What a relief to learn that Woody Allen’s new film marks a ‘return to form,’ according to the Guardian. I haven’t seen the film, but certainly intend to. Thus my relationship with one of the world’s last true newspapers. And, beneath it all, my relationship with what to me is the only true city. My experience being very limited, I acknowledge.
Not that it seemed that way yesterday. Hard to say why, but when I wandered into our hotel straight off the train from Wales, it seemed pointless being here. London tagged onto the end of a long holiday. The crush and scale of the place, the people and the confusion of streets, none of it seemed attractive, only obstructive. Jane and I met up with Jake and his girlfriend Sabrina and headed from our hotel in Paddington Station to Paddington Basin, which as the name suggests is more or less around the corner. But in this city of cities, what a corner it is.
St. Mary’s Hospital, a city in its own right, keeps reappearing just when you think it’s run out of beds. But, no, there’s more, another casualty unit, an entire building devoted to blood, and still more. The truth is that we never ran out of St. Mary’s, just burrowed our way through it, the final stretch involving a 200 meter stretch of cobblestones, which in a wheelchair is about 199 meters too many. But I distress. Which has a certain logic about it, for all we did was digress on the way to our Lebanese restaurant. I did not mention the wild goose chase through the station itself, a good half-mile of schlepping before we encountered both an elevator out of service and two wrong turns on bridges over the Grand Canal. Part of me made it to dinner, let us say, and part of me did not. London. Quite an assault, if you’re not used to it.
Which I’m not, of course. But tomorrow being another day, and all that, damned if Jane and I weren’t up and out the door early enough for stale pastries in the station. And what made us hit the station? Probably an inappropriate sense of economy, going with the familiar, etc. And why not? It’s only food. I never thought I would say such a thing, but after two weeks on the road, I am. As for the road, in London of course it’s the public transit road. And I am open on this point. Transport for London is evolving, after all, in the wheelchair access department. True, the public lifts in Paddington station may not be working, an experience that took an hour off my life yesterday. But the Tube? Well it’s certainly working, and now and then even for people in wheelchairs. Still, I wasn’t brave enough to try it alone. In another era, yes. But Jane was headed for her aunt’s nursing home in Hertfordshire. And I was headed down the Euston Road. So in the end it was the familiar, the 205 bus. I had an Oyster Card with £6.90 and was equipped with the latest Guardian, so what could go wrong?
Nothing. And nothing did. Still, there is something about aging in a wheelchair that makes the adventurous spirit subside. Rolling back to the Euston Road to commence my bus journey home, I briefly wondered what would happen if something did go wrong. A broken wheelchair, for example. A mugging. With Jane exploring the Home Counties, who would I turn to? The Metropolitan Police? Possibly. A passerby, more likely. One of those adventures that I might just have one of these days, but not now.
On this particular day I had the British Library under my belt, as it were. And now I could attest to membership. I signed up Jane and me for a year. And felt quite good about it. After all, being in a wheelchair brings me quite a number of ‘concessions’ in this country. Among which a 50% discount on theater tickets plays no small part. So, why not become a member? A woman in the ticket office gave me a handwritten note attesting to my newfound status. Handed it to the ticket taker and wandered straight into the current exhibition on Propaganda.
Which succeeds quite pleasantly in putting the subject in perspective. Starting with the historical. First stop, a Roman column from the second century. Attesting to the Emperor’s many attributes and reasons why he was a standup dude, and respect him, and, above all, fear him. And so on, the underlying point being that there is nothing wrong with propaganda. It’s part of governance, and always has been. And the only real problem involves who has the megaphone. I came away considerably entertained, and thinking hard about how some clever propaganda could help reduce American gun violence. And after that? I was too tired to learn how Auden influenced Benjamin Britten…in another Library show. Too bad the café had run out of vegetable pie. Clearly time to go home. Which on the cusp of the rush hour means two miles in 45 minutes. London.