Before I leave the flat, I often consult the codex of the A-to-Zed, the exhaustive walking map of London. (It’s not an A to Zeee. No, never!) I have no shame in taking it out on the street, appearing lost, or worse–a tourist. It is because I love it so. Often, even when not leaving the flat, I read the city in this way. The place names suggest stories I have read or have not yet been written, the density of history.
Cornelia Parker’s A to Z has a hole burned through it. If one were to turn the page, surely the meteorite would have also obliterated Westminster Bridge on the next page, and might just miss Waterloo Station as it would surely take all of Borough Market, Druid Street and Tabard, where I am supposed to go this evening.
I have made a note of my destination, not far from the Marshalsea Road and a place I have never been which is now called Little Dorrit Park, named after my favourite Dickens novel. Much of my London geography I owe to Dickens. Long before I picked up an A to Z, his London was mine. When I’m blue I often say to myself, Let’s see what’s going down at the Marshalsea Prison and I will pick up the novel and begin reading at random.
I haven’t made many literary pilgrimages since moving here, probably because they are always a disappointment, either completely missing from the landscape of chain stores, luxury flats and tourist crowds or they are overly mediated Heritage sites. There is something joyless about having someone else’s official dream imposed upon your own.
In the A to Z London returns as a tabula rasa, a web of place names held in the hand. Even the name suggests the sprawling labyrinth of London could somehow be alphabetized to order. Everyone orders London differently, the maps of our minds no doubt carry with them distortions, contractions and omissions. Cornelia Parker’s Tube Map brochure from last year suggests this by using the iconic colours as an ink blot.
Tonight I might just visit Little Dorrit and make something of it, leave there a little of my own jealous imagination.