my friends from Holland seeing a play, and sightseeing Westminster Abbey and visiting the Science Museum.

Pictured here, my roommate Scott with Sonja and Jenni. He visited themi in Holland the following summer, 1979.

Then, I came home to eat then went to church and I wrote, “The best part of the day was Karen showing up to church to see me and came to the youth meetings. I walked her home and we laughed and talked and played along the way. We had so much fun. I think (no AM SURE) I am twitterpated or very much in like with that special, unique, and good-looking woman! She is quite the lady.”  

The next day, “I do believe I am in extreme like! Today we went for a walk and were so happy together. We laughed, talked and were just thrilled to be in one another’s company. I do love her or like her to a degree awfully close to love.”  

Three days later, after a long talk on her doorstep saying all that we feel for one another, I came home and wrote, “Oh dear, I do believe I’ve fallen for this girl. But what’s real nice is she’s fallen for me too.”  

A week later, “Karen is on my mind often. I really aim to get to know that girl. I feel each day as if I am both scared at the prospect of falling in love but then again, I want to and almost have.”  

(to be continued)

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