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Magic returning: West and East

For over 25 years on and off, I have played with the masks of London Town; like the old roaring boys I recognise many of them, though there are always more. This weekend has been about attempting to find magic again. So I rode west and I rode east, contrariwise cos that's the way of fairy; and I made me way to Strawberry Hill House at Twickenham and Dennis Severs House at Spitalfields.

Strawberry Hill House shines in the sun like a giant mutant wedding cake rising above the trees. I learned a new word there, beneath its confectionery turrets:Sharawaggi, from the Chinese meaning 'A want of symmetry.' Horace Walpole, a thin tall boy with eyes like a lemur and England's first PM for a dad, had no interest in the adulation of classical architecture common among 18th century cognoscenti. He wanted a gothic castle that turned in on itself and span off into little corridors and idiosyncratic rooms, some sparkling with colour, others evoking what he called 'gloomth' - gloom and warmth. The house stimulated his imagination. One night, his dreams included a huge mailed fist, and he woke to write 'The Castle of Otranto'. I've never read it, but have heard dubious reviews. Who cares? When we left, I felt Horace's eyes smiling at us. After all, his home sits sparkling right on the edge of the Dreamlands. I trust and hope he is the happiest of haunters.

Today I went East, back to Liverpool Street and Spitalfields, where members of the public were being introduced to the tango. I made my way to Dennis Severs house. Now this is difficult, because it was real, liminal, into-the-story-proper magic, and I heartily recommend it. But magic talked about is magic dwindled, so I will be careful, because it is a kind of spell many of my friends would love. The nearest I can come to describing it would be to evoke Alice in Wonderland meets Cthulhu by Gaslight with added Gaiman. But that's just one tiny way of looking at it. Part of the enchantment may rely on the magic lanterns/varee boxes; there is one in each room.

It woke me up. I began to feel stories around me again, a kind of muffled disconnection shifting, like popping ones ears after a plane flight, or the sense of suddenly hearing again after the silence of burst eardrums. And this is something that even the delights of gardening or charity work doesn't do; this is the edge of the magic, and it is part of me. I like it.

Back at Spitalfields, streets up from Hawksmoor's Christchurch and the Ten Bells. What is it about that end of town?



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