Streets Ahead is the column from London Walks' Pen & Daily Constitutional Special Correspondent David Tucker…
Happens a lot.
The past and poetry and London and where I’m at (literally and figuratively) come together, whisper like fire, forge a thing as unalterable as iron.
Thinking about Graham. The funeral’s today. Thinking about the boys who piloted the Spitfires 75 years ago. The few they really are now. Just a handful of them. Old, old men now.
It’s why I was here. Come to see the Spitfire in front of the Cabinet War Rooms (as I’ll go on calling it to my dying day).
Was thinking about those pilots, the tumult in the clouds, the “lonely impulse of delight” as Yeats put it.
Lined up the camera a second later and fired a burst.
Because as soon as I lifted my eyes the fire whispering began.
Thinking about Graham. But this city, this life is about birth as well as death. So, sure, coming onto the stage with Graham, those babies. (A couple of London Walks guides are preggers.) Quite a few London Walks guides have toddlers or small children. Our best American friends are the proud new grandparents of twin toddler boys and their brand new cousin, RG (as I’ve dubbed him; Mary took one look at the photograph of him when he was just hours old and said, “he’s rather good” – which I of course transmuted into his first nickname: RG).
All the years, all the history, the hopes and fears…
And then of course it was there, like a fly past, Louis MacNeice’s great poem, Prayer Before Birth. In particular, the two stanzas that haunt me more than anything else in that unforgettable landscape.
I am not yet born; console me.
I fear that the human race with tall walls wall me,
With strong drugs dope me, with wise lies lure me,
On black racks rack me, in blood-baths roll me.
I am not yet born; provide me
With water to dandle me, grass to grow for me, trees to talk
To me, sky to sing to me, birds and a white light
In the back of my mind to guide me.
And just like that the moment hatched. I was in it.
A broad white shell of completeness
Had widened and cracked:
I was open to sweetness.
Don’t try and tell me London isn’t special.
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POST UPDATED 19/3/16
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