Monday, April 16, 2007

London in April

The Presidential Hotel overlooks Russell Square. It is clean, tidy and cheap. I recommend it highly.

The white twenties building on the left is the University of London's Senate House and to the left is the GPO tower which graces the cover of Ian McEwan's novel SATURDAY.

By 9.30pm (when I arrive having been ejected from the British Library) most of the dinner guests have gone, and there is just me. I imagine I seem lonely, pathetic, out of place.
'A table for one, madam?'
I should be used to this but I always feel so conspicuous. I tuck myself into a corner and decide on the 'light meal'.
'Would you help yourself to salad?'
By this time the oiled pasta has a greasy sheen and the lettuce wilts. The sweetcorn freshly decanted from a can a couple of hours ago is a strangely non-vibrant yellow, rather like ochre. Nothing has bite but then I am rather too exhausted to chew. I sip my wine, contemplate the flaccid piece of rolled up salmon and think about these people's lives: one waitress who seems as middle-aged and as tired as I am, a more energetic man with the cork screw and wine list, and someone more corpulent who appears to be in charge and, tucking in his napkin into his collar sits at a table at the far end and begins to accompany my listless chewing with a more enthusiastic mastication of his own. Every day they dress in black and white and then come here from 7.00pm until ten. I wonder about their homes, their children, their brothers and sisters and if their parents are still alive and living...elsewhere. Perhaps they send back money. They lay out cloths, knives, forks and glasses. They defrost the frozen desserts and open cans. They switch on the fluorescent strips above the chilled cabinets and place one prawn cocktail by the one before; one melon segment and then another; each one sitting patiently in line even if no one comes.

They were here, though. More mouths than mine. The gateau is half gone and the trifle a mess of jelly and custard.
'Would you like some more?'
I shake my head. No doubt at seven o'clock the bean salad looked more inviting.

I return to my room on the seventh floor. It is properly dark now and the buildings lit with a suitably ostentatious splendour.

London continues to roar by. Buses rattle to a stop and then rattle again to start. Sirens punctuate each fifteen minute paragraph of gently fluctuating sound with an uneasy tension. I plug into my ipod to obliterate one noise with another but I still hear the room creak as it cools. It is too hot for April.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


That bit seems to have stumbled in from a Brookner novel! What a limp meal... I don't think it's you there at all; it's the beginning of something else...

Mon Apr 16, 08:15:00 pm  
Blogger Jonathan Wonham said...

Presumably a hotel for presidents of small countries with high budget deficits...

Tue Apr 17, 01:47:00 pm  
Blogger Jan said...

This is beautiful, Clare. I do hope you will write more fiction.

Tue Apr 17, 08:22:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wonderful post Clare. Shame about the dinner though. We Brits can still manage nonchalance when it comes to customer service, it seems...

Tue Apr 17, 08:23:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lovely, poignant post, Clare.
I always feel just as you describe when on my own in hotels and restaurants-- so self conscious. Yet I like being on my own. Strange isn't it?

Tue Apr 17, 09:11:00 pm  

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