The traffic is heavy at Midland Road when I saunter out of the large iron gate at the back of British Library and join the small crowd at the junction, waiting for the green man. The tube station is around the corner. I could catch a train and be home in 45 minutes. But today, I go straight past it and head into the quiet side streets of Bloomsbury. I’m going for a walk.
After several miserably cold and rainy April days, the weather is finally turning for the better. It’s almost 8 p.m. The sun is about to set, imbuing the pale blue sky with a gradient of orange and red. The trees have sprung fledgeling leaves that will soon fill their majestic crowns. A young couple, probably students from the nearby UCL campus, walks past, holding hands, talking animatedly about their day.
At Judd Street, a barista flips a sign on the door of a cafe from open to closed and carries a blackboard sign with the day’s specials inside to be updated for tomorrow. Chairs are upturned on the tables inside the bistro next door which closed an hour ago. The city is slowly winding down.
My route takes me under a row of tall planes along the grey slab of concrete that is the fashionable Brunswick Centre. Amongst the townhouses of Bloomsbury, the shopping centre looks as if an alien ship landed in the middle of Victorian London. There goes an idea for a story.
I turn into a narrow passage which leads straight to Queens Square Gardens and lets me avoid the crowds at Russell Square. Then I round the corner into Great Ormond Street and carry on past the ubiquitous cast iron railings that set apart the pits of lower ground floor flats.
My mind is tired, and as I go, I let it wander wherever it pleases. I’m not in a rush. I’ve done my work for the day, and the leisurely walk with the sun setting behind my back is my reward. Sometimes, I listen to music or podcasts. Sometimes, I ponder ideas for stories or brainstorm new ones. Lately, walking from the library has been one of my favourite things to do.
The last golden reflections disappear from the windows on the highest floors. The sun has set, the sky becoming deeper, darker blue. The street lamps come on shortly and flood the pavements with yellow in perfect synchrony.
Lively conversation seems to be going on inside The Perseverance at the corner of Lambs Conduit Street. I don’t particularly fancy a drink today, so I head on. A runner overtakes me in Northington Street which is closed for traffic because of construction, but that’s really all that’s going on around this neighbourhood.
It fascinates me how, if you take the right turns, walking through the centre of one of Europe’s largest cities can be almost as serene as walking down a meadow. Tens of thousands of shoppers may be streaming down Oxford Street while you watch squirrels eating acorns in a deserted park two blocks away.
Somewhere in the distance, a faint howling starts. It’s not the police or paramedics, but it does sound urgent. I keep going, and it becomes significantly louder until it’s clear that it’s coming from a restaurant down the road which appears to be closed for the night. When I walk past the front door, I see a man outside with a backpack on, talking on the phone in distressed Italian. He’s the last man out, probably did all the cleaning, and they didn’t show him how to arm the alarm properly. Poor guy.
At Chancery Lane Station, where Grays Inn Road meets Holborn, the brindle-brick Georgian terraces with large sash windows become concrete and glass office blocks with cavernous lobbies made of polished marble and beeping security gates. Mainstream food chains replace the cosy independent cafes of Bloomsbury that wouldn’t be able to accommodate the throngs of office workers from the nearby high-rises during the lunch hour rush.
Soon, I’m walking past the sombre Old Bailey where Charles Darnay was tried for treason in Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. Further down the road, the majestic dome of St Paul’s Cathedral looms above the glass facades of modern office spaces.
From there, I venture down Cheapside—a thoroughfare with boutiques on either side, selling suits and shirts to bankers. I imagine it’s anything but cheap. There’s a branch of Daunt Books across the street which I remind myself to check out every time I pass by and always forget. The buildings grow higher and flashier again. I’m in the skyscraper area where the lobbies are even larger with stone-faced security guards and a couple of automatic revolving door. When someone rents an office up on the highest floor, they clearly mean business. The views must be incredible.
Several new buildings are under construction around here at any given time with huge cranes towering above them. The sound of grinding and hammering echoes along the backstreets. Although it’s dark and getting late, the builders will be working until dawn, and the workers sweep in like high tide once again.
I’ve been walking over an hour now. At Old Broad Street, I take my final turn towards Liverpool Street Station. I saunter across the pleasantly quiet concourse and make my way to the platform to catch a train home.
Inside the carriage, people watch Netflix on their phones and scroll down their bottomless Instagram feeds. Even though my eyes are closing, I’m on my phone too, typing up the first draft of this story, hoping that one day, I’ll be able to look back at all the work I’ve done today and see it one of the thousands little stepping stones that eventually led to something bigger.
Hope is all I’ve got.
What I Am Reading
I’m near the end of Amy E. Weldon’s The Writer’s Eye. The author, who is a Professor of English at Luther College, touches on a range of topics including observation, descriptive writing, drafting and editing. There’s the occasional tangent, but nothing prohibitive. Overall, it felt quite advanced, and I would only recommend it to writers with some experience to get the most out of it.
On the side, I’m also reading a collection of short stories by William Gibson called Burning Chrome. The cover is freaking me out a little bit, but the stories are great.
To be honest, I’m not even sure what I’ll be reading next. I have several candidates on my desk and will pick one at random. I’ll let you know next week.
I read these short stories this week:
- Eleanor by Chuck Palahniuk
- The Gernsback Continuum by William Gibson
- Fragments of a Hologram Rose by William Gibson
- How monkey got married, bought a house, and found happiness in Orlando by Chuck Palahniuk
- The Belonging Kind by John Shirley and William Gibson
- The Hinterlands by William Gibson
- Red Star, Winter Orbit by Bruce Sterling and William Gibson
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