Londres sous la pluie

The start of a working week, and the summer rain brings thoughts of final resting places and sticky ends. 

Monday morning starts hot and sunny. The Tube is like an oven. It may be a plan to leave my suit and shirts at work and travel in wearing a tshirt and shorts. My colleagues in the offices opposite mine will, I’m sure, appreciate the striptease.

A long busy-ish day. My focus is heightened in the knowledge I’m in Birmingham on Thursday (though fortunately only for an hour or two) and then off work on Friday. It’s the start of my new four-day working regime, which I’ll be coincidentally spending in Cornwall for the weekend. There’s lots to do before then.

I take my late lunch break in the park in Bunhill Fields Burial Grounds, next to the grave of William Blake. His tombstone reads “Near by lie the remains of the poet-painter William Blake (1757 – 1827) and of his wife Catherine Sophia (1762 – 1831)”. It’s a politely English way of saying that he was buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave, and no one quite knows where he is.


Poor Mozart met the same fate. There’s a striking scene at the end of Milos Forman’s film Amadeus showing Mozart being dumped unceremoniously in a communal pit in a pauper’s graveyard: a grim ending that was worlds away from the lush romanticism of his music. Meanwhile, Proust was buried in the relative splendour of Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris, in a chic sarcophagus of black marble. Moral of the story? Drink less, and save for your interment, lest you become cheap compost in East London.


The rain turns the City into a Renoir painting, as the bankers’  enormous golfing umbrellas are opened and jostle for space on the sidewalk. Rain washes away some of the sludge of the weekend and makes London smell slightly less like sewage. On the downside, pedestrians become slow and stupid as cattle.

The Tube at rush hour has the multiple discomforts of heat, overcrowding, insufficient ventilation and the pungent smell of wet wool. It’s moments like this I almost envy my friend Chris, who cycles to work every day – but I have neither his fearlessness nor his concentration to survive on London’s treacherous roads. Plus I like my hour of reading and note taking as I commute each day.

The papers are full of the news of Rolf Harris’ conviction for indecent assault with teenaged girls. He was a much-loved part of my childhood, though clearly a much less loved part of the complainants’. The wave of dirty old man celebrity sex abuse trials feels larger than just the details of the cases themselves. We appear to be in the middle of a moral panic – as we were in the mid 1980s when everyone was obsessed with child sexual abuse in creches and daycare centres. Helen Garner’s analysis from The First Stone also springs to mind. Are these cases a tipping point in the battle against sexism, or a lumbering attempt to redress the unpunished crimes of Jimmy Saville and all those abusers who did get away with it?

On happier ground, I have a very enjoyable first date with R, a guy I’ve been chatting to on Grindr for about a week. He’s cute, smart and works in vaguely the same industry as me, and we chat away merrily for a couple of hours, even braving the Monday night pub food menu to try and prolong the evening. He’s cute and funny and laughs at my jokes, so top marks so far.

R is a fan of Evelyn Waugh, and we talk about the gorgeousness of the writing in Brideshead Revisited and the pleasure of immersing oneself in Waugh’s langorous, nostalgic tone. We agree that the recent Julian Jarrold film of Brideshead was a travesty, and how the opening up of the erotic attraction between Charles and Sebastian made their relationship much less interesting. I’ve spent most of my life wanting writers and artists to be more open in their presentation of homosexuality, and pushing myself to be frank in my own writing about sex. That being said, there’s a delicious kind of magic to the closeted writings of Waugh and Forster and James and Wilde, that loses its lustre when you tamper with it and inject modern sexual politics into the mix. Perhaps those closeted pretty boys in immaculately tailored Savile Row suits should be left in peace to throw their wandering glances at each over after the afternoon tea table – as R and I have been doing these evening.

When I get home, I run a bath and start on Edmund White’s 1999 biographical study of Proust, which looks to be marvellously well-written. How wonderful White was in his hey-day: The Beautiful Room Is Empty and The Farewell Symphony are two of my favourite novels. His best seems now well behind him – I still remember the savaging my old book group gave his My Lives – so it’s nice to be able to discover one of his earlier, more buoyant pieces.


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