Winter has settled here in London and the clocks tick inexorably towards the end of another year.
The people of London who in summer sported t shirts and shorts now wrap themselves in thick coats and scarves and wooly hats. The Cafes that grew in spring and flowered in summer, when tables and chairs spilled onto pavements and filled with the noise of a multitude of al-fresco imbibers & diners are gone, empty as trees in winter stripped of leaves.
It’s a different London now, in winter people always seem to be in a rush, going from one place to another, determined & busy, didn’t summer seem to have all the time in the world?
Now here in late November it becomes something of an endeavour to muster the inclination to head out around town when indoors it’s warm and cosy, but it’s worth it, there’s always something happening somewhere.
I’m on a finite timeline here in London, at least I hope I am, the pull to warmer climes is strong, but whilst I am here its seems crazy not to take advantage of the Big City. There’s a bunch of shows & exhibitions I want to see whilst I’m here. Today Schiele & Klimt at the Royal Academy. Now I have always felt like a bit of a dope when it comes to Art, I know nothing, and this has always left me feeling just a bit awkward, but as I’ve got older I guess I’ve just thought, fuck it, what does it matter. The gallery is packed out, visitors corralled in fifteen minute entry batches, the crowd rather well to do, chattering classes, predominantly aged. Where are the joe soaps I wonder, the £15 entry fee keeps them away? Maybe Art should be for all, maybe that would be healthier for everyone.
I like the works, and there’s something rather pleasant about seeing the real McCoy, instead of a printed or an electronic rendition, in a way standing there in front of the originals you can imagine the artist scratching away at paper a thousand miles & a century away in bygone Vienna.
But the crowds of people jostle and block the view and make it just a bit awkward to get a calm view, you queue to see one sketch after another. So many people in a relatively small space seems to suck up the air and leave little oxygen left to breathe. After forty five minutes I’m happy to escape back to the street, contentedly klimted.
I wander down towards Picadilly Circus passing shop front windows filled with Christmas themes and wares, none of which I have any need of whatsoever. At four p.m. the winter light is already beginning to fade and the Christmas lights slung across the roads are beginning to sparkle, Above me ethereal Angels float on wires, made of white light bulbs that glitter and twinkle, heavenly imaginings oversee retail reality. Tourists pause, look up & take photos, I stop at Burlington arcade, gaze up along the corridor, at the lights, at the little emporiums filled with expensive ditties, for a moment I’m tempted to take a look, but decide this particular Arcadia holds nothing for me other than distraction.
I wander on and up through Soho towards Carnaby Street. The lights blaze above the road, here Freddie Mercury lyrics are the theme, not exactly a yuletide, but they are nevertheless rather splendid. The street is packed with shoppers, a real throng of people. It occurs to me as I trundle along that at times this is one of the best things about life in a Big City, to walk among hundreds and hundreds of people and yet be entirely anonymous, it can be the most delicious feeling, knowing nobody, nobody knowing you, the feeling of being almost entirely invisible.
This state I am convinced is lost on those who’ve spent their lives in Big Cities, to understand it you have to have come from another place, small town or village there you will find people peering out from behind lace curtains, experience the curtain twitching noseyness of small town life and the claustrophobia that can go with it. There are places out there where everybody knows your business, London is not that place.
In my cloak of invisibility I wander on to Liberty, buy a bottle of my favourite scent, it’s the one after shave I really like & I’ve only found it here. Then on I go, eventually stopping for a drink at a back street bar. Me and another bloke are outside huddled under an outdoor heater, smoking our cigarettes. He is in a drop dead classy suit, which I can’t help looking at, I havent worn a suit in yonks, and for the most part the mere idea of having to wear one on a daily basis is an anathema, but occasionally the idea of wearing a fuck off good suit, because I might want to & that I might actually have somewhere to go to wear it is rather enticing. Curious about this chap with quality tailoring I engage him in conversation, compliment him on his suit and then ask what he does. He replies that he’s an Investment Banker. My nature, prone as it is to sweeping generalisations about people wants to loathe the man for his work, but he seems a decent enough bloke, he is it transpires Ghanaan by birth, brought up in London, he hates his work but he likes the money, he talks about getting out of it, one day. I warm to him, the heater helps.
Then along comes a shuffling woman, one of the beggars that Central London has rather a lot of. Only this one rather than just out right asking for money instead in a thick accent which I cant place and could be from anywhere between southern Europe and the middle east says that she reads cards, would we like our cards read? My smoking buddy says no a little dismissively, but I’m rather impressed by her ingenuity to get a bit of cash. Go on then I say.
She joins us at a little table lit red by the glow of the heater. She instructs me to shuffle a pack of over-sized cards, as I take them in my hands I notice how grubby and worn the deck is, curled up corners and stained. I shuffle, badly ( card sharp I ain’t ) then I’m instructed to cut the cards.
Now I’ve seen card readers at work before, you can’t get one over on me, some have this way of drawing out their pontifications, probing as they go and you just know you are being worked, but the old lady doesn’t go down that road. Instead she swings straight into her deal, turns over the first card and tells me that I was destroyed by a woman, she uses the word destroyed very emphatically, it had a big effect on you she says, she looks directly at me, it spooks me a little the way she stares me out, I say nothing, but my grey matter turns over, so what, this is nothing, many people, probably most of us have that painful history with a relationship at one time or another.
A moment later she turns over the second card and says that everything you knew came to an end, since that happened you have been travelling, to many countries, you have met many people, The people you have met she says have helped you, learn about yourself, but still you are not happy and this makes you angry with yourself.
OK, this is getting spookey. but I stick with it, I say nothing just nod.
A third card turned over and she tells me that there have been lovers since, she goes into some details that are uncannily accurate, and something she tells me that I have shared with no-one.
A fourth & says there is a creative part of you, you like to write she tells me.
You are trying to write she continues, but something in the past holds you back. You know that don’t you? she stares me out again.
A fifth card and she says you know where you are now, you have the choice. Let go of the past and you will write. It is not written in the cards, the choice is in you.
She puts the deck into her pocket and holds out her hand for money. The whole exercise has taken less than five minutes, I empty out my wallet which has accumulated a whole bunch of change, I have no notes. She cups both hands to collect the coins.
I manage a thank-you, but otherwise am lost for words.
Everything she said hit home.
Really I want to find out how the hell she came up with this stuff, destruction, travel, relationships, writing, all bang on point. In a myriad of possibilities and given the fact that I have told her nothing and don’t know her it’s just not possible that she could know this. Less still that cards would tell her. Before I can say anything she disappears off down the road looking for another punter and I am left there wondering. How?
The Investment banker tuts, these people he says as he watches her walk away,
You shouldn’t have given her money. It just encourages them, load of old rubbish.
Yep, I say. No idea at all, what rubbish………. fancy another drink ?