For some reason, I thoroughly enjoyed London City this time around. I lived there before relocating to the Middle East in 1998, and had fun because I was 24 and it wasn’t Ireland and I was earning my first salary that wasn’t fake money. But after two years I was glad to move on.
After nine months in the Middle East, I passed through London. I felt completely displaced. The city doesn’t ever really change, but I had. Whilst on the surface the sights and smells were familiar, fundamentally they were not.
Since then I’ve visited London once or twice a year. I catch up with friends, sit in a park, do some shopping (mainly window-based), and look forward to leaving.
This time, it felt different. London is the same: the ever present soundtrack of sirens and car horns and wheezing bus brakes; the smell of horse dung and the acrid aroma of lightly sautéed rubber; the menacing stalk of accountants armed with The Financial Times. It is still possible to feel absolutely alone in the swarming hordes of commuters.
The Tube may be a miracle of underground engineering, but it remains a grimy pit. You are tackled to the ground by charging bankers trying to make the closing doors, and you’re thinking: “DUDE! There’s another train in ONE MINUTE! It’s not like your entire day – or the REST OF YOUR LIFE which, let’s face it, is going to be empty and meaningless ANYWAY – will be ruined if you don’t make this one.” And you still don’t say it out loud because that would be quite unspeakably, dreadfully, quintessentially rude; although the sequence of events leading to your broken collarbone and a crisp packet in your hair is not.
(I nearly talked myself out of how much I dug London there, but don’t worry: I’m back on track now.)
As usual I stayed with Róisín, who lives in Clapham with her fiancée, Tim. The day after I arrived, I arranged to meet Róis at St Bart’s Hospital. She provided Irish directions, which don’t work that well outside our homeland, so I was armed with my trusty A-Z.
When I emerged from Bank Tube Station, London looked fabulous and the bells of St Mary-le-Bow were tolling. I wandered down Cheapside breathing in the fresh carbon monoxide and marvelling at the architecture. After nine months living in a wilderness, I was completely unused to such volumes of people, and stumbled around like a human skittle, grinning like a blithering idiot high on the joys of life. It took five minutes on average to cross from one side of the pavement to the other.
When I reached St Bart’s, I reached the centre of the hospital by way of an antiseptic labyrinth. There is a small fountain in The Square, looking a bit shabby against a backdrop of scaffolding and skips. Yet as I sat on a cast iron bench mentally diagnosing passers by, with sparkles of sunshine playing on my face, I felt ridiculously and inexplicably pleased with myself.
Two days later I met my agent for lunch, then wandered through Regent’s Park: the Queen Mary’s Gardens, the Inner Circle and the boating lake. Then I sat under a tree wriggling my toes in the moist grass and deterring dogs from weeing on me (it’s easy as long as you don’t impersonate a lamppost).
My fabulous friend Róisín looks terrific and happier than I’ve seen her in years. Tim is terribly posh and rather English. Everything is ‘jolly good’, ‘quite so’ and ‘frightfully <insert choice of adjective of no less than four syllables, unless it is the word ‘shabby’>’. He always eats at the table, sits up straight, never talks with his mouth open and doesn’t throw food.
Róisín’s new yardstick for assessing people is Tim’s reaction to them. It quickly became apparent – to me, at least – that this unit of measurement is virtually useless because Tim likes EVERYBODY. His life closely resembles a musical. (I regret to say it often sounds like one too.)
Tim would almost be too good to be true, but for a sly sense of humour which is unexpected, bloodthirsty and occasionally vicious. Therefore, he is hereby awarded the bridesmaid’s official Seal of Approval
Chances are this is a building on Baker Street
Door and mysterious package