A children’s TV presenter had hanged himself at Paddington Station and his body wasn’t found for six days. Grim, but then big city rail terminuses always are: the temporary repositories of vice and despair; gutters through which the pure waters of the provinces are sluiced into the urban cesspit. Paddington isn’t helped by being within yards of St Mary’s Hospital, where, in the 1890s, heroin was synthesised for the first time. The station always has this peculiar smacklight: diffuse, dreamy, brown, and desperate. In my 1993 story Design Faults in the Volvo 760 Turbo, the adulterous lovers rendezvous close to Paddington, at Sussex Gardens. The antihero parks the eponymous Volvo by the needle exchange Portakabin on South Wharf Road. A woman has written into the site, apropos of this blog, and asks is there any part of my life that is unobserved, unrecorded? All I can say in reply – paternalistically, patronisingly, and now, illegally – is that you don’t know one half of one half of one ten-thousandth of it, love.
So, five cookies for £2.99 from Millies (three milk chocolate, two white chocolate and lemon – if you’re asking), and then the 16.30 to Bath Spa. In Bath, I ate at Waggaponytail, with all the other little pink-lip-glossed Tamsins and Georgies, oh, a girl like me loves a noodle bar, so she does. One gripe: the green tea was the temperature of dishwater. What is it with me and tea nowadays? It does arouse the most fearful indignation in me, the way that on the trains they now hand you a cup of hot – not boiling water – and then the tea bag. Am I the only one, or is this a disgusting approximation of the national beverage, dictated to us by the Health & Safety ninnies?
Topping’s bookshop in Bath is owned and run by the redoubtable Robert Topping, who was exiled from Waterstone’s in Deansgate after protesting at the introduction of central buying. His two shops – in Bath and Ely – are everything good independents should be: home and welcoming, staffed by erudite and engaging booksellers. Last time I read there, I had people stretching away to either end of the shop, so had to perorate in the round. This time they’d thoughtfully enlisted the local church, St Michael’s-Without-Bath.
The curate was most keen that I not feel restrained within the sacred precincts from delivering my homily wholly unexpurgated. However, there was a quid pro quo: he would lead the extempore congregation in a small prayer before I began. I had no objection at all – after all, it was his gaff, and I’m a militant agnostic. Moreover, as he appealed to his Lord to aid and assist my creativity, I felt a great surge of scurrilousness building up in me, and became convinced that my satirical weapons were being mightily honed. Who knows, I may yet become a regular communicant.