At the time of writing it’s probably over a month since I spent the night in Pimlico; nevertheless, since the job I began in February is still going, and into its fourth (and contractually, its concluding) month, this blog post will necessarily be a spiritual successor to the previous one.
The night after I posted Part 1 I spent my most blogworthy (AKA wretched) night in Pimlico. More wretched even than New Year’s Eve circa 2008 when I was locked out of my flat and had to trawl the tube stations till dawn, staring at grey-brown mice among the tracks and being barked back by stern security who mistook my insomniac mutterings for suicidal desperation; rather than hungover sleeplessness and simmering anger at my flatmates. Or possibly Steve; something tells me it was somehow Steve’s fault I couldn’t get into my flat. Was it even my flat at that time? I don’t know, but I definitely should have been allowed in.
I digress. The night after I posted the last post I stayed in a sticky, peeling, funky, foreboding single room in an annex of one of the cheaper Pimlico hotels. The room number (15) was not offered by any of the signs on the walls in the entrance hall, and I had to find it by process of elimination. Its sink was right behind the entrance door. Its shower was right by the bed. And its carpet had seen better decades. The toilet was two floors down sandwiched between two other bedrooms. But the sheets were clean, despite an ominous dark spotting on the mattress beneath; so I wasn’t expecting much to blog about. I had a pint down the road and read my book. I came back and turned on the TV.
It was only moments after I flicked a caramel-coloured bug off the bedsheet (while I was watching Masterchef and eating some intensely seasoned Turkish crisp snack) that the two key words from that sequence emerged from among their fellows to form a compound rarely juxtaposed in my vocabulary: bed + bug. I thought about that as I crunched my crisps, and was not encouraged by the possibilities it suggested. I began Googling…
About eight hours later I crushed the tenth bedbug with the remote control, and its blood, or, more plausibly, my blood, squirted up into my face. I decided at that point, at two a.m., that I did not deserve this. That this ought not any longer to be an episode in my existence. I’d had no sleep whatsoever due to the quite reasonable paranoia brought on by single shield-shaped little bastards marching determinedly across clean cotton every time I dared dim the lights and close my eyes. I’d never encountered bedbugs in real life before, and hope never to again. I did not notice once the event of being bit, but bit I was. Ten times bitten and digon yw digon: I packed my things and went to find the manager. The manager was not there, so I wheeled my rattling suitecase down moonlit Warwick Way to look for the first welcoming hotel whose doors might still be open to travellers at this ungodly hour. It was, to my relief, Hotel Enrico. Or Enrico Hotel; I forget which way round they have it. I got about three and a half hours of nightmare-fuelled sleep before my alarm announced that it was time to return to the scene of the crime and to demand my money back.
Around the time I published my last (or, I should say, my most recent) poetry book I had an epiphany that any form of editorialised record-keeping (such as this blog) is not really true history, but fictionalised history. And that the only true history is the document itself; the primary source. With each copy of that book I sold (or gave away) I sellotaped a line documenting a bank transaction from the enormous pile of statements I had printed when I was unsuccessfully trying to reclaim some historical overdraft charges from Lloyds bank for the approximate period of the first decade of the 21st century. Each sellotaped transaction was a true unit of history: uneditorialised proof of an event. Specifically, a financial event; there are other kinds, but few are so methodically and unambiguously documented. Births, marriages, deaths, and things being bought or sold. That’s about it, right? I mention this here because it occurs to me that the quarterly VAT spreadsheet I’ve been completing, including all of my train tickets, hotel bookings, dinners, snacks, evening drinks, morning coffees, late lunches, etc. – that gives a much more thorough account of the second period of my Pimlico Nights than I could ever hope (or be bothered) to here. But it doesn’t mention the bedbugs. There’s a refunded hotel booking in my receipts folder, sure; but it doesn’t. mention. the bedbugs. Are the bedbugs part of history too? I reckon so.
Anyway, I finally got to go to Wahaca with Steve and Paul. The Oxford Circus one. It’s a Mexican streetfood place. It was nice. We had margaritas and tacos. But I was reminded of a dinner some ten years previous (everything happened ten years ago it seems) at Loco Mexicano on the road leading from Victoria Station to Warwick Way (where we then lived) and how it was someone’s birthday – I’m going to say Ralf’s, but I really don’t remember – and halfway through our meal a host of sombrero-wearing staff surrounded our table, shouting celebratory sentiments and hammering away at untuned guitars. That didn’t happen at Wahaca. The atmosphere was quiet and sombre. Sure, it was a Monday night in March, and I was recovering from a bedbug invasion. But it didn’t feel like fun as fun used to feel. I think this is also known as being old. Fun doesn’t disappear, necessarily; but it ceases to be found in the same places. I don’t know. Maybe Loco Mexicano is still fun.
The following week I stayed at a towering, labyrinthine hostel full of chattering European teenagers (in my own private room, mind you) and enjoyed views over one of Pimlico’s scant squares: a private green patch full of shrubs and tall plane trees. The bed was superbly uncomfortable. The job was going well, but I’d reached the limits of what I could achieve in Pimlico and it was becoming clear I was soon going to have to hit the road. Or, rather, the railway track.
Which is what I’m doing at the time of writing. I’m off to Plymouth to interview a vicar in a rural church about his broadband. Last week I went to Witton Gilbert near Durham and did a similar thing.
My last visit to London was brief, and I took the opportunity to stay with Zef and Felicia. Zef cooked, and it was nice to have some company following what had been a rather boring trip the time before, when I had again failed to arrange any entertainment, and just sat about in my hostel watching films I’d already seen. Durham, by virtue of not being Pimlico, was its own entertainment for the evening. I ate Lebanese food at the wonderfully named Lebaneat. Chicken livers, babaghanoush and hummus. Then I had a pint in a pub that Jon recommended via Twitter. The city is beautiful and manageably sized. Lots of posh kids and Chinese kids and European kids, mostly from the university I guess. The spectacle of the cathedral emerging from the treetops, standing high above the river, as seen from the bridge, is so beautiful it’s hard to believe humans had a hand in its arrangement. The Kingslodge Inn, my overnight, proved positively luxurious compared with most of the digs I’d dug in London since February, and I was sad to only be staying one night. Comfy bed, delicious (free) breakfast, friendly staff… and when I asked if I could leave my case with them after checkout, for a few hours, they just gestured to the floor by the bar: “yeah, no problem. Just leave it there.” I treated myself to a walk back from Witton Gilbert to Durham, via the ruined Beaurepaire Priory, which was so ruined I utterly failed to find it. But the 3-mile walk, rainswept but not cold, along a disused railway track, was very welcome. I staggered into Durham station, blisters aplenty (having barely broken in my new boots) with seconds to spare before my train rolled in. The people in the north, on the trains especially, were alarmingly nice. And the journey was incredibly long.
Easter was a welcome respite from the travelling. But May is here now and there is work to be done. I only just have time to maintain my knotweed-extermination programme and to keep fishing the bags of rubbish out of Afon Wern in the inbetween hours. The family and animals at home are mostly taking care of themselves, and each other.
Our house in Old Landskeria is still on the market. My shed base is built and awaiting a shed. V is working on the garden, and recovering from an operation on her back (interesting combination, I know). Fury won third prize for painting at the Eisteddfod, and Sybil is getting to grips with her new(ish!) bike.
I am away to Great Malvern on Friday; a few days after my return from Dartmoor.
And then: Eurovision, and an unscheduled vote in the European parliamentary elections.