I’ve lived in London all my life and I think you tend to get very conservative in what you do. I like the idea of random traverses across the city but I always end up just going to the same places. For me, a perfect day is one that most radically breaks with established patterns, a day on which I don’t do what I always do.
My morning would begin really early in Leinster Gardens in Bayswater. I’ve never seen the fake houses there [built to conceal an open-air section of Tube line where early locomotives would release smoke and steam]. It’s a fantastic bit of trompe l’oeil and unique to London as an idea: the first underground railway in the world; the first bit of trompe l’oeil to disguise underground work in the world.
I’ve never actually ridden a bus to the end of its route, and as a kid I always wanted to take the number 102 bus that ran by our house all the way to Chingford. I love that area on the outskirts of London, so I’d go all the way over to Golders Green from Bayswater and I’d take the 102 bus out and take a little walk on the periphery at Chingford.
Somehow or other I’d get back into town and take a look at the Olympic Park. It’s the ruins of the future: all of those stadiums and pavilions are going to be cracked and stalled and warped; in a few years Zaha Hadid’s fantastic swimming centre will look like your garden furniture that you’ve left out for too long in the rain.
I’d head to Borough for lunch at Manze’s Eel & Pie on Tower Bridge Road – it still has its original 1880s interior and marble topped tables. I’d have a glass of dandelion and burdock, eel pie and liquor – the full Monty.
Then I think I’d go and have a nap in the Strand Continental hotel next to Somerset House. I’ve always been meaning to stay there. I love the idea of checking into a hotel for what the French call a cinq à sept, when you see your mistress from five to seven – I’d just like a kind of trois à cinq by myself, frankly. I like the sort of weird feeling you get of sleeping in a place that’s not your home when you’re in your own town.
At five o’clock, I’d follow a commuter home, rather in the spirit that I took the 102 bus to the end of the line. I would pick somebody at random outside the Strand Continental, somebody at the Aldwych, and follow them – not in a creepy way, just for a strange thing to do, and very much celebrating Edgar Allan Poe’s famous story “The Man of the Crowd”. A lot about being in cities is about feeling your identity is part of a collective, so I think it would be interesting to take that to an extreme.
If I’ve still got time after I’ve followed somebody home, I might pitch up to the Royal Opera House to pick up a returned ticket. I love the opera. What’s not to love? Singing, music, extravagance.
Will Self’s latest novel, ‘Umbrella’, will be published by Bloomsbury in August