Late January, 2012.
In the waning Saturday afternoon, Tony asked me if I wanted to go for a walk with him towards the river and back. Along the way, we’d stop by his new office, where he’d be starting work next week, and take some pictures of this old city new to us. We ended up in St. Thomas’ Hospital on the opposite side of the Thames, lost and laughing.
Standing in front of the double glass doors, looking up a flight of steps at the building that stood between us and the Thames, illusions of general sensibility came tumbling down. Who tries to navigate a city they don’t know without a map or even phones that work? Us, that’s who. To our right was a truck loading dock and to our left, the street we’d wandered down in a neighborhood we weren’t dying to delve back into. Not sure how we’d gotten where we were, we weren’t really sure how to get out.
By the time we’d gotten near enough to see the water, thirty minutes earlier, my sense of direction had evaporated completely. In search of the elusive office, we walked over a bridge I never found again, past a cafe I did try to find again and couldn’t, and backtracked to find it down I street I hadn’t initially seen. Not that either of us really cared. Turns out we’re great at getting turned around and keeping humors up.
We watched people come in and out of what seemed to be the back doors of St. Thomas’. We watched no one walk up or down the street we’d just come from. The decision was made for us.
“We can’t go over it, and we can’t go under it. We’ve got to go through it,” I said.
“Act cool,” he said.
We started up the steps like we knew just what we were doing, which was just exactly nothing. When we got to the top of the stairs, we came into the central hallway, smelling faintly sterile and humming. I’d never been in a hospital quite so casually, and I know both of our skins were crawling with awkward anxiety.
I felt like I’d forgotten how to walk, not sure if our footsteps were too light or too quick or obviously nervous. When you don’t belong somewhere, it feels like everyone around you is waiting for your tell. My knees started doing that weird thing where they kind of pop too much, like Shaggy Doo or something.
We walked through a stairwell, through a cafeteria, past a fantastically huge and deteriorated statue of Queen Victoria the first, through a weird holding room, all the while looking out the windows on our left at the river and city across it. When we finally did reach a set of doors, practically running through them, into a garden. Sweet relief.
“Found you a chair, Tony.”
We found ruins in the garden too, and almost cried from laughter.
I still have no idea who that man in the statue is or why he’s there, or why there’s an abandoned apartment overhead, or why there’s no way out of that wing of the hospital, but I do know that it’s pretty there and that the vibes are spooky and that I’m glad we found it and even gladder that I never had to go back.
I think we ended up hopping three sets of fences, wandering along grassy knolls not intended for visitors towards the only pathway out we could see: a walkway that we weren’t sure was even part of the hospital running parallel to the river and crowded with businesspeople. By the time we got out, we were grinning like the escapees we were.
In the coming storm and falling sun, Tony and I did end up with a few good pictures, some which turned out almost luminescent:
and this sky:
and similarly, this, where the gold crown is sliding right off the top of that lightpost:
I don’t have a moral, except that London is full of the strangest things.
as always, laissez les bon temps rouler,