Today has been a quiet one: sitting in the garden, moving from sun to shade to sun as my temperature gauge determined; gorging on Primo Levi; a side of Frank O’Hara, like a Harissa dressed salad, to pick at idly. But yesterday was a different matter. Yesterday I ventured to the centre alone, as D worked on his masterpiece.
I decided to try a bookshop walk, picked, after some rather delightful googling, the London Review Bookshop in Bloomsbury, and set off on the train to Charing Cross after a thorough look at D.’s A to Z. I know this part of town quite well, having stayed in Bloomsbury a few times in the late 2000s, so I knew it was a straight walk north, through Covent Garden. Ergo, I’m not quite sure how I ended up in Belgravia/Chelsea, sitting on a Sloane Square bench next to a man smoking a pipe – how nice the smell of pipe smoke in a hot London square surrounded by shops so refined their merchandise might be iridescent air – but I did.
I was born in Chelsea and, although I didn’t grow up there, it was my youthful stomping ground, containing, as it did, such delights as World’s End (the Punk playground created by Vivienne Westwood and Malcom McLaren, which I was actually too shy to enter but liked to walk slowly past in the hope of being invited in), and the Royal Court theatre, which, I’d heard, questioned establishment mores with its writer focussed productions* so I liked to bask in its glow (from across the street). Later, when I had the necessary money – for its sales, at least – Harvey Nichols was the main draw. Though my son and I liked to wander the back streets and dream-chat about living in one of the charming mews cottages we knew, from magazines, had Tardis interiors and lush walled gardens. I also had an aunt who lived just along the road in South Kensington, and spent many an exciting weekend in her huge flat. So maybe some latent instinct lead me there? Some internal map of nostalgic yearnings? It is possible that I’m the human equivalent of a homing pigeon, which could explain why I feel so much more myself here.
It could also explain why, without fanfare or any self-coercion, I wrote two poems. One on that Sloane Square bench, and another sitting in a cafe in Bloomsbury later.**
Indeed, I did get to Bloomsbury, not on foot but by tube to Euston, by which time I’d completely forgotten about the bookshop and in a blink found myself at my old breakfast haunt, Carluccio’s in the Brunswick Centre, for my favourite city breakfast*** – latte, and lemon tart. No one does a better lemon tart than Carluccio’s. It has the same intensity of flavour and somewhat wobbly, eggy consistency of my mother’s lemon meringue pie, but without the pointless sugary topping; I have no doubt I could eat one every day and never tire of it. Is this more nostalgia, some sort of sentimental yearning for a lost youth. Or is it more fundamental, literally a homecoming? What I’m hoping is that my cognitive electrolytes are being replenished, setting me up for the long Scottish winter ahead, so that by the end of that winter I’ll have a good body of work.
I set out with the quite firm intention of walking to a particular London bookshop, one, I might add, I’ve wanted to visit for some time (thanks to the cake pictures they share on Instagram), and didn’t get there. Even though I know the area and had checked a map before leaving. It may be, having been away so long, my London orientation beacon has rusted, but I can’t help feeling that it merely took me where I needed to go. Airy fairy nonsense of what?
Header image taken from Google Images because I didn’t have the nous to take my camera with me!
*One or two of which I did see, though not until my thirties.
**And, I mustn’t forget, a third today in the garden – am I getting the hang of this Virginia Woolfing, and will it all go to hell when I return to Moffat, the anti-home?
***Although it was after five this felt like breakfast because the only thing I’d eaten thus far was a small plum with a dod of yogurt before running for the train.