The End of Everything Part 4:
Arriving at St. Pancras Railway Station at 6pm is a mistake. The taxi crawls through the traffic to Exhibition Road. We should have taken the tube. The meter clicks over 20 quid and we’re not at Alistair’s yet. At last! Ali hears the wheels of our luggage skipping over the mews’ cobblestones and opens his door with a smile. After home made pizza it’s off to Onslow Gardens and the Anglesea Arms, the pub where Bruce Reynolds plotted The Great Train Robbery.
Thursday, December 4
Hammersmith is 4 Piccadilly Line tube stops from South Kensington. We’re spending our first morning in London revisiting Fulham. The Hammersmith Odeon must be nearby, but I can’t see where. It’s now called the Hammersmith Apollo. Bruce Springsteen played there. The Born to Run posters were dotted along Fulham Palace Road. Joelle invited me to the Odeon for A Hairy Ape concert, it was a Uriah Heap concert, they were awful. When we met, Joelle’s English was limited and I spoke no French. I invited Joelle over for tea, I should have said dinner, she arrived having already eaten.
Finding the Fulham Palace Road exit we begin the walk to Putney Bridge. On the way we shall find the Greyhound Pub, where we met, and after Finlay Street, where I had lived. Fulham Palace Road curves easy with the Thames like an inviting, beckoning finger. Suddenly, a biting wind whips at us, and a fierce sun scorches our eyes. It’s surreal. As if the sun and the wind are conspiring to turn us back to Hammersmith. Our arrival provokes forces better not disturbed. Identities transform. Howling from the south, the wind is not Notus, but devouring, kidnapping, snakes for feet, the cold of winter, North Wind, Boreus. The four winged horses drawing Helios’ chariot; Pyrios, Aeos, Aethon and Phlegon, spit blazing darts of fire. We’re walking into the midst of a cosmic battle. Blindfolded Fortuna rolls her ball and wheel that spin in any direction. Clotho appears, the Fate, the weaver of destinies, with her two sisters, she is a daughter of Night. Zeus, still brooding over the Fates allowing Sarpedon’s life taken by the spear of Patroclus, hurls a lightning bolt at Clotho. The Battle of SW6 is swift and decisive. The night that Joelle and I met at the Greyhound Pub would not be undone. The departure of a daughter and sister from family and home and France, would not be undone. Jacqueline waving goodbye, from the kitchen window, would not be undone. The vanquished sun and wind abate. Zeus, the storm gatherer, taking the form of an eagle, launches into the air, and flaps sulkily northeast towards Chelsea. Fortuna and Clotho, indifferent to their victory, make no carry on.
We continue on to Putney Bridge and Finlay Street. The Greyhound Pub is now The Southern Belle. We had walked Fulham Palace road so many times, yet there are buildings we can’t recall, even a cemetery. Those London, autumn and winter months of 1975 were such an intense time. They were the days of the end of everything. After Creswell Street is Finlay Street, then Bishop’s Park and then the Thames. Bishop’s Park is as cheerless this morning as when in September, 1975 I shot the new Pentax Spotmatic’s first roll of film. Leaving Fulham along New Kings Road; it’s a long way to Sloane Square. We catch a bus. The number 22 for Piccadilly Circus stops frequently on congested Kings Road. By a bus stop behind a high wall is The Pheasantry. Eric Clapton and Oz Magazine illustrator and designer of Cream album covers Martin Sharp, had a studio there in the 1960s. Perched high on the Pheasantry’s wall, are two large eagles, and two, larger than life statues of woman in classical Greek dress. Which of the eagles is sulky Zeus? Fortuna is not wearing her blindfold? I first saw Fortuna on The Pheasantry wall in 1975.
From Sloane Square and a change at South Kensington; the Underground takes us to Piccadilly Circus. Piccadilly’s Eros flashes the same knowing smile of the angel thrusting the spear at Saint Teresa in Santa Vittoria in Rome. A short walk finds Trafalgar Square and The National Gallery. In room 34 are the three Caravaggio paintings. Boy bitten by a Lizard, Supper at Emmaus and Salome with the head of Saint John the Baptist.
Supper at Emmaus
Supper at Emmaus is such a beautiful painting. A risen and chubby faced Christ, shares a meal with two raggedy disciples. Christ sits in the same Rembrandt lighting as the Conversion of Saint Paul. The moment pictured, is the instant the disciples recognise the transformed Jesus. In a few seconds, he will vanish. A French speaking tour guide points at the bowl of fruit, perched precariously by Caravaggio on the edge of the table about to spill onto the floor of room 34 of the National Gallery.
Salome with the head of Saint John the Baptist
John the Baptist’s head is rendered with large, loose, rough brush strokes. The flesh transforms into waxy flakes of paint. Salome’s face is painted smoothly, seamlessly, with no brush marks. Salome does not look at her prize, John’s head. Instead she is distracted, and gazes out to the left of the frame towards the floor. Her expression is of annoyance and disdain. Perhaps incongruous, given the grotesque, severed head lumped onto the platter she clutches. It’s as if the cat, has just coughed up a fresh fur ball onto her new carpet.
Nick arrives at South Kensington Tube Station. We have a drink at a Janet’s Bar, a strange place, few patrons, expensive drinks and a blonde and brunette with Scandinavian accents, behind the bar busily texting. Nick leaves to attend a function. We will see him back in Shenton Park next week. We leave Janet’s Bar, and find Indian restaurant Khan’s of Kensington.