thoughtwisps One commit at a time

green park

There will be no Indian summer in October, the Met Office had promised just a few weeks ago, when it seemed that London, faced with a milky white cold drizzle, had collectively looked back at those suffocating weeks between late June and early August and let out a longing sigh. And yet this Saturday morning in mid-October is glorious. Though only a faint image of the sticky, dusty heatwave that had sent Argos stocks for air conditioning units into the negatives, the temperature is warm and I, still dressing for the Finnish October of my childhood, am of course overdressed and very soon, overheated.

Soon after I cross the lights at the knot of Regent’s Street, Shaftesbury Avenue and Piccadilly, the street goes into lockdown. Armoured police trucks drive up and down, sirens blaring. One of them gives an irritated honk to a driver of garbage disposal truck, who dutifully moves the vehicle further down onto one of those posh little streets that veer off Piccadilly into Mayfair. A helicopter, perhaps two, circles above. I duck into a corner at Waterstones and call my mother. Has she heard anything on the news? I want to tell her I’m ok. After the many incidents of last year, one can’t be too careful. But the consuming must go on! And so I rejoin the groups of window shoppers who have now spilled over onto the empty road and dive into the bookstore.

I already own too many books, too many unread novels, too many poetry collections I bought because an errant phrase here or there had given flight to my imagination, too many nonfiction books I’ve never read and will never be able to use at parties (which I never go to) to, in equal parts, annoy and astound my dates (which, to date, mostly only materialise in my daydreams). Most of them are not really books, but proxies for dreams, half-finished dreams, now indefinitely parked on a shelf to gather dust.

So I don’t stay long, lest the less well-behaved parts of my brain manage to convince the others, that yes, another erudite volume, another novel is definitely necessary. I take the stairs to the fourth floor and read some Russell on happiness but the words seem to slide through my consciousness like sand through fingers. I exit and walk out towards Green Park. Presence of police - everywhere, on the road, on the corners, in the blinking lights of the blue sirens, in the rumble of the helicopter circling above, in the policemen on the corner of Bond Street and then Albemarle Street and then further down at the entrance to the Green Park Tube station.

I enter the park through one of the side gates and, in spite of the annoying rat-tat-tat of the helicopter, am embraced by a tranquil golden autumn. It is here, under these trees and on the grass that just a few months ago was brown, prickly, singed by the prolonged heatwave, where I sat eating strawberries on a blanket that was later tinged with red droplets, like droplets of blood, one can find,in miniature, the full spectrum of human intimacy and its absence. The couples embracing on blankets, their shoulders gently touching, their hands intertwined, a gentle touch on the face, perhaps followed by a kiss. And then nearby, a woman on her own, eating a sandwich and staring out, far away from the present. I dare not look at the woman for too long nor at the couples, especially not at the couples. Why is it so, that the happiness - whether imagined or real - always maginifies an absence in our own lives?

I find an empty bench. The wind is gentle, the light bright and pure, filtered by the canopy of trees. The city and its many anxieties seem far away, their only echo a distant rumble of the helicoper still circling the perimeter of Piccadilly and Mayfair. I wish I could stay here forever, listening to the butterfly flutter of fallen leaves as storm Callum, with its final gusty breaths twirls them round and round. Here, I could love you forever, London.

It doesn’t take long for the tranquility to dissipate. It happens first at the entrance to Buckingham Palace, where I accidentally photobomb several tourist groups angling for a photo, then again near Westminster, a branch from a tree, falls, hits me in the face. I stand there, for a moment, stunned and draw my fingers on the forehead to check for blood. Meanwhile, groups of people continue to trickle around me. No one stops to ask. To survive in this city, one develops a kind of selective blindness, an ignorance to casual cruelties.

The Jubilee Line is a mild inferno and packed, as happy, slightly sundusted and windswept Londoners return home from an outing in the parks. At the bus station, a group of twentysomethings, lightly tipsy, stop to examine the shoes of their friend and a blister he has developed because of them. ‘Does anyone have a plaster?’ one of the women yells, half in jest and they burst out laughing and walk away. How easy it is to take part in a stranger’s joy and also feel alienated, an outsider, an observer, more so now as the Deadline approaches?

When I return to the corner of the world where I live, the sun has gone and the brilliant landscape of autumn dipped in in deep tones of translucent blue. It’s high tide on the Thames - the skin of the river ripples restlessly in the wind. Very soon it will be completely dark and then only the millions of lights in the millions of windows will carry the memory of the day gone by.