IF you walked down Lyme Street last week you would have seen a ‘to let’ sign (below, right) at the very spot Nelson Mandela stopped at in Camden Town ten years ago. If you’re short of a Mandela anecdote or two, rustle up your deposits, you could tell your friends that you live in a house which has a doorstep that Nelson Mandela once stood on. You’d get 20 likes on Facebook for that alone.
It has been a week of sharing recollections of Mandela’s visits to London. Some have been proud tweets about the tiny glimpses people stole while waiting for him in Brixton, Haringey or Trafalgar Square. Others have been longer tales from self-congratulating veteran journalists who have almost invited us to look back on their own wonderful careers while assessing the former South African president’s life at the same time. Humble or pompous in the telling, it doesn’t really matter. Who would be miserly enough to skewer the excitement people felt from sharing the same air, even briefly, with the master of reconciliation and a true hero of the 20th century?
My old colleague Joel Taylor, now at the Metro, and certainly not self-congratulatory, writes on his blog about how his mere presence in Camden Town in 2003, just the sight of him raising his arm, was enough to tingle spines. The crowd dance and cheered Mandela’s name, Joel writes, before explaining of his regret that he didn’t get former Mayor Nash Ali the mantelpiece picture he wanted. In the group photos you can see people who only had seconds in Mandela’s company that day but mark it down as one of their proudest life moments. No wonder they wanted to share them all over again, again and again, this week.
The scene in Lyme Street, a short road behind the canal where Mandela pulled back a little curtain to reveal a blue plaque for Joe Slovo and Ruth First, is almost like a mirage now. The pictures are vital, acting like pins, pricking us with reassurance that someone magical really did once walk this way.