Friday, July 14, 2006

London Walk

It was much better than a party. Maxine and I met by the bronze sculpture of a book at the entrance of the British Library - very apt. Then we went around the very interesting exhibition of first page of newspapers which were arranged by category: murder, politics, gossip, marriage, birth and death, sporting achievement, disasters...

We compared memories - each image (well those during our life-time anyway) - inducing us to remember earlier times. When Elvis died I was youth hostelling with friends and I remember the kitchen being full of weeping women. When man landed on the moon I was a child on holiday with my family, my brother sleeping on the top bunk. When Princess Diana died I remember Hodmandod Senior calling me to come and look at the television and standing there incredulously. When the bombs went off last year in London I was sitting where I am now and emailed my agent - who rang me back immediately and as she spoke I could hear the sirens sounding in the background. But the most striking image and front page for me was of the twin towers and the memory of rushing into the flight control room of the heliport in Greenland and not wanting to believe what I could see in front of me was real.

I think back now and once again come to the conclusion time is not linear. It lives like we do, growing and shrinking, standing still and then moving quickly - so erratically it is impossible to contain - a wisp of something that was there and is there no longer.

I then said good-bye to Maxine and started off for St Paul's. This is the first time I met a fellow blogger and I have to say I very much enjoyed the experience. We seemed to have a lot common - universities and interests, people we'd met and where we had been.

I started to walk to St Paul's but soon gave up and took the tube. The tube is much less crowded these days, it seems to me. Maybe because it is so much more expensive than it used to be, or because of the shadow of the bombing last year, or perhaps just because it was such a warm sultry evening. However each time I am on one of those trains I imagine how it must have been last year and the hideous it must have been waiting for help underground. These days I also plan my escape. I do this wherever I go, however I go - on each plane ride and each train. Where are the exits, and what must be done to get through them.

After emerging at St Paul's, and being impressed by its white grandeur, and noting to myself that it deserves its own special visit, I walked down towards the Thames.

You may be wondering, if you have read this far, why there are no pictures, and so I have to confess that although I brought my camera 400 miles I found when I got there that the batteries were flat, which was frustrating. So I decided to try and remember as much as I could instead.

So... it was warm, the air was still. It was as though I could feel every molecule touching me, and my body was sweeping through it as if it was wading through water. Along each street there seemed to be a wine bar with people sitting outside talking and drinking. One street was called Sermon Walk and I imagined preachers standing there long ago trying to convert the merchants and other townspeople. There was no one there now. This was the city part of London in the evening and apart from the wine bars everything was quiet. There were archways leading to more bars. On the railings of the cathedral notices advertised tonight's concert which was about to begin. Men dressed in suits and women in high shoes and summer dresses climbed the steps two at a time. Then along I crossed a main road called St Paul's Church yard and then another. A solitary middle-aged man strode purposefully along a road that seemed to be going nowhere.

An alleyway opened out to the bridge and the Tate Modern beyond. Then I saw the bridge. It is shiny, and composed of a mesh of grey metal.

Underneath the bridge the cables twanged a little when people walked. I hoped it would sway but it did not. I found it a little disappointing. The millennium bridge in Newcastle which I saw last year was a much superior in design. However it did strike me that there are similarities: both lead to modern art galleries, both are sweeping structures, and from both it is possible to see other bridges and famous sights. It is here that the London millennium bridge has the edge. In one direction there was the tower bridge looking sparklingly clean and almost surreal, the building shaped like an onion, the wheel...

Then, having got half way across the bridge I came back again,and climbed over the wall to the bank of the river. It smelt of the sea. It sounded like the sea. Small waves lapped up on a beach of pebbles. There were oyster shells and rounded pieces of brick and white pot, bones with the honeycombed structure exposed inside, sharp pieces of china and pieces of glass made opaque and porous-looking by the water. I could see no pipes, but I didn't mind. I was the only one there, and as I walked I felt a sort of peace sink into me. Even in the middle of a city of millions it is possible to be alone. I felt as though I could have gone on walking forever and it wouldn't have mattered.

So much, much better than a party. Thank you for everyone's suggestions and thank you Maxine for meeting me there.

7 Comments:

Blogger Susan said...

What a lovely essay, Clare! I really enjoyed reading it.

Sat Jul 15, 03:59:00 am  
Blogger Anne S said...

Very poignant. Clare. I can see Sebald's influence in that little essay. I love his books, that gentle pervasive melancholy they all have.

Sat Jul 15, 07:10:00 am  
Anonymous clare said...

Thanks Susan and Anne. It's a little rough because I wrote it at 2am, and got a bit carried away...and yes, Anne, while I was writing I felt aware of Sebald, I suppose because I'd just been reading his book. He was an amazing writer.

Sat Jul 15, 03:33:00 pm  
Blogger Maxine said...

I loved reading your account too, Clare, especially as I had just seen you walk off and so I could imagine your evening very clearly.
Your writing about the feeling of "aloneness" resonates with me; I agree that it doesn't matter whether one is physically alone or in a city, the feeling of internal isolation seems to be independent of that.

I enjoyed meeting you very much too -- you are the third blogger I have met in person and it has been a lovely experience each time. I am so impressed with all your writing and the things you've done. As you say, it was fascinating how many similar parallel experiences we have had in our histories. And when I got home and told Cathy and Jenny about our meeting, and about your book about Wegener, Cathy said "Oh yes, Alfred Wegener, I know about him, he discovered Continental Drift. I made a powerpoint presentation about him in year 8."

It was lovely to meet you; hope we can do it again one day.

Sat Jul 15, 05:13:00 pm  
Anonymous clare said...

Thanks, Maxine. Really impressed that your daughter did a presentation on Wegener in year 8. Excellent stuff. The man was amazing, he's been my hero for years.

I keep looking at that Nature cover and can't get over the coincidence - it's just what I was talking about. Also John Emsley is in there too - such a small world.

I hope we meet again too.

Sat Jul 15, 06:35:00 pm  
Blogger David said...

As you walk through the City of London, history taps you on the shoulder. Go down that alley; Have a look at that square; what does it say on that plaque? who is remembered in that building? and that statue - why is it there?

The questions keep coming and you search deeper for the answers. At the weekend there are no bankers, financiers or stockbrokers crowding the pavements. The City is taking it easy - and inviting the walkers to look around and imagine what 2,000 years of history has meant to this place. Politicians and prostitues, statesmen and soldiers, heroes and villians, pageantry and poverty. You can go on and on.

I have worked in the City and was born in the suburbs - a long time ago. The City has moved on and so have I. Now my days are spent learning about the City and taking groups and inviduals around the streets, the lanes, the passage ways, the squares and the churchyards.

You see, I'm a City of London and in my third age the magic of the place has taken hold of me. I am back to learning about London and passing on that knowledge to others. When they finish a two-hour walk and say..."tell us more"...then I know London has gained more converts.

Join us sometime. LONDON FOOTSTEPS is the name. David Williams is the guide. Clare...you've been touched by the magic of London, haven't you?

Sat Jul 15, 08:19:00 pm  
Blogger Tammy said...

Lovely and you did it justice without pictures :) Nice writing on a great trip.

Sun Jul 16, 01:49:00 am  

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