This is a short story resurrected from my first year of uni. It ought to work as a map of Bloomsbury.
It’s a warren up that side of town. I felt like Sherlock Holmes, sat looking at a map and learning the main arteries and funny little capillaries that had troubled me so long; like Dick Whittington, an alien in a city I’ve known all my life.
The squares – Tavistock goes down to Gordon, which across-ways leads to Torrington and if you go up, past the Faber buildings through the gap I often forget coming the other way, Russell Square. To walk the wrong way from Russell Square past the Brunswick Centre and end up in Bloomsbury Square. There’s a beautiful cinema near there, and I once discovered a delightful small bookshop on Lamb’s Conduit Street after getting hideously lost by the hospitals quarter. Reaping the rewards of time wasted.
There is a vague and ever-present sense around Bloomsbury that if I could only walk through, over, under the grandiose houses I could get to where I need to be. I often stand, waving my left arm to the front, knowing I need to be over there… and going the wrong way or down a side-street that leads to somewhere not-quite-right. And the tall, tall buildings with their crowning balustrades wink down at me whilst I walk in their ever present, lofty taunt. Just sometimes I cheat and get the tube from King’s Cross to Russell Square, though now I know I could walk down the Euston Road which runs down the edge of Bloomsbury Village and simply intersect where I need to be, at Gordon Road or Tavistock Place. Helpful names point me in the right direction. I often found myself at a street when I wanted to be at a square and knew I was near.
Today I walked with no purpose through Bloomsbury: I had nothing to be late for and enjoyed it all the more. I found that I knew the ways I often go better than I ever thought I’d know, further down through the Brunswick Centre, across Theobalds Road, into snickets and along all pavements. I was rewarded with streets where Boswell lived, Coram’s Fields, and plaques to George Orwell. The beauty of time has changed the streets from where orphans played or worked at Coram’s to where sick children heal at Great Ormond. I find a busy fish & chip shop and walk to a quiet statue, back up to Coram’s Fields and Russell Square, I sit, I eat.
Sometimes, I wander further afield with the purpose of getting lost. Holborn, Lincolns Inn; the pleasure of finding a nice restaurant on Goodge Street or across in Soho are promises that lure me to walk with my head held high – not to the sky but to the architecture. To walk all the way to Oxford Street and enter again a different, more populous world. But Bloomsbury – the confusing looking-glass world of literature and culture, where every house seems to have a blue plaque and every corner turned is a garden – Bloomsbury will always be the place to get lost. No matter how easily I think my destination can be found.