went back to London for a few hours yesterday.
I took my bicycle with me, on the train – I had never cycled in London before. The idea was to revisit some of my old driving routes; it was intended as a one-off idea. But it was so much less hassle than the tube and it made the trip home from Derby railway station a lot easier too. I will definitely take it next time, even if it’s only for the usual walk around the West End. I really should have bought a bike when I lived there.
I wheeled the bike out of St Pancras station at about 11:15, climbed onto it and slid south through the busy city traffic, past the Barbican, through London Wall and east along the river to Tower Bridge.
When I worked at Canary Wharf, I was fortunate enough to be able to turn up at work roughly whenever I liked in the morning, except when I was on call – on these relatively rare occasions, I had to be on site at the very beginning of the trading day, so I would drive to work to be sure of being there at 06:30. I would typically leave work at around 16:00 on those days, and I’d make my way home to South-East London across Tower Bridge. It’s a journey I have remembered often, one I must have made around a hundred times. My overriding memory of it is the speed at which the trip across the bridge gives way to an anonymous, dreary grey urban landscape just south of the river; from one of the world’s great city landmarks to nowhere in a few turns of a steering wheel.
Four years later, I repeated my journey south to Dulwich across England’s most famous bridge, this time by bicycle – into Bermondsey, across Old Kent Road and into Camberwell, west along Denmark Hill, then the long descent along Dog Kennel Hill to East Dulwich. It took about 30 minutes to reach my old flat in Glengarry Road, probably about 5 minutes longer than the same journey by car at that time of day. I rode around East Dulwich, bathing in bittersweet nostalgia, and took a few photos. Although I’ve been back to the West End many times, I’ve only been back to Dulwich three times since I lived there. It hasn’t changed a lot. Did I really spend seven years there? It seems more like seven weeks.
I spent a few minutes on the northbound platform of North Dulwich railway station, one of my very favourite places in the world, remembered with great fondness for time spent waiting for a train to the West End on Saturday mornings. I contemplated leaving my bike there and doing the same this time, but instead I climbed back onto it and pedalled in the direction of Blackfriars bridge, repeating my old route to my rifle club. I took a left turn into Fleet Street and continued onto Strand. As I passed the Twinings tea shop, I remembered that I had been meaning to visit it for quite some time, to obtain some of their Rose Pouchong tea – a South China blend with a delectable rose perfume, which I’d last drunk as a resident of London. I secured the bike to the nearest lamppost and entered, only to be told that it had been discontinued in the packaged, teabag form by which I had made its acquaintance. Happily though, they still sell it in loose tea form, so I acquired a 125g bag.
Four minutes later, I fastened the bike to a cycle stand just off Strand, about two minutes’ walk from Trafalgar Square. I had been concerned beforehand that I wouldn’t be able to find a place in the city centre to park it, but in fact there are little clusters of bike stands all over the West End .. I honestly could not remember ever having seen a bicycle parked in London before, but I must have walked past stationary bikes there hundreds of times without ever noticing them. I set off to wander around the West End for a few hours in my usual sentimental fashion, in search of the spirit of 1996.
A few weeks ago I finally came to the end of my supplies of deodorant and shaving gel from the gargantuan stash of toiletries I bought five years ago, so I was looking forward to buying some more; I have resolved always to buy my bathroom products in London, as a kind of token of my status as a satellite citizen of our capital city. I bought three deodorant sprays and three cans of shave gel at Boots near Charing Cross, in ‘3 for 2’ offers. I had brought with me the last few empty aerosol sprays to discard in London, and I committed them to a waste bin at Trafalgar Square (I’d actually intended to throw them away in Dulwich to be quite honest, but I forgot). I can’t tell you how cathartic it was to throw them away in the city where I obtained them, only to leave them standing in cardboard boxes in a South London flat, eventually to be transported to Derby where they remained years later.
I also picked up a tub of old-fashioned shaving cream from the Jermyn Street branch of Taylors of Old Bond Street. I tried their lemon & lime shaving cream a few years ago and very much enjoyed using it on those rare occasions when I could be bothered to use my shaving brush; this time I chose the rose fragrance, to establish a sort of theme for the day in conjunction with my earlier choice of Twinings tea. I will probably crack it open on Christmas Day.
As I relaxed on the train on the way home I realised, with a measure of regret, that I’d bought roughly a two-year supply of shaving products.
In the CD player: Adapt Or Die, ten years of Everything But The Girl remixes.
In the whisky tumbler: Highland Park. A thoroughly decent single malt, but rather ordinary.