Time weighed on me, so I bundled up my words and watched as my feet fell faster and carried me ever farther from the City. Following Holborn, I passed before the last of London’s inns of the court. Originally a wool bale exchange and later a barrister school and survivor of the Fire, the half-timbered Tudor facade spanned the length of seven shopfronts located on its ground level. Still, I pressed on and paid it no more mind than that. It came to me only later that, in my mad dash along Holborn, I had likely also crossed that small lane above which Chateaubriand had, for a number of years, made his home in an attic. I would have very liked to learn whether, in the two hundred years since, the place had retained its bare furnishings and the doves, living beneath a sheet in a cage, which kept the exile company. All the same, the connection came only later, and I found more interest at that time in passing before the well-known fabric than in seeking out the living quarters of a writer two centuries gone.
Westwards I continued. What presented themselves as sights to others fell unseen behind me, and only the trivial seems to have made an impression at that time. From the other side of a railing, my eyes caught a cut grey stone porch and red Anglican doors on one of which someone had fixed a sign reading “listening service”. The thought stayed with me, for a good hundred meters, that the church sought new ways to maintain its eroding presence in the community by offering to listen, not to the at-risk and their woes, but to those individuals whose need for creative expression and self-articulation was otherwise unmet, due to isolation, timidity or the advance of an increasingly conformist society. So, even the stifled or reluctant expressivist might find an audience.
There came to take its place in my thoughts a musing, half-formed, unoriginal and lasting no more than a stride or two, that London’s monuments struck me as particularly phallic but desolate, their generative principle gone. And other strings of words, perhaps equally ill-chosen or unfortunate, succeeded one another until such a time as I came to a stop before one particularly bulbous sycamore in Russell Square. At that moment, I would likely have maintained that I did not know precisely what drew my city-spanning march to a halt before that tree, but swollen bark and bole strongly recalled for me those lining a narrow colonial lane in New England. I did not linger.
At some point, I had crossed from Holborn to Bloomsbury, though I had not noticed a marker to that effect. Yet, having made better time than I had hoped and nearer my destination than my companions, I thought to make a quick tour of the area. From a map, I knew that Bloomsbury Square lay south of Russell, and I turned in that direction, if for no other reason than a college memory of the modernist literary circle of the same name.