Increasing numbers of children are arriving at school without the prerequisite listening and speaking skills according to an article I read recently (and which I now cannot find). This point was brought home to me on the train Thursday. A whole family were sat listening to mp3 players. Mum, dad and three children. There was no conversation, no interaction. At their age (between 7 and 13) we would have been looking out the window, pointing to things and asking interminable questions which my mother would have answered with the patience of a saint. I grumpily guessed they were off shopping to Oxford Street rather than sampling the cultural and historical delights in which London abounds. I then remembered that I myself was en route to Kensington.
Buses are infinitely more interesting than trains so I took the 15 from Limehouse and changed for the 9 at Aldwych to reach my destination. They also take far longer and it put off my inevitable arrival for a good 30 minutes or so. The speed with which we shot through Knightsbridge confirmed the fact the bus driver was of good working class stock and viewed the place with the same sense of antipathy as his passengers. (If you are wealthy (and stupid) enough to shop in Harrods you don't get on buses).
My first dilemma was how to hold the guidebook, my notebook, pen and camera all at once. I realised I was going to look like a total tourist rather than a reluctant day-tripping Londoner from the Other Side (ie the east). The rude stares I elicited while eating my beigel outside M&S made me wonder whether I'd tucked my skirt in my knickers and turned green on the way but ultimately made me think to hell with all of you. And off I set.
Turning the corner from the High Street into Derry Street the first building I spotted was that of Associated Newspapers. My heart sank and I was filled with foreboding. Not only was I having to contend with the ghost of Diana but was on the home territory of the Daily Hell and the Evening Standard. Colin has a lot to answer for (for your chance to fill with me horror, see below *).
Through a small alley and I found myself in a beautiful square. The houses were perfect and the communal (gated) garden in the middle has never seen a down and out in its life. The Chapel of the Convent of the Assumption informs passersby that the “exposition of the blessed sacrament” occurs “daily”. Exposition of the sacrament? Sounds either dangerous or painful.
On reading the little plaque attached to the railings of the Maltese Embassy – diplomatic cars only – I did wonder if they pay for this privilege of reserved parking on a public road. Going off on a slight tangent, the embassy of the United Arab Emirates has just stumped up £99,950 in unpaid congestion charges and fines. That of the US is still flouting the law. They should be told, most diplomatically of course, to cough up or ship out.
My journey took me through mews of cottages, past giant houses and the odd council block (Lexham House). The sun was shining and at times I felt like I was in a village or even abroad. The smell of hyacinths drifted on the breeze. Magnolias and almond trees were in full blossom. I photographed the buds of the biggest camellias I have ever seen.
I lingered looking in the windows of the greengrocers, the organic butchers and the Pie Man. Everything was serene, calm and very English. I was enamoured. On my return to the city I passed the cabbies' green tea hut at Hyde Park Corner and was amazed to see a man contending with the traffic on a penny farthing. I could not believe that no-one else on the bus was looking out at this spectacle. I wanted to nudge the woman next to me and say LOOK!
My whole mood had changed. Colin was no longer in the doghouse. I felt happy and alive. I had enjoyed a wonderful glimpse of another world. I tried to imagine myself living in a majestic house in a quiet square but failed. I would be suffocated and constrained by what I perceive as the rules of another time. I arrived back on the estate to herald the arrival of police officers on mountain bikes, a bright blue leather sofa being hoisted off the back of a pick-up truck and kids screaming and shouting. That's more like it.
*First person to choose a number between 1 and 30, exlcuding 2, decides my walk for Tuesday!