Jez and Moira 1974

In 1974 I was a mature student reading English Literature at Bedford College, then situated in the privileged grounds of Regent’s Park in an exquisitely decaying Regency villa, The Holme now amongst the most expensive stuccoed villas in London. I think the Royal Parks sold it to the Sultan of Brunei, which is vandalism.

In those days I took the park for granted, I took all sorts of things for granted that this winter are forecast to become luxuries. I am intending to invest our household in sheep skin gilets as my imagination keeps juggling uncomfortable images of primordial cave dwellers. I fear we may find fur-skin returning - not out of cruel excess - but for crucial practicality. Imagination and memory are involuntary phenomena over which we have little control.

When I arrived at Bedford, now demoted to Royal Holloway, there were two young and naive students in my year. If I remember correctly Moira came from Scotland and Gez somewhere from 'Up north'. They were eighteen, I was in my thirties. London was an extravagant mystery to Gez and Moira and waiting to be discovered.

They were privileged to be given first year accommodation in another of London’s most valuable residences now situated next to the Central Mosque. Hanover Lodge was built in 1827, and is the only villa in the park designed by the architect John Nash. Then it became a glorious home to about sixty students,

Today and every day for the last however many years it has remained monotonously empty. Owned, but unoccupied, in a continual state of never-ending and desolate renovation. We drive past the Palladian mansion every morning on our way to walk the dogs in the park. There is never a sign of life other than intimidating Security.

How strange that Gez and Moira still inhabit my mind. Almost every day, as we enter the Inner Circle I remember vividly their reported enthusiasm from their walk across the park towards the Holme. They were both fair; freckled fair and they looked like each other. Soon, they became a couple. I belittled or misunderstood their joy observing the daily details of cyclical life on the lake. I remember them talking about coots and wondered why it all seemed magical. At that time, I didn’t know or even care what a coot looked like. Now, I watch out for their hatchings. Now, I take nothing for granted, which is exhausting.

Hilary Mantel and Jane Haynes in conversation Autumn 2009 (left) & BBC - Podcasts - Start the Week with Andrew Marr (right)



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