It was only some time after we left the occult bookshop that
we realised we were lost.

The London streets were busy, the clientele of popular pubs spilling out onto
the pavements with a genial Friday Night atmosphere. A crisp wind seethed through
scaffolding, round unexpected corners and up little side streets with odd
names. We had to catch a train, we had
to find our way down to the river and Blackfriars. It should be easy. We knew
all these streets, all their names – and yet we couldn’t connect them together
in a coherent plan. Frequently, we stopped and consulted a vague little
streetmap which managed, each time, to leave us with less clue than before.
Finally, I had recourse to the compass on my rapidly-dying phone. Yes, that was
it. We were travelling in precisely the wrong direction.

It had not begun like this. A day devoted to the British
Museum, a slow walk round one of the exhibitions – ‘Living with the Gods’; after
that, gradually being enticed, then swallowed whole, by the endlessly
fascinating galleries – oh yes, it was like a scene from my own novel, The
Compact. Into Ur of Chaldees, the Jericho cave, Assyria, Knossos and the bull
leapers … And then, dusk had fallen and we were on our way to find a place to
eat; and as an afterthought, to seek out a certain little antiquities shop and
of course, the celebrated Atlantis Bookshop in Museum Street. The Atlantis Bookshop
was a favourite haunt of Aleister Crowley’s. Gerald Gardner used to hold
meetings of his own coven in the basement. And it is the most home-like,
enchanting and tingly of places, lined with the kind of books to make a Mr
Norrell pine (he would undoubtedly send out Childermass to buy them all up).
The atmosphere in there is rich and intriguing. It seemed to accompany us down
the street when we left. Or perhaps it was Mr Crowley and Mr Gardner seeing us
firmly off the premises.

Whatever the reason, once we stepped into the streets, we entered an unaccountable labyrinth. We
managed to spend a lopsided, disorientating hour wandering to and fro, our composite
thirty or more years of London residence set utterly at naught. Chancery Lane
Station kept looming up at us while somewhere behind us, poor Miss Flite from Bleak House seemed to
rustle the useless litter of papers in her reticule. Oh, London is full of
ghosts all right – real ones and literary ones. It was all slightly strange and
very delicious. Thank goodness for Nando’s.