Starting Shantaram on a grey day

This damp grey sad day has caused me to escape into a book.

In Chelsea where I woke this morning I found a small victory by opening a window that has long been painted shut. It didn’t need to be opened today, the heatwave having passed, but when I’m here I’m often attempting to make small changes and improvements. That change is necessary, as for the few short days of heat in this country my flat becomes a sauna if a breeze can’t be coaxed through it. I should’ve broken the paint a long time ago.

My need to do something – anything – drew me to the Chelsea Physic Garden with Kitcat. Open to limited numbers it is a tamed wild on my doorstep. An apocalypse might cause it to be the hub of a new ecology as quinine and coca and maple trees and tobacco march in through the cracks in the pavements and spread down the banks of the old father Thames. For now the garden is pruned and manicured, a place to take a turn around and observe these wildlings tamed. The greenhouses are roped off to humans but still there’s an approximation of nature and a certain degree of peace to be found right on my doorstep. Nothing like the ancient peace of the heath, but something nonetheless. A little fenced off oasis. Fifty pounds a year. There’s even a café where you can buy absurdly priced wine. I didn’t look to see if it was open.

Now I’m back by the river, book in hand, happy not to feel the urge to rush to Hampstead. I have to record a monologue for a friend there soon, and do my tax returns, but all in good time. For today I’m content to sit here on my sofa above the road and the river, in companionable silence with Kitcat.

I’m happy to read to read the beginnings of this strange and human memoir someone gave me – a traveller’s book – Shantaram. I’m happy to stop on a Monday and feel.

Sadness is still in the air. The clouds and the wind and the drop in pressure and in temperature. As we walked down Royal Hospital Road earlier we saw the removal vans, spelling the end of a London dream for another household. This city is losing its lustre. We came from all over, drawn by the promise of work, willing to destroy ourselves just to make rent and be there for the endless idea of the chances. “You have to be in London. It’s where they cast everything. Even if they shoot it in Yorkshire it’s cast in London.”

I might as well be in The Isle of Man at the moment. I can send The Tempest from there, record my audio, my self tapes, join the zoom meetings that bring variation to the week, say hello to the fairies, blow down marine drive, spank my bike up to 200mph legally, jump in the sea, make conversation with wheyfaced bankers who have a “repeat” button jammed down in their foreheads, sink into desperate boredom, go fishing, eat kippers for breakfast, stare for hours at a pebble dashed wall clutching a pint of Okells while somebody tells me about their cousin’s uncle’s son’s lumbago, get mired in petty bureacracy… Ok I’ll stay in London for now. One day I’ll go back to the sea. But fuck it, this shit can’t last forever.

Shantaram makes me want to travel again though, to open up to new faces and places. It’s going to get dark, but it carries great light. I am not myself without the travel, but for now it has to be in my imagination.


Author: albarclay

This blog is a work of creative writing. Do not mistake it for truth. All opinions are mine and not that of my numerous employers.

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