The main protagonist in my current work-in-progress, which is set in 2004, lives in Vauxhall and works out of an office in St Thomas’ Hospital. So we start our day on Westminster Bridge, strolling along the embankment, taking in the sights she would see on her journey to and from work and trying to work out what the skyline would have looked like eleven years ago.
We are distracted from our research at one point by the number of huge cranes in view; turning 360 degrees, we count twenty-five on the horizon. Next time someone mentions the world shortage in construction equipment, we’ll know where to send them!
We find the tower block my character lives in and I work out which is her apartment, based on the arrangement of the windows. Job done.
Next we cross the river to visit an art exhibition housed in the Lithuanian Embassy. The pictures are owned by friends of ours – and we could easily have seen them back home, but it feels better to visit them in an official display. We ring the doorbell, having previously warned the cultural attache of our visit – but she is out of the building and the guard listens to our explanation then shuts the door in our faces as he goes in search of instructions. We are instantly transported back to our working time in Russia and other Former Soviet Union countries, when carefully laid plans could be derailed by the absence of a key person who had decided to take a business trip or ‘throw a sickee’ that day. We often spent long periods sitting in our mini-bus while company personnel argued over whether we should be admitted or not. However, the wait on this occasion is very short, our welcome from the press officer is warm – and the pictures in the Shopes Collection are stunning – definitely worth the visit. The Baltic Art Exhibition, featuring paintings by contemporary Lithuanian artists, runs until April 2016.
Our next aim is back across the river, to see if we can find the building I lived in before we were married. But Nine Elms is a massive building site, the malt vinegar factory that was my neighbour is long gone, and we can’t work out in which direction we should walk. Reminding ourselves it’s been nearly forty years since we last saw the flat, we give it up as a bad job. And as we turn back towards Westminster, two signs within yards of each other remind us we have a new home and a new life now.
At lunchtime, we decide to abandon our walking in favour of a taxi – and as the heavens open, we are very glad we did. Even the downpour – and the taxi driver’s friendly but depressing tale of life as a taxi driver in Boris’s London – cannot dampen our spirits. The Portuguese tapas bar Taberna do Mercado in Spitalfields is well worth the journey. After some wonderful dishes – runner bean fritters so good we ate them twice – we roam through the market before taking the Tube back to the hotel – more walking, just underground this time!
Later we take to the pavements once more, strolling to the West End past pubs heaving with post-work drinkers and Trafalgar Square packed for Malaysia night, Our destination is the tiny theatre where Sunny Afternoonis bringing the life and music of The Kinks to new (and not so new) generations. Yet another reminder of how the years have flown by. But such a fun way to relive the past!
Elizabeth Ducie was a successful international manufacturing consultant, when she decided to give it all up and start telling lies for a living instead.
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