The November City is glazed. I cannot feel my hands and I dare not touch my face. Fires are smouldering; the residual aroma of lateautumn smoke breezes past us when we wait on the bankside. What’s for tea tonight? I can already smell it. Steaks… maybe some kind of stew? Or stomach-quenching, blood-warming hotpots, full of beef. Weekend City. Empty roads. Tranquil churches. A glassy sky, the slight apparition of sun on the tall, thin structures. Commuter-less lanes. These Monday-Friday-trampled streets, when they’re repetitively chockrammed with sweaty suits and important frowns. The energyfull hours ghosted away to leave the lazy days. Serene towers silent, looking down at the deserted tributaries. Autumn leaves dotted then swirled by the gusts, in flight past out-of-place classic capital churches, now dwarfed by identikit high-rises. I am cold-handed. I am seeking out the graveyards. But they too are overwhelmed by these hefty designs. I am alone, except for the glass structures. The thin semblance of sun is all around us, gently coming out of the autumn mists, until it beams near the temple of St Paul’s.
This is a mini-pilgrimage, on the wrong side of the river. How beautiful the tarmac looks under the pale glint – how unravaged and vehicle-less. How brilliant the inside of the cathedral is under the lines of window-exaggerated sun, which are spotlights filled with illuminated dust swirling, and which highlight the fantastic exterior. The touch of shoes and heels on the floor echoing around the building, screeches, smudges. Surround-sound double-sided conversation snippets from the weekending children. This is all so fresh and the vistas are incredible. This is what the city looks like? I want to stay! It is so similar to the rooftop panorama witnessed from the Sacré-Cœur, despite the impending darkness and the approaching Baltic season. Burrowing down into the chamber, on a mission to seek out the tomb. Our eyes adjusting to the gloominess following the blonde views from the roof of the cathedral. Small wooden gates creaking and speeches rattling into the underground chapel. When we return to the ground level that anomalous bleachy intensity stuns us again while we graze on the buffet of M&S breadish snacks, and in time the day is dragged into the evening – a deep maritime blue paints the silent back-City skies, for people-trains light-footedly seeking further burial grounds. Where have all the workers gone? We can thread through this place without having to dodge the pinstripes and massive gold umbrellas, as we would during the work-week struggles. The Square Mile is a tranquil zone. There’s just a single intrusion every couple of minutes by a juggernauting taxi rattling over potholes before thud-braking when meeting pelicans. The pavements, though, are glazed. Such clearness is our guiding light. And I still sense the presence of energies even though I can’t see them: maybe through a corridor light left on inside one of the uber-rises. The eternal workforce carries on. The energy offers a route to easy commitment and conjures the sense of belonging. Concealed toil solidifies the expansive city and the construction of a close-by community; communal effort leading to camaraderie. It’s better now that I can’t see them though and I get the head-strength from the togetherness without being assaulted by the pavement-to-office stampede.
But I remember nothing from the next portion except model-sized crescendos and some blocked artefacts. The stammer of occasionally clogged main routes. The lemony earlier day fading to greywhite torpor, dankness like a clotting nausea. And there I delved into the crazyman’s saloon-expansive mind, his notes on the burgeoning capital, on our chain-weighty struggles, the necessity to stay safe, stay sane, his London: ‘I wander thro’ each charter’d street/Near where the charter’d Thames does flow/And mark in every face I meet/Marks of weakness, marks of woe/In every cry of every Man/In every Infants cry of fear/In every voice: in every ban/The mind-forg’d manacles I hear/How the Chimney-sweepers cry/Every blackning Church appals/And the hapless Soldiers sigh/Runs in blood down Palace walls/But most thro’ midnight streets I hear/How the youthful Harlots curse/Blasts the new-born Infants tear/And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse.’ Then as the dusk rendered this silent City a bluegreyish wasteground where the selection of building illuminations began to beam proudly - they were everything from white pins to garish rectangles - we turned upwards to the Barbican roof gardens and small network of elevated canals. The almost-wintery oranges of the walls and the fuzzy light-balls felt heavy and added a layer of disorientation. Our figures and faces were bodies of warmth being whitened by an oncoming frosty night, and seemed opaque in this rooftop in the tiny passageways and brick corridors. It was copper-grey for ages as the end-of-day went on for some time and strange shapes became darting flurries in the fluid, creamy bulbs. From there we mazed out the knolly labyrinths and set our sights on the shrine. Going towards the graveyard. The light fading – it is cold now that the sun has dipped, the bare branches look raw, it is becoming grim night. And what is that fragrance which persists? The smoky autumnness prevails and we must hunt out the fire-baked golden pubs.
Standing in a circle around the modest headstone. Tree skeletons as night powers up. Our faces are little white blobs in the pathetic light, our hands secured in pockets to beat off the cold. My main thought is that he deserves much more. There are a few scruffy remnants of some cheap flowers and storm-faded in memoriam fan-letters. There is almost no light now, and I notice a couple of pennies on the stone floor. But I’m happy and brimming with expectation for something I can’t confirm exists, but convinced I am about to enter a prolonged period of perfect memories and nearby friendships.
© Copyright 2017 John Maher