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Florida Pier, Entering London
The Adelphi [vol ?] (1931) : 491-495

      The fields rushing by the windows no longer look like fertile earth. They are emptiness and the city needs them that she may throw out jetsam. Square brick houses stand inconsequently about looking prominent and flurried. Are they embarrassed by their sides being blank of windows, built that someone, who does not come, might some day squeeze them to right and left? Or did they fly in dismay from some solid block of buildings like themselves, are are now overcome at the gaping hole they left behind? Do they even expect pursuit?
      The train hurries by bigger groups of buildings all haphazard and unlikely. There are three shops in a row, ready to serve householders if holders would be sensible and have houses near these particular shops. The train cannot go fast enough to hide the indecision of the landscape. No one able to know just where the best position will be when the city finally grows out to them, and everybody building obstinately at variance with everybody else. All looking as though they had not a moment to lose before the city rushes up and overtakes them, or perhaps they are distraught at the time it is taking to come.
      The houses make me feel anxious and pulled two ways, and though half an hour ago my eyes were securely watching water seep round the roots of willows and slip discreetly under low bridges, I now feel unnerved and sure that I am missing something, and that I must be more ready than I am. I glance at my bags in the rack and wonder if I ought to lift them down. I see other people looking at their bags. We postpone the taking down, but snap books into hand-bags and sit up straighter showing we are not to be fooled with.
      The air is grey now and the fields look vanquished. Hardly any [492] dare be fields, but suddenly aware of their value they have shrunk up into allotments where vegetables grow meekly, all marshalled into small squares. We hurry by hundreds of back-yards looking humiliated by the things that are thrown out in them, discarded hobby horses, wash-tubs, dead kittens. A back door is a terrible thing. Such is the plight of most that I do not like to stare, and turn away my head.
      If discouragement reaches out here to the edge of the city what will it be for me who am going to the centre?
      We pass land covered with heaps of metal. There are piles of mineguards, and piles made up of doors of motor cars, and many piles of things so brown and rusted that they are just piles of metal. Scrap. So that is what cities do.
      The ends of streets flick by quickly now. I cannot see them clearly. Just drab bricks and dumb windows. The people in the carriage stopped talking to each other some time ago. They are no longer a group but have separated sharply and each is intent, eager, as though doomed to grab something, and distrustful of its being where he can get it. If the competition is as keen as that I must be even readier than I had already known I had to be.
      Now everybody is buttoned up, gripping umbrellas, their cases are on the floor in front of them. They are seem so sure where they are going and so belligerent about it. I do not know whether they are afraid they will be stopped, or whether nothing could even make them pause. If they feel that their destinations have probably dissolved into space then I am at one with them.
      We arrive, and the old gentleman who was so suave earlier in the day suddenly gets very red and roars “Porter!” in a more than military tone. I grip my purse, a porter finds me, he takes my bag, and I lose him. I try not to look like a person who has no idea what happens next and remember that so white and frail a porter could not go far with my things; yet the city feels so full of evil. My porter appears standing on the step of a taxi. He puts [493] in my bags, I give an address to the driver but I cannot be sure he hears it as he makes no sign. He has a rug wrapped round his middle and going down to his knees. He wears an overcoat so large, so rotund, that it must be packed full of other overcoats. A grey muffler almost rises to a bedraggled grey moustache, and a cheek crimson and massive as a cliff rises to a bedraggled grey eyebrow. I look at him a moment longer, but as he does not look at me I feel he will probably drive me where he wishes to drive me, and I set in the black shadow of the taxi knowing that the man who is driving me does not know whether I am a man or a woman and does not care. So many people have learned [sic] forward and enunciated an address very carefully that he has become immune; he is hiding inside that coat and behind that crimson cheek.
      I look out at the street, and then I don’t. People running for buses, people running away from buses. Signs enough to blind the eye. Other motors so close that I stare into the faces of the occupants and see the bloated and the bad whisk by. We go along dreary streets with economically turned-down gas jets burning behind delicate, dirty fanlights, and I am afraid of the indifferent back of my driver. I feel perishable. We whirl knowingly out into rich streets and then past houses with pretentious names on the pillars, and all needing paint. I watch handsome houses with peeling fronts and grimy doors, and suddenly we stop at the very number I said so carefully. The house is quite a recent cream, and hopefully I get out and ring.
      The door is opened by the pressure of the odour of cabbage behind it, and a young girl in a black dress that has become grey with spots, smiles prettily and bobs the scrap of distressful muslin on her head and says, “Yes madam”.
      I ask if there is any one to bring in the bags, and her lower lip drooping even lower, I bring them in myself, the muffled figure on the stoop box still not caring to look at me. I mount three flights of [494] stairs and then, a cottage seeming to have been built on the top of the house, I mount another flight of winding cottage stairs.
      I stand in the middle of my room, and I look at the quilt begun black and the towels become grey. I stand because I cannot enter into relations with my room sufficiently to do anything else. It must have been used by many people to bring it to this effacement. I move gingerly about. A young woman is practising a song in the room into which I see most easily. Another one in the room above, where I only see the dressing-table and two pictures on the wall, is hanging out newly washed gloves.
      Gongs from near-by houses sound other people’s dinners. I go downstairs and am shown to a small table. People ome in and take their seats at their tables. Elderly couples, the men in evening dress, are all about me. The husbands pass salt ceremoniously to their wives as though in memory of the time when dinner was a function, but ask irascibly “What? What’s that you say?” when their wives ask for the pepper. Single women read novels, single men newspapers. Old gentlemen cut up the remains of the meat for the dog, and ask for bones, and their eyeglasses get crooked on their noses as though they feared the world was perhaps going to prove all wrong, and the bone that had been arranged for might not be forthcoming.
      Little individual delicacies stand on every table, brown bread, table waters, pots of honey, wine; corks are pressed firmly in before the owners rise from the table. I rise too. Elderly couples go back to their rooms where dogs await them. Doors close on by one on all the diners except those who cannot afford fires in their rooms. They go into the lounge and eye the fire there. They arrange themselves around it, manoeuvring their chairs as close as possible, with courteous little laughs for each other.
      I eye the circle at the fire, knowing them all to be cold. I feel all those other people closed in their rooms. The doors opened for them to go down to dinner, and when they had eaten, the doors [495] closed on them again, and inside they are leading their lives; those rooms are their homes.
      I go slowly up the stairs and close myself into my room. How does one begin to lead one’s life, how does one as much as sit down? I unpack a little, but I lay m y things down without confidence. Servants laugh below, and a voice from a window close at had says “He’s wet; he’ll have to be changed”.
      All evening the telephone has been ringing for other people. Presently I hear other people’s bath running. I wait meekly, then I go tentatively along to the nearest bathroom; but the door is locked, and as I come away a head peers over the banisters. It too is wondering when the bathroom will be empty.
      I sit down on the edge of the bed. For miles about me there are blocks of tall houses, and in each room in each house someone is using furniture not his own, sitting among featureless surroundings, descending to ill-cooked food, gradually causing the carpets to become more threadbare and the towels greyer, and careful calculations are made to have even this.
      All packed so close, alls separated so completely. I think of the tax driver inside his clothes, and I hide between my experienced sheets that I too may have a cocoon of privacy.

6 January 2023