The things we remember, the things we forget.
Recently, a memory resurfaced after years lying dormant in my befuddled brain.
It was of a long weekend in London, that has stayed with me I think because I spent the three or four days of its duration almost entirely on my own.
I don’t recall the month or year, but it would have been around 2003 (I lived in London from 2000 to 2004) and probably in summer, as my memory is of it staying light till late.
The emotions that accompany memories of that brief period in my life are: loneliness, contemplation, poignancy and a strange feeling of pleasure. This last feeling I connect to the enjoyment of my own company and the absolute freedom to do as I pleased for 72 or or more hours.
At 46, balancing the demands of family and work, the idea of having all that time to just wonder about at my leisure, exploring new streets and old lane ways in that ancient city, idling away my time over coffees and beers, is hard to fathom.
My time now, though incredibly rich and meaningful seems so incredibly rushed.
Foolishly, I have dived straight into a pool of warm nostalgia regarding my London days, trying to reconstruct that distant weekend.
Most of the details have disappeared with just a ‘sense of things’ dangling before my eyes. Here I must resist the urge to use some corny poetic metaphor such as ‘like dust dancing through a ray of sunlight in a quiet room’ but its true, my recollection is both tangible (and potent) and intangible (and elusive).
Who knows if what of the little I remember of that weekend actually happening or is nothing more than a wishful re-imagining of events, moments and places, like how one constructs fragments of a quickly disappearing dream upon waking up.
So what do I recall of that lonesome and lovely long weekend, long ago?
I remember (quite distinctly) that almost everyone I knew – friends and family – were out of town or worse, not seeking my company, leaving me to my own devices.
I remember that the weather was good, and that I was outdoors a lot, exploring previously undiscovered parts of North London, not far from my home base, a flatshare above a kebab shop on Brent Street, Hendon and one floor up from Harold Schogger’s Bridge Club (also my landlord).
I recall almost for certain that I walked up Primrose Hill opposite London Zoo (a feature of many London movies) and took in the famous view across to the city (now with so many more skyscrapers).
Later, I am almost certain, I explored the nearby cobbled streets lined with stately Victorian terraces, the homes of rock stars like Oasis’s Noel Gallagher and movie god Jude Law and his former wife, the actress Sadie Frost
More than likely, I was descending into London’s rich literary history, seeking out the Blue Plaques, which commemorate the homes where famous residents once lived.
At the time I was quite obsessed with Sylvia Plath (her plaque is at 3 Chalcot Square in Primrose Hill not far from where she gassed herself at 23 Fitzroy Road), the doomed poet whose biographical novel The Bell Jar I read so intently in London.
I even memorized one of Plath’s poems (a feat I have never yet attempted since) – ‘Lady Lazarus’ – about her numerous suicide attempts.
I had experienced something of a mental breakdown of my own – panic attacks mainly – and was undergoing therapy which I think explained something of my fascination with Plath and her poetry and prose. Perhaps that also accounted for my solitary status that long weekend. Depressives reciting Sylvia Plath poems out aloud are not usually magnates for social invitations.
This state of mind – a search for meaning of some kind – had no doubt encouraged my interest in the more morbid side of literature more generally. I recall reading a book about Plath and suicide called ‘The Savage God’ by the English Poet Al Alvarez (who Wikipedia tells me died in September aged 90) and enjoying long periods of introspection. (I was also doing yoga at the time, one evening a week in an old church building in Hampstead and falling asleep, accompanied by snoring, during the meditation at the end of the class).
But I am digressing from that London long weekend to general London nostalgia.
Like an iceberg, I only remember a fraction of what floats above the surface of my conscious mind: memories of walking past the still, dark green waters of canals, walking over bridges to peer down at the boats and barges below, a sandwich at Pret-a-Manger, maybe a gelato at that Italian place near the Chalk Farm tube station. Maybe Nandos?
Whatever did or did not happen, I am there, on my own. A backpack, glasses, comfortable walking shoes, lost in my own thoughts, searching for those blue plaques. Perhaps George Orwell‘s at 50 Lawford Road, Kentish Town or Dylan Thomas at 54 Delancey Street in Camden Town or William Butler Yeats at 23 Fitzroy Road in Primrose Hill.
Perhaps I walked all the way up to from Camden Town, through Chalk Farm, past the trendy cafes and shops of Belsize Park and into Hampstead Heath, that giant, sprawling, and in parts wonderfully untamed London park for a bit of wander.
Then finally, as the sky darkened, on the tube or bus (route 113 or 13) home to my grubby flat in Hendon, stopping for a greasy kebab and then relaxing on the blush blue sofa, perhaps smoking a joint offered by a flatmate, flicking the through the endless channels on Sky TV.