Trying to get my mother to leave her Cambridge nest and my father (in no particular order), is a nearly impossible feat. But I managed it yesterday. I would like to say I whisked her off to London, but there was very little whisking, and a lot of cluelessness. Mum and I were two rubes on a bus.
We managed the part from Cambridge station to Kings Cross just fine. Well, apart from missing our train by a whisker, and then having to wait for the next - but it was fine. We bought lunch and ate companionably as rural life turned to city scape. At St Pancras we managed to locate the right bus, thanks entirely to my mobile phone (it is not called a smart phone for nothing!), hopped on, whipped out our coins... only to discover this is not the way things are done in Big Cities. No more coins. You need cards - oysters or credit. My wallet, as usual, was tucked into the deepest recesses of my bag. The bus driver waited, patiently. We need to get to the Tate Modern, we chirped. Blackfriars Station? Oh yes, he said, after the bridge. Will you let us know? I'll let you know, he sez. We settle in, picturing something like this:
Cue an interminable number of stops later... Mum and I have been hawkishly watching the signs change above our heads, but not actually knowing where Blackfriars is in relation to anywhere else - Peckham Library, Bird in Bush Road, Bricklayer's Arms - not the most romantic or pretty scenic route - we were waiting for a bridge. Finally, I tilt my way to the driver's seat. Er... I begin. Oh no! he looks horrified, and proceeds to apologise so profusely and with such sincerity that Mum and I instantly forgive him and prepare for an unstable journey back to the village.
Fortunately (yes, there can be good fortune even in a crummy situation like this), we had left it so late to ask advice, that we had reached the end of the bus route 44 stops away from Kings Cross - and the bus driver promised to restore us back to Blackfriars - he had to retrace his steps anyway, but there would be a switch to a new driver. Not to worry, he promised to explain our 'situation' to the new driver. He did. And they both laughed. Grrrrreat. Mum and I are now the laughing stock of the London Bus Company.
We count out 20 stops before I start to get nervous - Mum, who had pointed out various landmarks now pointed them out again. Oh! it's that tree again! - and I tilt my way back to the head office. He gives me two options - both involve walking, turning left and then left, or right and then right. We tumble off, vowing to take a taxi for the homeward journey. Neither of us can face the bus in London darkness.
In case you've been wondering why Blackfriars - our destination was the Tate Modern, the most visited art museum in the world - 5.7 million visitors last year. (How did they find their way to the Tate?) I had read about the Georgia O'Keeffe retrospective and discovered that October 30th was the last day. So I was determined to go - and knowing O'Keeffe is an artistic inspiration for Mum, really wanted her to accompany me. The four hours it took us to reach her work were worth it. The retrospective was breathtaking, and beyond my mother's expectations. She and I had visited an O'Keeffe exhibition in 2003, in Vancouver, but unlike I, who fell instantly in love with O'Keeffe's later Taos paintings of cow and horse skulls in the desert, Mum had become disillusioned. O'Keeffe had been paired with Frida Kahlo (another reason I was instantly smitten) and neither had been given full scope. Mum and I have different reasons for loving O'Keeffe, which I think is a comment on her extraordinary range over the 98 years of her life.
I scribbled copious notes on the back of an envelope, and on a bright pink post-it as I roamed from room to room, but I shall save those for another day, another post. For now, here we are, on the upper balcony of the Tate Modern, exhausted but satisfied. My mother and I.