A Radical Heart

I finished my coffee and set off for Holborn Library, which was staging an exhibition celebrating alternative theatre in the 1960s and 70s. I was involved in it then and hoped I might find signs of my younger self and those radical, hazy, crazy days.

The bus dropped me off at the bottom of the Strand. It was a morning grey as the paving stones under my feet. I rounded the Aldwych passing the eponymous theatre with its billboard for Stephen Ward the Musical. An ironic concept, all things considered. On Kingsway a girl was weeping and a woman limping. A man with flashing eyes stood still as street furniture.

A Londoner will always find fragments of her past, and here halfway up Kingsway was one of mine, an office building where once I’d worked long ago. I’d not noticed the name of the nearby church before – St Anselm and St Caecilia – surely I must have sat there once in a while contemplating love, or its loss.

I needed to cross a side street; at pavement’s edge, I teetered, ready to go forward as a black cab shaved past.

Further on I crossed the road to grimy Holborn Station, fronted by a stall of neon-bright flowers. The thunder of building and traffic noises grew as I reached Southampton Row and then quietened on Theobalds Road. The Unite Union building made me think of Bob Crow (former secretary general of RMT); not so long ago I’d seen him striding in Covent Garden, looking dapper.

On my left was Boswell Road. Then I spotted a man who may be on TV, but I couldn’t put a context to him. On my right was the modest but splendid Conway Hall, dedicated to free speech and independent thought.

I crossed the eccentrically-named Lambs Conduit Street. I guess once it was the conduit for sheep on their way to dinner plates.

I had reached the library where I perused photographs and memorabilia. I found no sign of myself, though there were glimpses of a lost time I recognised. One where theatre confronted society, put on happenings, took to the street, did daring things to shake up the world.

Retracing my steps to the bus stop, with the odd digression, I happened upon Red Lion Square and a delightful statue of Fenner Brockway. He looked flyaway, lively, erudite and like someone you’d love to know (it was the first I’d heard of him, to my shame). I read that he had been the President of Liberation, (previously the Movement for Colonial Freedom). What a title: President of Liberation!

Truly, I thought, a radical heart beats in Fitzrovia.

Joan Byrne