Suzi Feay is the tenth writer in the My London series. She was literary editor of The Independent for eleven years. She is a writer and critic on a wide range of subjects.

London is being dug up at the moment in one of those great swathes of redevelopment that happen once or twice a century (Blitz; Bazalgette; the Great Fire). Hoardings around the Crossrail sites boast that passengers will soon be able to traverse London in twenty minutes. Whatever happened to going into London?

Whole blocks round Soho and Smithfield are being razed, temporarily flat and open as the fields they once were. The gaps ache like a lost tooth, yet it’s often curiously hard to recall the actual buildings that have been ripped out; in all likelihood neither Art Deco gem nor slice of Ruskin Gothic but a drab Seventies high-rise. Not they are without their melancholy charm.

The ramshackle old Foyles bookshop is no more, Tin Pan Alley has gone. My London is as much about what has vanished as what remains. This is a city of ghosts. In Covent Garden, among the Prets and Patisserie Valeries, traces of the past linger in the alleyways where Lord Rochester commissioned his heavies to duff up Dryden and members of the Hellfire Club staggered spewing into the dawn.

Some places should resonate but instead are dead zones, spaces that just don’t work – could it be feng shui? Leicester Square’s latest revamp is hopeless, but it is charming to recall that Shelley was once found curled up by the railings in the middle of the night, having sleepwalked from Poland Street. The keenest psychogeographer would find it hard to sniff out, be- neath the bland redevelopment around St Paul’s, echoes of the bookshops which clustered there in the eighteenth century, where Joseph Johnson hosted Mary Wollstonecraft, Tom Paine and William Godwin at intellectual suppers to discuss the progress of the French Revolution.

As a reverse ghost, stepping back in time rather than forward, I’d have liked to visit the vast mansions which once lined the south side of the Strand: Bedford, Northumberland, Arundel and especially York House, whose ornate watergate stands high and dry in Embankment Gardens. This lone survivor marks both the original northern bank of the river and the status of its original owner, George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham (whose pretty face and splendid legs can be appreciated in the nearby National Portrait Gallery).

But one’s own life quickly becomes history too. In our house the local Turkish supermarket is always referred to as Karizma (‘I’m just going to Karizma for some houmous’), which must be mystifying to anyone who doesn’t remember its previous incarnation as a cocktail bar. Present-day Spitalfields is barely recognisable as the brick wasteland of empty streets I remember when joining a Jack the Ripper walking tour two decades ago. A few curious Bangladeshi children stared at our group as we peered into lonely yards and doorways where the guts, blood and sinister chalked mes- sages seemed only just to have been cleaned up. Dan Cruikshank, Jocasta Innes and Gilbert and George were presumably lurking somewhere around, but full cappuccinification was years away.

As Elizabeth Bishop maintained: ‘The art of losing isn’t hard to master.’ Like her I lost one ‘loved house’, in St Pancras Way, tall, thin late Georgian or early Victorian, one step up from a squat. We used to climb out on to the flat roof and sunbathe topless, hidden behind the parapet but perfectly visible to the office block which overlooked us. The whole terrace went; I think it became a car park. But we lose all our houses, even the ones that aren’t demolished. I felt a pang recently on bussing it past my first flat to see that after fifteen years our custom-fitted Venetian blinds had finally been taken down, no doubt still with flakes of our skin embedded in its metal slots. The nearby shop (what is it with me and ethnic supermarkets?) went by the marvellous oxymoron Vital Delicacy.

The lost rivers haunt London, sometimes literally. Reports of ghost sight- ings string out over hidden waterways. Who would not be delighted to learn that their local river is called the Quaggy? In a shadowy pub garden I told a friend about my first glimpse of the name on a pub sign, ‘The Quaggy Duck’. I assumed this referred to a sub-type of the bird, rather like a ruddy duck, until I saw an info-board at Lewisham station where the Quaggy converges with the Ravensbourne (a new Canary Wharf-type development is currently rising over what is to be called ‘Confluence Place’). A man at a nearby table got up to leave, observing mysteriously as he passed by, ‘There never was a pub called The Quaggy Duck in Lee High Road.’

We each live in our villages, and we share the West End. This for me is the site of erotic London, by which I don’t mean those few diminishing sordid streets in Soho, but the personal acetate of desperation and desire which overlays the everyday A-Z. Snatched kisses in the Coal Hole pub; hands clutched on station forecourts; grazing and gazing on the grass in Embankment Gardens, in front of a memorial tablet which read ‘Fideliter, Feliciter’ – unprophetic words. One encounter with a fascinating stranger on the Tower Bridge walkway, high above the river, later came to seem ridiculously ill-starred; no good could ever come from a relationship begun neither on land nor in the air, poised between north and south and over run- ning water. ‘What malevolent Undine did I offend?’ as I put it in a poem.

If London is a map sprinkled with kisses, there are also the darker spots, places of betrayal and bitter revelation. Stood up at Embankment station, for years I couldn’t use it without a pang. After the breakup, what to do with all those shared spaces, now forever tainted? I once imagined portioning out London as, in the old days, separating couples would wrangle over ownership of CDs and books. It’s the best list of ‘my London’ I can come up with.

The Partition

Because I don’t want to see your face
The map of London I’ll retrace.
Down the Thames I throw my line
All along the Strand is mine
On High Holborn and Fleet Street
You shall never press your feet
I claim the parks, Regent and Hyde
With Ravenscourt be satisfied.
The Westway I concede to you
The Euston Road for passing through
Acton, Barons Court and Chiswick
Fulham, Chelsea, Garden Physick,
Notting Hill and Holland Park
In daytime; all mine after dark.
The City, Borough, Bermondsey,
Canary Wharf – belong to me.
Soho’s streets we must re-order
I’ll take Berwick, Greek and Wardour.
Squares Portman, Berkeley, Manchester,
Russell, Belgrave, Grosvenor…
Hampstead heights and Greenwich reaches
Thames’s tideways, city beaches,
Southern steps of all the bridges.
Camden is forbidden land,
From Victoria you’re banned,
Our secret dens are mine alone,
For I loved more. Halt and begone.
If you complain you have the smaller share
Of places you can show your hat –
I say: you should have thought of that.

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