Friday, November 4, 2016
There is nothing like spending two nights in the top bunk of a bed in a dorm to make you feel blessed about a good night's sleep in your own bed with your own duvet and your own pillows. I slept well back in my Ealing flat and awoke to draft a blog post, catch up with email, make a call to my Dad, review coming travel logistics and make plans for the day.
According to my calendar, I had to meet my friend Jack today--but neither one of us had confirmed time or place. I sent him a private message on Twitter and as I ate my breakfast (toasted bread with spreads that I am trying to consume before departing for Italy later next week) and showered, I awaited his response. It arrived soon enough. We would be meeting at 11.00 am at the London Library where he is conducting research and editing the paperback version of his book.
A Long-Awaited Meeting with Jack:
The trouble with becoming a best-selling author is that you have a heavy schedule of readings., signings and book festivals to attend as part of your publication contract. So although I had contacted my friend Jack as soon as I had arrived three months ago in London, he could only really commit to a date in November! So, it was a great joy to finally see my young friend and be able to congratulate him in person for the many happy happenings in his life--the selling of his manuscript entitled, The Tree-Climber's Guide to London: Adventures in the Urban Canopy caused a bidding war and something on a publication sensation, a few months ago. It has sold well and I have seen it in most book shops that I have visited.
Jack is a lovely modest young man with an unusual vision and a thirst for adventure. I feel like he is something of a kindred spirit for I understand his desire to leave the trodden path and pursue roads not taken. However, he is far more adventurous than I am and his forays into trees that he has climbed since he was five and his idea of making a book out of it is unique and original and completely commendable. His unexpected success could not have come to a nicer man. Plus, almost a year ago, after a fairy-tale wedding to the girl of his dreams, they saw the birth of their little boy, Bodie (named for a town in California that he remembered fondly from a very young visit with his parents, my friends Loulou and Paul). So, if there is a case where someone has had one joyous happening piled upon another in life, it was right here in front of me.
Coffee at Waterstone's:
I made it to the London Library--one of the sweetest institutions in the hidden heart of Mayfair at St. James' Park--where Jack spends most of his time researching, editing, writing. Yes, he is now able to enjoy the full-time writer's dream life! At his suggestion, after an affectionate reunion (I was probably seeing him in person after 3-4 years), he suggested we get coffee in the basement café of Waterstone's on Piccadilly. It was a lovely idea and that was where we continued a free-wheeling conversation on all of the aspects of life and productivity that we share in common. I had a coffee, courtesy of Jack, and he had a coffee and a Croque Monsieur--and we talked and talked. About his future projects. About his family life. About his impending move from the East End of London to the farms and fields of Suffolk where he prefers to raise his little boy with access to the storied childhood he'd enjoyed. About seeking and finding an agent. About the process of writing. About the difference between writing and publishing scholarly academic books (such as the ones I write) and non-fiction that combines travelogues with reflection (such as the one he prefers to write). It was such a happy conversation--so stimulating, so funny, so enlightening.
But soon, Jack had to get back to work and I had to get on with my day. At nearly 2.00 pm, we said goodbye and hugged and went our separate ways. For me most of this week will be about reunions as I try to meet, for the first time in many cases, friends I have not yet seen or met because our work and travel schedules have clashed. Jack started me off and by the end of the day, I would have seen my Dad's cousin, Sybil, who comes under the same category.
Off to the Senate House Library:
But first, I needed to get to the Senate House Library to sort out my membership there. NYU had given me a letter of introduction, several days ago, but somehow in-between juggling lecture assignments and preparing for them, I have barely had the time to get any more reading done. Today, I thought would be the perfect time to accomplish it. Sadly, the person in-charge of visitor passes was not in and I was advised to return ton Monday--which I shall do.
It is always great to enter this building in Bloomsbury--right by NYU at Bedford Square. It is a fine example of Brutalist architecture that I can see from the window of my own office. Rumor has it that Hitler gave orders not to have it bombed as he wanted it to become his Nazi HQ in London! Striding through its marble lobby, I often feel an absurd sense of empowerment. The Building, like the city, never fell into Nazi hands and I feel something of the bullish spirit of Churchill himself when I walk through its corridors.
Off to Guildford, Surrey:
My plan for the rest of the day was to meet my Dad's cousin's ex-husband Joel at Guildford Station--he was to meet me there and drive me to the care home close to Guildford in Surrey where he lives, to see Sybil, my relative. Since I finished with the library far earlier than I thought, I called to ask Joel if he could meet me at 3.00 instead of 4.00 and since he was cool with that, I hopped into a Tube that took me to Waterloo, bought a one-way ticket to Guildford and met him there on schedule.
Driving through the lovely town of Guildford, Joel pointed out its ruined Castle to me and its high street. A few minutes later, I was at his home called Wheelspin, which I remember from my first long-ago visit when he had recently divorced Sybil and she had hosted me with kindness and generosity for a week as I toured London for the first time. Much has changed in their home (as indeed places do in thirty years) and we chatted companionably over a cup of tea and bakhlava before we began our drive to the care home.
A half hour later, we were at Sybil's bed side in the care home where she has spent the last four years and where I last saw her about two years ago. Illness has caused her to be bed ridden but she was in a great mood for the length of my visit and I left feeling deeply heartened. Age and dementia have also taken their toll on her--so while a sensible conversation was not really possible, one does what one can with an invalid who has seen better days and with whom one has created happy memories.
We left about an hour later and Joel made a detour to Weybridge so that I could meet his daughter Yolanda and her partner Mitch for the first time. We spent another hour getting there and in their new apartment where we had a glass of wine and shot the breeze.
Just before he dropped me off to Kingston from where I intended to take the bus back to Ealing, Joel and I stopped off at the town of Esher for dinner. It was in Orient, a fusion Asian restaurant that we ate--I chose a Singaporean Laksa (I have definitely had better at The Hare and Tortoise) and Joel had Crispy Noodles with Mixed Meat, Seafood and Vegetables.
An hour later, I was on the bus heading home where I reached at about 11.00 pm really tired after what had been an unexpectedly full day.
Until tomorrow, cheerio...