I’ve started to read Peter Ackroyd’s enormous biography of London. The scope of the book is fitting for a city which amazes and beguiles each time I visit. I don’t go to London enough. Each time I do I promise to return sooner, for longer, and for the purpose of simply wandering aimlessly through its highways and byways, through its parks and its squares.
We went in summer. One memorable evening, while everyone was busy showering away the dust from a hot afternoon, I ran down from the hotel towards the Thames through Richmond. The pavements were full of people walking to wherever they needed to be. More interesting still were those tiny moments of sadness that I felt as I realised that most of the paths that lay before me would, in my lifetime, remain untrodden. I would never be able to walk or run them all, however interesting they might seem. Even then, with no real rush to get back, I could only cover a tiny fraction of the ground I found to each side of me. There should be a word for it: the sadness that accompanies the knowledge that we can only glimpse a fraction of what we pass through.
That sounds too glum. It isn’t meant to be. As I ran on, cautious to retrace my steps carefully, I was also happy about the fact that I too was going back to where I needed to be. I too had somewhere to go. My family would be there: laid out, post-shower, feeling that glow of exhaustion that follows a day well-spent walking, drinking coffee, watching the world go by with no particular aim. To them my thoughts returned as behind me the Thames silently wound its way through London.