When my Chicagoan friend left Cambridge, on his way to Heathrow where he would catch a plane home, I went with him as far as London, where I spent the afternoon doing some research work for a conference talk I'm due to deliver in about three weeks. That part of the day was just as engrossing and interesting as it usually is for me, even though I was only reading or rereading other people's criticism.
As the afternoon wore down, I started deciding just to come back to Cambridge after the library closed at 5. But then I remembered: my ticket was only for off-peak times, which meant that I couldn't leave London between 4:15 and 7:15 p.m. I remembered this at 3:58 p.m. I decided not to hurry to catch the 4:15, since I wasn't done in the library yet. And so at 5 I found myself at a small table in a little café in the newly gorgeous St. Pancras Station, enjoying a cheese board and watching people stream past with rolling bags, backpacks, hand luggage, brief cases, high fashion shoulder bags, unenviably high heels, tiny dogs in tow. It was only one particular cross-section of the world, obviously, but what an entertainment to see so many travellers passing.
Full of cheese, I headed southward to Charing Cross Road. This kind of day, I'll miss: work in the library all day, prowl around in bookstores in the evening, head home by train and get home before dark (even if you don't unlock your front door until 10:40 p.m.).
At Henry Pordes Books, when I put my Hilary Mantel novels on the little desk, the man standing beside it asked me something about whether we were all students. A huge group of audibly American students (with their teacher, who was giving them silly advice about "rare" books) had been standing in the front of the store for at least ten minutes. "Oh," I said, trying not to be so loud as to hurt the feelings of anyone in the group, "I'm not with them." "You get a 10% discount because you're not with them," he said. And I did. It was the first non-student discount I've ever gotten.
At Foyle's, the ground floor children's section has some old-school ceiling-level backlit signs telling you what's what: CHILDREN'S BOOKS, it says on one wall. Then, across the way, CHILDREN'S PIRANHA. The two words are on two walls that form a corner. They're possibly not necessarily meant to go together. But my guess is that someone thought that it would be awesome to have the piranha tank be labeled CHILDREN'S PIRANHA. I stood and watched the gold-scaled piranha moving slowly in their wall tank, with their Brando underbites and their huge rolling orange eyes.
After the blue-eyed cashier at the Foyle's jazz café gave me my change, I sat at the long bar overlooking Charing Cross Road. A young Asian man molded a small clay head at a corner table. A boy leaned out the window, holding his mobile phone. A girl walked in in a many-gored mauve silk skirt; she wore mid-calf lace-up boots in a matching shade of purple.
A girl pedaled furiously up Charing Cross.
I realized that I was about to miss the last express train to Cambridge, and in fact I did--by 30 seconds--even though I left for the train station as soon as I realized. It was no big deal.
I think that this weekend is going to be a couple of days' worth of resetting.
If you look very closely at today's picture, you'll see the windmill off in the distance. Windmills dot the Fens.