In Street Haunting, Virginia Woolf describes the streets of London as having “buses strung on a chain. People fight and struggle. Knocking each other off the pavement.” On all my visits to London riding the tube in the morning to visit one art gallery or another, I would look longingly at the stylish women in their smart jackets and heels, busy reading the paper, on their way to their jobs in London. It was always my dream to one day be reading the paper on my morning commute to work in London.
Now here I am, all the way from very snowy Canada, completing my practicum in the archives department at King’s College London. I’ve been planning for this commute my whole life. I set off with hot tea in hand in a to go mug, wearing my raincoat, with the morning paper tucked under my arm. It is much wetter than I would like. I almost miss the snow in Canada. Almost.
I scurry along the street and down to the tube. There is no fighting as Virginia Woolf describes, but there is certainly a lot of jostling and jockeying for the best position on the tube platform. This is vastly different from my comparatively little Albertan city. However, I can’t be angry with the jostlers since they are also my lifeline here. I desperately rely on them for guidance on when to cross the street. In Canada, one wouldn’t dare cross at anything other than a clearly marked crosswalk and taking into consideration that I can’t trust my instincts about what side of the road traffic is coming from: when they move, I move.
I get off the tube and hop on a bus that goes along the Strand. A bus ride along the Strand is another romantic idea I got from Virginia Woolf. In Mrs. Dalloway, on a bus along the strand she describes a puff of wind blowing a thin black veil over the sun and over the Strand. It’s a rather grey day today which suits my Virginia Woolf fantasies just fine.
Eventually I come to a stop and decide to walk along the busy Strand. There is something immensely satisfying for a tourist about a very very long street with lots to see on it. It takes away the need to constantly be pulling out your map and allows you to just walk along and experience the grandeur. The grandness is quite striking and the street feels steeped in history, with hidden treasures along the way. Every few steps there is a new famous name on a building or a station.
I’m particularly delighted walking by The Savoy Theatre. The theatre, I learn, opened in 1881 and was the first public building to be lit by electricity. It was the home of the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company and now is home to big West End shows, such as Dreamgirls which is currently playing. Though the theatre was rebuilt 1993 following a fire, there is a sense of legacy with buildings such as this and as a Canadian theatre student and actress who has on occasion entertained West End dreams, the historical significance is palpable.
I wander along a little farther, getting pulled along by the next grand, exciting or shiny thing on the street, but eventually need to turn back. The bustling people are starting their workdays and so must I. Perhaps I will come take another stroll along the Strand. Virginia Woolf says, “to walk alone in London is the greatest rest,” but I’m not too sure one can ever be on one’s own on a street such as this.