It used to be said that an intellectual was someone who could hear the William Tell overture without thinking of The Lone Ranger (or, if you’re a real snob, Sherlock Holmes), though these days that would only apply to people well into middle age. The same is true of my own adaptation, that a Londoner is someone who can walk down London’s Baker Street without thinking of Gerry Rafferty, albeit with reference to a slightly earlier middle age than in the former case. But now I have a new test for that same marginally younger generation: to enter that other famous area of the capital, Victoria, without calling to mind the joyful lateflowering hit (c 1969) of that name by The Kinks.
So I’m still not really a Londoner, having hummed that tune on and off for more than a week; for, as reported in last week’s despatch, we have been moving, from buzzing Fitzrovia to a quiet residential patch hard by Westminster Cathedral. From one area to the other is but a pleasant walk on a balmy spring morning, but in some ways it is a world away. Only the idiocy of ambitious estate agents has followed us; some time ago I complained in this column about the old Middlesex Hospital being redeveloped as “Noho Square”, a crass ignorance since halted by the crash (the site is going to be a vast collection of allotments for a while now), based on the false assumption that Soho is so named because it is south of somewhere, like SoHo (south of Houston Street) in Manhattan, whereas the name actually derives from an ancient hunting cry. At least that would have been a forgiveable mistake on the part of New Yorkers. But now I find that, a few hundred yards away from the new home, across the border in Pimlico, which also has its own proud identity, there is a development called “Westrovia”, for which there can be no excuse. The prefix “Fitz” denotes not a point of the compass, but illegitimate birth. They should have called it “FitzMinster,” or maybe, given the likely outcome of the imminent election, “FitzToria”.
Not that I’ve been worrying much about politics these last few days. Moving house with a little girl who’s two-and-a-half and keen to be counter-productively helpful, and a little boy who is two weeks old and cares about nothing except food and sleep, is a bit like trying to organise an Olympic opening ceremony with the press corps on board, and has left me little time to calculate how much money I would have shelled out to avoid meeting Tony Blair, or to bribe Stephen Byers for saying he’d never heard of me. Other considerations have been more pressing, like curs ing myself for having been fool enough to buy four bookcases with glass shelves, and the joy of rediscovery at the unpacking end, as of the box marked “fragile” on four sides, which I excavated from the bottom of a tower of books to find buckled and punctured at the lid. I haven’t yet dared to open that one.
Ah, but there’s nothing like a move to teach humility. Last week I shared with my readers the ambition that I would have the television up and running in time for my daughter’s favourite programme on the day of the move. What hubris! What folly! The set is still marooned in a sea of giant crates, beyond which lies a mythical land of clean clothes (ours, not hers) secured in suitcases.
Fortunately the first-born has been too excited by her job as personal assistant to the unpacker-in-chief to care about the goggle box, for which her mother deserves high praise. What will matter to her much more is her role in carrying a bit of palm in the procession to church this Sunday, for which she was recruited before our impulsive relocation, but which will now have the added allure of the ride on the Tube train there and back – about 10 minutes, but much more fun for her than, say, a flight to the Holy Land. No matter how far behind we are in setting up the new place, we can’t miss this little pilgrimage to our daughter’s own roots, to the church where we were married and where she was christened, so recently for her parents, and yet so very important to all of us.
But should we celebrate Easter in our own new local church, or travel to the past again? And if we join our friends in the old place, when should we make the break and rejoice in the new, if not at Easter? It’s a knotty one, and I would ask one of our best friends, a priest and friar, and our favourite dinner guest, for his views – but he’s rather busier than we are just now.