I rather did stumble into Upper-Crust London on this walk. I frequently overshoot my mark making for the nearest edge of St James’s Park—I always think it’s further west than it is and end up striding down Bond Street or Savile Row past shops selling fripperies to the rich and fashionable, neither of which I am. In my off hours I go for a look that could be described as ‘overgrown graduate student’ (which is exactly what I am). I also for the first time meandered past, and indeed into the courtyard of, the Royal Academy of Arts. A huge crowd peered into the building; whatever’s showing there it was not a good day for a spontaneous visit. But in the courtyard was a strange construction known as Tatlin’s Tower that I recognized from an article on crazy buildings on my favorite humor website, Cracked.com. A scale model, it was, of a strange rollercoaster Soviet folly that was never actually built. When you see the model you sort of understand why, though part of me wishes that it were real.
I then went to visit the zombie geese in St James’s Park for a while and meditated upon Life.
I had recently become once again an urban hermit, spending far too much time in my own company. But the advantage of urban hermitude is that when you grow tired of a surfeit of your own company it is easy to slip into the stream of people on your doorstep, not an advantage shared by hermits further removed. And when one grows tired of the crowd, when one remembers why one renounced them in the first place, (tourists taking photographs of squirrels I find particularly irking, for some reason) one can retreat behind closed doors again.
Sitting on my bench it was cold in the clouds, though warmish in the sun. The trees were bare but the grass was green. Patches had been reseeded from their winter mud; pigeons pecked insouciantly at the seed despite the tourists feeding them. Pigeons are always insouciant.
When the clouds began to outmaneuver the sun too effectively I beat a hasty retreat to a Paul’s in Picadilly Arcade. I thought about going to the Fortnum and Mason tearoom but one glance at the fussily uniformed waiters—and the menu—intimidated me. Not a place to sit scribbling. I walked along a street running parallel below Picadilly, thinking that all these people that work in these fancy shirt shops and art galleries must take tea somewhere. I mean come on. They can’t ALL go to Fortnum and Mason’s. No luck, though. Finally, turning into one of the glittering shopping arcades I found the Paul’s and my chilled hands were grateful.
As I sat writing in my poncy little notebook the Dutch trio at the next table vacated to be replaced by an Italian foursome. London is such an international city.
After Paul’s I nipped across the street into the even posher Burlington Arcade, where I became distracted by a Love Machine. In the burnished surrounds of the Burlington Arcade, neighbored by shops selling high-end shoes and impeccable ladies’ clothes lies a small bespoke perfumery. In the window of this establishment was a wooden box on legs with a pair of belt-driven wheels protruding from the front. It looked rather like an enlarged old-fashioned sewing machine, the kind that flips up from a wooden table. It bore a typed sign–typed on a typewriter, not a computer–declaring the object to be a Love Machine.
Edified, I rambled on.