An adventure

What an adventure!

It’s probably good for me but I don’t like it. I have been returned forcibly to the world of other people. I have been shielding since March 2020, that’s 27 months without doing the stuff that other social animals do regularly. Shopping, taking a train, talking to strangers (not wearing masks), taking a taxi, sharing a lift, using public toilets, staying in a hotel, eating in a restaurant. I have packed all these activities into the space of just 6 hours. How ironic that I have engaged with these most risky activities in order to evaluate the risk of one of my diseases evolving into something more risky. I feel like I have had a shot of compressed London essence straight into my veins. It has left me exhausted, confused and feeling very old.

So I am in Belsize Park – it’s posh – not mega posh but its London for the comfortably well off. The old cliches certainly apply –  it’s full on multi-cultural which makes one feel immediately good and modern and young – the school kids talk posh and have raggedy hair and quirky clothes (Outnumbered land of course!) the dads holding their daughters hands on the way back from school are scruffy, in an expensive way. They don’t look too happy. I sense a Netflix media deal gone sour or an important call from a client missed. They don’t look like bankers but maybe they are in disguise. The women wear cropped off trousers and are tanned and about 40. They are in a hurry to get somewhere or finish something. Teenagers gather in outdoor cafes and buy expensive coffees.  Aside – It occurs to me now as I sit outside Prete (a safe choice, I was going for the Tapas place but got scared yes scared pounding heart, checking for wallet and phone, wallet and phone, wallet and phone) how I only focus my attention and analysis on those individuals who I can imagine myself being or knowing intimately in some other life. This indicates I have an inflated view of my prospect should reincarnation be true. The delivery guy outside Prete with his very scruffy scooter, still with L Plates on, didn’t interest me, his scooter did but the person is out of my range. The newspaper seller who I thought was talking extraordinarily eloquently to himself (it turned out he was talking to someone out of view)  I just wouldn’t be able to play him. My world view is exclusively middle class. Any other class up or down is out of my range. I suppose that’s how I feel now about London, it’s just out of my range. I can’t play/do London anymore – at least not on my own like I am this evening, maybe with my boys and girls to hold my hand. All this rampant Londoness is just across the road from my hotel and here I am hiding in my room with Wheeler Dealers on the telly in order to avoid the scary metropol that I used to love and thrive on. Earlier I braved a stroll down towards the tube station but my feet felt awkward. I wasn’t used to the continual changes in surface, the lumps and bumps thrown up by kerb stones, gutters, rubber flooring for outdoor cafes and plastic ramps running off pavements into the road presumably there to make the journey for wheelchairs, prams and scooters easier. Yes scooters and electric bikes everywhere. Parents scooting their kids (twosie style) back from school and nobody bats an eyelid. Nobody says oh that’s cool, that’s a fun thing to do – it’s as if they are putting the bins out – it’s that interesting. It’s like the circus is on the street doing fabulously virtuosic things but no one gives a shit.  Back to my stroll or rather stumble  – For those of us with varifocals you end up having to keep glancing down at the ground like to avoid scuffing the soles of your shoes and producing a sort of involuntary disabled moon walk. In my efforts to finder a flatter surface I entered a book shop. I felt self conscious and  nervous because the owner/assistant was speaking French, some young people inside were discussing BOOKS, recommending titles to each other. Another woman was speaking to a child in an Eastern European language and the child was replying in English. This is out of my league I thought as I sidled out without buying anything. What has happened to me? I was quite brave once. Quite independent – secretly always a mummies boy but at least I knew how to fake it. Now I seem to be cast as ‘old man found confused on London street wondering where his hootspar and his glasses went.’ Yep on leaving Pret I reprised the wallet and phone pocket pat and added glasses only to find them perched on my head. In my mind all of Bellsize Park stopped to watch and to mock 

Earlier this afternoon – 

After a very straight forward and remarkably efficient bevvy of tests and probes and prods and running up and down the corridor myself and another elderly couple set off to find our new accommodation. They were both very poorly and very slow, she was on dialysis but as we were both off to the same place and I was a comparatively young sprightly chap  I thought it charitable to accompany them as their guide. She was really really struggling to walk but declined all offers of help from either me or her husband who was only marginally less feeble than her. The Royal Free is a famously chaotic site with buildings and departments all over the place and lifts that offer destinations that make no sense, like SL and UG. It’s built on a very steep hill and  as the journey progressed I began to really worry about my charges capacity to make it to the accommodation without  a minimum of one maybe even two wheelchairs. I could imagine me pushing the less feeble husband while he pushed his wife – bit like a geriatric bendy bus. Needless to say my infallible sense of direction together with their increasing desperation led us literally back to where we started and panic began to set in all round. I could at this point have abandoned them and seriously contemplated legging it but I felt a heroic obligation not to, as well as fear that I might reencounter them at breakfast and suggested that while I go off and figure the way out, they stay put and lean against the wall to recover and then I would come back and get them. This routine was modelled on a sort of mountain rescue principal where the fit able one leaves the injured on and one other behind while they make the descent and alert the helicopter. Fortunately before this doomed to disaster plan was put into effect (no way would I have ever found them again)  a hospital orderly came over and asked us if we were lost. He was clearly on his lunch break and we were clearly catastrophically lost as we had stumbled into the staff restaurant, an area forbidden to patients due to Covid restrictions. Anyway he cheerfully walked us the whole way (at what was now an arthritic snails pace) all the way to the reception area of our accommodation. Because of the speed restriction this must have taken 30 minutes even though it was only a short distance. I offered him a generous tip to at least pay for his missed lunch which he declined. What a nice bloke but how useless was I!

Can I find my brave again? (Have you noticed the prevalence of this grammatical structure – I hate it – universities use it in their marketing all the time – ‘find your exceptional’ ‘live your excellence’ ‘do your extraordinary’) I doubt it. My only comfort was that this was my first day out on my own for such a long time and that if I force myself to go on more adventures I might even manage to eat at the tapas bar and buy something at the bookshop next time. 

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