When I’m in London and go to Kings Cross, its transformation shocks me. The high rise, glass plated, mirrored towers, multi-tiered levels, crowded cafes, restaurants and apartment blocks leave me in a state of wonder. I wonder if this is what an escalating pyramid scheme looks like. The new Well’s Terrace entrance to Finsbury Park tube station is now striving to be a baby Kings Cross. It has been converted from a run down, dusty hole in a brick wall next to an exhaust filled bus station, to a plate glass piazza, filled with Pret a Manger, apartments, and a Picture House Cinema. Finsbury Park already has an active community theatre, and the Stroud Green Road is a mecca of delicious East Asian and European restaurants. When I left in London in 1994, the shops sold only mops and plastic buckets, and cheap whole-sale clothes. Now, there is wine, avocados, oat milk and more!
So, I was going to Kings Cross, via Finsbury Park, for the first time in two years. My friend, Maria, had asked me to come with her to a 10th birthday party of a small organisation, Justice Studio (justicestudio.org). The event was small but filled with a bewildering number of young women who were chief executive officers or senior researchers working in human rights organisations. They were passionate about their field, as well as beautiful and articulate (though they spoke very fast in a language which I didn’t wholly understand). They bowled me over. They mixed compassion with style, a belief in dignity, respect, equality with high heels, lip stick and enthusiasm. Wow. There was champagne, wine, lovely food, and such stimulating conversation about community development, local government, the prison system, violence, injustice. They were there to put the world to rights, and to advise us where to go for dinner in Kings Cross. The Indian restaurant, Dishroom, is the place to go, it seems. We didn’t get in as we hadn’t booked, (if you want to go anywhere in London these days, you have to book – no more strolling into an art gallery) but we found a nice South Indonesian restaurant which when it came for me to pay, refused to take my money as payment! Plastic please.
Another improvement in London is the network of transport. I loved travelling over ground (didn’t it used to be called over land?). On Thursday afternoon, after arriving in Finsbury Park, Malcom, (Maria’s husband), and I jumped on a train to London Bridge to go to the Tate Modern. It took barely twenty minutes. We had a wonderful afternoon. Malcom regaled me with tales of his retirement. He volunteers in Crisis, a charity shop working with homeless people, (we go later, and I buy a beautiful shirt in what is a very trendy, well laid out, charity shop with café and barista), is in a choir, a ‘sketching group’, he gardens and goes to exhibitions. He seems very happy. After Malcom succeeding in booking us in (he is a member) we had half hour to spare so had a sandwich at Pret a Manger. I tried to pay but they wouldn’t take my cash. It was legal tender but not the new notes, so not legal enough.
On walking in to the Tate through the Turbine Hall we saw the most magnificent flying jellyfish bobbing about (https://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/hyundai-commission-anicka-yi.) What wonderful creatures. These were a highlight of my London visit. After browsing around the permanent exhibition (we couldn’t get into any of the featured exhibitions because they were booked out), we sat down in a very comfortable leather couch and Mal sketched them while I wrote a poem. I love to sit in a gallery and take the time to respond to what I see. During my London visit I went to the Victoria and Albert, and the Photographer’s Gallery in Oxford St where I saw a fascinating series of photos by Helen Levitt of New York street children and people in the 40s, but I didn’t get time to sit and respond in either gallery.
The visit was family orientated. My brother is not well and in hospital. I wasn’t allowed in due to Covid, but he was able to sneak out of his ward (at an appointed time) and we had four minutes in the corridor). It was less stressful seeing my two nieces, Clare and Hannah, in Stockwell whom I hadn’t seen in two and half years. Gosh, they are beautiful young things. I was travelling with my own beautiful, young daughter, Roisin, who, to get me out of my pandemic malaise, had booked the flights and encouraged me to lift my head above the parapet and simply go. I hadn’t been scared of contracting Covid, I had just lost my ability to ‘plan and do’ or ‘meet and talk’. So, on Saturday night, there I was, eating in a lovely Portuguese restaurant in Vauxhall, with family and friends, and feeling rather young and beautiful myself.
When I got back to Cavan, the excitement continued when I opened the post and found my new book, Elsewhere, waiting for me from Vole Publishing. Rebecca O’Connor (editor of that beautiful literary journal, The Moth) is launching it in Cavan at a real live event on Friday 20th November with actual cake and wine in Cavan Town Hall. I’m having a zoom launch the following Friday on 26 November at 6pm. I love the quotes on the back…perfect poetry, me thinks.
So it’s lovely to be home, in my own bed, writing this, but I am planning another visit to London as I tread the path between having the best of both worlds and being elsewhere.