I’ve walked Las Ramblas but not with real intent.
I’m a big fan of the local library. Not library as I might usually mean it, not the slightly over-heated, out-of-the-way, never-have-what-I-want-in cubby holes that I treasure dearly. But the other local library, the streets of London and beyond which I tread daily, living and breathing the present but so often the past, or the made up.
Here, in Tufnell Park I am in spitting distance of the following:
– The house George Orwell used to live in
– The Seven Sisters which Brett Anderson left ‘for a room in a seaside shack’.
– The Hotel Splendide which inspired a Bernard Butler bside
– The Good Mixer which cooked up Britpop until it boiled over
– The St John’s Road, Archway where Spike Milligan used to visit his friend Harry Edgington
– The house where Spaced was filmed. (I even shop in the same Londis as Tim did.)
The locations in songs, TV and books captivate me as much as the emotions, and send me on stupid Saturday morning missions to seek out a brick wall somewhere in Highgate. Cast the nets a little further, to the rest of London, Worthing, Sheffield and the list could go on.
You know, I walked around Merrian Square in Dublin, and sure people know Oscar Wilde lived there, but who else spots the estate agent Morrisseys on the corner and Yeats’ house opposite, and sees Cemetry Gates made flesh? And then I walked down Las Ramblas in Barcelona thinking of Orwell and thinking of Nicky Wire feeling inadequate in his steps, and I felt inadequate in both their steps, but was somehow thrilled, as if I was doing a secret thing which only I knew about.
Often it’s me on a treasure hunt but sometimes it’s accidental and it catches me unawares. Take this week. I have been reading High Fidelity by Nicky Hornby. It’s set around here, Crouch End, Seven Sister Road, Camden, Kentish Town. Familiar terrirtory but I don’t recognise many of the road or shop names. I know Crouch End well so there’s no need to seek it out.
But then, the book finds me. On Friday evening a friend of mine from work, Rachel, invites me to see her band play in Camden. Suddenly I’m in the Hope & Anchor and the Purple Turtle and seeing Rachel sing, meeting the band and their friends and having awkward but fun conversations and the memory of the book, of Marie’s gigs comes crashing in. Waves of sensation – something like deja vu – make me laugh and I find myself asking my new aquaintances what music they like just to keep the illusion going. It’s not even as if the personal situation is similar, it’s the same thrill as Baracelona – being in a joke that no one else is.
Saturday morning I walk to Oxfam Books & Music in Kentish Town to see what I can dig out for my scruffy book pile. The guy in the shop is berating his younger assistant: “I can’t believe you haven’t seen Zulu! How can you not have seen Zulu? Where have you been?!” I take my books to the counter and he critiques them, all the while continuing to tell his assistant how great Blondie are. As I’m paying the assistant is asked “OK, top 10 records from the 80s?”. On my way out I ask them both if they’ve read High Fidelity. No, says the man. Yes, says the assistant. “Well,” I said to the assistant, “he is definitely Barry.”
She giggles, I leave. But not before I catch the expression on her face, which I know well myself. It’s the joy of being in on a joke that you can’t explain and you couldn’t even if you wanted to.