It was not a quiet route, the path past the high tower wherein lived a young lady who had never seen the world.
On the contrary, it was described by Tennyson, in his poem telling her tale, as a veritable highway.
The Lady Of Shallot watched the reflections of the shiftless currents of a restless river. She used to track the yokels as they meandered with questionable intent towards Camelot.
And with a daughter of almost 12, my heart swells for her as I hear how she loved to watch the market girls in their red cloaks, going about a daily routine, a vivid part of the common world she was never destined to join.
Groups of giggling girls, pairs of knights, funerary processions, solitary clergyman: all human life walked along that road to Camelot.
And she saw it all from far above, almost with a birds eye view, detached. She could see the schemes of things: too bad she could never be part of them.
When I hear of her plight I am always torn. Because I grieve for a fresh young soul who would never know the warmth of human companionship. But part of me yearns for the whole picture that tower would bring.
You have to be a little detached to see the whole picture. The French Aerostatic Corps knew that, when they launched the first observation balloon in the dying days of the 18th century. Those prototypes were to presage a long history of sending people away from the action, up high in the air, to view the effectiveness of their actions and the tactics of the opposition.
They were used in the American Civil War, the second Boer War, the First World War and even the Cold War.There were even military daredevils trained to shoot them down and collect their pelts. A vantage point like that: it was a valuable source of wisdom.
But sometimes, being high isn’t about gaining advantage, but about gaining perspective.
Phil, Maddie, Felix and I have been in London all day, scurrying about with a packed agenda. This morning we headed for the Tower – we’ve never seen the Crown Jewels- and this afternoon was devoted to the London Transport Museum.
By five we were tired and headed for a favourite hotel: a very tall one indeed.
Tennyson’s Lady would love it. We are on the eleventh floor, overlooking the WestWay, one of the main roads out of town towards the West.
It is not a salubrious, manicured part of town. It has its yokels and its market girls, it’s clergymen and its knights. The London buses come and go in a ceaseless cycle and police cars wail out of the high profile police station opposite, now and then.
But it has its magic. I sit here for all the world like The Lady, without a mirror: hunched delightedly at the huge picture window on this eleventh floor.
The very ordinariness of the neon shop signs becomes magical up here above the noise and din of late-night life. The streets are still busy and the tube station never sleeps. The car lights twinkle and I remark tiny details of the scene before me: a nocturnal child dangling their legs from the bus-stop seats; the ever-lit offices of the police station; the way the traffic bunches and disperses.
All human life is there. The city will quiet, but it will not sleep. And here I sit, completely uninvolved, watching a scene as intricate as life itself -but idealised.
I know I will have to come down: there’s no Lancelot for me, but a full life just eleven floors away.
But I don’t have to come down just yet. A few more precious hours.