I purchased this little mug as a souvenir on my very first trip to the UK. It was 1992. I’d graduated from the University of Waterloo with a BA in history, and had discovered the Student Work Abroad Program, or SWAP, as we called it. My friend, Della, and I went to the UK, intending to stay for five months. I did. She went home after three.
I’m not sure at which point during my stint in the UK that I purchased the mug. It’s white, and has a partial map of the London Tube system on it. This map and mug are so old, it’s missing a couple of stops that were introduced in the late ‘90s – Greenwich, for one, built to accommodate the crowds anticipated to visit the Millennium Dome at the turn of the 21st century.
The tube map on the mug is missing the places I lived in London. I didn’t just visit the UK in 1992; I married someone from there, and we lived in London for the first three years of our marriage. So, our first flat was right on North Circular Road in Neasden, North London; Neasden has its own Tube stop on the Jubilee line.
We bought our first and only flat on Rusland Park Road in Harrow, served by a few stations, but the one we used the most was Harrow-Wealdstone on the Bakerloo line. Seven months later, we sold the flat at a 40 per cent profit and moved to Harrow-Wealdstone town itself.
During the three years I lived there, I worked 70-hour weeks as arts editor of a national Irish newspaper – theatre performances, art exhibits, music concerts, interviews, authors and photographers; you name it, I had a free ticket to it. I used a lot of those stops, particularly in the centre of London, the city’s famous West End and its fringe East End. On weekends, when I wasn’t working, we were exploring. It was exhausting, but very, very exciting.
My little mug was in storage for those years I lived in the UK. I’d packed a bunch of my belongings – furniture, things I didn’t want to part with (see, there is so much more!) – and somehow, they got stored in my parents’ barn until I returned. Including the mug. It’s 27 years old now. It has a chip in the top, it’s not stained, but it shows signs of wear.
I still use it. I’m fond of it.
The mug reminds me that, while I (we) had a wonderful time in London, it was also very hard – I lived in a perpetual state of seasonal affective disorder for lack of sunshine, a long way away from my friends and family. I felt isolated, even though I lived in a city of 4 million. I struggled with the lack of living space in our flats, with the endless concrete and pavement and dearth of green.
It reminds me of days when I was free to make a big decision such as travelling and living in another country for awhile. It reminds me of the wonderful productions, people and sites I saw when I was there. It reminds me that I worked hard, but saw so much more of London’s amazing sites than most people who lived there their whole lives.
And each time I pull the mug off the shelf, fill it with hot coffee, I settle in with my memories.