As the world turns I in turn have described an arc, or perhaps it is a kind of spiral, here in London, over the past two decades. Starting one tranche of my life in Tower Hill, moving then to Bethnal Green, and then to Tottenham, to the mysterious north eastern quarter that knows no validation. The post code NE belongs to Newcastle, so that section between North and East does not own it’s own slice of the compass wheel, but is neither one nor the other, sharing it’s fate with only ’S’. Those ’S’s are either SE or SW but a straight due south is robbed of it’s distinction by Sheffield. For my own part, I was in a small estate, Ferry Lane, which was arranged along the Lea, which was itself neither one thing nor the other at that point. Canalised on one side and a river bank on the other, it’s closest defining property being ‘waterway’. In this liminal place I paused before making this next step, to EC1, a small area which has, it would seem, always had a certain contemplative vibe. I am surrounded, here, with clues of William Blake, a name sewn throughout my adult life, from Patti Smith’s lips; Rimbaud, William Blake, Lou Reed, the ocean the ocean the ocean. Here he lies and here he spent his life, drawing, writing, printing – London, mystery and angels.
Tower Bridge, a Peabody flat I won in the lottery of life through my postcard collection became my ongoing collateral. At that time Peabody administered it’s own properties and one could apply under their criteria not the Council’s, and one such was that if you could prove you had lived in a lot of different properties then that was a good enough reason, they thought, to house you. It must have been very rare for anyone to be able to prove that over a significant period one had lived in many different places, never settling and never staying. Official documents might show otherwise – it was not until I lived there that I changed my address on my driving licence for the first time from a parent’s abode to my own, and even other things, like bank correspondence and doctors, they weren’t informed of a move until it was strictly necessary. I certainly wouldn’t have had adequate documentation to prove my itinerancy were it not for my postcard collection which told a different story. Before the internet, from childhood on I had been both a diarist and a correspondent, a pen pal, and I had sent postcards and I had had postcards sent to me, which I kept, like a bulging tarot pack of relationships and nodal places both real and imagined, quite as a matter of course. One day a list of all the places I’d lived over a decade or so with random dates telling one version of a strand of my narrative arrived on the desk of an official, along with those colourful proofs, a collection of travel and art cards with friendly messages on the back and each one a different address, with the affirming post mark on every corner – I was here, and then I was here, and then I was here, and then I was here. I did not have to plead any special case beyond a life of short lets, staying with friends between places, and squats. Sure, it was not a life many would choose, but it had suited me, and now it was helping me find something more permanent. I stayed in Tower Hill for twelve years. Bethnal Green for eight. Then I swapped to the Lea, which was more like a holiday where you’d stayed a little too long, for two, and now I am nestled in this more central spot, a place with no routine name. You can call it South Islington, or even City Fringe, or by the nearby tube station, as is one way of pinning a place down, Old Street, more formally Finsbury, and electorally Bunhill. We are adjacent to Clerkenwell, but not in it, and we are not Angel and we are not Hoxton, and we are not City nor Barbican, perhaps, to a local, you could say St Luke’s.
It’s not the first time I have felt nothing for the name of a constituency, but Bunhill has residue here, the cemetery nearby bears that name. Here, indeed lies William Blake, his gravestone, I don’t know about his body, has pride of place, under the proximal protective shade of a fig, if his body is right here it may have been sucked in through the soil to the fig and in tiny doses it’s fruits sticky and redolent with ancient meanings. I’d wondered about that name at first since the area is resolutely flat, and if there were some pastry connection I’d surely have noticed, but it has neither and is in fact not bun but bone. The Bone Hill was the cheerfully phlegmatic name for the grave yard. ‘Bone Hill’ in a Londoner’s mouth becomes Bunhill as quick as you like.