St George’s Fields
It’s a sad wreck, with the debris of winter and the city dead mouldering, and my mind’s not right, coursing through those channels deep with what now and if and why. Six months on, you’re the bruise I test, the wound that doesn’t heal, and so I find the same bench, the same view of tombstones and plane trees flaking. It’s here we faced a sudden storm, here you took the joint, lit end into your mouth and blew the smoke into mine. Blowback. I’m blown back, reeling, half stupid with love and soaked beneath an umbrella that keeps precisely nothing out. This storm too is nothing, for you travelled north to part the isobars easily as suburban curtains and settled back to matrimony. Though what I’d have you do is far from clear. There are hours I could be a glorious wrecking ball, smashing through the careful charms we laid in separate towns, or tender hours with cold white wine, the jar of honey I keep for only you. But this is now . I caught you on the downswing, aching with a nameless complaint, both weary by the time we talk. Sad wrecks, we two.
A Valentine’s Day Tribute to Bloomsbury and her Distinguished Residents
“The Bloomsbury Set: A Circle of friends who lived in Squares and loved in triangles”
I am “O”. I am obviously circular and I’m a little plump, though I can draw myself in to become an 8.
I was fulfilled, content. I had an unbroken circle of friends – until I met you.
I felt complete. In my naivety, Bloomsbury was the perfect address for me to thrive. A Circle living in a Square. My books from Skoob, shampoo from Boots, haircuts by Orlando. My phone from O2, lunch at Panino D’Oro.
I studied the Bloomsbury set, went to church where Sylvia Plath married Ted Hughes on Bloom’s Day.
But my perfect circle of wholeness changed the day I met you, my darkling Triangle. We met at the fountain in Russell Square. You were reading the poems of Yeats and eating your crosscut lunchtime sandwiches.
I was bewitched. My perfect fluidity craved your angles and perimeters that equaled the trigonometry of desire.
I discovered that you worked in the building in Guildford St with its shard-of-glass triangular windows. There I waited often, – until you were ready. With my softness I lured you for a date at the Renoir, and a dinner of seafood on Valentine’s Day.
With your jagged-sided self you drew me in to your world, where three was never a crowd. You lived in Marchmont St where the circular blue plaque commemorating Kenneth Williams became a symbol of your other ways of loving. New angles but not perhaps straight angles, and for me not always right angles.
You bought me a bust of Napoleon and a book of poems by Carol Ann Duffy. For you, I squeezed my ample shape into a tight A-line pink knitted dress. We would have perfect Bloomsbury days together buying books at Gay’s the Word. We’d listen to Irish music and read the works of Virginia Woolf. But my love could not be contained. I wanted to envelope you in my circle. I could not share you. You and he might puncture my perfect form and I would be destroyed.
I became the Zero in Tolerance.
I walked away from Marchmont Street but, my darling Triangle, the longing will never leave me. I loved in a triangle, but now I must retreat.
A Circle within a Square.
The rest is over.
Astrid Sutton Sharkey
Marching down Marchmont Street
It always amazes me that people still live in streets like this. But they must do –why a laundrette otherwise?
The round blue plaques from English Heritage come thick and fast. Names I recognize are Kenneth Williams and Percy Shelly (pity his house is not the original).
Gay’s the Word is still here and looking a lot smarter than 30 years ago. Proper paint and no rickety anything.
The corner with Tavistock Place. No, I don’t want to reminisce, not about this place: a lift that got stuck between floors one in five times; the skylight that leaked snow on to my desk; the vast room for the ‘assistants’ you couldn’t see a thing at the back. My overriding memory of the place – being cold all day long. The only redeeming feature – the loos; tucked away, very private, no one bothered you. No, I’m not walking down Tavistock Place.
Talking of places, here it is The Place. The first theatre performance I saw in this country (November 1970?) was right here. An Argentinean troupe dressed and made up to look like they had been expelled from an Alice Cooper tour.
Just the other side of the faded triangles on the road – so faded people mistaken them for a zebra crossing – is Flaxmans Lodge with it’s round empty turrets and the umbrella-like sign that tells me the entrance to the flat upstairs is at the back. But what was this 1910’s mini castle meant for? So close to the road, so compact…
Woburn Walk, the endlessly used location for period dramas. It’s still beautiful even without the geraniums. “William I-should-have- made-a-note-of-what-the-B-stands-for Yeats lived here”. The plaque is square and the colour of brushed aluminium, so not good enough for English Heritage, then.
The sandwich bar is still here, or at least a sandwich bar. I asked and yes, they claim to be the same one as 30 years ago. Not sure why but I find that comforting.
My feet hurt. Bus back then.
Who heats up avocado, for God’s sake? It tastes disgusting!
I was expecting today to be fun, but there is a theme bellowing in my head and it isn’t funny at all. T.S.Eliot abandoned his mad wife; Ted Hughes abandoned his mad wife. Queen Charlotte? Well, she DID have a mad husband but….
And then it hits me. Is her story that different from yours? Two wives who loved their husbands dearly, who nursed them through their mental illnesses. Who did NOT abandon them. Unexpectedly, I feel very moved. I set off on my walk.
St. George’s. I lift the letterbox and peek in. People are milling, there’s a band set up in front of the alter, but the stained glass speaks of reverence. I think of Plath in her pink woollen dress and I see in my minds’ eye your wedding suit: pale cream, figure hugging. How lovely you were. You had no-one to immortalise that day; to immortalise you. Did my father care as much as Hughes? I would like to think so. Yet both men were to break their vows, seduced by the eternal triangle of illicit loving. It shouldn’t really be a triangle. The women at the corners are not and do not want to be connected. I see instead a disconnected apex, the two freed arcs circling the centre – the man.
Across from St. George’s is the location from which Queen Charlotte set forth to feed her sick husband. I think of her loyalty and of her steadfastness. And, again, I think of you. The psychiatrist said, ‘If I were you, I’d leave him. They never really recover. Your life will be hell.’ But you were raised in a Catholic household, raised to serve and to accept. You stayed, and life WAS hell.
Eliot had his Wasteland. Hughes had birthday letters. You do not have their eloquence, but, as you sit now in your nursing home, you try to tell me how it really was. You try to remove my childish view, my bitterness and hatred. I am your only audience, but then I’m learning slowly that audiences don’t really matter. One comforted soul is worth a thousand eulogies.
I move on through Russell Square, but it doesn’t speak to me. So busy now, I can’t imagine the crazy woman with the sandwich board. Instead, I visit an old haunt, The Lamb on Conduit Street. Logging into their WiFi I discover an amazing thing. Eliot’s wife came from the same town where you gave birth to your first child, me. It really has been a day for coincidences.