I am in London
Right now I am in East Finchley, sitting in a warm bustley cafe that has lately become horribly familiar as it is opposite the station and not far from the Islington and St Pancras Crematorium.
Today we are going to scatter my brothers ashes, to reunite him with his daughter, my niece, who is already resting there. The day we have chosen has turned out to be the day of the Big Snow. At the moment there is only a light splattering but it is expected to disrupt trains and roads and perhaps even planes, as is typical in a UK winter weather challenge.
I lived in London for 15 years from the early 80's to the mid 90's. Everywhere I go is a trigger for memories and I feel I am swimming in an enormous lake into which has been tossed many objects from my past. They bob past me and I idly remember little things - some funny, some sad, some just plain factual. All of it gives me a hefty reminder of time passing and getting older. Perhaps it is not a lake but some Proustian soup that I have dived into?
Yesterday I went with my good friend Janet (who I met on almost my first day in London back in 1980) to have a steam bath in Ironmonger Row. Our ritual used to be a weekly steam at the baths in Porchester Row but we did sometimes go to the East London one. Both were places of total relaxation, of deep cleansing for our spirits as well as our bodies
Oh how changes can hurt!
This is definitely not an advertisement for Ironmonger Row - the New Look.
It is now called a Spa and has been 'improved' which means it is no longer the preserve of female bodies in all their young/old, fat/thin, black/white glories. It is bigger, dimly lit and more scented. There are false battery-operated candles and showers called 'The Monsoon'. I was just coming out of one of the normal showers when a black suited young slim attendant came and apologetically but firmly told me I must wear my bathing costume. I told her I had none - never before did you need them. She said it is now policy that everyone must wear a costume after complaints were received about nakedness. She tried to give me a line about 'ethnic' sensibilities but I told her that for years these baths were used by women from all races and were based on hammams where women could get together to wash, to be scrubbed raw by beefy attendants, to henna, to shave, to laugh, to feel free. It turned out the ethnic sensibility was that of young British slim girls who feel uncomfortable with their bodies unless clothed in a bikini.
Imagine being told off when standing naked and dripping in an expensively beautiful but spiritually dead Spa!
But some changes are wonderful. I was meeting my lovely niece at Kings Cross and suddenly realised that what I had known as the station had only ever been an ugly 1970's facade and now it has been whipped away there stands the original beautiful building.
Inside by the departure boards is also a wonder - it is almost Gaudiesque!
So, today, outside the cars are all covered in snow and it is almost time to make our way up to the cemetary. A sad day but also another reminder - as if I needed one - that life is so precious.
This song was going around in my head - Timing by Kevin Jorhansen and the Nadas