22 November 2008

Winter Wandering

Today was the first plan-free Saturday I've had in London since my return from the U.S. and I felt ought to commemorate this by exploring some new parts of town--not, by any means, that I am sick of the chichi loveliness of Marylebone High Street or of Soho. I had been meaning to visit both Regent's Park Road in Primrose Hill and Upper Street in Islington for quite some time but was never familiar enough with the bus routes to get myself to either area.

It was freezing, of course, and I had forgotten to change the timer on the heating so that when I awoke at 8.30, my room was icy, which prompted me to spend the morning in bed, sipping espressos and rereading Use of Weapons. It was noon before I surfaced for long enough to pull on enough running kit to keep me from freezing for the first 15 minutes, but not so much that I couldn't carry it after I started removing clothes on warming up. It was definitely the coldest run I have done so far as even after two and a bit laps of the Outer Circle, I was still wearing gloves and had my hood up. I spent a couple of hours warming up with a sandwich, more coffee, the paper and a glorious 15-minute shower, but all of this faffing and chilling meant that I wasn't ready to leave on my excursion until three.

Really, I should have just picked either Upper Street or Regent's Park Road, spent some time there and then headed back to more familiar territory. Instead, I got the bus to Upper Street, spent some time wandering up Camden Passage, scouted out a few possible coffee shops and perved over some £400 Christian Louboutin shoes and some gourmet chocolates. I was too cold to work up any motivation to buy anything, though, despite having dragged out the winter coat on Wednesday, when the temperature finally dropped to seven degrees or below, and despite wearing a cashmere jumper, hat, scarf and gloves.

Having exhausted the delights Islington in about 30 minutes, I wandered optimistically in the direction of Regent's Park. It was cold and I knew it was a long way but I didn't really know of a bus route, other than walking along the Euston Road and then turning off at Regent's Park. Also, I really wanted to go to a second-hand bookshop and there is one at Camden Lock that I have been meaning to check out for a while. Fortunately, I came across a bus that was going to Camden. Unfortunately, I got off prematurely when in the fading light, I misread the bus stop sign as saying that the stop was Camden Town rather than that it was for Camden Town. 

My Camden geography isn't very good and I don't think I went the most direct route but I did get to the bookshop where they were selling three of the four books I'd just bought at Borders; I did qualify for a three-for-two offer, as well as one of them being half price but it still would have been cheaper to have bought at the second-hand shop (also, I prefer the feel and the smell of used books), which is typical given that I rarely find any of the books on my "to read" list when I go to second-hand stores.

Several consultations of the Moleskine later and I eventually made it to the right part of Regent's Park Road, which was indeed full of pretty boutiques, nice restaurants and cafes, delis and other emporia of fine food, and an independent book shop, which looks like it is right off the set of a Richard Curtis film. Success at last. By this point, though, I was so cold that my heart wasn't in it and after browsing briefly at the bookshop, I decided to return during daylight or, at least, when it was warmer.

Well connected as my new hood may be, it's still a pain getting back from Primrose Hill, especially when Regent's Park is closed because it is dark/night. It's funny what a long way half a circuit of the Outer Circle feels when you are walking not running and when it's cold and dark. I thought my hands were going to drop off. Even though I was wearing gloves, they just felt soft against my skin, not warm. It felt like the coldness was inside. Even now, an hour later and back in my warm flat, they are still slightly tingly and numb; my toes, ensconced in a blanket, have mostly recovered. I do like winter really--I like rushing into warm, fairy-lit coffee shops at 4 p.m. when it's dark and icy outside to drink a cappuccino and lose myself in a good book and I like staying in bed all day when it's cold out, bundled up, reading, talking, laughing. I like the magical feel of shopping by night and of an intimate dinner by a roaring fire in a country (or pseudo-country) pub. I like all of the winter-fun stereotypes but somehow, the reality isn't quite so frolickful, footloose and fancy-free.

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