A Star on Lavender Hill (excerpt) - @Tim Robson 2018
It's approximately 2400 steps from one end of Lavender Hill to another. I walk one way in the morning, and the other in the evening. Typically I do this journey twice a day, five days a week.Through constant repetition, I can tell you the best places to cross the road, which coffee bars have the smallest queues, the most likely spots to encounter beautiful girls.
I can calibrate precisely the lateness of my train by the characters I meet as I begin my journey. If I’m early, for instance, I’ll pass a tall girl with the poise of a model striding through Clapham Junction Station concourse. Her long creamy hair is salon-perfect, clothes au courant, make-up professionally applied. She draws stares from those who see her for the first time, or those – like me – who hope to see her every day. Who she is and what she does is a mystery. My attempts to catch her eye and thereby swap a smile are coldly ignored. Being beautiful allows you to be dismissive with random strangers.
Often, as I walk up the right-hand pavement, I pass a young professional lady – twenty-five, twenty-six – who, in the glow of Debenhams’ window display, occasionally does return my smile. It’s a validation and I seek it out. But when I’m late, which thanks to my insufferable train, I often am, she’s gone already. I’ve observed that she catches a bus around the corner on St John’s Road at 8:45; anytime later than this means I miss her smile. What if we talked one of these days? Went for a drink? Became lovers?
These pleasant thoughts are driven from my mind though as I pass the Corner Stone Christian bookshop where some crazy Korean dances in the doorway. He’s there in all weathers, practising karate moves and raving in some weird English/Korean gibberish. Why this spot and why the elaborate performance is unclear but, all the same, I avoid the wild riddles of his eyes and instinctively move towards the curb.
Between the library and the police station, they’ll be two yummy mummies, thirsty for quarter-shot lattes, wearing tight fashionable leggings, slowly pushing their baby strollers in tandem towards the Social Pantry Cafe. If I’m late, I'll struggle to get past their pavement-blocking phalanx of buggies and bags. If I’m on time, I’ll slip into step behind them, listening to their unvarying stories - children, husbands, other women - until they cross at the lights on Latchmere Road.