Grey Fox by John Penny: With Alice in wonderland on the Tube

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When I was seven, Alice, my 70-year-old grandmother, came to live with us in London. I called her “Granny Alice” or just “Granny”. It was a big change for her. She had been living most of her life in country villages, miles away from any big cities.

My grandmother was a strong character, but not quite as tough as her sister Jane. Aunt Jane and her husband kept a shop that sold bread, milk, and groceries. Each summer the smell of food attracted clouds of wasps. When they landed on a window or on the shop counter, Aunt Jane killed the pests, squashing them with her thumb.

Granny Alice loved music, and decided to take me to a concert in London’s Albert Hall for a birthday treat. We had an early breakfast, and then walked down the road to the railway station.

Granny knew how buy tickets and find out at which platform we caught the train. Before she came to live with us, she had used trains a lot. But she had never been on an underground train. Yet she remained cool and calm when we arrived at Liverpool Street Underground Station.

In no time at all, we made our way on to the platform. With a rumble and a whoosh, the train arrived, the doors slid back, and we sat down next to each other. “Don’t get too comfortable,” granny told me, “we have to change stations in about 10 minutes.”

But just as I was settling down, granny took my hand and told me we had to get off at the next station. “We are on the Circle Line,” she said, “and we ought to be on the Central Line.”

I had no idea what we she was talking about, but I followed granny when we reached Liverpool Street. From there, the Central Line took us to Holborn. After a while, we changed trains again. “We are on the Piccadilly Line now,” said granny, “be ready to get off soon. Our stop is called Piccadilly too, just like the Line.”

It was a long walk to the Albert Hall, and I was very glad to sit down. But very soon I had to stand up. “Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret have come in,” granny whispered. “You can sit down again when they do.”

I do not remember what music was played that day, but it was very loud. It was wonderful for me, a seven-year-old, to see a man playing cymbals that clanged and clashed clanged inches from his nose!

However, nothing was as exciting as the journeys on underground trains. It amazed me that my grandmother could find her way around London, having never been there before. I was very proud of her.

I thought of her earlier this year when I got confused and lost my way to the Piccadilly Line. I am now seventy-one, and finished my journey at the right place in the end. But how I wish I could have been as sharp as Granny Alice was all those years ago She was incredible!