“I can tell you some stories” says the balding blonde man in the lemon polo shirt at Tutti’s, fidgeting as he stands drinking his coffee at the outside table while his friends sit comfortably below him. He has his back to the olive-skinned man with a laconic way and a nose ring, legs crossed archly, sitting in comfortable silence with his tattooed companion, sketching the tableau. “What gets me is people posting pictures of their coffees” says the balding man’s wife, pulling her face mask down, then back up again.
A group of black veiled ladies with young children’s hands held tight glides past, one young girl stretching back hopefully in passing to touch my brown-eyed dog with a mischievous sparkle in hers. The wife surveys them as they swerve elegantly to avoid a cycle tour mounting the pavement as their guide explains how Lamb’s Conduit Street was named not after a baby sheep but a Tudor named William Lambe who gave £1,500 to rebuild the Holborn Conduit. And just like that a niggle about a name that’s nagged me since my South London childhood is explained.
The surreptitious sketcher closes his pad and I scrape my chair back and gather up the dog’s lead. It’s time to find my humble treasure. But my handsome hound has now caught the eye of a sombre faced young girl in mis-matched sandy bunches who wants to know his name, and what breed, and why is he a rescue and if I look after him properly? I try and answer but her mum tugs on her hand, a hungry baby next to her in a buggy sounding the alarm to get home quick with grizzles growing louder by the second. ‘We don’t have space for a dog’ she calls back over her shoulder as her mum pulls her into a trot, ‘you’d better look after him well, you’re so lucky’.
I promise, and we walk West to Queen’s Square, steeped in history and the grand memories of important men, but we are seeking a simpler memorial to a local character. A homely reminder of an energetic modern-day resident whose owner, Patricia Penn, loved Bloomsbury.
Pallid broad beans in plastic pots strive valiantly for the light beside us, straining upwards from sunken Georgian basement wells, cheek by jowl with extravagantly potted tree ferns, luxuriating confidently in the same neighbouring shade. One front door has ten bells, the other, one. Nurses burst singly from unmarked hospital exits, seeking sandwiches. Doctors saunter in pairs, heads together deep in diagnostics – or theatre gossip – my ears can’t tell.
Banjo finds him first, pulling me toward the small statue of Sam the cat, frozen in the act of jumping off a red brick wall, sleek, black and shiny. ‘There he is’ I murmur out loud, and Banjo sticks out his nose to say a friendly hello, then sits, paw up, confused.
Image: Cat on Hot Bricks (c) Michael Summers