13 Rivers Run Through It

Ahoy there, me hearties and warmest greetings to Londonists new and old.  Adorn yourselves with windcheaters and that tough lipsalve that comes in powder blue tubes, as we climb aboard the salty raft of the Good Ship Bluebird for this week’s tour of 3 of London’s 13 lost rivers.

I can hear the mocking giggles from here, dearest readers. 13?  Ma Bluebird been at the bottle of YoHoHo and a bottle of rum.  Again?  Poor foolish girl.  There is only one river in London and it is the one that snakes insiduously from east to west or even from west to east and which we only ever see in its televisual representation in the opening credits of Eastenders as we are too lazy to walk to the riverbank.   The Thames.  Whilst boats are female, the Thames is a hairy, furry male.  Old Father Thames launches his face out sloppily from a hardened crust of stonework down where the river turns east.  The Thames is the reason the city exists in the first place, from the day one Roman centurion lunched on Celts, scratched his brass battle helmet and thought: “Aha.  From here I can bring cocoa in from the Indies and we can make Maltesers.  World domination will be ours.”

But the Thames is, as we have pointed out, a Father.  His children are probably 13 street arab, mischievous streams that pulse and run under our city.  For you can build over a river, but a river will always be a river and it will always remain.  The 13 bastard progeny of the curly haired Daddy Thames include The Langbourne, The Wallbrook, The River Fleet, The Tyburn, The Westbourne, Counter’s Creek, Stamford Brook, River Brent, River Rom, Earl’s Sluice, The River Peck, The River Neckinger, The River Effra, The Falconbrook, The Graveney River, The Beverley Brook, Sudbrook, Hackney Brook, The River Moselle.  What wonderful words.  The River Moselle sounds like one of those floating restaurant cruises that sluice up and down the Thames nightly (“dinner and dance £60 per head river cruise…) whilst Beverley Brook sounds like a Transport for London secretary.  Most of the remaining offerings sound like public houses, but my absolute favourite has to be Earl’s Sluice.  I can’t work out whether it sounds like a racing horse or a venereal disease (Not tonight, darling.  I have a slug of earl’s sluice.  Been told to wash it in weak solution of tea tree oil and water and a dab of live yoghurt…).  No such sexual decadence for “River Brent”, however.  It smacks of office supply discount stores furniture and grey filing cabinets and muffin topped ne’er do wells bent on civic cruelty counting out the monies gained from parking permit violations.  You can only imagine the fun Dickens would have had with the name “River Neckinger”.   Oddly enough, parts of Oliver Twist, including the well-deserved violent death of Mr Bill Sykes, occur at St Saviour’s Dock, at Jacob’s Island, which is where the Neckinger met The Thames.

Where are these lost watery avenues underneath London?   Well, of all of them it is the Tyburn, the Fleet and the Walbrook that perhaps are the best known.  These are the ones I will tell you about today.  That is not because there isn’t information on the others, or that I cannot be arsed to find that information out, but rather the main three are the most interesting.  The Westbourne isn’t that interesting.   It ran through West London.  They built West London.  The covered up the Westbourne and dammed a section of it to make The Serpentine.  That is sort of the end of the story.  Counter’s Creek, which sounds like a Daphne du Maurier novel, is tiny – running only from North Kensington down to Chelsea. What interests us here at Bluebird Towers are the big players, those echoes and energies present in the history of these damned tributaries.  How do they pulse up and rupture through the paving of our modern city, and what have they ever done for us?  Souwester at an angle, rubber boots on to wander amidst the boats and trade avenues of ancient London, off we go!  Down we go beyond the sewerage system, and before the railway, into a city where the only sounds are the mewling of Roman slaves, the shoeing of recalcitrant horses, the chipchip sound of the Roman interior designer installing yet another modern villa style kitchenette and the ripple and surge and roar of the rivers.

The Walbrook runs through the old Roman City, going south from Finsbury and ending up just outside Cannon Street Station.  It was the second most important river to the Romans, after the Fleet, as it brought fresh water in and shunted waste water out towards the Thames.  The Temple of Mithras, unearthed during archeological digs in the 20th Century, was on its banks.  We do not know much of The Temple of Mithras but at Bluebird Towers it’s our educated guess that it was a nightclub dispensing dancing treats and cheese sandwiches to the higher echelons of Roman political aristocracy.   What we don’t know is what the Romans called it, as its name of “Walbrook” is Anglo Saxon, so probably got named in the 6th century AD well after the Romans had hopped it.  The Lord Mayor paid for the River Walbrook to be covered up in 1440.  But the Walbrook continues to be a hard worker. In 1860 it was incorporated into the sewer system, where leaks from the Walbrook by The Bank of England can be meted out to adjust the local water table levels when required.  Bits of it also branched off to be utilised in different areas ; a branch of the Walbrook that stretched up to Islington was used to power a lead mill as late as 1830.  The Bluebird has decided that it really should not be known as a “lost” river at all.  It isn’t lost, merely unable to see daylight for 550 years, but, like a vision of a Wellsian dystopia, toiling away under the surface of the city, working all day and all night where us inhabitants of the upper world will never see in.  Silent, stalking, resourceful river, marking out the filth, flushing through the sludge and stench, oblivious to the plague, fire, Luftwaffe bombs and capital equity funds raining down on top of it since it last saw light. In 1999, various members of “Reclaim The Streets” staged an extraordinary attempt to liberate the river from the capitalist city around it by opening hydrants all along its route, perhaps in the desperate hope that some bankers might fall into it and drown.  Fascinating photos of the Walbrook can be seen from the website of intrepid underground explorer, Steve Duncan at http://www.itsnicethat.com/articles/steve-duncan.

The Tyburn comes from the Fitzjohns Avenue. After that it essentially follows the route of the No 13 bus, through Swiss Cottage, St Johns Wood, skirting the Park and from there into Marylebone.  It is a narrow river, far smaller than the Fleet or the Walbrook.  An idea of its movement can be gained from Marylebone Lane, which directly follows its course.  At Gray’s Antiques Centre, at the top of South Molton Lane, tenants moving into the basement a while ago found that basement below three feet of water.  The Tyburn had gone nuts, slipping its way up from the nether world.  Being a very chichi antique trading depot, Grays Antiques have stated they have successfully dammed a small amount of the Tyburn in its below ground level antiques mall and instated a healthy cluster of goldfish, which you can visit yourself if you wish to see this ancient river surrounded by over-priced art deco teaspoons and grumpy, old men who repair watches.    Those interested in the Tyburn should peruse this video of Walking the Tyburn here http://www.youtube.com/watch?gl=GB&hl=en-GB&v=qspO6UtpCOg but of course, walking the Tyburn in the late 17th Century would be very different from holding a hand-held camera through the tight, classy streets of modern day Marylebone.  The recorder is less likely to have tripe in his belly, the walk is unlikely to be fettered by vast splats of horse shit under foot and the local populace are unlikely to be wearing bonnets and exhibiting herpes sores (probably).  In the early 13th century, the Tyburn was used to supply water to the local communities, but with three and half miles of leather piping, it must have tasted like the upholstery of an expensive car .  In the seventeenth century, they thought ‘Fuck it’ and moved the water supply out to Hertfordshire, whereupon the Tyburn became fetid and obligingly filled itself up with poo.

The River Fleet is the largest of these subterranean tributaries, reaching a width of 100 yards in Roman times.  If it had a Twitter hashtag it would be #ginandmoney.  I have decided it is my favourite.  The Fleet was like the M1 to the Romans – a large river, for major trade movement.  Wells were built along its banks and streams, particularly in Clerkenwell, which was so famed for its local streams (Clerk-en-well) that three gin distilleries chose to set up business there in the 17th and 18th centuries, to use Fleet water for distilling purposes.  It is dammed at Highgate Ponds and Hampstead Ponds and casts its route southwards through Camden Town and into The Thames.  (Roman enthusiasts among you will know that Boudicca met her grisly end at Battle Bridge, on the site of the modern day Kings Cross Underground Station.  Battle Bridge was a bridge over the Fleet river.)  By the end of the 13th century it was essentially a sewer, thereby following the Tyburn’s example of filling itself full of shit by about 1350.  Sir Christopher Wren’s suggestion of widening and enlivening this river were rejected in the late 17th Century.  And quickly and silently the great Roman river got annexed and cut down.  In 1737 the top half north from Holborn to Ludgate Circus was enclosed, although it took nearly 150 years to brick the whole river over.  A million of us pass over it every day and don’t know.  Check out the sloping side streets off Farringdon Street.  Many of these were once Fleet river banks.  Read the story over at The Londonist for a great description of a modern day trip down into the Fleet with a film crew, lead by senior ‘flusher’ Rob Smith : http://londonist.com/2010/08/a_trip_down_the_fleet_river.php   The river hasn’t seen daylight since Hampstead was developed in the later half of the 19th century, covering over the last portion of the Fleet in about 1870.  A commemorative tube line was to go ahead – The Fleet Line – in the 1970s, which would very roughly follow the route and end up in Fleet Street.  But then the Queen reached her Silver Jubilee, so they terminated it at Charing Cross and named it The Jubilee instead.  And that, as they say, was that.   Until of course they decided it wasn’t enough to terminate the Jubilee at Charing Cross after all, and extended it in a riot of millenial fever to North Greenwich in the late 90s.  I don’t know what the Fleet had to say about it.  The Fleet won’t stay invisible or silent.  Wait for very low tide, take the Thameswalk exit at Blackfriars Station, and look for the ladder by Blackfriars Bridge that descends into the water.  You can also hear the roar of The Fleet in front of The Coach and Horses pub in Ray Street, EC1.  Stand in front of it and listen to the power of carbon dioxide and H2O that helped make London the gin capital of the modern world.

Is it too wild to suggest that this is not a City paved with gold or built on lime so much as it is built on water?    Rather than having become obsolete, London’s lost rivers form the backbone of our modern sewage system, adapting and shifting silently under our streets, oblivious and unconcerned as to what we’re up to.  There we go, strutting, preening, agitating and endlessly stressing on the marked paved streets above over the unceasing, flow of  the ancient rivers, as they peer up at our old Empire and previous incarnations with that weary, jaded glance of a citydweller who has seen it all before.

Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this. This blog is updated every two weeks, so our next instalment will be on March 28th.  See you then!

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Up for a brew?

Monday afternoon took me to the new Bill’s on Brewer St, which takes over the site that used to be inhabitated by Zilli Fish.  Just as Zilli Fish represented the marble-topped finesse and credit card-charged dining of the 1990s in Soho, Bill’s represents the Soho that has tumbled down from the dandy, French-inspired distressed awnings of Soho in the late noughties.  When it was Zilli Fish, Freddie Mercury once set fire to the kitchen when he tried to cook chips at 4am without using chip oil.   Zilli also accidentally locked Prince Edward inside its loos.  Unfortunately, Prince Edward got out, but you can’t imagine anyone getting locked in the vast cavern of Bill’s.  We have shabbily-chic round teapots in primary colours with just a bit of scuff and tin showing through, we have a cod-Parisienne waitress with obligatory New Wave-ish short lunatic fringe and we have no varnish on the tables or the patron’s nails.  Bill’s is half storage room, half brasserie.  Great globules of garlic hang from the ceiling in a purple haze and there are six sorts of tea.

Brewer Street has always been a stubborn little darling.  Whilst the western side of Soho launched itself into fine dining splendour about twenty years ago and left sun dried tomatoes and discs of goat’s cheese spiked through with cocktail sticks onto European bread, Brewer Street stuck to it’s sticky sex-riddled guns.  It has a decidedly filthy bookshop.  It has several of those circuses of sluttery, where thin strips of silver tinsel cover the doors and DVDs within contain ominous acts involving sports accessories.   It has the brazen swimming trunk tomfoolery of “Prowler” and – until very recently – it had the left-handed shop, full of a riot of household products that were as queer as some of the bazaars in the rest of the street, with its scissors a mirror image of what we were used to, of left-handed cutlery, telephones and stationery.  It is a street that refuses to reinvent itself, possibly because it’s foundations and so very very unsavoury and so very very deep.

It is so unsavoury that, prior to the early sixteenth century, most of Soho was probably owned by The Provost and College of Eton,  which is when its assocation with gay love and spanking truly began.  As so many things were in England in the 1530s, this patch of Soho that contained Brewer Street was surrendered to the Crown.  The Crown at this time was that bovine lover of decapitation and thrilling badminton player, Henry VIII, who probably brandished a roast chicken leg high in the air, marched down Wardour Street and demanded Soho surrender – and be sharpish about it.  Then he popped into Linas for a swift cappucino and some pasta with salsa verde for that night’s supper before departing for monastery-smashing and much merry making.   In the 1570s, part of this land was leased by Thomas Poultney, who took the rent of the area one morning on his way back from Ronnie Scotts.  In the late 17th century, the canny and wry Pulteney family were granted reversionary leases of what is now more than half of Brewer Street, naming a road after themselves on the way (Great Pulteney Street) in the centre of this land.  Before the 18th century breweries moved in and gave the street its name, the area was known for homing bricklayers and kilns, and a massive rubbish damp of shit.  The massive rubbish dump of shit was in a patch of land known as Laystall Piece, in Knaves Acre, which was eventually incorporated into Brewer Street.  At some point in the late seventeenth century they cleared away the massive rubbish dump, as full of dust and forgotten London detritus as Mr Boffin’s dust mounds in Our Mutual Friend, and started building houses over it.

By the 1690s there were 130 small houses built on Windmill Fields, but these were mainly inhabitated by poor people and those who dealt in glass bottles, so the whole area was only yielding £67 a year in rent.  (Modern Day Soho Currency Converter : 4 DVDs, some poppers and a hand job.  Or, one rabbit, pearl barley and wild garlic orzotto, two grilled kid goat’s liver skewers and a decent bottle of red wine in La Bocca di Lupo).  In 1691 Sir William Poulteney dropped dead and the tenants danced on his grave and had lemonade and crisps.  Alas, the glass bottle keepers of Glasshouse Street or the victuallers setting up home on the corner weren’t a la festa for too long, because shortly afterwards the trustees of the land sold the leasehold interest of the land to a Yeoman of the Guard, and the freehold passed to the naughty, dark, merciless crown again.

A whole rash of leases were granted in around 1720 for Great Pulteney Street, all of which were supposed to adhere to the rebuilding of the City Act in 1667 which instructed how to build houses that wouldn’t burn down like they did in the Great Fire.  This included having gutters that were not made of straw and trying not to set fire to your own feet.   The majority of these leases were in fact not taken by brewers but by carpenters. In 1721 Pulteney hit the jackpot, when the Crown granted him the Freehold of the Estate and he celebrated by an evening in Raymond’s RevueBar which the eldest ladies of the world’s oldest profession still remember with fondness.

If prostitution is the world’s oldest profession, we cannot imagine that beer brewing was very far behind it.  By 1700 Brewer Street’s two main brewery houses (now demolished) were in business; Ayres’s Brewery and Davis’s.  But the most interesting building in the street at the time was undoubtedly Hickford’s Rooms (which stands on the modern site of The Crown pub).  Hickford’s fame was at its height in the mid-1700s, when it was, astonishingly, the only concert room of any note in the West End.  The high water mark of it’s cultural and musical history was in May 1765, when a 9 year old Mozart gave a recital with his sister,  which Hickford’s advertised at five-shillings a ticket:

‘For the Benefit of Miss MOZART of Thirteen, and Master MOZART of Eight [sic] Years of Age, Prodigies of Nature. HICKFORD’S Great Room in Brewer Street, Monday, May 13 will be A CONCERT of MUSIC With all the OVERTURES of this little Boy’s own Composition’.

But alas, some cow called Mrs Cornely opened her own concert rooms in Soho Square, and it was the beginning of a decline in Hickford’s popularity.  Success in showbusiness is only assured if you can claim you’re the only person in your field of speciality playing the halls in your district.  Once Mrs Cornely entered the picture with her violin-playing ladies, spinning plates, folding dogs and performing dwarfs, the kid Mozart didn’t stand a chance.  Hickford’s tried operatics, pantomime, lectures, poetry readings and miniature theatre but eventually the landlord ran away and did a bunk in 1791.  He was last seen in Bar Italia, raging about the 1780 window tax bill after three espressos.  The concert hall was turned into a school for a short period in the 19th century but then, in a move that angered architectural historians, it was mown down to be incorporated into the Regent Palace Hotel in 1934.

The history of Brewer Street in the nineteenth and twentieth century reads like a hymn to the marriage of commercialism and filth.  At some point the brewers and the glass and brickmakers were usurped by specialist cinemas, open doors leading to linoleum covered stairs and goodness knows what pleasures at the top of them, cheap barbers and possibly London’s worst ever Italian restaurant (La Perla).  But Brewer Street has had a backwards glance to its fertile history.  Mrs Kibble’s Olde Fashioned Sweete Shoppe with it’s propensity of unnecessary “e”s in the title, acts as a prim, Georgian fantasy of an ancient London confectioners, all curved, ancient windowpanes and gummy sweets in large glass jars.  The delightful Lina Stores erupts like a 1950s dream of Italiana in eau-de-nil tiles and baskets overflowing with panettone. Randall & Aubin is a burst of Edwardiana, a riot of oysters, belle epoque half light and post-theatre champagne bubbles.  The DVD shops remain, despite DVDs becoming more or less obsolete.  The devastating twinkle of the lightbulbs into Green’s Court herald a deeper, darker sort of Soho lechery and perhaps, behind the purple velvet drapes and the Lithuanian door dolly, a sideways glance offers Sir William Pulteney himself, walking graciously towards Wardour Street, winking at the models whose eyes pore through the window of ‘Prowler’ and marvelling on what a man can do with one lonely 16th century farm and a massive rubbish dump.

Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this.  This blog is updated every other Thursday, so our next update will be 14th March. 

Chelsea Buns

Hold my hand and let’s swing westwards.  Over, past the Palace of Westminster and down towards where the river does a cheeky little loop.  Stop there.  Yes, just by Peter Jones.  For this is Sloane Square, the gateway to Chelsea, London’s most stalwart and distinguished rich borough.  Here we find much beauty – some exceedingly pretty leaded windows in tall thin houses overlooking the Thames at Cheyne Walk, the pale, white lampposts overlooking the Thames that flush beautiful shapes over the river, and swathes of rich Russians in vast cars honking their horns and schlepping down the Kings Road with sturdy looking girlfriends who have shoulders like Ukraine shotputters.

Here the chavtastic characteristics of this most exclusive borough were so vulgar that someone turned it into a TV programme.  One can only imagine what James Whistler would say.  Well, he wouldn’t say anything, obviously, he’d just paint it.  But there was no chavvy behaviour in Chelsea in the 1870s, which is why you will never see a Whistler painting that depicts a yellow sports car trying to reverse park outside Peter Jones.  Thomas Carlyle, George Meredith, Algernon Swinburne and Jonathan Swift are just some of the high profile artists and writers who found Chelsea the ideal neighbourhood in the mid-late 19th Century, for thinking and writing.   Even then you needed quite a lot of the green stuff to live there.  There are some who see the decline of the inventiveness and style of areas in London that are super-rich sub-villages as a direct result of gentrification.  Well, you can’t throw that accusation at Chelsea.  It’s been gentrified since about 1650.  Although it is a bastion of upper middle class Englishness I wonder what it has, in the last 15 years, lost.  The same could be said of the bit in Notting Hill that elbows against Holland Park Avenue, as detailed in last night’s “The Story of Our Streets”, which focused on the bankers-hellhole-financial-ghetto blank blandness that is present-day Portland Road, W11. 

Unsurprisingly, the programme showed Portland Road to be a dissolute riot of primal gluttony.  Chunks of West London have deteriorated into virtual communities where the post office becomes a shop selling vintage vases and the grocery shop becomes a shop that contains something no one understands but where every item costs £100,000.  The anaemia of these communities is inevitable and faintly depressing.  This has been happening in Chelsea for a longer, more sustained period.  I am not one of those people who romance the torrid slums of yesteryear by excusing it on the basis that writers, artists and poets were able to live there.  A slum is a slum, and therefore a disgrace.  The tendency to romanticise poverty is a nasty, unpleasant middle class habit.  Whilst the blandness of these heavily antiseptic, lonely and increasingly quiet rows of bankers villas do change an area, it is important to note that whilst the artists and writers cannot afford to live there anymore, they do, in fact still live there.  What are the artists and writers like who still live in SW3 and W11?

Perhaps if there are any, they’re like Carlos.  Carlos lives in Mayfair.  He spends most of his days in Avery Row, and creates and exhibits photography in galleries all over London (four this summer, two in his native Mayfair).  He is a fixture in the area.  Like the well-heeled residents of Chelsea, he is also indicative of a long-standing London residential tradition : Carlos has no home and lives on the streets outside the office where I type this, and retails the Big Issue whilst condusting vast acrobatic hand gestures and nimble body contortions.  He can ripple a copy of The Big Issue up his back without using his hands.  He pirouettes into the pathway of hassled office workers on their way back from Pret A Manger.  He smiles and jumps about trying to make people laugh.  He is an excellent travelling, self-taught photographer who uses London, amongst other cities, as his muse.  You can view his work here  (www.carlosphotography.com) .  I can only imagine that Chelsea too must have its wave of Carlos’s, as will everywhere. More and more homeless nomads are seen on London’s streets.  When we speak of residents of an area, we chose to make invisible those who do live in the area but who do not have a house.  This is an error.  They live in an area, just as anybody else. 

Yesterday afternoon I crossed the junction of Holland Park Avenue and Portland Road on my way to an appointment.  This end of Portland Road is ostentatiously referred to as the “rich end”.  Yet, there they were.  The selection of hardy perennials, with no teeth, ranting, drinking, engaging with various levels of psychosis, with clothes unchanged for the best part of ten years.  The residents, who live in the same streets, who are not referred to in any sense during the BBC’s “The Story of Our Streets” but who are residents, nonetheless.  It doesn’t matter how much money you have ; you cannot possibly afford to avoid them.  No one from the BBC crew seemed to interview them, which was a mistake : sometimes the most observing and consistent eyes that a neighbourhood can provide are those who stand on the streets all day watching, looking and noticing.  The wives of bankers getting pedicured in the Cowshed speak very much, but know astonishingly little, and one of them was so alarmingly dim I wondered whether she was all “there”.

Chelsea still has a sublime side to it.  The Albert Bridge is London’s most beautiful bridge.  The all-encompassing dark blue light on an evening in Cheyne Walk bewitches and lulls the onlooker into a placid sense of charm.  Westbourne Grove will never be anything but a lovely fun place to lunch and shop, full of wonderful architecture and boho bourgeois eateries. But whilst the neighbouring areas of Kensington and Holland Park have retained their luminescent style and sedate West London manner, Notting Hill has begun to go the way of Chelsea.  Chelsea has been plucked out of itself and re-created, into Made in Chelsea, an ignoble, tarnished, sheep dip of a programme which shows SW3 as nothing more than a riot of consumer vulgarity and narcissism, where self-aware television producers create completely un-self-aware characters in order for the masses to have a jolly good laugh when – frankly – they ought to be doing something sensible and more life affirming – like reading a book, or running and bath and then slowly drowning themselves.  Might it turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy?  Surely the evidence suggests that Chelsea couldn’t be more chavvy if it tried, with its plethora of enormous white cars like fridges on wheels, harnessed by stroppy looking Russians and their miserable botoxed girlfriends, ropily bombing up to Peter Jones for more Smeg items and a new flat screen telly.  When did Chelsea lose it’s mojo? 

Holland Park is still delightful.  The roads that run off to the west of Holland Park towards Notting Hill, pastJulie’s, are some of the prettiest in London.  The roads that run out east back towards Kensington sigh and sink into nameless, soundless money.  They maintain their Edwardian grandeur; and the ornate carvings of red brick mansion blocks point up to the skyline with something like grace.  But Chelsea seems to be riding itself into a charmless and sticky grave.  It is uptight and overly pruned.  One wonders if Thomas Carlyle would find the headspace to think anything at all if he tried to write in Chelsea today. What would Whistler choose to paint?  Streets with signs of no human activity, where no one is in from 5am to 8pm and where the paranoid bankers blinds are fully drawn?  There’s only so much a pastel painted, former workman’s cottage can ever be worth, surely?  As the houses of West London vault and soar up beyond the £10million mark, what exactly is being bought into?  Bah – enough futility.  It isn’t interesting.  What is interesting is that innovation, interest and artistry can never be truly dampened.  It’s down to the irrepressibly artistic fervour of the Carlos’s to maintain the balance.  It’s humbling to realise that in a community filled to the brim with excessively rich people those who give the most to fellow human beings in an aesthetic sense are those who have so little in the first place. 

Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this.  This blog is updated every Thursday.

Looking Up and Looking Down

Thanks to the sum total of Aer Lingus and the BBC, I’ve seen London from the skies and London from subterranean basements this week.  One of the strange things about flying in to London from the West is that the Heathrow flight path double backs on itself, sending aeroplanes way over East London, before turning a tourist-friendly loop which flips back over Canary Wharf, over the Thames, through the City of London and then onto West London and down into Heathrow.

The worst thing about this is realising how ugly the O2 Arena looks, and how it sticks up like a municipal sore thumb on the Thames’s bruised south side, a vast cereal bowl which a petulant child has overturned at breakfast. The only other eyesore on the cloudy horizon is the Millenium Wheel, which looks like a big Hula Hoop.  Apart from that it was just like the opening credits to Eastenders.  You know when you’re moving towards West London, though.  You can tell because you start spotting tennis courts, and sandy-coloured chaps with receding airlines who work for estate agents, and can hear the jaunty clink of Lobbs shoe on Holland Park stone. 

In the cabin, it was as if no one had ever travelled in an aeroplane before.  “Oh LOOK!  I can see SKY!! I think that is the GROUND! THE GROUND!!!!  Wembley?  Is that Wembley?  Frank – WAKE up – look! – it’s Wembley!”  and similar enthusiasms reverberated around the aircraft’s shoddy interior. I often have fantasies where I would run out onto the wing before landing, you know, just to see if I could actually hold on and swerve down with the plane as it lands.  It would be a bit of a laugh but, then again, it was threatening to do that aged 8 that was probably a contributing factor to my lifelong ban from the British Airways Junior Jet Club.  I loved the British Airways Junior Jet Club.  Before people worried about nutters flying planes into buildings, British Airways thought it a good idea to get youngsters touring the aeroplane facilities during flights. You could look at life jackets and find out how to use them so you didn’t die in them.  You were able to go through the hallowed portal of swish curtain and into the cockpit for the sheer glamour of meeting the captain. He was almost always called Richard or Gregory.  Then he would sign your Junior Jet Flying Pass, which was mocked up like a pretend RAF flight book, pat you on the head, wink at milady trolley dolly for a G&T and return back to trying to get us to Majorca for our hols.  Those were the days.  I used to love it – I’d go into the cockpit and shout “My Grandfather DIED flying one of these!  Can I press the buttons?”

Back on land, we went underground on BBC 2 and ended up watching “The Secret History of Our Streets”, a wonderful series which is part of BBC’s London-themed programmes designed to coincide with the Olympics.  Each week Charles Booth’s infamous map – so important to late-Victorian sociologists – of 1886 is picked apart, assessed and put back together again, bringing the street up to the present day.  All of this is done with a strangely sinister voiceover from actor Steven Mackintosh.

Last night it was the turn of the Caledonian Road, or the Cally as it is known to my husband who grew up there, and who kept pausing the programme every five minutes to show me where various episodes of his colourful youth had played out in the back streets of Kings Cross. He is a constantly renewable source of anecdotage.  He’ll always say that Kings Cross was never so bad as everyone said at all, that the prostitutes were quite nice ladies who never bothered him on an evening constitutional and then he’ll tell you something that would make your eyes pop out of your head and make you glad you were raised in Hertfordshire.  The Caledonian Road appears to be currently in the hands of a profiteer called Andrew who has bought up a vast portfolio by snapping up shops and building weird storeys on top of the Co-op, only to ask for planning permission about three years later.  One of the oddest things Andrew has done is to build flatlets into a 3,500 sq ft area beneath the Caledonian Road, which he rents out to hapless Australians and desperate waiters for £300 a week.  These strange subterranean shitholes are a mixture of bedsit squalor and Victorian working class chic.    

According to Andrew, who has dark Cypriot hair that never moves, local authority planning law dictates that whilst a kitchen need not have any windows, the bedrooms and living rooms must have enough light “to read a newspaper by”.  Andrew looks as if the only paper he has ever read was the “Racing Post” and it is hard to imagine some noble, Islington Council clerk sidling up to any of the windows in these flats to take in a reading of the “Islington Tribunal” of an evening. Because they are peculiar, damp-ridden subterranean hell holes, with horizontal slats of filthy window at the tops of the walls and a bathroom which looks as if half the wall has entirely given up the ghost and is trying to leave the building.  Andrew, though, is alarmingly chipper.  Well, he would be – he is astonishingly rich – but he is also keen for the British public to see that he is a total twat.  He conducted most of his interviews whilst weight-lifting in his blue vest showing off his fab moobs and parading down the Caledonian Road like a nonce.  Anyone who walked down the Caledonian Road that camply would usually get beaten up but the rules are different for Andrew; he owns most of it after all, not forgetting that he is entirely surrounded by an evil aura which leaves a wake of black slime behind his Bond Street loafers.  When he wasn’t walking up and down the Cally like a tart, he was popping in to see his effusive, overly-giggly “agent” who procures suckers to pay vast rents to live like dormice.  “We like people who are happy!”  said his agent, stupidly.  “We like people who aren’t going to be trouble and who are going to wait for things!” 

Yes.  Like – the law, or a washing machine – or a well overdue visit from the Council’s environmental department. Surely, it is not legal to build a mini-village under the Caledonian Road and then, perhaps, a year or two down the line ask for planning permission?  Surely Islington Council aren’t that remedial.  Oh, hang on.  I used to work for them – they are.  In my day, a bag of sweets was permanently left in the Chief Executive’s kitchen at the Town Hall, in case the increasingly loopy Deputy Leader of the Council started crying or felt weak.  There’s no saying of the idiocy of those people.  What does it feel like to have the Piccadilly Line zoom close to your head when you are asleep at night?   How magnificently stupid is it to build a kitchen with low quality plumbing close to rat infestations?  “We just want to fill them!  We just want to rent them!”  said the monochrome Andrew, stopping short of actually rubbing his hands together with glee and salivating.  Yes, dear, I felt like saying.  I am very impressed by your rabbit hutches full of poor people paying twice as much for buildings that are only half-domesticated.  But I have to go now because I’m due back in the TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY.

What next for Andrew?  Is he going to turn all of North London’s A roads into 1836-style housing?  Is he going to start wearing a bonnet and a Victorian shawl and inject some cholera for a really genuine experience?  I suppose it puts the social back into social housing if you open you bathroom door and find your neighbour from the flat next door on the loo. But this is unregulated, slightly-decriminalised, private renting.  This man makes Peter Rachman looks like Bob Geldof.    Is he going to burrow further south west and build a massive car-park-and-bedsit complex under Buckingham Palace?  Will I, the next time I go to the Underground station, find that instead of a train to Morden, Andrew is sitting there, all dreadful white teeth and camp velvet jackets, renting out tube seats at £20 a pop? 

As the Caledonian Road smartens up its southern end into European-friendly touches of coffee bars and high-end hairdressers, will the eyes of any of the visitors from Paris or Brussels end up seeing the mawkish horror of what Andrew is creating below?  Is this the right time for one of my clumsy late-Victorian parallels (of course it is) : is this another Wellsian dystopia, with Morlocks cramped downstairs (thank you Andrew) and the mad, vegan Elois of Caledonian Road hovering above and flinging flowers about?  I think it might be.  I am going to post Andrew a copy of The Time Machine so he can see by himself what he’s creating and he’ll poo his velvet britches. All I’ve got to do is put it in an envelope and address it to : “1,2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 ,16, 17, 18 ,19, 20, 21 & 22 Caledonian Road”.

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Coffee Cup Takeover

In the early 1990s there used to be an advert on television for a high street bank, where a woeful customer claimed that they had gone into their high street bank only to find that it had changed into a “trendy wine bar”.  This advert was so naff, mainly because the word “trendy” or the words “wine bar” were already obsolete and quaint by the 1990s, but it became a phrase that you could tag on to anything. “I went into the doctor’s earlier…” said Mum.  “And it had changed into a TRENDY wine bar!”  the kids would chirrup from the back seat.  “I went into the bedroom just now…and it had changed into a TRENDY WINE BAR!”.  It was supposed to articulate the sense that the UK high street was being changed beyond recognition by the first generation of booze drinking professionals, who were intent on avoiding the pie-and-pint pub and went out to get sloshed on wine instead.  Eventually, even the banks saw the silly humour and briefly resurrected the phrase in adverts not so long ago, but twenty years ago the British high street was an innocent place indeed, if the worst thing that could have happened to you when you thought you were going into Nat West was that someone would thrust a glass of chilled Chilean Rose in your hands.

Fast forward twenty years, and we can see that it was the wine bar that died.  Entertainment venues and drinking holes are closing down constantly outside the golden cocktail circle of Inner London. But the banks are everywhere.  You can’t avoid them and, God knows, I’ve tried.  They have less customer service or face-to-face communication in order to afford more branches.  The TSB used to be the “Bank that likes to say………YES!”  but having been gobbled up by Lloyds’ astute black horse, it is now the bank that likes to say “Press 1 if you want to hear your balance.  Press 2 for standing orders.  Press 3 to continue to underwrite the UK debt of this state-sponsored institution, like everyone else….”  A lot of banks liked to say YES, actually, especially in the 1980s when you could get an Enterprise Loan for funds you could then spend on fags and holidays.  It was pretty straightfoward then.  We knew the banks were the enemy, and we understood that new and imaginative means of clawing money out of them had to be found.  But now we are surrounded by chummy, sickly banks who look like they want to get into bed with us, promising Saturday opening hours in garish posters featuring leering cashiers proffering baskets of croissants, trying to be friendly by saying “Hi!”  when you ring up to complain at them, and generally winding up every single person I have ever met in this country.   The escalation of friendliness of the UK high street bank has gone hand in hand with the limitation of money, iniability to provide debts and unhelpfulness in a time of economic austerity.  I find this sinister.

The only King that can command troops enough to shove the nauseating bank out of the way is the cunning stunt of a cafe that might be called Barstucks.  Now, if the high street bank was advertising their services today it wouldn’t mention trendy wine bars.  It would be : “I went to the bank and found some Seattle bastard shoving a pint of foamed milk at me.”  A 1980s wine bar, or a UK high street financial institution is usually too fumbling and British to have dreams of global mastery or a superiority complex, but they do their jobs very efficiently. Barstrucks wants to take over the world, has a superiority complex to rival that of Naomi Campbell, knows precisely what insiduous steps to take to push itself globally forward and does all their basic jobs badly.  It’s almost as if a European has handed them a guide for how to make coffee and they have gone through it point by point and done the opposite.   They make coffee wrong.  They cannot do the only one thing a coffee shop is ethically, financially and commercially bound to do : make a decent cup of coffee.   There is little nobility in contriving to sell the British public buckets of shite in massive paper cups that contain boiling hot beverages that taste like Nescafe mixed with boiling baby milk formula.  Neither do you ricochet off the dignity scale if you hide behind a schmear of self-congratulatory “community work” involving occasionally taking coffee mugs to old age pensioner homes whilst fronting a massive global corporate shitmonster of endemic proportions.  Beans are ethically sourced, apparently, but no one mentions the people who work for slave wages to pick them.  Why the inane desire to make people drink bitter, over-roasted, scalding, unhelpful and terribly dismal beverages?  What do they think we are?  Americans?  Why say “Hello there!” chirpily and ask how my day is going?  It creeps the populace out.  Barfucks doesn’t like me.  It has no interest in how my day is going.  It likes my money.   I’m not even going to go into the bizarre grammatical lexicon of the Barfucks barista, but I can hear Samuel Johnson turning in his grave from here.

When the department stores are burnt out and even Primark can no longer function in an economic depression, some awful, aggravating barista will still be there, green uniform behind slightly sticky pale beech counter, asking if you want an extra shot with that.  Yes,  preferably with a gun too, I’d reply, before swooping over the road and ducking into a Caffe Nero – if – that is – it has survived.   Tarbucks is the most appropriate reminder of the great homogenisation of the UK high street of the last fifteen years.  Pret a Manger doesn’t begin to be quite so offensive, although their staff are a bit creepy as well.  But Garfrucks clique-y terminology, it’s crappy “Rainforest” safe wooden slats, that dubious hole into which 100 mucky wooden coffee stirrers get dumped beside the sugar and napkin stand, the old-fashioned 1990s feel of it all, these are just a few reasons why this ‘ere Bluebird is showing Sneershucks into the Room 101 of coffee emporiums.  Do you want vanilla syrup with that?

Here is this Thursday’s Bluebird pledge :  Please can all the Cartrucks be turned into trendy wine bars?  We miss those little wine bars and their air of full filofaxes, optimism and economic resurgence.  It’s just what we need.  We don’t need to go into our coffee store and be forced to read about how they’re smugly “backing youth” and random “farmers” whilst the cafe is full of out of work people keeping warm and applying for jobs online. We want to go out and have fun and giggle alot and flick our hair about and squabble over whose turn it is to buy a round of Argentinian plonk.  Then we want to take turns to re-enact Delboy’s infamous fall through the bar routine.  It’s not a night out if no one does the “falls through a bar routine”, whether intentionally or unintentionally.  We don’t want to sit about glued to some sad old laptop, with a dreary skinny muffin and a cup of coffee that tastes like gnat’s wee.  I would give 100 lattes for Cartrucks and all its poverty of grammar to be vanquished and replaced by thousands of bars called “Julie’s” or “Ginger’s” and written in pink neon swirly writing, and which would be full of robust New World wines at old style prices.  Goodbye “Hi!  How’s your day going?” and hello “My mate saw you in the corner and I know he’s had a few -right- RIGHT – but he basically really loves ya would you like to give him your number?” Yes, it would be overbearing and sexist and slightly offensive, but not nearly as offensive and vomitworthy as Warbucks on a do-gooding rampage.  Let them become trendy wine bars. Bring on the cocktail umbrellas.  We must take steps to rid ourselves of the boring glut of  Barstrucks outlets that we have allowed to trespass into our cities, nipping small businesses and independent cafes in the bud before they have had a chance to breathe.   Indeed, anything would be better – with the possible exception of more high street banks.

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Park Life

As London wheezes through another ice-strewn week, and the air hurts as it vaults down to our lungs in the mornings, focus is pulled away from our parks.  This is a shame, as the thrilling majesty of the Regents Park is never so dramatic as it is in the winter.  It gets odd in the summer, admittedly, because the Open Air Theatre gets filled with actors either in Shakespearean doublet and hose or tap shoes – or occasionally, on gala nights – both and there’s nothing so annoying as having a load of thesps hanging around one’s inner circle.  To North Londoners, it’s always just “the Park”.  In the summer, the Regents Park steps into light and is filled with ham sandwich-munching, lemonade-swilling picnickers, young lovers holding hands on benches painted as dark as the evergreens and strolling new mums launching their filled prams into the Boardwalk in the noon day sun.  Then there are the pilates practicing yoga class attendees, filled with organic oats and mung beans and looking irritatingly well, and the London University playing fields, ten men abreast, coughing and kicking some odd miss-shaped object with their feet (how do you say it, a foot – ball?).

In the winter, remove everything except the blokes kicking the mis-shaped object.

The park in the winter can be your own. Because everyone else is shut up in offices willing for the hand to turn to 5, or curled up in the warmth of home with a hot chocolate and wearing a fleece.  Only football lovers and lone walkers make the trips into the park when the plants are dead.  Only us city walkers are stoic enough to bear the shock in friend’s faces when we tell them where we are going : “The PARK?  Are you insane?  It’s minus 12.  If you don’t go out without any earmuffs, you’ll come back without any ears.”  But as dedicated city walkers will know, there is solace to be found through the inter-park winter’s nod – that half bend of the head that fellow walkers embarrassingly give to each other whilst out for a stroll in the dead rose gardens on January 29th wearing two scarves, a Christmas present leather pair of gloves, three hats and some snowboots.  We know our own kind, us winter walkers, and when amongst them I know I belong.  Which is a mighty fine thing, because I don’t think “belonging” to en masse groups has ever come naturally. I am still bruised by the mid1990s grunge years, when it became de rigeur to wear a T shirt under a shapeless sack masquerading as a strappy dress, and yours truly spent a lot of time alone, in a room, wearing red lipstick and watching Debbie Reynolds films.  I was a freak because I stylistically wanted to be a 50s throwback.  Within ten years, I was a frigging GENIUS.  A trail blazer.  Ahead of the curve.

Whoops, I’ve digressed and meandered down altogether the wrong path.  Perhaps that’s why I like the Park so much – so much opportunity for procrastination and alternation along your route.  The Regents Park as we know it was a hunting / dairy farming / Georgian bit of field until the corpulent and red-faced Prince Regent decided to build his own palace in 1811.  Before that, it was used as a hunting ground by Henry VIII who, the Royal Parks website euphemistically writes, took the park as he ” considered [it] to be an invigorating ride from Whitehall Palace”.  That is not why Henry VIII took over the Regents Park.  He took it over when he stole it from a monastery which is how he got most things.  The effusive Parks website continues in a flagrant tone that Henry ” would hardly recognise the stylish gardens and sports fields that now stand in its place “!  Well, I think perhaps he would, being a sportsman, and very fond of pinching actresses and taking them on “invigorating rides from Whitehall”.  I’m sure an afternoon of Regents Park jollities would be right up his Royal codpiece.   

The Regents Park was of course named for the Prince Regent (it was called Marylebone Park before) and his plan was to appoint John Nash to construct a wide park suitable for a kingly palace, to be approached by an intimidating and gracious tree-lined avenue.  He got his avenue (Portland Place) and he got his now famous elegant Nash terraced houses around the park, but the palace in the middle never got built.  This is because the Prince Regent was a right fatty and spent so much money on hog roasts, cakes, Maltesers and Mars bars that there was no money left to build a palace.  Therefore, walking north up Portland Place one has a sense of impending majesty in the great grandeur of one of London’s widest roads, but there’s no pay off.   No palace.   William IV, the Prince Regent’s successor, opened up the Park to the public in 1835, but only for two days a week.  I mean, you can’t let the commoners in all the time, can you?  By this point the Zoological Society of London was already in, after William IV was threatened by some giraffes and a bad-tempered lion outside John Lewis Oxford Street.  In 1829, the Zoo took up its residency.  The Royal Botanic Society got involved in the 1930s, the same decade when the stunning Queen Mary rose gardens opened – although there are also Italian and English gardens too.  Taking into consideration that the home for the US Ambassador to UK  takes up a fruity site on the south west of the park,  the Regents Park Mosque hovers on the skyline near Baker Street, there is a not-too-big-to-be-scary boating lake and the Open Air Theatre sits right in the very centre (and confuses children and adults alike by its insistence to carry on performing in the rain forcing the audience to get wet) this is an exotic and fabulously international use of space.  And if that’s not sophisticated enough for you, you can also play Australian Rules Football.

It is of course owned by Her Maj, you know – that one – the one we’re getting two days off work for in June.  This means that it is not legal to do certain stuff here.  According to the Royal Park bye-laws, you cannot use “any roller skate, roller blade, skate board or other foot-propelled device”.  This is odd, because you can drive all round the inner circle for hours should the mood take you, and I’m not sure what a car is if it isn’t a foot-propelled device.  You cannot allow any animal you are in charge of to be “tethered or graze”.  What are you going to tether your Jack Russell to in Regents Park exactly?  A lion? A sad looking panda?  You can land a helicopter, apparently, but only in an emergency.  You must not release doves or balloons.   

You need written permission to “play or cause to be played a musical instrument”.  But does “cause to be played” mean encourage the player? Or incite instrumental activity?  Or inspire the player by being his muse?  Honestly, I can’t help it if, when I’m walking through the park, my compelling sexual allure causes a chap to toot on his trumpet.  I also need written formal permission to interfere with a plant or fungus or use a mineral detector.  I need formal permission to wash my linen and then hang it in the park to dry or park my caravan.  You’re also not allowed to scatter anyone’s ashes in the Royal Parks.  They’re very anti this (I think it would be easier to land the helicopter) as human ashes contain minerals which damage the soil and the plants in it, and in turn, the wildlife that feeds from these plants.  Not that we thought about this in the hot summer of 1998 of course.  It was until after my father’s death that we realised that his lifelong wish of being cremated, preferably when already dead, and being scattered in the Regents Park was highly illegal.  This meant that we went into the park, ashes in one hand and a plastic fork from the cafeteria to mash them into the ground with the other, yours truly was deployed as look out and given a £50 note in the event of seeing a parkkeeper who would hopefully be open to bribes.  No one did see us, although the nearby plants continue to look strangely troubled.  I shouldn’t think for a moment we were alone in our  predicament.  I’m surprised any of the foliage in the park is still living when you consider the amount of people whose last wish it is to end up under a hedge here.

Crikey, that was a bit morbid for an early spring morning.  Or perhaps its a bit optimistic to call this strident morning early spring, when I found myself so cold when walking through Hanover Square at 8.10am today that I actually burst out into hysterical laughter.  Spring is on her way, Londoners, and I can feel her feet racing across the city gravel and cobbles as I type….Get thee to a park and watch out for the first joyous signs of it.  And do try to keep within the bye-laws listed above.

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Now you see it….

During an afternoon walk in the West End on Saturday, I turned off Goodge Street and down Goodge Place.  Goodge Place is a dead-end canyon peppered with shabby genteel Georgian homes and slabs of uber-modern apartments where the Luftwaffe randomly, and thoughtfully, peppered the city.  Two unnerving things happened next.

The first was a community mural, featuring Fitzrovians of stature, past and present.  Someone had painted  an astonished looking Virginia Woolf next to the BT Tower (“To The BT Tower Lighthouse”, anyone?), an anaemic looking Bernard Shaw, Marie Stopes and unsettlingly, a series of “Bengali dancers”, which I initially misread as Bengal Lancers.   The second was a massive, fuck off space to our right which was 3 acres in size and which, quite simply didn’t exist.

The Middlesex Hospital, which previously lay at the junction of the bottom of Cleveland Street and along Mortimer Street was sold off in 2007 following its closure in December 2005.  The NHS rubbed its (sterilized) hands with glee when they netted a humungous £180million (cor!) for the site and used it to build the spanking new University College Hospital on Euston Road, which unfortunately was tainted almost immediately after opening by the arrival of a radioactive Russian called Alexander Litvenenko who probably poisoned all the wards before being removed in a lead coffin.  The version of the Middlesex Hospital that was demolished – grimy, black and a little forbidding –  had only been built in 1935, although the hospital had existed in various forms since 1746, when the area west of Kings Cross was the bucolic fields of Middlesex.  The proposed new development on the old Middlesex Hospital site was christened NoHo Square by Candy and Candy, the property developing brothers.  It was called NoHo because the people who named it wanted the people who were going to live in it to sound like twats.   “Where do you live, mate?” “Cab to NoHo Square please.” “Oh ho, No-o-o? what ho?  Sorry love, you’re not from round ‘ere are you?”  NoHo Square was a vastly abhorrent concept based on a New York property estate.  It triumphed on the American system that their Manhattan SoHo (referencing South of Houston Street)  could be translated to the northern slopes of London lying directly above our Soho (depicting at 16th century hunter’s cry of “So – ho!” and having nothing to do with Houston ; Street, Texas, Whitney or otherwise).   Just as the New Yorkers developed a penchant for shoving capital letters into names where they didn’t belong to make nonsense words (TriBeCa – Triangle Beneath Canal Street), the Dandy Candy Brothers decided to create London’s NoHo, but no one was sure what it meant (North of Horsham?) .  Similarly, no one actually knows that The CaNDy brothers references Callous Neanderthal Dickheads, you know.

You can see where this is going, dear readers?  This was back in the heady days of 2007, when children would frequently get letters through the post and hold them up with sticky, Playdoh fingers, before shouting : “LOOK Mummy!  Now I’ve put that £5 in the Post Office savings account this letter says I can have a credit card for £1,000,000 on standard 17.9% APR can I have a biscuit now, Mummy?” This was a world in which, when one of my brothers turned up to the hospital where another brother had a new baby with a cheque for £200, which was meant for the baby girl’s savings account, the recipient brother of the cheque said : “£200?  Nah.  This is England!  Never mind her savings account.  With £200 you can get a mortgage.”  

The NoHo Square concept was immediately hated by the residents of Fitzrovia.    The hospital was bulldozed down, with the eerie remains of the Grade II listed Victorian hospital chapel left in the middle of the site, like a long lost Victorian relative, crying out for a decent God-fearing flock.  Then the Candy Brothers remembered they had engineered funding for the site through the Kaupthing Bank which melted when the rest of the Icelandic banking system did.  Swiftly, the Candy Brothers swapped their 33% stake in Noho Square into Beverly Hills luxury apartments, a world in which their crassness and creepiness of name would be more fitting.  The NoHo Square name now appears to be consigned to the dustheap, and the only certainty that remains is that Aviva and Exemplar are now the minority investors of the site.  Urban myths abound as to what will happen next, and include: a  parkland site with vegetable gardens, an orchard, an environmental education centre complete with horticultural workshop, or zero-carbon affordable housing, or a series of burlesque dancers, hopping and skipping about daily wearing nothing but smiles and red nipple tassles.   It’s all up for grabs.     All that remains of it’s former self is a sinister, red brick 1920s wall, currently being held up by a vast, strong, wooden structure, and which contains the old-1930s Radium Department label in large, beige, cement letters.  So, what will become of this, frankly, enormous slab of Central London real estate?  Will it continue to be dogged by lending crunch funding problems?  Will we wake up to a caravan site?  Will it be some much needed green space for this particularly built up section of town?   Who will maintain the former, listed hospital chapel?  (I’m not doing it.  I’ve had beef with the Lord before – and anyway, hassocks ain’t how I roll).   Personally, I think an orchard would be spectacular.  With a circus in the middle.  Or something.  With a spectacular opening night party featuring brass bands, fireworks and a finale in which Jamie Theakston is fired out of a cannon and to which the Candy Brothers will not be invited. 

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