Last week I gave a guest talk to a travelling troupe of writers from my alma mater. I was invited along by my friend, Leslie Brody, who published an excellent biography of Jessica Mitford last year.
I took the gang to my favourite pub in an alley off the Strand, and someone asked: why do you wander?
It's a good question. I don't really have a good answer.
Tolkien is currently shouting at tired commuters from lampposts: "all who wander are not lost!" His travel enthusiasm is in promotion of the British Library's current exhibition Writing Britain: Wastelands to Wonderlands.
Some who wander are suckers for this kind of thing, so I found myself there this week. I quickly discovered that many great British writers have appalling handwriting (except for Charlotte Brontë - hers is exquisite).
|You there! Scratch my nose!|
Writing Britain uses text and illustration to chart the Green Man's long walk from Hobbiton to to Dog Island by way of Wessex, Metroland, and Jerusalem-upon-Thames.
Kipling said: "Out of the spent and unconsidered earth, the cities rise again". Islington was a quiet suburb, and Marylebone a dairy farm.
|Satanic Mills, then and now.|
The message of the British Library's exhibition is that writing about places is writing about people. Which makes me feel much better about my bad habit circa line one.
In addition to wandering all over the place on paper, I wander in and out of London every few years. Thomas de Quincey once said: "my steps in London came back and haunted my sleep."