Rosemary Tonks, 46 Downshire Hill

Rosemary Tonks

My mother almost certainly misdelivered Rosemary Tonks’ newspaper when she was eight. Her brother’s large paper-round extended from Gospel Oak deep into Hampstead, and one morning when he was ill, my mother and her sister were sent out, having never done a paper-round before and with inadequate instructions; they didn’t realise the order in which the newspapers had been given to them matched the order of the address list, and so simplified the route, choosing which house got which paper at random. Downshire Hill was definitely one of the streets affected; and it seems likely that Rosemary Tonks’ banker husband, Mickie, took the Financial Times.

It was chucking it down in Hampstead when I visited (Emily was happily asleep, under the raincover in the pushchair; I could have done with a raincover myself). The house unnerved me more than the other poets’ houses I’ve seen; perhaps because the neighbourhood has changed so little since Tonks lived here, perhaps because when I lived in Golders Green the house was almost on my route into work, and I must have walked past it fifty times without noticing it, perhaps because the smallness of Tonks’ oeuvre means we can be confident that any particular poem of hers was written in one of those rooms. Across the road – you’d be able to see it from any of the front windows – is the elegant white church of St. John; round the corner is Keats’ House, which she must have walked past every time she wanted a bus or a tube.

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