One of my low-energy activities involves looking at the pictures in books about Art and Photography without doing any actual reading. I also like looking at maps. I am positively enchanted with Google Earth and I must warn you that if I know your postcode, I have probably been spying on you from above. I have looking at any places anyone has mentioned, such as Sefton Park Library, which happened to be photographed on a day that Lady Bracknell paid a visit (well there’s a nearby dot which I have decided is Lady Bracknell and I challenge anyone to prove otherwise).
And then there’s the ordinary Atlas. All this is very childish, but I am not, as they say, a well man. I like to look at somewhere on the map and imagine what it is like, some little village somewhere I have never been to, especially if it has a comical name like Thwing, Pity Me or Six Mile Bottom. And I also like to plan fantasy journeys. Only sometimes these things get out of hand and lately, well I have begun to think, maybe, possibly…
I want to go visiting my netty friends. I have done this before, but really it is crazy even to think and talk about it given my current limitations. I haven’t even been out in my electric wheelchair since last August for cripe’s sake. But I did manage the journey to and from Suffolk all right – we were only delayed by one day because of me, and I am much better now than I was then.
I really ought to put the thing away. Yesterday I was looking at Underground routes across London and timetables! The Tube is completely inaccessible to me, even if my mobility was a bit better, I have only been on it twice since I got sick. And I don’t much like London. It is way too big and smells funny. Paris is very nice. You can sit outside the Les Deux Magots and talk to people about the meaning of life; “Je te plumerai le bec, je te plumerai la tête” I would say and everyone would be stunned into an awed silence. Dublin also seemed to be full of existentialists, musicians and people who could string words together in a random order and call it a tribute to James Joyce.
Glasgow smells a little bit funny, but I was there less than twenty-four hours and two complete strangers told me that I was beautiful. One of them was a rather camp waiter who thought I was romantically attached to the friend I was staying with, even though I was eighteen and she was forty something. My friend was extremely embarrassed and apologetic, but I kept thinking I could be whoever I liked in this place. The other person who told me I was beautiful was a drunk we met in the lift on the way up to her twenty-sixth floor flat. My friend had to translate his every word due to his inebriated state and extreme accent. And there were lots of seagulls. Seagulls are a good thing. I have been to London very many times and never seen any seagulls.
Naturally I have spent most of my time in London wandering round the City, which always seemed like a terribly exciting place to be. So many people, all packed close together. So many different people in pinstripe suits and so many important looking buildings, embassies and banking organisations, so much power. And then there's the West End, which once held all sorts of extraordinary fantasies for me. I'm sure my appreciation of the Barbican was blighted by an RSC performance of Romeo & Juliet; the worst dramatic production of any play I have ever seen in the whole world ever. But these places are all very exciting, that can't be denied.
But of course nobody talks to you in London, even to tell you that you are beautiful (unless perhaps if you are). There is the occasional homeless person who might engage you in conversation and in places like the National Gallery an uninhibited European tourist may invite your opinion on the nature of someone’s expression in The Umbrellas. But the worst thing is that if you smile at a native, they sneer back and after a few visits to London you begin to suspect that they don’t mean to be unpleasant, only they’ve been so long in that place that they’ve lost the use of the necessary muscles to do otherwise.
There, that’ll get me hate-mail. I am sure it is a lovely place really and indeed I know many very pleasant Londoners, but it is like being in a completely different culture and I don’t know the rules. Like in some parts of the world where it is rude to make eye contact or eat with your left hand. And since clearly my judgement might have been swayed the compliments of camp waiters and drunks, my opinion is not to be taken too seriously.
But why I am looking at Tube maps I don’t know. Why I have plotted out a three week itinerary of my journey around the country when I have neither the health nor the financial resources to achieve such a thing, I don't know.
I need wings. I shall start collecting feathers.