Poem: London Trio #3

Posted by RDN under RDN's poems on 13 July 2017

These London Trio poems are:
London #1 Marylebone
London #2 The Thames
London #3 Pimlico, Soho and Hampstead

This is:
London #3 Pimlico, Soho and Hampstead

London #3 Pimlico, Soho and Hampstead


In a borrowed flat
in fabulous Longwood Gardens
the red-brick
socialist paradise –
a proper architect’s
decent dream –
fit for Parker Knoll
and G plan
and now all mixed up
with young bankers
and immigrants
some of them as old
as the few remnants
of its old,
working-class inhabitants.

It’s like the ships I used to doodle:
decks and taffrails
making a crescendo
to purposeful towers
and the commanding bridge
and its out-fliers.

The whole effect
Is Bristol shape
and purposeful
thrusting and friendly.

In this maisonette halfway between
Tatchbrook Market
and the sky
I have stared out,
south to the Thames
and west across
late Victorian terraces
toward Lot’s Road
and down to the children’s playground.

Up from the street
the scents of Britain waft
from the Levant and Arabia:
falafel and lemon,
sumac in stews,
and barbecued lamb and pork
untweaked by Ottolenghi.

And up from the playground
starling chatter and shrieks
from swings and roundabouts,
while mums and dads mobile the world.

Lovely Pimlico,
not quite seedy,
but permissive,
takes it all in its stride,
as it has ever since it ceased
to be
horticultural land
just down river from village Chelsea
where Carlyle built a
study high above
the pleasure garden’s ruckus.

This is so
not Chelsea
and still less South Kensington,
nor yet the sotted
clap and crabs of Soho
but rather
where the West End
and Mayfair and Belgravia,
lower their rents
and loosen their stays
and pretensions.

This is not the terra incognita
of impossible Cricklewood
nor the shoe-boxed groups
of not-quite mansion flats
in Maida Vale,
where I delivered groceries
from a two-tone
burgundy and silver
Walton, Hassell and Port van.


And here Jill Balcon,
a West End exile,
received Cecil Day Lewis
in her flat
as he ran from his wife
and from Rosamond Lehmann.

And here, and more primly,
but with her own passions
which you could probably have bottled
was Barbara Pym,
writing novels
and working in an institute for Africa
amongst typewriters and card indexes
in an age so near
and so far
when a hand cranked duplication machine
was a wonder to behold.

And here in the hinterlands
where she lives
the single creative woman –
modern but not free –
must calculate for herself
what her reputation
and her prospects
might become
if she makes this choice
or that,
as she
is bought drinks in pubs up West,
and beyond.

I mean, up West in Soho,
where art
explored chaos
and Hemingwayward writers
did their hard-bitten thing
and offered a scrappy dependency.

I see the better part
as taking the 38
back to Pimlico,
but spacious
and its own
declaration of independence.

The Sixties

Nearly 50 years ago,
I knew all the pubs
from the Coach and Horses
to the Flask
from Soho to Hampstead –
and even,
a little later,
Belcher’s terrifying Colony Room
on a Bacon-less afternoon
(never mind the scary El Vino’s) –
where all the hard-case
people of the arts and print
peripherals like me,
of my own age
or older
or younger
would talk
and hook up
and hone or mend dustups
and lend or borrow money.

A spit from Keats’ House –
in whose garden I had all but cried
and definitely inhaled,
as a schoolboy –
my adult education
had begun,
perhaps in 1965,
in the Magdala
Patrick Wymark
beamed and growled,
oiled and beatific,
and up the hill
I scrounged
£20 from Harry Craig
who was maybe just started
on writing Waterloo.

The oddest thing:
from Parliament Hill Fields
to Hampstead Ponds,
I met actors, film-makers
and writers
and their legman-researchers
hot from the
British Library,
and they were
or leathery,
supple or brittle,
surfing things
or going under,
and playing the London game
as best they might,
and I have
only years later
felt properly what I learned from them.

Especially I remember
a lovely quiet queer man,
slight and spry,
his hair frisky as Crisp’s,
and I somehow see a flowery shirt,
in an attic above Hampstead High Street,
writing thriller series for ITV,
plotting mahem
and quips
for bang-down-the-door cops.

He offered coffee,
and in an hour with him
I understood at last
or had a glimmering,
now become almost a stab,
of what creativity is really like,
and sweetness too.


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