Sarah Waters’ Tipping the Velvet took me around a London that was a lot more fierce than the London in The Paying Guests or even in Fingersmith. When Kitty and Nan see London from the window of their carriage, I saw a London that was distant and hungry. It suddenly felt like I was reading a lot more Dickens and less Waters. I cared more for Whitstable than London. By the end of it all, I wanted the damn oysters back.
Even so, the London in Tipping the Velvet left a lot to be desired. Which is why I spent all of last Sunday riding quite high on London mania. I finally watched Four Weddings and a Funeral. After recovering from drooling all over Andie MacDowell, I watched Peter Ackroyd’s documentary on London. For an hour and a half, I was zapped by London and its history. I took particular interest in all of London’s great fires.I kept wanting to begin writing about my trip to London but it still seems like I am not ready.
Over a cup of mushroom soup and a mug of tea, I watched London in its finest black and white form. In his deep fascination with London, Peter Ackroyd acknowledges how cities become strangers and then people. But they become people who will always remain that little bit strange, that little bit mysterious. They will lure you into their stories, seduce you with their history but they will never be able to tell you exactly what happened on those streets.
I remember getting off a mini-bus in Kurukshetra ten years ago and wondering if the mud was really red because of the war. It is the same fascination I saw when Ackroyd stands on the oldest street in London and calls it so. Virginia Woolf too, writes maddeningly about a London that she grew up in — that she is not satisfied by, because she is convinced she will never fully learn its streets or its scars.
In Arts & Culture one day, a student asked me which my favourite area in the city was. I didn’t have to think much because before I knew it, the long, snake and laddery streets of Cottonpet came zooming back to me.