Coming out of Blackfriars Station, I turn north and head for Ludgate
Of course I do. I have to say hello to St. Paul’s Cathedral.
As I did last year, I have kept today free of appointments, so I may wander
the City, the core square mile London was beginning to seriously outgrow by the
Restoration. While my luggage languishes
locked in L in a
locker, waiting for check-in to open at my hostel, I follow the path I did
before: down to the river, to say hello to Old Father Thames. I’ve got a lot of
places I want to do that with.
Along the Thames Path we go. Construction forces me to miss Queenhithe
entirely. Stupid real-world needs getting in the way of my rituals! Grrr. But
I think I find the outflow to the Walbrook, thanks to a low tide. I stop at the
river stair below London Bridge — the one that supplied me with my bottle
before — but learn that Thames mud is SLIPPERY LIKE WHOA. I stop well shy of
the water, rather than risk a muddy doom. Apparently river stairs are more
common than I realized last year, though, because I’ve seen several, and at
Sugar Quay I go right down (skirting more death-trap mud) and walk on the rocky,
littered bank. (I claim an oddly-shaped bit of broken ceramic as my souvenir of
mudlarking. Though that’s more a Victorian-era thing.)
Is it a bad sign if my feet hurt before I even start walking?
Bending north at the Tower, beginning my wall ramble. I’m less strict about
it this time, just wandering vaguely in the right direction, with course
corrections as I go. If I write enough of these books, maybe I will someday be
able to navigate the entirety of the City without maps, even down to the bitty
little lanes. (Maybe.) Speaking of maps, I stop in at the Museum of London and
pick up a copy of the post-Fire map, to replace the illegible one I made for
Memento. They have a whole exhibition on the Fire, but my appointment with the
curator isn’t until tomorrow.
Construction does not like me, this trip. Restoration work on St. Paul’s
north side has closed off my favorite bit of churchyard, robbing me of grass on
which to sit while I rest my feet. Sadness. I park myself on some memorial or
another, and ponder the difference between arriving in London during the wee
hours of the night and arriving in the morning — more to the point, its
ramifications for my feet. That time, it felt like my arches were collapsing.
This time, it’s just good, old-fashioned, you were stuck in coach for seven
hours and slept for maybe thirty minutes cramping. I think I prefer the wee
hours arrival, especially since my New Improved Shoe Situation may have taken
care of my arches. (Also, the only thing that saved me from rush hour this
morning was the delayed departure of my flight.)
And now sitting is letting the exhaustion catch up with me. I just can’t
Stagger off to the hostel, to get my luggage out of hock and into my dorm.
They assign me the exact same bed I occupied last year. I’m tempted to ask for
it again in the future, just for amusement.
The siren song of my bed calls to me, but I force my feet back into my shoes
and head off to find the London Stone. I never thought to look for it last
year; I didn’t end up incorporating it into the faerie landscape of London until
halfway through writing MNC. So now, to rectify this, I voyage down Cannon
Street (formerly Candlewick). In keeping with today’s theme, I find the door to
the relevant building boarded over! Which is okay, because the Stone is set
into the wall, with plexiglass on both sides, but the business that occupied the
building apparently went belly-up, so I can only get streetside shots. My
reward is an unphotogenic hunk of limestone. Whee!
I can’t touch it, alas. But still — cool. I stand for a moment and
visualize some relevant scenes, grinning.
Onward to the Monument! And here’s where Fortune unveils its masterpiece,
and I can only laugh. Because the Monument to the Great Fire, the memorial to
the crowning event of And Ashes Lie, is covered from top to toe with
scaffolding. Construction hates me. Good thing I climbed it last year,
huh? The Monument post-dates the Fire, of course, so visiting it is not a
necessity. Still, it would have been nice. Next objective: Pudding Lane. I
don’t know how I overlooked it before, but there is a plaque in the
vicinity of the baker’s house that started the whole mess. (Put up by the
Worshipful Company of Bakers, natch.)
Then up to the Royal Exchange, which will likely be the site of the novel’s
first scene (after the prologue). Like St. Paul’s, it’s right despite being the
wrong building. The original burnt down in (what else) the Great Fire. The
replacement burned down some time later. The third one burned down, fell over,
and sank into a swamp, but the fourth one stayed up! I actually don’t
remember if this is the third or fourth Royal Exchange, but unlike the
cathedral, it’s kept its essential shape. Inside is an airy courtyard ringed by
shops; they may be more ridiculously exclusive than the ones Pepys visited, but
the idea remains.
But they kick everybody out when I’ve barely settled into a cafe chair, so
okay, back on my feet. I return to Cannon Street to see if the Stone is in
shadow yet (I’m hoping it will photograph better when it is), but no luck. I
can’t quite face the prospect of hunting down local seventeenth-century
buildings, not without a break, so, rolling my eyes all the way, I descend into
the subterranean London Stone Pub. It has pointy-backed chairs like Gothic
windows, little gargoyles and “potion bottles,” and something about John Dee in
calligraphy over the entrance. Hey, at least it’s underground, right? And it
gives me a comfortable place to sit while I scribble down some of these notes.
(The Coke I buy doesn’t hurt, either — though its price does. I’m paying extra
for the kitsch, no doubt.)
Minorly restored, I discover that seventeenth-century architecture, at least
of the sort I can find here, is very boring. That, or I’m looking at the wrong
houses, but I don’t think so. Brick. Yawn. I hope to find some pre-Fire
timber-framed stuff before I leave, though.
Okay — I accept that I have grown to like St. Paul’s. I bear it a grudge
for being the wrong cathedral still, but in the smiling way that
acknowledges it’ll be the right cathedral for any future Onyx Court books. But
could I stop taking pictures of it? Please? At this rate, you’ll be able to
make a page-a-day calendar out of my snapshots. (The truth, of course, is that
I’ll need to see them on something larger than my camera’s viewscreen to find
out which ones are any good.)
Now, here’s the sad truth: it’s 4 p.m., and way too early for dinner, but the
thought of keeping busy until dinnertime is enough to make my feet threaten
. . . yeah. I go take a nap.
Er, remember how last year I got woken up at 6 a.m. on my first day (having
gone to sleep a whopping four hours earlier) by a fire alarm? My hostel — or
is it just that bunk? — summons weird noise karma. This year, my first attempt
at sleep is disrupted again. TWICE. I’ve barely dozed off when suddenly it
sounds like a military brass band is playing IN MY ROOM. I sleepily remember a
sign at reception saying something was going on today, but I didn’t realize it
would be OMG LOUD. Fortunately, it’s also brief, so I pass the hell out . . .
until 6 p.m., when my alarm is assisted in its job by the bells of St. Paul’s
doing a twenty-minute imitation of the Lowell House Klappermeisters. (Except
that St. Paul’s doesn’t have deranged college students, trying to make up
melodies for a set of Russian-tuned bells; they just cascade theirs over and
over and over again. For twenty or thirty minutes.)
Wondering whether that happened last year and I forgot, I roll myself out of
my coffin, shove my shoes on, and go obtain Wasabi for dinner. This time I get
there early enough that they still have nigiri on the shelves! I celebrate by
purchasing one, even though the yakisoba is still THE SIZE OF MY HEAD and I do
not need the extra food.
The plan is to go sit on the steps of the cathedral and enjoy my yakisoba,
but I am thwarted. Not construction, this time: HRH the Prince of Wales. A
police officer tells me it’s some event to benefit those injured in the war. My
nap has restored me (and my feet) to charity with the world, so I am not unduly
displeased. (And it explains the bells.) St. Paul’s has a southern bit of
churchyard greenery that I think was blocked off by restorations last year; I go
sit there, and contemplate the cleaned facade of the southern apse while
stuffing my face and pondering whether I’ve recovered enough to go watch the
parade or whatever.
The answer turns out to be no, but I find that out because I go anyway. I
won’t describe the whole thing in detail, but I’m interested by the cultural
difference. My impression of American military rhetoric is one of ego-rallying
optimism designed to make the audience feel good about themselves and their
military. This event includes reminders that soldiers don’t earn very much
money, and that war takes a toll not just on them but on their families; there
are blunt statements about people knowing more about their local sports teams
than their local regiments, and the inappropriateness of calling footballers
heroes because they kick a ball between two posts. I can’t imagine an
equivalent American event saying things that might make the audience feel
ashamed of themselves.
Other brief notes: 1) I wish I’d gotten a better position, so I could have
photographed the trumpeters playing a fanfare from the upper portico of the
cathedral. They certainly sounded cool. 2) British military events provide
more satisfying pageantry than American ones. Especially when they bring out
the Horse Guards. 3) Hearing the Royal Marine Band segue from a military march
to the Pirates of the Caribbean theme is surreal. 4) No actual Prince in
sight, but I think I left before the end. Maybe he showed up later. 5) I’m tempted to make a gay pride
banner out of the pictures I took of St. Paul’s — they turned it every color
under the sun. But I left my camera cable at home (damn!), and I’m
afraid I’ll have to delete them to make room for actual content.
Tomorrow will be the start of more structured work. For tonight, I’m going
to post this, try to delete some pictures, and then have a reunion with my