Thursday, 22 May 2008


On a brief trip back to London, inevitably, our world of green and streams continues to drift us above the concerns of home for a while or two. Indeed, walking out of the new(ish) Eurostar terminal in St Pancras for the stroll home, the May afternoon that greets us is dizzy with the temperatures of high summer, and we forget that the whole world is not also on holiday. What else could explain the missing cars around the mansion on around Tonbridge Street? Or the bubbles of people at outdoor cafés and in the doorways of pubs? We decide to join them immediately, in celebration.

For a day or so more our slow scrutiny of the countryside remains more real than the dust and culture of the capital. I spend a day from early breakfast to late afternoon tea, never leaving Lambs Conduit Street in a succession of dates and chance encounters with friends. We talk, we explain, we share woes and indecisions, we celebrate. Jennifer, Paul, Marc, Sara, Cigala and Ciao Bella, Tutti's. Sara's baby is almost due and we drink tea for hours in the café at the back of Kennards, laughing and sighing over the neighbourhood news.

Walking over Wimbledon Common a couple of days later to dinner with Steve and Reena, our ears can more easily hear the evening birds and the fall of tiny hooplas of catapillers from the trees than they can the buzz of house decorating and school fee conversations in the bars. I head for a discreet bush but stop myself in time: this isn't the countryside after all.

It takes little, though, to become submerged in London. I work for a few days and am lit up with the desire to help the theatre people I'm tutoring. I catch up with recent convulsions in arts funding and want to bring new ideas and new plans to my clients. But all that must wait.

Like a majorette's streamers, the cultural life whips round and dazzlzs us. Shall we go to the LSO's concert at the Barbican or to see Akram Khan and Sylvie Guillem dance at Sadler's Wells? What about the Persepolis film? And the last days of the Peter Doig exhibition at Tate Britain? In the end, daunted, we do little but dive into the weekend papers and the bewildering world of Ken Livingstone's defeat and Gordon Brown's disgrace. Should we worry about the economy? Probably. And the world and it's wars? Undoubtedly. The Burmese cyclone puts our good fortune in focus; but there are end-of-year accounts to finalise, VAT deadlines and slow internet connections; and the fractiousness that comes with real life. Because London is rushed, always looking down at its feet and knocking shoulders against the strangers who can't keep up. Always leaping to grab the next thing and throwing the old one, unfinished, on the pavement.

By the end of the week we are ready to regret leaving again. As we walk through The Brunswick we meet more people eager for our news, and these connections are so pleasant they bind us to the place. I want to add my energies to those of the people who make this neighbourhood work. Even a visit to the store sucks me in. The boxes of books call to me to settle down and to keep their treasures to hand on a nearby shelf.

But as soon as we are on the train and speeding back through a sun-filled France, those joint tendrils, the temptations and suffocations of London start to loosen their hold and to wither.

Henry Porter in last week's Observer issued a call that snaps me back to my walking mindset. He decries the cynical, seen-it-all-just-waiting-for-it-to-fail attitude that is the only tone of voice left in art, music, journalism, popular culture or TV. The we-don't-like-success syndrome gone endemic. A pessimistic irony, as he calls it. More than the death of faith or of ideology in our society, Porter sees a fear of faith in human nature. People don't want to be caught committing the sin of trust. In the face of the world's seemingly intractable political and humanitarian problems, he asks us to expect more, not less, from our political and social leaders; and from ourselves and each other. We need to expect ourselves and others to succceed rather than sit around waiting to pounce on failure. "People are ... in the main more trusting, more hopeful, more resourceful and a lot kinder than is ever acknowledged in the public arena."

I remember the kindness of people we have met on our walk, sometimes just smiles and waves as we pass by. The essential simplicity of life on the road is what is good. Even if we might still be concerned about the weight we carry or the vissicitudes of the weather, it is essentially as pure and as unremarkable as going for a walk on a nice day. The calculations, the lists to remember, the deadlines - they are not essential. So long as the people whose company has enriched us this week still remember us the next time we drop back home.

13 May 2008

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