I came alone. Again.
Why had it taken me so damn long? 39 years! Had it really been that long? This time round, I’m not 19 years old, and it’s not 1982. I long for those days filled with awe, wonder and innocence.
Although I’m sure it has, it doesn’t feel like London has changed. It is the same, dynamic, crowded, exciting city I discovered back then. I feel its energy electrify my being.
Although I spent most of my 20th year living in East Finchley, I feel more of an affinity for the small apartment I shared with Alison in St. John’s Wood. So much happened at Abbey Gardens. How lucky I had been to find it, at such a cheap rent! There was no other way we would have been able to afford such a prestigious address – with Abbey Road Studios right around the corner.
As the memories come flooding back, I smile. I’m almost there. I exit Maida Vale tube station. Each step towards my former apartment brings familiarity: up Abercorn Place, left onto Violet Hill, past the park, and right onto Abbey Gardens. A gate now stands at the entry to the parking area that leads to what was our front door.
That’s a shame. I would have liked to go right up to the door. Instead, as I look through the wrought iron gates, I remember the many nights Henry and I ran up those stairs, barely able to wait to get to my room. First love. There really isn’t anything like it is there?
Suddenly overwhelmed by the onslaught of emotions and memories, I decide to sit in the park so I can make sense of it all. Violet Hill Park is still so pretty, and quiet. It was always a great place to go clear my head and heart. Seems time didn’t change that.
I see “my” bench – it’s been swapped out for a newer version, and that’s fine. It’s still my spot in the park. Sitting down, I breath in the fresh spring air, close my eyes and let the sun’s warmth flood my face.
As I stretch out my arms, I feel something jammed into the niche between the seat and the back of the bench. Opening my eyes, I see a black notebook.
As my hands move over the worn black leather cover, a smaller black book falls out. It reminds me of the address books I used to have back in the day.
I look up to see if their owner is close by. I am alone in the park. Surely whoever these belong to will want them back. Maybe they’ll return soon.
Some 30 minutes later, no one has come to lay claim. Not wanting to just leave them, I decide to open the covers to see if there is a name and number written inside that will lead me to their owner. I find nothing.
What to do? Although I feel like I am intruding on someone else’s secrets, I decide to look deeper into their pages to see if I can figure out who these belong to. Admittedly, curiosity is also getting the better of me. I suddenly really want to know what the pages will divulge.
I open the small one first, my eyes moving across the faint dotted lines covered in black ink. Poetry maybe? I pause on a page and although it takes a moment, I realize these words are familiar.
I reach into the depths of my memory.
They are lyrics…lyrics to a song I once knew well. Why would someone just write these lyrics in a little black book? I can now hear the drumbeat playing in my head.
I decide to open the larger notebook. Again, it takes a few minutes for what I am seeing to register.
The same lyrics I found in the small black book are repeated on the left hand side of each page, one line at a time. In a box on the right, are sketches related to the lyrics. Below the lyrics lies a description of a scene.
This is a storyboard. But not just any storyboard. Again, the memories make their way past the crowded thoughts rushing through my head. This is the storyboard for the music video. I flip through the pages, wanting to see more.
"Take it up or leave it
I’m not gonna change a bit
If it means heartache
Then leave it out for your sake
I tried and I try tried
To take care of my insides
Nobody’s perfect so leave me if you object
I want those who get to know me
To become admirers or my enemies”
What is it doing here? This song was getting a lot of airplay when I was first in London at the end of 1982! Adam Ant’s "Friend or Foe". I do not know what to make of this. Have I somehow jumped back in time? I close my eyes for a few moments and open them anew. It’s all still in front of me.
Again I look around. The park remains empty. I decide to stay a little longer, just in case someone comes back.
Although I find it hard to believe, I start thinking these actually belong to Ant. Unlike most musicians at the time, he not only wrote the songs, he created the scripts and storyboards for their music videos. But why are they here, on a park bench, in St. John’s Wood?
Half an hour later – nobody comes. Not wanting to leave the books in the park, I take them with me. There must be a way to find out if they belong to him, and if so, to return them.
But do I really want to? I have always been a fan – from his early days as Adam & the Ants through his solo career. What a wonderful piece of memorabilia to have in my hands.
My conscience, however, has other plans. These belong with their creator. They aren’t mine to hold onto.
I sit on it for a day, half expecting to wake up realizing being back in London has given me bizarre dreams. Carrying the black notebooks with me wherever I go, looking through them regularly to make sure my eyes do not deceive me.
My conscience wins. I find his website and send the following message:
Found: Two black notebooks in Violet Hills Gardens, St. John’s Wood. I believe they belong to Adam Ant, as one contains lyrics, and the other contains the storyboard for the corresponding music video. If you can tell me what song, I’ll know this is really Adam’s official website, and that these notebooks are his. And I’ll gladly return them to you/him. I was in the park for an hour, but nobody came to get them, and I didn’t want to leave them there.
I sign off with my email address, and check regularly for a response. Finally, it arrives.
Dear Lise, Thank you very much for your message. We did indeed misplace two of Adam’s notebooks. They must have fallen out of our bags when we stopped at the park after a meeting at Abbey Road Studios. As you can imagine, we’ve been beside ourselves at the thought of having lost such a valuable piece of music history from Adam’s personal collection. The song in question is “Friend or Foe”. We would truly be grateful if you could return them to our offices tomorrow at 11:00am, and contact myself, Joanna Lund.
That’s that then, I sigh. I’ll be giving the notebooks back. As much as I’d love to keep them, they just don’t belong with me. Yet I wondered how I could really make sure they would get back to him. Against my naturally-suspicious Scorpio instincts, I decide I needed to trust.
I send a quick response confirming I would be at their office the next day, notebooks in hand.
Should I? Maybe just one photo, or two? A little something I can keep, just for me, to know that this actually did happen. That I didn’t just have some crazy dream. So I do. I take a couple of photos that will go nowhere but my personal collection. You can’t take the fan out of the girl – not even this many years later.
I don’t know why I’m so nervous, but I am. As I walk into the office building on Burough Road, my palms start to sweat and my heart quickens its pace. Just breathe, I tell myself. It’s not like HE’s going to be there!
The elevator doors open, I walk to the reception desk and ask for Joanna Lund. As she greets me, she tells me how happy and relieved they are that I came, and invites me to her office for tea and a chat.
We talk about my time in London, why I am here… all the while I clutch the notebooks tightly.
She thanks me profusely, as the notebooks are priceless. “Adam is so very grateful,” she says. Still, I do not let go. Telling me they have decided to give me a reward for returning them, she hands me a few items from her credenza: a copy of his biography (I don't say that I already own it), a signed photo, and an envelope. I open the envelope and see a cheque made out to my name, in the amount of $20,000 USD. I’m certain my shock at this is evident.
As I start to ask Joanna about the cheque, her office door opens and I hear “hello, you must be the woman who found my notebooks”. I don’t need to see the face to recognize the voice. It was him. Adam Ant. Standing right in front of me. I guess they really are his.
It’s like I’ve entered a dream state. Although I can’t feel my legs I stand to shake his hand and say hello. I hear my voice, which sounds foreign to my ears. I hope I’m not geeking out too much, and fear I’ll say something supremely stupid. Luckily I’ve been gifted with a cool exterior even when my insides are going crazy.
He is kind, polite and somewhat shy. We talk a little more, and I manage to ask for a photo. With a smile, he graciously agrees. This is a much better memento than the photos I took yesterday.
I hand him the notebooks, and with a “cheers” he leaves.
Still rattled, I thank Joanna for the signed photo and book. I tell her that I don’t need the $20,000 for doing what is right, and hand the cheque back. “Pay it forward,” I say. “Make a donation to a charity of Adam’s choice.” I take my leave, amused by the look of disbelief on Joanna’s face. I guess people don’t say no to a cheque like that very often, I laugh to myself.
As I walk out into the city, I smile and think, I just freaking met Adam Ant! Oh, and I left $20,000 on the table….. Nobody will believe it!
London – you never disappoint. There is something about this city that awakens a confidence and playfulness I forget I possess. It was an adventure 39 years ago, and it is again this time around. What else have you got for me?