On the highs and lows of a London weekend

With little in the way of coordinated physical mobility, I stumbled out of my flat at some point during Sunday’s early evening. My destination? Earth’s core. Well, the Southbank Centre if you want to ground this blog post in reality, but it could have been Earth’s core for how far away it felt, and how improbable that I would arrive in one piece.

Such is the game of London Cultural Roulette. Buy a ticket in advance for an amazing event you know will make you a better person, and only hope you don’t get completely sozzled the night before so you’re not half dying en route to said event.

It seemed particularly galling that on this occasion, the event I was headed to was part of the London Literature Festival (my people! My type of festival!) and the reason I felt like death was hovering over my shoulder was because of freakin’ Halloween. An event that has become so mired in commercialism I’m surprised Valentine’s Day hasn’t thrown a tantrum.

It's good to be a well-rounded human, right?

And so after patting myself on the back, and front, for managing to make it to the venue, I considered my seat with apprehension. My muscles were still in shock from the previous night’s dancefloor antics and I offered a silent apology to them all as I sunk down into a chair that, blessedly, felt more comfortable than it looked. Fog, though, still obscured most my brain and as the event began, I only hoped I’d stay awake for most of it.

The panel of poets, writers and publishers walked onto the stage and I managed a feeble clap before giving up on the taxing activity entirely.

Wait.

Did I… SMOKE A CIGARETTE LAST NIGHT?!?!

I glanced at my friend, who looked to be battling her own hangover demons and made a mental note to ask her if I had SMOKED A CIGARETTE LAST NIGHT!!

I re-focused on what was happening on stage, on why I had pulled myself away from the comfort of the foetal position. Sylvia Plath. More specifically, Sylvia Plath’s letters. Right. Good.

Wait.

Did I… SMOKE A MENTHOL CIGARETTE LAST NIGHT?!?!

Jesus.

No, concentrate. Sylvia Plath. Letters. Right.

With aching limbs, a foggy head and a mouth that now definitely tasted ashtray-like, I considered admitting defeat and began considering an exit strategy that would cause the least disruption to the literary crowd I was surrounded by. A crowd that definitely didn’t smell of last night’s booze.

And then Sylvia Plath’s daughter, Frieda Hughes, walked onto the stage.

Just like that, I was awake.

I gave my full attention to what was happening in front of me and the fogginess began to clear. We, the captivated audience, were then treated to the most beautiful readings of a collection of Plath’s letters. Her wit and talent, drive and steadfast focus shone through each word. Just as did her loneliness and isolation, depression and angst. Her all-consuming love for Ted Hughes was laid bare and I couldn’t help but give a sorrowful laugh when she likened them to a happy version of Heathcliff and Cathy.

I’m not sure at what point the effects of Saturday night left me completely, but by the event’s end, I could hardly remember why I had considered it such an effort to leave the house. Because if a weekend in London can teach you anything, it’s that you can be (almost) in the gutter outside one of Stoke Newington’s finest establishments one night, and be listening to the hauntingly beautiful prose of Sylvia Plath.

 

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