In London I suffer from a three-pronged obsession: street names, station names, and the architectural remnants of Victorian London.
I think it has something to do with the ring of English in London, and the structure of the city. It marries a love of maps and dictionaries; a fixation that finds perfect expression in one of my favourite books, the London A–Z (an atlas of the city).
Whenever I feel self-conscious about this (let’s face it, some people will find it odd) I’m reminded of Bill Bryson writing in Notes from a Small Island:
… as ever amazed and quietly excited to find it peppered with districts, villages, sometimes small swallowed cities whose names, I would swear, had not been there the last time I looked – Dudden Hill, Plashet, Snaresbrook, Fulwell cross…
He is writing about the A–Z, and it gets better:
The A–Z really is quite the most absorbing tome. It scrupulously fixes and identifies every cricket ground and sewage works, every forgotten cemetery and wandering suburban close, and packs the densest names onto the tiniest, most obscure spaces. I flipped to the index and, for want of anything better to do, lost myself there.
Now, lying on the couch and flipping through the A–Z, it doesn’t feel strange at all.
That’s what I’ll be doing – at times – during my last nine days in London.
And I’m grateful to be able to.