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Tuesday, 4 February 2003

Richard Cooper's 2003 Hoban Adventure 7/28


NHS Walk-In Centre and St Dionis Church, Parsons Green

(The Bat Tattoo / Kleinzeit)

My next stop after Fulham Tattoo Centre was Doria Road in Parsons Green, where The Bat Tattoo’s Sarah Varley lives. I went from Fulham Road down Parsons Green Lane, past the Tube station and a shop with a sign saying CIVILISED VEHICLE RENTING. I passed a small café called Café Kika where two pretty young women were sitting laughing in one window and a large, grizzled man sat rolling cigarettes from a tin of Golden Virginia in the other. I passed them by, looked in the window of a gift shop which was packed with Valentine’s gifts, including a video compilation entitled STEAMY SCENES – The Most Romantic Scenes in Cinema History, doubled back, bought a coffee from Café Kika for £1, and carried on towards the Green. I had a favourite quote from Kleinzeit, "It isn't a matter of finding a well man, it's a matter of finding one who makes the right use of his sickness," which I’d planned on dropping at the Chelsea & Westminster Hospital in Fulham Road, whose casualty department is frequented by Harold Klein when his inner voice gets him in trouble with an “ugly lout” and Roswell Clark after his adze bites him in the leg. However, that turned out to be quite a lot of numbers down the Fulham Road so I’d decided to give it a miss. It was good therefore to come across the NHS Walk-In Centre at Parsons Green, a relatively new UK innovation somewhere between a doctor’s surgery and a casualty department, where no appointment was necessary for whatever medical query you happened to have. There was a phone box outside with a sign saying OUT OF ORDER, so I set my coffee down and sellotaped the quote to the inside of the phone box, facing outwards. I’d wanted to leave the quote inside the building but it wasn’t possible to see very far through the doors from outside, and I didn’t want to blunder in on an audience of sickly people in a waiting room, or cause any confusion among the nursing staff. In any case, I’ve never liked the shiny, clean smell of such places and it seemed bad luck to go into a clinic when I was in fact reasonably healthy. Also, if a nurse says to you, “Are you alright?” and you go “Yes, I’m fine thanks, there’s nothing wrong with me, I’m just dropping this sheet of yellow paper,” how do you know they’ll believe you? Such behaviour could give rise to exploratory surgery.

Just across the road from the NHS Walk-In Centre and on the way to Doria Road was a church called St Dionis. The Fulham Tattoo Centre quote was still burning a hole in my overcoat pocket and I wondered if perhaps a church might not be a good place to drop it, given the reference to Christianity. The name of this church was interesting, and brought to mind this passage from the wonderful essay The Bear in Max Ernst’s Bedroom from The Moment under The Moment:

All of us are more than a little bit crazy and there is indeed a craziness in the human situation. The ancient Greeks put a name to that craziness, they called it Dionysus, and having given it a name they could take it into account. At the Pentagon I don’t suppose they talk about Dionysus very much but they do have a strategy called Mutually Assured Destruction, of which the acronym is MAD. If it’s mad, why have they got such a plan, you may well ask. They’ve got it because there is a madness that lives us.
Unfortunately (or not, depending on whether you were the church) I didn’t have that quote on me, as I didn’t know the church was on my route, and as far as I knew Russ hadn’t written about it in his books. Several days later I realised that Sarah Varley mentions both the church and the road when talking about her trip from Doria Road to Parsons Green station, which is where, according to my schedule, I was now meant to be headed to drop the quote about Doria Road. All of which made me realise that the idea of being location-specific with regard to Hoban was pleasantly pointless – not only are there so many references to different locations in his books, but as the head of Orpheus himself says (and it should know), “Any part of it contains the whole of it.”

Anyway, the Dionysus quote probably would’ve been a better and more appropriate quote for St Dionis than the Fulham Tattoo Centre one, but that was what I had and this was where it was going. Again, an obvious spot for the quote wasn’t forthcoming; at the front of the church on the Parsons Green side there was only a sign giving the name of the church and a notice on a gate saying AA MEETING – ENTRANCE IN ST DIONIS ROAD. There was also a woman standing opposite the church by the door of an apparently related building, looking very straight-backed and officious, so I went down St Dionis Road and surreptitiously inserted the folded-up sheet of yellow paper between two locked black iron gates in front of the main door.

Across the road, a young man with an anorak and woolly hat was helping an old lady in a wheelchair out of a pretty terraced house. I moved on without realising until later that I hadn’t taken a photo of the drop.

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