Cruising for Ghosts

The roads are quiet, nearly deserted. The infamous Archway bridge is not far down the road. It sees its fair share of jumpers every year, this one no exception. For many of them, their last view of this beautiful city looks much like this.

To my left is a hospital built with brown bricks. Round the corner and down a cobbled winding hill is the Mental Health Service. There are rows of brick terraced houses with ivy in their gardens. This street I walk on leads off Holloway Road. The women’s prison can’t be far away. In my ears a haunted voice begs If I only could make a deal with God, get him to swap our places. In my new cream coat (the most beautiful coat in the world) I could well mingle with the ghosts who float here.

I am on my way to Highgate Cemetery.

I walk through Waterlow Park listening to my own footsteps on the concrete. A family feeds the ducks in the pond up ahead and fat squirrels scutter about my feet. It’s 10 am on a crystal clear Sunday. I can barely see my breath.

I enter the east wing of the cemetery. I am told I can wander as I like on this side, the other requires following an hour long tour that I am not in great timing for. I decide to wander and come back next time for the other side. I leave the main path and disappear down a thin leafy one, under arches created by the leaves of overgrown trees. I am soon so deep into the jumble of ivy and stone that I lose the main path completely and any sounds that go with it.

The place is completely magical. It is full to the brim but they are still burying people here. Just two weeks ago they buried  Alexander Litvinenko, the Russian ex-spy with whose story I have been obsessed. There is tumbling stone and old statues, people whose bodies have been under this grass for hundreds of years. Some are completely overgrown, now simple mounds of moss and ivy.

There are beautiful stone statues of angels and huge blocks of marble. On some of the gravestones, the writing is no longer legible, on others its as though they were written yesterday when in fact they are over a hundred years old.

I clamber through and all the way to the back, then walk the main path round. I come upon Karl Marx’s tomb by accident, only because I noticed the giant model of his bearded head that is perched on top the mass of marble. Not far from his tomb is a cluster of people whose markers declare proudly that they were members of the communist party of Iraq or South Africa and a few other places. I found all this slightly bizarre and wonder how they came to be buried here.

It is full of fancy graves and mausoleums, and apparently has a ghost or two as well. Vampires lurk, ghosts with glowing red eyes stare out from behind the iron gates, men walk across the road and disappear into the cemetery walls, ghostly cyclists ride up the hill, and the ghost of a mad old woman has been seen walking among the gravestones. It is a place I would love to see at night, though I am quite certain it would terrify me.

I head to East London and Liverpool Street Station so that I can have a look at Spitalfields Market. I arrive to a swarming crowd in a covered market full of fabulous clothes and fall in love with several dresses but suppose I’d better not. There are stalls selling all kinds of food. Stuffed olives, organic veg, cheese and meat and fish and I am getting hungry. I tuck into a three pound thai green curry and sit at a wooden table with a handful of other noodle eating people.

I head off to Petticoat Lane market which isn’t far. It sounds completely adorable but really it is just a load of rough looking blokes selling Topshop’s leftover bits and cheap tatty shoes to Muslim women in black veils. Or at least it was this morning. It reminds me of the market stalls in Albert Square on Eastenders.

My next stop is Oxford Street, the busiest shopping street in London. Typically, it is pure pandemonium and I search H&M high and low for the purple cardigan I fell in love with the other day but can’t find it for the life of me H&M is so hit-and-miss. Some days I want everything and other days I struggle to find anything I like. Today was, lucky for my wallet, very much the latter. I’ll take this as a sign I shouldn’t be buying and head back to the hostel to rest my poor little feet and speak to Mumma.

I head out again after speaking to Granny and Johnny and getting thoroughly broken hearted about having to leave my beautiful city. I am sad for a moment but then I think, far better to go out and enjoy it than be here sad for leaving it. So I put on my shoes and my coat and head off for Kew Gardens where there is allegedly a lovely skating rink and Christmasy loveliness. I arrive at the station and walk to the gardens. Well this is a posh area if ever I’ve seen one. Huge detached houses along a perfectly manicured street with big beveled windows and meticulous brick. Every house has a car in the front on a driveway of all things. Most of these cars are Minis or BMWs, even a few Porches in the mix. Swish.

It turns out that the gardens only let you in if you are skating or with people who are skating and since I haven’t been in several years and figure I’ll knock a few folks out because I can’t stop, it is best that I go wandering someplace else. So its off to Embankment station for a wander up to Trafalgar Square.

For some reason. London gets a Christmas tree as a present from Norway every year, and so it perches in the square all pretty and twinkly in front of the National Gallery. It is all very pretty with the floodlights up Nelson’s Column and the fountains.

I walk up the Strand and head for Waterloo Bridge, drinking a chai latte and even liking the fact that I can see my breath, yet my feet are dry and I’m not cold. Magic. Walking across that bridge at night is just something else. Any bridge across the Thames will do but i do like that one because it feels like you are smack in the middle of everything.

To my left looking towards The City is St. Paul’s, north of the river, the Oxo Tower and Tate Modern on the south, and millions of twinkly buildings at Canary Wharf I can see far into the east. Behind me is the edge of Theatreland and Covent Garden. The Thames is lined with Christmas trees and boats are cruising slowly along in the moonlit water. Old Black Hackneys and Red Double Deckers drive along the bridge beside me.

To my right is the London Eye to the south and The Houses of Parliament to the north. Charing Cross station looms large to my immediate right side. Directly in front of me leads onto the South Bank and Waterloo Station. I take photos, hoping that they will show half of how magic this all looks over the water. It is something you should all see. Pure magic.

(note: since my camera was in my purse which went on to be pinched in New York these photos have been borrowed but show as close as possible to what I saw)

I absolutely adore this city. I dare anyone to stand where I stood and tell me they don’t feel the same. It is the most beautiful city in all the world. Everything is perfectly placed. I will miss it horribly. It gives me this gorgeous energy. I am constantly buzzing and gathering scraps of it that make me love it more. How could anyone ever tire of this?

I head back to the hostel because my back is begging it. Walking on flat shoes for twenty hours a day is not thrilling for my bones. On the circle line from Sloane Square, three young guys get on the train. They are carrying duffel bags and smell like gym. I have to admit the one across from me is absolutely perfect. He has this mass of hair in a sweeping fringe with a wool hat shoved on top. He is wearing scruffy jeans and a striped hoodie but he has these huge brown eyes and these lips with a permanent swell as though they’d been busy kissing for days. I swear if I worked for the Gap I’d give him a wash and shove him in an advert. I watch his friend lean over the aisle, picking bits of lint from his lovely fluffy hair, my fantasy spoiled only slightly when I overhear some discussion of fake IDs and he pulls a plastic mickey of Smirnoff’s finest from his back pocket. He can be 17, tops. But so beautiful. Where were the boys like that when I was 17? Oh well. I console myself with a stop at the kebab shop in Shepherd’s Bush, for a last meal of chips and garlic mayonnaise which is as close as I could find to the curry sauce I was really after. Never mind. I will be back.

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