Rodin, the British Museum, and serendipity

I can’t sleep. I can hear the rattling of a nearby fan. My brain is alert from misguided thoughts, late night editing and hunger. I ate some stale crackers to keep me going and now I’m thinking of heading up my tree to see the dawn. It’s a peaceful, blameless life.

Today – yesterday – I went with Shannan to see the Rodin exhibition at the British Museum. I don’t recall our ever hanging out before without the company of our respective husband, and she was brilliant company. I enjoyed the sculptures, the tales of many extremely fin de siècle France goings-on, and his gates of hell. But the main joy was to see his works alongside the Parthenon sculptures that had so inspired him, and the chance to see some particularly splendid bits of frieze and pediment in a slightly different room of the British Museum – a room slightly further away from Athens, thinking about it.

We went and had tea and a chat in the LRB cafe afterwards. She then went to catch various buses, and I lingered, knowing that I’m psychologically obliged to leave that place with at least one book. This delay is to become important later.

I was gazing pointlessly at my phone when poet John whooshed up beside me, grabbed a paperback from the display in front of me, and said “you look in need of a book and this one should be it”.

I did what anyone would do in this situation. I took the book immediately to the counter, bought it, and then left.

I had parked my bike within the gates of the British Museum, so I went back to get it. There was a woman with a bike locked to the left of mine, who looked like she’d been distracted by her phone mid preparing to leave. You know what phones are like.

As I was attaching my panniers, she suddenly looked up from her phone and snapped back into action. “I love your frame,” she said, in passing, and I thanked her and started an unnecessarily long explanation of where I had got it and where it had been. Loch Ness. Land’s End. Hackney. Oh, Lands End to John O’Groats. No, Stoke Newington to Land’s End. Scotland was a different time.

She was intending to use up some summer by cycling out of London. I said I could recommend just picking a direction and going, and maybe exploiting friends who lived along the way. Kent, Essex. The Fens, maybe.

We then got talking about work, and it turns out she might know of something I might be interested in doing. And then she handed my her card, and – hang on – I know the name. I know it immediately. It echoes in my brain.

“Did we used to hang out… or email maybe?” I asked, tentatively.

And kaboom. She was a mutual friend, from the London Loves days, a dozen years ago. “You didn’t have a beard then”, she said, explaining why she hadn’t recognised me. I had no such excuse.

I cycled off towards the river feeling happy. London is so massive and so tiny, like all of our lives within it.

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