Category Archives: Geography

On the bottom of the world

Today marks one hundred years since Roald Amundsen’s expedition reached the South Pole, winning the Race to the Pole and achieving one of the major goals of the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.

Look at this guy!

And heroic it was. There is no environment quite so barren and hostile to human life as the Antarctic. The name literally means “place where there are no polar bears,” so that’s one hazard you don’t have to worry about. There are penguins, though, which survive in the seas around the continent due to their evolutionary adaptations and the fact that they are funny. The continent itself, Antarctica, is the coldest and, perversely given the fact that it’s covered in ice and snow, the driest place on Earth. The phrase “water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink” was never more apt. Despite many expeditions south, the continent wasn’t even seen until 1820 and it wasn’t until more than seventy years later that it was considered worth exploring.

The impetus for the Heroic Age of Antarctic Expedition came from London, specifically Professor John Murray of the Royal Geographical Society, who suggested that an exploration of the forbidding continent would be a great boon to science. His suggestion was taken up in 1895 at the Sixth International Geographical Congress, also in London (I have to justify this entry in a London blog somehow) and in 1897 the Belgian Antarctic Expedition under Adrien de Gerlache made the first serious attempt at achieving this.

The RRS Discovery, trapped in ice

Attempting a trip to the Pole with Victorian and Edwardian equipment was about the manliest thing you could do short of beating a bear to death with your penis (which, as mentioned earlier, was impossible in the Antarctic). So it’s a testament to human endeavour that there were so many expeditions over the following decades. Each one added a little more to the sum of human knowledge, both in terms of our understanding of this alien terrain and in terms of our ability to survive in such an environment. Meanwhile, they braved such hazards as hypothermia, extreme frostbite, starvation and the ever-present risk of being trapped by ice (several ships were lost in this fashion, and Captain Scott’s Discovery was frozen in for two years before being freed by dynamite and a fortunate thaw).

The Pole was one of the ultimate goals, and it came as a bit of a surprise when Roald Amundsen was the one to reach it. Not least because he hadn’t told anyone that was where he was going until he was well on his way. You see, Amundsen, for all he was brave and ingenious, was also something of a rogue. His original plan had been to reach the North Pole. However, his expedition had been held up by a lack of funds – at one point, he begged money from his own mother, claiming that it was for his studies (which makes me feel a bit less guilty about some of the things I spent my student loan on). By the time he had the money, the North Pole had already been reached.

Amundsen at the pole

Unfortunately, the South Pole wasn’t a viable goal either, for the simple reason that Captain Robert Falcon Scott of Britain was already planning such an expedition and a gentleman’s agreement was in place among the international geographic community to let him have his shot. No problem, thought Amundsen, and planned his expedition under the pretence of an Arctic voyage. Not even his men knew that they were aiming South until after they had departed, and he curtly informed Scott by telegram that the Norwegians were coming.

In Britain, we’re often taught about the heroic failure of Scott’s expedition. But the simple fact is that, having started the race, Amundsen was the most likely choice to win it. Whereas earlier expeditions were fortified by woollies and hampers from Fortnum and Mason, Amundsen copied the survival techniques used by natives of colder climes. Not a superstitious man, he planned his journey meticulously and left nothing to chance. Thus, while all the members of Scott’s expedition perished, Amundsen succeeded admirably.

While his voyage was a great acheivement for the newly-independent nation of Norway, his success was not universally celebrated back home. You see, he had broken a gentleman’s agreement, and that was Not the Done Thing.

Expeditions continued, and still do today. Modern equipment has revolutionised polar exploration, but let’s not forget the work of those early pioneers. Anyone for a brandy?

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Filed under 19th century, 20th Century, Current events, Environment, Geography, History, Only loosely about London

The Infernal Tower

There have been some interesting proposals for London buildings over the years, from the Pyramid of Death to the scheme to rebuild the Crystal Palace so that it stood on its end. Perhaps the most significant landmark-that-never-was was the Wembley Tower.

It all started with the old Metropolitan Railway. Being a commercial enterprise, the directors of this company were naturally keen to make as much money as humanly possible. In the 1880s, though, they were already making quite a lot of money. What is a railway tycoon to do under such circumstances? If you were Edward Watkin, Chairman of the company, you simply create more traffic by making London bigger.

The idea was simple. Buy land out in the sticks where it’s cheap, miles away from London. Build a railway to it, build some houses on it and bam! You got yourself a suburb, mister. Sell the houses, there’s a goldmine for ya. You’d be amazed how much of London basically didn’t exist until people did this. Put it this way – until the 1860s, Kensington was considered to be a rural village.

Watkin was a man who liked to think big. For instance, his ultimate plan for the Metropolitan was to run trains up to Manchester and down to Paris (I forget how that one turned out). When he looked upon the route of his railway, he decided that what his grand plan needed was a selling point. Some sort of focus that would draw people to the area (and, let’s not forget, drive up the land values).

In 1889, the latest wonder of the world was the Eiffel Tower. Watkin came to the conclusion that what we needed in London was something similarly troubling to Freud, only more so. Possible sites included High Street Kensington and Gloucester Road, but eventually it was decided to purchase a 280-acre site at Wembley and develop that. Former Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone asked questions in Parliament on behalf of Watkin and was told by the committee that “although the atmosphere of London may not be so favourable to extensive views as Paris, the view would be incomparably superior.” Suck-ups.

Having been given the go-ahead, the Metropolitan Tower Committee was formed in 1890 to decide on the form this tower would take. Many exciting designs were proposed. I think my favourite was one based on the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I’m no structural engineer, but I can’t help wondering how wise it would have been to build something like the Leaning Tower, only much taller. I also like the one about the “colony of aerial vegetarians.” Gustave Eiffel himself was even approached and did initially show some interest, only to decline later on patriotic grounds (he probably heard that dis about the views in Paris).

As it happened, the final design was very similar to the Eiffel Tower, only 320 metres taller. Work started in 189e and in 1896 the park around the tower’s base was opened to the public. The tower had only reached its first stage, but hopes were high even if the structure wasn’t.

Yet already problems were being encountered – the year before, the new Chairman of the Metropolitan, John Bell, had already been convinced the whole thing was a white elephant. It turned out that the foundations couldn’t quite support all that weight on just four legs (the original design called for eight). The biggest issue of all, though, was money. It turned out that not everyone was as enthusiastic as the Parliamentary committee, and very few were willing to invest. The park itself was not the major tourist attraction Watkin had hoped for, and work ground to a halt.

In fact, the tower ended up having a detrimental effect on the Metropolitan Railway. At this time, the Great Central Railway used the Met lines to get into London, a costly move. With the construction of the Tower, the Great Central was able to say (and I’m paraphrasing here y’understand), “Oh hey, that’s cool, with all that extra traffic you’ll be getting from the Tower you won’t be able to run our little trains so we’rebuildingourownlineintoLondonbyenow,” and promptly rushed off to Marylebone.

The Tower also had something of a domino effect on Watkin’s other schemes – it was very clear, as the mostly-incomplete tower rusted away, that Watkin had maybe lost his golden touch, and so investment in his grand scheme to run trains to Paris dried up as well. The ugly monument gained such unflattering nicknames as “the London Stump” and, the name by which it is perhaps best known today, “Watkin’s Folly.”

The enterprise went bust in 1899, in 1901 Watkin himself passed away and in 1902 the whole thing was declared a health and safety hazard and closed down. In 1907 the remains were blown up and sold for scrap. Yet Watkin’s scheme was not entirely in vain – in the 1920s, when the organisers of the British Empire Exhibition were looking for somewhere to build their stadium, they discovered there was a perfectly peachy-keen area of flat ground at Wembley…

… and the rest, they say, is history.

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Filed under 19th century, 20th Century, Buildings and architecture, Geography, History, London, London Underground, Parks and gardens, Politics, Sports and Recreation, Suburbia, tourism, Transport

Give my regards to Broad Street

As regular readers will know, I’m fascinated by abandoned railway stations. Almost as fascinating, though, are the dilapidated ones, the ones that haven’t changed since some time in the early 1980s, shabby, echoey and grubby. Trains are few and far between, as are passengers. I don’t know why I love them so much, maybe it’s because such places feel undisturbed, like I have some sort of privileged access to them. Or maybe it’s just because I’m unbelievably strange and perverted.

For these reasons and more, I wish I’d had the opportunity to visit the terminus at Broad Street. Poor, poor Broad Street. If the London termini were people, Broad Street would be a pitiful drunk sitting in a bar telling everyone how he “used to be somebody.”

It started out so well. Broad Street was originally built by the cumbersomely-named East & West India Docks & Birmingham Junction Railway. The aim of this company was, as its name suggests, basically to make its fortune transporting goods from the Docklands to the London & Birmingham Railway. In this, it succeeded admirably. An early amendment was to change its name to the snappier “North London Railway.”

Commuter traffic was initially a secondary consideration for the NLR – they ran passenger trains fo’ sho’, but this was more of a “we might as well” measure than anything else.  To the surprise of the company directors, though, it turned out that their passenger trains into Fenchurch Street (run by arrangement with the London and Blackwall Railway, who owned that terminus) were very popular indeed. This despite the fact that the NLR took a ridiculously circuitous route around London before reaching Fenchurch Street, no less than 44 miles.

It was therefore decided that the NLR could afford to take a gamble on getting more direct access to the City. Particularly since the London and North Western Railway (of which the aforementioned London & Birmingham Railway was now part) offered to stump up much of the cost in exchange for use of such an extension.  The LNWR also supplied a designer, their own engineer, William Baker. The site of the new terminus was to be at the end of a branch from Kingsland, on the junction of Liverpool Street and Broad Street.

Construction was not without its difficulties. Building through crowded East London necessitated the demolition of many crowded streets – the NLR undertook to provide a cheap workers’ train from Dalston, but those forced out decided they’d rather walk and just moved to the neighbouring streets, making them yet more crowded. Excavation revealed some sort of medieval mass grave whose origins were not known – one theory had it that, as one of Bedlam’s several incarnations was nearby, this had been where its dead were buried.

Nevertheless, in 1865 the station opened. Alan A. Jackson describes the architectural style as “really rather horrid,” which I think is perhaps going a bit too far. The Illustrated London News was more charitable, describing the style as “mixed Italian.” Perhaps it is a bit over-elaborate for the size of the terminus. Oddly, we don’t know who the architect was – presumably William Baker had assistance, but from whom is unrecorded.

One ingenious feature to make the most of the very expensive land was to build the goods depot requested by the LNWR under the station, with wagons lowered by a hydraulic lift. As a result, whatever architectural merits the station may have lacked, it was undeniably an efficient use of space, taking up a mere 2½ acres in total.

The NLR nicknamed the station its “happy afterthought,” for it was immediately popular with commuters and rapidly became the third-busiest terminus in London. At the beginning of the 20th century, more than one train a minute left the station, serving such varied destinations as Richmond, Chalk Farm, Bow, Watford, Kingston, High Barnet, Kew, Potters Bar, Mansion House, Kensington Olympia and even Birmingham.

Unfortunately, this prosperity was not to last. As it turned out, the success of Broad Street was largely based on the fact that it had a monopoly on fast commuter trains. As the Tube, tram and bus networks expanded, so people turned to those instead. The NLR desperately advertised their service as “the open-air route,” but no one fell for it.

In 1911, when passenger numbers reached their lowest since the station’s opening, the LNWR decided that electrification was in order – as has been mentioned before, this was seen as terribly clean and modern. This did seem to slow the decline considerably, but services never entirely recovered.

During the Second World War, many of the East London stations were severely damaged by enemy action, and it was decided after the end of the conflict that it wasn’t worth fixing them up again. The service to Poplar (which was rather unPoplar with passengers) was cut altogether. Broad Street itself had been hit, and again, it was not considered worth repairing.

The main station building was abandoned altogether in the 1950s and replaced by a couple of smaller buildings on the concourse. Traffic at this stage was so poor that only two staff were needed for the entire terminus.

In 1963 British Railways declared their intention to close the place altogether, but were thwarted by local opinion. Instead, BR carried out what is known in railway circles as “closure by stealth,” i.e. not officially closing the station but instead making the station so useless as to render it undesirable to keep open. To this end, services were diverted or cut altogether and maintenance was cut to the bare minimum. Part of the overall roof was removed in 1967 which, as you can see above left, gave the station a half-complete look. By the 1980s, only one platform was needed to accommodate the pathetically small number of passengers. Demolition of the rest began in 1985 and final closure came in 1986.

Although the North London Railway mostly survives as part of the Overground and Docklands Light Railways, nothing remains of old Broad Street. The Broadgate Estate was built on top of it, so it couldn’t be reopened even if anyone wanted to (and they don’t).

And it showed such promise.

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Filed under 19th century, 20th Century, Buildings and architecture, East End and Docklands, Geography, History, London, London's Termini, Politics, Shoreditch, The City, Transport

Would you Adam and Eve it?

There’s a quote by P. G. Wodehouse that I think sums up my situation today. It goes thus:

I was left in no doubt as to the severity of the hangover when a cat stamped into the room.

Despite a substantial breakfast at the excellent Mike’s Café in Notting Hill (in my not inconsiderable experience, the severity of the hangover increases with the amount of time it’ll take you to get home), despite a long nap, despite having as many painkillers as is considered sensible for a person to have, it’s still with me. I choose to blame everyone except me. Particularly those damn bar staff, forcing me to buy Jägerbombs by having them there, all for sale and that.

Hold, let’s rewind and examine how I got into this situation in the first place. Along the way we will learn about some interesting bars in the West End.

You see, a friend is over from Germany, and therefore Becky B suggested a trip to the Adam and Eve in Fitzrovia. I was a little suspicious of the place (it describes itself as being based in “Noho” rather than Fitzrovia, a forced neologism that sets my teeth on edge) but was willing to bow to Becky’s recommendation. When I got there, the others were late. Curious, I asked the barman where the reserved table was. He said there was no such reservation. This was strange to me. I got a call a little later from Seb saying that they had arrived and had an entire area reserved. Now, okay, possibly the barman wasn’t aware.

However, the bar staff continued to fail to impress for the rest of the evening. One of them seemed very angry at my chums for showing up late – well, granted, it’s not great if we’re late for a reservation, but this fellow was complaining that they had turned people away because they were expecting us on time. Now, this was, I’m sorry to say, utter bollocks. The place was half empty, which for a bar off Oxford Street is amazing. If they were turning people away, that was stupid of them. And if it was really such a problem to keep the place reserved and empty, they could have un-reserved it. In either case, it’s not considered the done thing to berate your customers in such a fashion.

Another member of staff also complained to some of our chums having a smoke outside that the other staff had got the ashtrays messed up, which again is not the done thing in a customer service environment – it reflects badly on the venue as much as on any individual.

The place stopped serving at 10.30. This is strikingly early for a pub, particularly in the West End, but it’s their venue I suppose. Except that one of our party went up to get a round of drinks at 10.20 and was told that he couldn’t. When we went to investigate this strange state of affairs, for we had received no indication of last orders, the barman (the same one who told me they didn’t have our reservation) said, and I quote, “What’s in it for us if we do serve another round?” The correct answer to such an insolent question from a bartender is, “By god, you whelp of a diseased whore, I don’t know whether I’m more inclined to whip you for your impertinence or your master for his negligence, you will fetch me my drink or feel the toe of my boot up your backside!” but I restrained myself.

We did, with no end of complaints from the staff, get our drinks in the end. If it was really such an issue, they should simply have not served us. To serve us and complain and give us lip is quite beyond the pale. In conclusion, the Adam and Eve is shit.

Fortunately, Becky had an ace up her sleeve, and we went on to a basement cocktail bar on Rathbone Place rejoicing in the unusual name of Bourne and Hollingsworth. This was much more up my street. It’s a small venue, the preferred term I think is “intimate,” and the decor is very eclectic. More than one reviewer (and a member of our party) described it as being “like your grandmother’s house.” How they know what my grandmother’s house looks like is a mystery to me. The cocktail menu was superb, I am told by my cocktail-drinking friends. I stuck to beer myself. It did suffer from that cocktail bar disease of charging the price of a pint for a bottle, but the selection of lagers was suitably offbeat without being controversial. Oh, and kudos to the DJ for his taste in retro music.

When this place closed, Becky once more led the way – this time to an utterly charming place on Charing Cross Road, a members-only theatre bar known as the Phoenix Artist’s Club. I fell in love with the place instantly, it’s a proper boho old-school West End boozer. I’d love to say something meaningful about it, but by the end of the night I was utterly trashed and dancing like a twat. I should apologise to everyone who was forced to listen to me singing along to ‘Stars,’ as I recall my justification at the time was that Les Miserables is fucking awesome.” 

When the bar closed, the survivors staggered through the ruins of the Gay Pride event to get a cab back to Becky’s place in Notting Hill. I forget exactly how things ended, although I did wake on the floor, staring at a bra (I don’t think it was mine). Hungover as all hell, we grabbed breakfast at Mike’s Café on Blenheim Crescent. Mike’s is an extremely old-skool place that offers a very hearty breakfast at a very reasonable price – I accessorised mine with one of their gorgeous milkshakes. With Notting Hill increasingly falling prey to chains, it’s good to know you can still get something really special.

Now I’m off back to bed. Goodnight.

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Filed under Arts, Booze, Clubbing, Current events, Fitzrovia, Food, Geography, London, Notting Hill, Soho, Theatre, West End

Foulwell and Kingston-Upon-Railway

The suburbs are weird, aren’t they? I mean, by their very nature. Central London has long been a well-defined place. City walls, city gates, parish boundaries, main roads and the river have meant that for centuries the different places in London have been pretty clearly delineated. Granted, there’s the occasional dispute about, e.g., where the West End ends, and there are new places like Fitzrovia and Chinatown to contend with, but by and large you know where you are.

The suburbs, though, are different. You can’t really have suburbs until you have decent transport, so the area we now tend to think of as “suburbia” didn’t really exist until the 19th century. And I know I go on about the railways in London quite a lot, but the fact is that they were absolutely instrumental to the formation of Greater London.

For instance, take where I live – Colliers Wood. Where is Colliers Wood? It’s at the southern end of the Northern Line (incidentally, it’s a geographical irony that the Northern Line goes further south than any other Tube line). When was it founded? Well, basically, Colliers Wood-the-place didn’t exist until 1926, when the Tube station was opened. The area wasn’t exactly desolate and uninhabited, but this place as a whole was known as Merton. Colliers Wood was a local landmark that hadn’t existed for about fifty years when the Tube came along. Had the Underground station been named something different, I might well consider myself a resident of Merton Abbey, or Haydons Road, or Tooting-on-Tube.

The last may seem like a flight of fancy, but know this – there nearly was a suburb with an equally stupid name. When the London and Southampton Railway opened their station a little way south of the busy market town of Kingston, they planned to call it Kingston-upon-Railway. Because it sort-of served Kingston, but not quite. Good sense eventually prevailed, and it was renamed in 1869. The original Surbiton was a small village, also not-quite-served by the new station. However, the station and its railway line were very convenient for commuters, and so a town grew up around the station. The station was called Surbiton, so, inevitably, was the town around it. What if the station had been called something else? Would we even have a Surbiton today? Would we think of Kingston-upon-Railway as the main town, and Kingston-upon-Thames be relegated to the status of “Old Kingston” or some such?

I suspect a few of the suburbs, such as Hampton Wick, wouldn’t really be anything more than a theoretical concept were it not for their railway stations. Hampton Wick has little by way of a focal point other than its station. Certain other suburbs, lacking notability, were absorbed by others as the commuter towns expanded – Lonesome being a case in point, once a village in its own right and now just a part of Streatham.

And this brings me on to the strange case of Fulwell. Fulwell is one of those places that always feels as if it’s on the verge of vanishing, as I had cause to reflect when I went there for a party on Saturday. It’s quite old, its name may have derived from “foul well” (so good work on getting that renamed, I suppose). It doesn’t really have a high street to speak of – a few shops, but nothing to distinguish it from the outlying parts of Twickenham or Teddington, on whose borders it lies. Its major landmark is the bus garage, pictured above right, but that’s more of an obstacle than a focal point. There is a railway station, sure, but it’s an unmanned two-platform branch line affair in a back street. I’m not clear exactly where it begins and ends. I reckon that, were the station to be renamed, the town would cease to exist altogether, torn between Teddington and Twickenham. It’s usually at this point that a bunch of angry residents of the area post a huge rant in the comments section about how I’m wrong and stupid, so scroll down to skip straight to that.

Yet right next to Fulwell, but a short walk from the station, you have Hampton Hill – nothing but a high street really, yet nobody would dispute the validity of its existence. Damned if I understand the suburbs.

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Filed under 19th century, 20th Century, Geography, History, London, London Underground, Psychogeography, Suburbia, Transport

Shirley Bassey ain’t singing about this one.

Yesterday I found myself in West London, White City to be precise, in the shadow of the Westway. It is, if I’m quite honest, not the most beautiful area of the city – the Westway itself has become synonymous with psychogeographical hostility, due to the way it cuts across West London like an infected wound.

That’s not what I’m here to talk about, though, although it’s not entirely unrelated, thematically speaking. From here, and indeed from many, many vantage points on this side of the city, there’s a landmark even more visible and only slightly prettier.

The rather rubbish photo to the right depicts it- the Trellick Tower. The Tower is notoriously brutal in its design and, indeed, is one of the most famous examples of Brutalist architecture in the city.

Brutalism is perhaps the ultimate expression of architectural arrogance. It is a spin-off from Modernism, which, for all its high-falutin’ idealism concerning the revolutionising of living space, has rarely worked in the real world. The architect Erno Goldfinger, who designed the Trellick Tower, summed up the aims of Modernism thus:

Whenever space is enclosed, a spatial sensation will automatically result for persons who happen to be within it.

At this point, I think I speak for us all when I say “No shit, Sherlock.” Goldfinger then adds,

It is the artist who comprehends the social requirements of his time and is able to integrate the technical potentialities in order to shape the spaces of the future.

Thus, Goldfinger (and the other Modernists) saw their duty as something more than simply to produce places for people to live and work. Their goal was nothing less than the reshaping of society through their harnessing of space. However, at this point, I would like to retort with the Da’s opinion on architecture, which he quotes from a builder he once did some work for.

For centuries, houses have been built with four walls and a pointy roof, and there’s a good reason for that.

You see, the problem with Modernist architecture is that while it was very high-minded in its conception, it was often ill-thought-out and badly-executed. I don’t think I’ll be contradicted when I say that the result, in the 1950s-70s, was the most hated architectural movement in Britain’s history. Cutting corners during construction resulted in unsafe buildings that aged poorly. In one notorious case – pictured left – the side of Ronan Point tower block in Newham collapsed following a gas explosion. Even when the buildings stayed up, they were ugly and depressing. Concrete grew damp and grimy, corridors admitted little light and sharp corners gathered dust and litter. The psychogeographical effects are summed up by Lynsey Hanley in her excellent Estates: An Intimate History:

You can’t drift easily this way around many council estates… They are too channelled, too labyrinthine to make wandering an enjoyable experience.

Indeed. If Goldfinger and co. intended to shape people, it’s not entirely clear what they intended to shape them into. Modernist housing became synonymous with crime, poverty and hopelessness.

The Trellick Tower opened for business in 1972, and within a few years had become as notorious as any other high rise council block – indeed, its prominence made it perhaps more notorious than most. It stood out for miles, compromising not one jot with its surroundings. Tales abounded of poor maintenance, robbery and rape. Goldfinger was utterly unrepentant, observing, “I built skyscrapers for people to live in there and now they messed them up – disgusting.” What a prick.

For many people, the ugly-bastardry of Trellick Tower demanded retribution, and a popular urban legend arose that Goldfinger was actually utterly guilt-ridden by what he had unleashed on the residents of West London and jumped to his death from the Tower’s roof. Nothing but wishful thinking.

Ian Fleming, however, took things a step further. Fleming, of course, was the author of the James Bond novels, and no fan of Brutalism. If you know the Bond canon at all, you’ll no doubt have figured what happened – Fleming decided to give Bond a greedy, cheating enemy by the name of Goldfinger. Goldfinger – the real one – was a man without humour, as you may have guessed (for instance, he was known to fire assistants for cracking jokes), and Fleming’s publishers baulked at the possibility of being sued by the architect. Fleming furiously suggested that the character be renamed “Goldprick,” and the publishers figured maybe they should just go ahead and what the hell.

Oddly enough, the Trellick Tower has had something of a revival in its reputation in recent years. Following the formation of a Residents’ Association and a number of improvements, it’s become a more desirable place to live, with flats selling for an amount reported to be “heinously large” by sources (well, Wikipedia). Its distinctive shape has given it something of an iconic stature, and it’s become weirdly accepted as part of the skyline, like an old scar. It’s even been given Grade II* listing, which I don’t think anyone saw coming back in 1972. Apart from Goldfinger, perhaps.

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Filed under 20th Century, Buildings and architecture, Environment, Fashion and trends, Geography, History, Kensington, London, Notable Londoners, Psychogeography, Suburbia

Good Friday? I’ll say!

Happy Easter, chums. I hope the weekend finds you well. I am fine. At the time of writing, it’s Good Friday and I’ve just come back from a rather unexpectedly pleasant day out which was, I feel, in the true spirit of psychogeography.

I mean, it was a lovely sunny day outside, and as it was a four-day weekend, I was feeling rather chipper. I wasn’t at all sure what I wanted to do, so I thought I’d explore the canals around Limehouse a bit more. Alas, when I got to Bank, I discovered that the Docklands Light Railway wasn’t running. Yes, I know, I know, could have seen that when I started the journey, but that’s not how I roll.

So, vaguely at a loss, I decided to just go for a wander. I broke the surface (not literally) and wandered vaguely North-East through Leadenhall Market. This place, pictured right, is an absolutely gorgeous Victorian shopping arcade. During the week it houses a food market, but at weekends is rather peaceful – I have yet to sample the weekday wares, alas. You may know it from the film of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, in which it appeared as the area around Diagon Alley. I got the impression Chris Columbus was going for the Bridget Jones’ Diary school of London film making, in which London is a magical place that hasn’t quite moved out of the Victorian era.

Heading out beyond Liverpool Street, I came upon Petticoat Lane market. I’ve never been here before, and I must admit that I’d never really thought about going there before. I’d heard of it, but had no especial desire to visit. It’s not one of the top tourist destinations, and as such doesn’t cater to tourists. It’s primarily a clothing market, which is great if you are me. However, I do have to say that there’s a lot of duplication between stalls – if you’ve seen one selection of shirts, you’ve seen them all. The market has historically been a place of dubious legality, only becoming official in 1936, but despite this and the lack of tourism, it remains a firm local institution. While I wouldn’t go out of my way for it personally, it’s worth a look if, like me, you get stupidly excited about clothes.

Speaking of places where one can get stupidly excited about clothes, Brick Lane is very nearby, and so I made a beeline that way. With it being a bank holiday and thus less crowded than usual, and with the sun out, it was an utterly delightful experience. Sadly, at present, I find myself having to hold the purse strings – I’m moving house shortly, you see. And so it makes perfect sense that the universe should choose this point to taunt me with an incredible stripy blazer in black, red and grey (which I could totally pull off, I’m telling you) and a pair of Chelsea boots in exactly the style I’ve been looking for. Sadly, I could afford neither of these. Not even in the “can but shouldn’t” way. Instead, I consoled myself with a bagel, and now my fingers smell indelibly of chopped herring.

It was at this point that a teenager told me to get a haircut. I have thus out-fabuloused both the teens and the Shoreditch kids, which I believe is what is termed “bi-winning.”

This being done, I decided to finish my journey by walking up City Road to Islington. Wandering around Camden Passage, I came across one of the most amazing canes I have ever seen. It had a silver skull-shaped handle with a jawbone that doubled as a cigar cutter. But sadly it was £150, which I really, really, really cannot afford. Finally, I know the pain of unrequited love.

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