I’m sitting in the car on Cheyne Walk. I stopped here on the way back from the shop. Just behind me was The Kings Head and Eight Bells pub, where I had my first yard of ale and belched it down my front. Back then it was somehow still a spit and sawdust pub. I even had my first pint there aged something like fifteen. Now they’ve painted it white and they want to sell you cornichons and truffle glaze. Fifteen year old Al wouldn’t get served there no matter how tall he was. Fifteen year old Al wouldn’t like it there any more than this version does. Twenty quid for no food. Closed anyway, of course. And no delivery.
To my direct left is Shrewsbury House, containing the flat I used to live in with my mum when she first moved to London. This little bit of road is steeped with memories of my big brother and I. There are photos of us in the nineties, swanning around in our colorful clothing, not a care in the world. Those were crucial years spent arriving in London and living between here and The Isle of Man – thirteen to about seventeen. Then I moved in with my brother and mum moved to where I am now. Mum was about the age I am now back then, and she was dating which I didn’t like. “When you think back over this, you’ll notice how young I was,” she said once when I argued with her and told her she was out of touch because she was old and all the stuff you say to piss your parents off.
It’s funny sitting here. The memories are sharp. It was all so new, two protected island boys and a glorious younghearted recent divorcee making sense of the city from the shelter of a middle class enclave. I didn’t even know how to walk to South Kensington from here initially. I’d walk to Sloane Square and get the tube instead. If it was late at night I’d jump in a black cab and hope I could weasel the fare from the bank of mum. I thought Shoreditch was another world. I barely knew how to get to Victoria. I’d come home with my teenage worries and mum and I would try to work them out. Max and I would play at being grown ups, cooking our own food and going and doing things.
It’s funny being trapped in time like this. These moments and these versions of me are just a ghost away. Back then I rolled oblivious past this unrecognised ghost of a man in a red car. Right now that half forgotten younger me is laughing by on my left, invulnerable It’s summer. It’s Spring. It’s Autumn. It’s winter. It’s lockdown. I’m going to church. I’m going to feed a cat. They’re both alive, mum and dad, and I have the freedom that comes with being fancy free. They very much aren’t and the buck has been stopped here for decades, and I’ve been lost in it.
To my right the Albert Bridge, costing us untold thousands I’m sure but a great way to mourn – to make things more convenient and make a bit of light in the darkness. I’m taking joy from it.
We are finally out of the clutches of the dark. Vernal equinox, and the shadows are clinging on, but the day is back to supremacy, and the night will shrink and dwindle from now for months to come. Well come, light. We need you. It’s been a long December.