The glorious summer was coming to an end. The pink and purple was beginning to look inappropriate and tacky despite sparking memories of high enthusiasm. As he walked down the north bank of the Thames he looked up and saw a red bus roll across Blackfriars Bridge.
He is on his way to Alexandria and it is taking a long time for the Thames path is busy; people flowing over and around him, the throng comes and passes and more turn up in front and he wonders how they could be so many. Clouds are taking over the blue sky, unremarked upon, and he bumps into one he knows, in the throng: ‘Off to work in Acton -acting!’ she says. ‘Don’t know really, just heard about it and here I am … not long, off to Paris on Tuesday!’
The river next to him draws his eyes as it presses against the stone and steel of its barriers. It swells and threatens to one day take back this city to earth and rubble as which it arose from these depths. It heaves up to him and sinks back down speaking of hot horror and animal ferocity.
He left London for Berlin one weekend. A city that stands as both the great demonic head of the Fearsome Fourth Reich, home of jingoing pockets, as well as the scrappy self-deprecating but vicious underdog with peeling graffiti splattered across war torn buildings, mispuzzled and bright. Here punks strut around and have a tendency to pose like paintings, grimacing sulkily. Bubbling with a tame danger, lazing in the sun, he sits in the city and looks at the words liebe luxus anarchie scratched into the door frame next to his head.
Not the rush and corporate of London; not the grandeur and intimidation of business and doing but being, allowing old fashioned trains to glide into large glass stations - functional and clean, practical. Looking like those on the south of the river – proud, cold and ordered.
Where is the whip of shining polished boot, the big boys and Bollinger-scented breath? Here, are the rich embraced tight and the foreign welcomed frantically? In this city do Royals not build palaces but shimmy down them?
Alexandria is leaving her apartment soon to a house in Kent. She will be commuting in from then onwards. Her mother bought the apartment in 1948. ‘Nothing lasts. Now what awaits is a sad, slow decline to a grumbling unimportance in the future’ she had said.
‘It began with a great show, and is secured with one …’ …fizzing and bubbling, like the final frantic gurgling whirl before the plug; the last bright lights flicker.
‘Maybe she is just tired; it was only ever an accident of water and time; lucky daylight hours and thankfully a safe enough distance from them with their vicious tendencies!’
#stagetaken and deflation creeps over and seeps in, thickly. Outside the O2 arena officials stand to guard nothing; railings passing back and forth, splitting up empty air. Everything is still, very big, looking clumsy and flaccid without the crowds.
He walks on. He is ready to learn something tonight. He feels like a little boy. He is not wearing his tie so his waistcoat and shirt are getting squashed in his rucksack. He smiled as his hood blows out behind him, like Zorro’s cape. He walks along the river with a spring; the wind ruffles his hair and he tilts back, his belly protruding forward, his palms open.
He’s come to Westminster Bridge now and looks out over the ships and the towers and the domes, theatres and temples, Open unto the fields, and to the sky …
It is still beautiful here and feels yet more so when Alexandria opens the door to him, jabbering, hysterically on the phone – ‘well she keeps spreading doom and misery and after a while I just want her to get on with her life and allow me to’ – he is ushered in and pushed up against the wall his nose pressed against the rugs and canvases that harbour a strong childhood excitement.
He walks into the kitchen while she loudly clatters behind him. The kitchen ceiling a bright white and the walls a swirling, vibrant orange. The counters around the edge are cluttered with pots and glass containers of nuts and seeds, spelt pasta and quinoa. There is a cut open loaf of rye bread on the side, with a bowl of fruit – grapes, bananas, apples, pomegranate and others he didn’t recognise flowing over and out of the bowl.
Walking down a step to the sitting room which lay the other side of one of the counters he can see Alexandria in another room through a thin, indigo veil, surrounded by islands of bright pillows sitting upon the deep blue rug. The twin of that blue rug he stood on now, next to a fireplace in which crystals, pebbles and candles were dotted about the grate, a stone Ganesh at the front in the centre.
Hazy in the light, he could smell a strong incense candle that Alexandria had lit. The light curls of smoke drifted towards him, stinging his nose and moistening his eyes, eventually causing him to let out a little ahtishoo!
Around this room he looked at the throws with the elephants in embroidery and the magnificent skyline of cities of the Orient. Here he had dreamt of winding steps, exotic markets, wide streets, great white houses, dancing chimney sweeps, empty mansions and that lovely sooty air.
Alexandria was out of site now. He walked over to the window and looked out over the gardens of the next door houses and beyond that the rubbish bins, a small lane, more houses and then the tips of the trees that lined the park.
He waited and dreamed and eventually he turned back to the house where in a great, magnificent mirror that stood on the wall opposite he saw himself amidst the skyline of the city.
Bertie Digby Alexander