Since I gave up dating, there have been few weekend evenings when I have been without my son and without a plan. Often I am so exhausted after a week of work and single parenting that all I really feel like doing is opening a bottle of wine, finding some romance film from a decade ago and sinking into the sofa.
Evenings spent like this always make me feel guilty. Most mothers dream of being able to go out one night every weekend. My ex, Cygnet’s father, will always be really difficult to deal with, so I have to make the most of the free babysitter benefits of my co-parenting relationship.
On Saturday night I went to the Newport Street Gallery near Vauxhall in London.
I’ve always loved Vauxhall. I am probably the only one. It has a certain unpretentious edge to it. There is a large Portuguese community near Vauxhall and some great Portuguese tapas bars. I came out of the train station, walked over the footbridge and along Vauxhall Embankment towards Lambeth Bridge. Under the train arches in Vauxhall is a moped shop, some kitchen and tile shops and two or three gay saunas. “Strictly over 21” the sign says authoritatively. This part of London is almost empty as I walked past it at 8pm on a Saturday night; the tile and moped shops have closed; it is too early for the clubbers. At 7am on a Sunday morning it will just be starting to get quieter again after a busy and thrusting night.
I turned off the main road and ducked into the housing estates. These housing estates haven’t changed one bit in the decade that I have been walking through them. The pubs are the same. The clientele the same. There is a new plant stall at the cross-roads. The plants were being watered in the Saturday evening drizzle. I walked past the cheapest cobblers I have ever found in London. This is the cobbler who once cheekily suggested that it was time that I replaced the boots that he was about to re-heal for the fourth time.
As I walked through the estate on Saturday evening, I wondered about the fire safety of the tower blocks.
The Newport Street Gallery itself is a little pretentious, but then modern art is a little pretentious. Artwork and installations like this will never be universally popular, but then that is kind of the point. Inside the gallery is white, sterile and calming. Handover of Cygnet to his father on Saturday evening was tense and in the large white expanses of the Newport Street Gallery my breathing finally eased.
I sat in Pharmacy2, the restaurant and bar decked out as a drugs store like Damien Hirst’s work Pharmacy. It was almost empty, but that’s no surprise because the Newport Street Gallery is a little off the beaten track. I sipped a glass of the house white and then a second.
To my left at the bar were three French men and a woman. If I suspended reality for a minute, I could turn back time a couple of decades back to my summer as a student in Paris. Their language and accent was sophisticated and intoxicating.
To my right a man and a woman shared a table. They knew each other well, and their conversation was relaxed, close and friendly. They may have been romantically involved, but from their body language I wasn’t sure. The sexual tension of early dating was not there. Their relationship was one of companionship and ease.
As I sat there with my laptop and my wine for company I was not sure whether I am incredibly lucky to be able to indulge in a bit of solitude, or sadly unlucky to have no option but to go to the Newport Street Gallery alone. I am guess I am both incredibly lucky and sadly unlucky.