In the Tate Britain, the Alfred Wallises, the Barbara Hepworths, the Winnifred and Ben Nicholsons remind me that I am not so far from home. Although London is home now, too. It crept in, at some stage. Though I plan to put down roots in neither here nor Cornwall. I think I know my way but I don’t quite. I have a vague idea. Flashes of images in my head. I don’t want to go back to boring after this.
L-r: Alfred Wallis, Barbara Hepworth
These glittering streets are the same in all directions, pathways of a tantalising spider. I am waiting for a friend outside Covent Garden tube; I optimistically got off the train at Charing Cross to walk, I very nearly lost my way, but now I am here. It is dark and raining, and I peer under the hoods of people as I pass them. This one has the right hair but the wrong chin, this is too closely swaddled in her coat to be discernible, although I don’t think my friend would buy a coat like that. But I am a little early.
I meet my friend, and we have a happy evening, and we watch An American in Paris, and I realise it has been far too long since I’ve allowed myself to watch something so hopeful and romantic. Not since my break-up. I have not been kind to myself. I have not allowed myself to wish for more, I have only settled for what I feel for. The tube home is full of couples. A sweet, softly-voiced girl offers her seat to the guy next to me, to sit with his girlfriend opposite us. He slings his arm around her, and I notice next to them another two, holding hands over their rucksacks. And I promise myself that next time I will not be so reserved (I have been reading Emma again, so the word ‘reserved’ is flinging itself around my head, haunting me.) I must not be so reserved. Across the escalator, I see a man in a flat cap and a woman in a bonnet, and for a moment I think I am still in the theatre.
Every landmark holds a memory now. Here is Trafalgar Square, where I once met up with my aunt, and she was flustered because she couldn’t find me, and she had left her friend waiting. That was the last time we met in London, that autumn, before she died in the spring. She was taking photos for her Monopoly project, visiting each street, and I never saw those, and I must find out what happened to them. It would be too cruel to consign them to ‘I really must do that’, to the endless too-lates when someone dies.
Across the road is St Martin in the Fields, where I went with the other aunt, her sister. Her partner, and the baby they were growing, my cousin. And in a couple of days, Marks and Spencer in Paddington station. I’d been dropping my mother off, and I bumped into the first aunt, and she told me my cousin had been born, and now that particular Marks and Spencer has been refurbished, and there is more space in the aisles to receive good news.
L-r: Nelson’s Column, the National Gallery, St Martin in the Fields (with a sliver of London bus)
I have been so happy, and so unhappy. Here is where I walked when I fell for a boy, and I didn’t know what to do with myself except walk. Here is where he took me, where he always goes, where I try not to look and feel wistful as I pass, and just perhaps in my fantasies I’ll bump into him on the tube. Here I walk again, without him, and although I think of him, the walk has not become his.
I miss the longing of the train back to Cornwall. I would sit here drinking in the windows, more homesick than I cared to admit, having been starved of countryside in the long weeks of London semesters. I don’t know if I’ll get that feeling again. I don’t know if I can bring myself to live again somewhere with so little green. The houses all used to seem so small and neat and compact, after the huge London buildings. And yet there are few feelings more Christmassy than walking down avenues in hope: there are pockets even beside Bethnal Green, and past Stepney Green gardens, thinking that soon I will be home. I did not go back east this time, could not bear to, but even on the bus back through Richmond, tall houses with trees in front of them stir something. I don’t know what I want. Which is just as well, because I don’t know what’s going to happen, either.
Dragon in the Tower of London