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Tuesday, 4 February 2003

Richard Cooper's 2003 Hoban Adventure 17/28


The South Bank by the Royal Festival Hall and Hungerford Bridge

(Turtle Diary)

From the Embankment I headed over the magnificent new Hungerford Footbridge, its great white struts towering overhead like the masts of a beautiful old ship. The original footbridge had always given me vertigo because you could see the river below your feet and it was too narrow to turn around and get off if you felt that familiar lurching panic. Because of this I had come to avoid using the bridge, which was a shame because it affords one of the best views of the City of London skyline. Now the walkway had been expanded to more than double its original width, and another had also been erected on the other side, I could walk across without fear and enjoy both bridge and view. The train through whose windows Naeara D. notices her rectangles of blue would have been going across the Charing Cross Railway Bridge, which runs adjacent to the footbridge. Once on the South Bank itself however, there was once again no obvious place to leave my yellow paper without it blowing away or getting sodden in the sleet, so I headed towards the Royal Festival Hall itself where there would be ample locations to leave it, and where apart from anything else I could get in out of the cold for a bit.

The Royal Festival Hall is one of my all-time favourite places in London, offering music and dance concerts both ticketed and free, as well as art exhibitions, the Poetry Library (the UK’s only library exclusively for poetry), a record shop, a bookshop, bars, restaurants, and what are effectively the best-kept free public toilets in the city. The building itself is dull, grey and angular, but nowhere as bad as the RCA and in any case, apart from its 1950s architects, nobody ever pretended it was a place to look at.

My original plan for lunch had been to lose my hot salt-beef sandwich virginity at Gaby’s Deli in Charing Cross Road after the South Bank, Trafalgar Square and National Gallery stops. However, all that would take at least another hour, I wasn’t keen on running back outside immediately and the EAT café was beckoning, so I bought a cup of tea and a chicken salad sandwich and took the weight off my feet for an hour. The receipt I was given for my lunch said SEE YOU AGAIN SOON. The chicken sandwich wasn’t particularly exciting and I was disappointed to find myself still a hot salt-beef virgin, but patience was a virtue and I felt sure there’d be another opportunity for that. EAT wasn’t the most Hobanesque of lunch spots, but I had to be here for this quote, which is one of my personal favourites. The film version of Turtle Diary, scripted by Harold Pinter, is much criticised for leaving out so much of the “internal action” which largely makes the book what it is, but I quite like the film for what it is, and always feel that an adaptation and the original book should be seen as separate works. In any case I think both Pinter and the director were sympathetic to this passage for including a shot of Glenda Jackson sitting on the bench and looking up at the train going over the bridge, the windows flashing by like a strip of celluloid in a cine projector. This image, incidentally, is echoed in another of my favourite Hoban passages from my all-time favourite Hoban (and probably any) novel, The Medusa Frequency:

An ordinary mirror is silvered at the back but the window of a night train has darkness behind the glass. My face and the faces of other travellers were now mirrored on this darkness in a succession of stillnesses. Consider this, said the darkness: any motion at any speed is a succession of stillnesses; any section through an action will show just such a plane of stillness as this dark window in which your seeking face is mirrored. And in each plane of stillness is the moment of clarity that makes you responsible for what you do.
It was good to spend Tuesday lunchtime thinking about these and other words as I sat in the warmth of EAT and looked out the window over the glistening grey South Bank. I looked up at one point and the sleet had stopped and the sky returned to clear blue, as if it was pretending nothing had happened. I wasn’t ready to leave then though, and by the time I was, the sleet had come back. Still, what can you do.

On the way out I placed the Naeara D. yellow paper quote inside one of the perspex holders of a rack of free magazines by Books etc. Outside I took a picture of a train going over the railway bridge but it wasn’t the best illustration of the Turtle Diary quote because the sky was overcast again, leaving no rectangles of blue.

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