Stickin’ with Dickens by Katie McCue: No Deviations
Stickin’ with Dickens-
In happy anticipation I stepped on to the platform at Paddington station with my two companions.
I was ready and more than willing to put myself in the very capable hands of Stuart Butler to be led on a Dickensian adventure for the day.
What a day! Stuart led us down streets and lanes I didn’t know existed or had paid very little attention to in the past. Fact and fiction blurred beautifully as we gazed up at the windows of a house Dickens lived in before the Thames was tamed, when its banks were but a stones throw from the house. The river where Gaffer Hexham and his daughter Lizzie rowed in their boat searching out floating corpses to rob in Our Mutual Friend. That same river where Martha in David Copperfield thought to drown herself.
As we talked and walked on, in my own mind’s eye, I was transforming people into Dickensian folk. It wasn’t hard to do. London’s noise and bustle; workers and walkers, dandies and down-and-outs were everywhere. As my companion said he was always telling people how relevant Dickens is for today. Right on cue, just as Stuart was telling us how Dickens would take the plunge at the Roman Baths we stood before, there huddled in front if its very gate were three homeless people. A Dickensian and sadly 21st century scene before us. One of the men called out to Stuart “Thank you Boss,” as we exchanged greetings. The young woman called out as we headed off “I was only at school for 5 minutes and now I’ve had an education. …….Dickens….I heard all that” .
As we took to The Strand the pleasing sight of St.Mary’s was ahead of us. I could positively feel Dickens senior newly wed leaving the church when Charles was yet a twinkle in their eye.
Fact and fiction continued to blur gloriously as we stood in front of the lodgings where Pip and the pale young gentleman Herbert Pocket seem to look down at us.
The Old Curiosity shop stood empty…..but was that Little Dorrit hurrying around the corner?
Stuart led us on to Lincoln’s Inn and we spent time remembering Bleak House in which the hearings about the inheritance were held. We remembered too the reality of the undercroft at the chapel next door where babies were left in the hope of being looked after. Stuart told my companion and me how those lucky babies who survived their abandonment were all given the surname Lincoln.
…..but I’m ahead of myself. What fun it was to enter the darkness of Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese in Fleet Street. The dark wood of the interior enfolded us as we stepped into the bar. I sat where I decided Charles Dickens would have chosen. A settle in the corner almost behind the door facing the roaring fire with heaps of old ash spilling out of the grate. A seat from which to watch those who entered whilst being unobserved myself. A place to consider the potential of each customer as a possible character….yes…surely Dickens would have done this as he drank ale or wine or porter in this very seat.
My account is in no way complete but these are my own “Sketches” of the day. It was wonderful and I can’t resist by ending with a favourite saying of Joe Gargery in Great Expectations: “ Pip old chap…….you and me was ever friends and when you’re well enough to go out for a ride what larks!”
I encourage you all to enjoy a day in Dickens’ London with Stuart Butler for larks of your own.
James has just messaged to say that his son, who is in San Francisco, has just messaged him, describing the homelessness there as Dickensian.