Tuesday, 18 May 2010
The Vipers Nest
Now the nights are light and the need great, both to burn off the excess of glucose that my love has in abundance, and to cleanse both our souls of the stress of life, we walk. Walk, through this strange place of hill and valley, with trees cladding steep and precipitous gardens, terraced to avoid them sliding into houses at the bottom of the valley. It's all lush and green now. Some wild, but most pruned and manicured to a perfection only achievable with wealth. As you walk down the hill from the crumbling pile where I domicile, which has yet to receive the developers stamp of 'renewal', you arrive at the 'Harley Street' of the Town. Perfect, restored Georgian townhouses, where some still have their Consulting rooms, although most have moved these into out of town private hospitals, where the land is cheap, the building new, and the taxes low.
Most do however still live there, and the change from the Victorian mansions, converted to luxury apartments, to these stuccoed, rows of tiered perfection is quite dramatic. You leave behind the Gothic splendour of the Victorian folly and come upon the brightly painted, perfectly proportioned remnants, of the Georgian era. Grade 1 and 2 listed all, they have been restored to within an inch of their long lives, with front doors straight out of Downing Street, gleaming black, with gold numerals. You walk on York pavers laid down two hundred or more years before, still lit by the gas lamps (sic), which is the main reason not to walk in the dark hours, along this route.
The wealth is extraordinary. Smeg kitchens viewed through basement windows or skylights at street level. Casements that slide as well as they did two hundred and fifty years before and wrought ironwork, black and shiny as the day it was forged. That people even live here seems unreal, it's like some set straight from a costume drama, and I am told, is used as such on occasion. But the expected clatter of horse's hooves is missing; long gone. Of course you do have to request the occupants to remove the symbols of their wealth from the roadside, if you wish to film, in the form of the Rolls Royce's, Mercedes and Range Rovers that crowd at the kerb or, occasionally, sit in a little enclave created on a forecourt that squeezed by the planners, without despoiling the street scene.
You then get to the Hospital, not the one in use anymore, but that Georgian edifice, created to care for the poor of the Parish in the 1780's and is the reason these houses were built in the first place, to shelter the Doctors that served in it's echoing halls. Now a boutique hotel, apartments for the wealthy and a little further on, flats for those aspiring to be future occupants of the Townhouses; the Doctors of tomorrow. So much has changed and yet stays the same. Each day we walk to help mend the ravages of the disease of today, Diabetes, we do so in a time warp of years before. We traverse through a landscape of privilege and wealth created by those same people for whom the Hospital was built, all those years ago, but now so far from their grasp.
The system that created these riches, is largely the NHS. The descendant's of those that fought long and hard against its coming, are now the recipients of its largess. Tristram and Cassandra, with their 'yummy mummy' ensconced in their Volvo for their journey to the private prep' school are products of the life we have made available to them by gist of our labours. Their spouses, these superannuated, be suited products of our profligacy of taxation, have risen far above the station, of those upon which they are meant to bestow their tender mercies; the populace who fund them. Yet they are failing consummately to fulfill the bargain of that funding.
They run the system as if it was their inalienable right to riches, instead of as the servants of the people, they should be. And yes I do know, there are those who are not at all like this this; some I even call friends. But overwhelmingly they are. Many, that have not yet achieved these standards of wealth, aspire to it and will get there in the fullness of time; it is a souless goal. Close by is the home of God, or that is his servants on earth, the Nuns. They live cheek by jowl with the Hospital, where they once nursed the great unwashed that were the majority of the day, now reduced to serving meals that cost more than a labourer's day wage, and providing shelter for the overnight businessmen and women on expenses.
It is beautiful, incongruous and privileged. It is unlikely ever that those who were treated at this place would ever aspire to live in the these nearby palaces, except perhaps to work 'below stairs'. In todays world the gap now is wider still, and the liklihood even further from the common man's grasp to walk these few streets as an owner. Unless of course your name be Dave or Nick or even Gordon, or better still the letters after it are FRCP, FRCS or some other concoction of initials, and you work for the NHS