Usually travelling around London makes me smile. There's pleasure to be had from seeing something amazing, something new, something surprising, something mundane but interesting, something unexpectedly quirky or somewhere that brings back a warm reminiscence. But a handful of locations jolt my memory in a negative way, taking me back to something I did or said that could have turned out better. Live here long enough and London is dotted with regrets.
The building is gorgeous, Grade II listed, rising umpteen storeys above the surrounding estates. What's more I got the chance to go inside, and wow, that central staircase. But whenever I walk past I sigh a little and wonder where I got it wrong.
We bumped into each other at the Olympics, somewhere near the Basketball Arena, an old friend I'd lost touch with a decade earlier. Hitched now, I see. We chatted and we still got on, and I received an open-ended invite to come round for dinner. It took a year to get round to it but eventually here I was, bottle in hand, and hell no I was not using the lift I was slogging up the spiral staircase and soaking in the experience. Hello again! An excellent meal was knocked up in a tiny kitchen with an amazing view, the dining table near enough filled the lounge and the evening was an unbridled success. It must have been, I got invited around again, and two more times after that, but then nothing... I dont know why. Maybe the hard work was too one-sided (I did explain coming round to mine wasn't an option because I couldn't have matched the experience), or maybe the novelty wore off, or maybe their lives suddenly changed, or perhaps they had more interesting people to meet, but I never climbed that staircase again. It's not a catastrophe, just a friendship lost and an opportunity squandered, but every time I pass that building I'm hit by a twinge of regret.
This is where Betjeman used to live, or one of the places. Always a man of taste, Sir John. Specifically it's the restaurant underneath, an exclusive affair which I had lined up for a meal that never happened. And whenever I walk past I sigh a little and wonder how I got it wrong.
It's probably the closest I've come to a relationship since I moved to London. You could argue the toss, but sane, smart and sparky is always a good look. We hit it off early at a National Trust property, then got into a groove of meeting up every week or so, usually for food or some kind of cultural experience. All the restaurants we visited required an acceptable vegetarian option, which if nothing else encouraged compromise, and those meals have scattered pleasant memories across the centre of town. We ticked off several of the artier cinemas too, plus my sole experience of afternoon tea, not to mention that day trip to the backwaters of the West Midlands. But when everything inevitably faded away, unacrimoniously, I still hadn't got round to playing my master card - a meal in the vegetarian restaurant underneath the Poet Laureate's flat. It's under new management these days and not averse to serving fillet of beef, so no longer pitch-perfect, but every time I pass that building I'm hit by a twinge of regret.
Everybody loves this place, or at least anyone worth speaking to. It's very much greater than the sum of its parts, although several years ago one of those parts laid me out flat. So whenever I walk past I sigh a little and wonder how I got it wrong.
The email came out of the blue from somebody you know. We're at that event you're going to at that place we like, fancy a drink afterwards? It seemed rude to decline so afterwards I wandered up to whichever floor the bar's on and made myself known. We got on effusively, immediately, so that was good. The joint also had a special offer on gin cocktails, so I made a start on ticking off their list in the expectation I might ultimately claim a freebie. Conversation flowed smoothly throughout the evening, and I thought I'd aced this. But my previous experience of gin was virtually non-existent so I had no idea of its impact on my system, plus all I'd eaten in the last eight hours was a slice of toast. Shortly before closing time I received the fourth stamp on my loyalty card, downed my fourth drink and felt my head spinning, after which I was copiously sick all over my shirt and trousers. I just about had time to apologise profusely to my new companions before I passed out... and woke up later on a sofa with no recollection of getting there. We've been out for non-gin-based drinks since, so I didn't blow all my social capital, but every time I pass that building I'm hit by a twinge of regret.
Also on my map of regrets...
» The eastbound platform at Aldgate East station (why didn't I?)
» The small meeting room on the 3rd floor at work (why did I?)
» Oxford Street opposite the Virgin Megastore (what if I had?)
» Office on the west side of Berkeley Square (what if I hadn't?)
» The choir seats at the Royal Albert Hall (what was I thinking?)
» The staircase at Fulham Railway Bridge (should've faked it)
» A pub on Ruislip High Street (should've sustained it)
» Bang & Olufsen, Coulsdon (should've said no)
» Upper Marsh, Waterloo (should've said yes)
» All Saints Church, Fulham (sorry Dad!)