The BBC reminds us that the UK’s first lockdown began a year ago today. At that point 364 people had died; now the total has reached 126,172. Over half the adult population has been vaccinated: an incredible achievement, many times better than what any other European country has achieved, and yet life has not returned to normal – far from it.
We have seen the seasons come and go
A year ago the Japanese cherry trees of Winterbrook Road were in blossom, as they are once more. The birds are singing, the magnolias are bursting forth: everything in Nature is working to schedule.
But despite all the birds and the bees, the public mood is not optimistic as we enter our second year of restrictions. We hoped we would get a holiday abroad; it’s now looking rather unlikely. For those of us with holiday homes in France, the lamentable performance of the French government, which has very effectively damaged confidence in the Anglo-Swedish (i.e. not French) AstraZeneca Oxford vaccine, has wrecked our plans for the summer. Much more seriously, it will have cost the lives of many of its citizens. I imagined that M. Macron would have wanted to be re-elected next year; if so, this hardly seems the right way to go about it. But let’s not get all jingoistic. It’s not been plain sailing here either.
Meanwhile, we take our daily walks and patronise the parks. On a warm and sunny day I saw a couple of people sunbathing in Ruskin Park. In March too! A hundred yards further on a man had brought a camping chair so as to enjoy listening to music and reading his book in comfort. One must take one’s pleasures where and when one can.
I’ve been out and about quite a lot; partly through choice and partly through necessity. A daily average of 8,000 steps made last week a record. It was a fine spring morning – if a chilly one – when I set off for Battersea to collect my car after its service.It was just as well I’d allowed plenty of time because I walked for nearly two hours.
The first part of the journey (ref: “Horse With No Name”) took me along my well-trodden path towards Clapham Common. Through Brockwell Park, up the hill to the “Little Ben” late Victorian clocktower whose restoration I contributed to, down and past the ponds, exiting via the Tulse Hill gate and across the road of that same name towards Elm Park and Endymion Road: my old stomping ground. I’ve already described the bittersweet memories that evokes. After crossing Brixton Hill, I passed through the grounds of Brixton Prison and thence to Crescent Lane.
When I started work in London, at the unexcitingly-named Associated Book Publishers, I lived in Bethnal Green but I quickly moved to Clapham and made this corner of London my home. There was a young woman called Francesca [G] who worked at ABP as an intern (as we would later call them), and she and her well-to-do parents lived in Crescent Lane. Every time I walk down Crescent Lane I think of their generosity in inviting me to dinner after I walked their daughter home. She was quite pretty, and posh with it.
A true English rose: not my type!
I don’t remember it bothering me that I had two degrees and had spent a year applying for jobs and travelling all over the country to interviews, whilst she was found a desk just because her parents knew the right people. I must have already accepted that that was the way things worked. Anyway, it wasn’t her fault. Once or twice in the last few years I thought I recognised her in Sainsbury’s, but I couldn’t recall her name. Opening a conversation with “Excuse me, but don’t I know you?” is a bit naff, even by my low standards.
Then it was down Briarwood Road, where I used to live (again, as previously reported) and past Holy Trinity church on the edge of Clapham Common – very much in the news at time of writing following the so-called vigil that followed the abduction and murder of Sarah Everard. That is another reference I will not be able to erase; not for a long time, at any rate.
When I was an undergraduate I became friendly with Lynette Edwards, a student of Eng. Lit. at LMH who was a talented actress. I remember her playing Lady Macbeth in an outdoor performance at Magdalen College. We kept in touch, and when I moved to South London in 1985 it turned out that she was living nearby. While I was renting a room in Briarwood Road, she was enjoying more comfortable accommodation in a road called The Chase. I used to tease her about “the thrill of The Chase”. I had not been there for three decades, and as I walked north towards the river I was surprised to see how grand it was.
I lost touch with Lynette, but 10 years go I saw her in a West End play (without realising it until I read the programme on the way home). She had aged a bit and I was a long way back! And she was in My Summer of Love as Emily Blunt’s mum. I mentioned that I knew her to Paweł, the film’s director. “Oh Lynette was great,” he said. “But we ended up cutting most of her dialogue.”
Clapham holds more memories. Nicolette Jones, a journalist friend of mine from student days (why are they always women – is it because they are more interesting?), lived in Leathwaite Road at that same time. Two decades later I interviewed her at the British Library for a podcast. I keep thinking I should get in touch every time I read her children’s book reviews in The Sunday Times.
Then I traipsed along the north side of the Common to Lavender Gardens, where an old friend (female) from the Wirral used to live next door to a certain Sarah “Fergie” Ferguson.
And so I came to busy Wandsworth Road
I stopped to take a picture at Battersea Arts Centre, which suffered a disastrous fire in 2015. I remember going in 1986 to see the great Ivor Cutler, whose son worked at the British Library. Inevitably, the event was recorded by the Library’s Sound Archive and shown on TV – and there I was in the audience.
It’s like reading an old diary
I had been going for an hour and a half when I ducked under the railway bridge on Latchmere Road. Now I was travelling down streets that were never posh, nothing like the grander roads of Clapham. Expensive; but where isn’t in London? And finally, I turned left onto York Road and then to Lookers showroom and workshop. And so endeth the journey.
I had not realised it before but my trek though Clapham is quite literally a trip down Memory Lane. In fact I can pin a year on Clapham: it is 1985, and always will be.
It’s not quite Proust, but…
It is not just that I can remember these specific places from 35 or 36 years ago, it is that I have no choice. The memories come unbidden. It is “augmented reality”, where an image of the past is overlaid on a view of the present. I have the impression that this is happening more and more often. Soon the present day will fade away, to be replaced entirely by another era: my youth.
Is it just me? As I said a month ago, it seems that I have begun to look backwards rather than forwards. I need to get out more – and to somewhere new. If I keep drawing on the same old memory bank I will go a bit bonkers.