Tuesday 20th November 2012
Determined to become tourists in our own city, my wife and I took another day off and went on a walk through London, this time one from the book, "Walking London" by Andrew Duncan. It took us through the alleys of the eastern half of the city, starting and ending at the Tower of London. We passed Trinity Gardens where prisoners from the Tower were decapitated, the street where Pepys lived, worked and worshipped and the terrifying headquarters of Lloyd's, which looks like a cross between a Terry Gilliam satire of big business and a Borg spaceship. It's as if the lizard people who secretly run the world gave up trying to hide themselves and thought, fuck it, let's just make our financial centre look as fucked up and evil as possible. We'd left the walk a bit late and so it was twilight which perhaps added to the air of menace.
But you turn a corner and you're in the Victorian Leadenhall market, which looks twee and harmless. The walk was filled with such juxtapositions.
It's not a part of the city that I know well at all, but the mixture of ultra-modern and old London is dizzying and exciting. Wren churches and Dickensian alleys with businessmen (in their suits and ties) dashing between financial institutions. We were looking at the Jamaica Winehouse, built on the site of the city's first coffee house and now a pub. Two slightly merry businessmen came out of the pub to say hello (one of them had seen Hitler Moustache) and we chatted amicably. They told me that the jewellers we were standing next to had been ram-raided which seemed unlikely as we were standing in a very narrow alleyway, but he claimed the thieves had used an electric car. I looked at my watch - it was 4pm and so I said, "So, where don't you work?" They pretended to be affronted and claimed they were working hard in the pub and would be there until 8. Looks like mine isn't the only job where you can get pissed as you work. We moved on.
I've lived in this city for nearly quarter of a century but I am pretty sure I've never seen the Mary-le-Bow church (anyone born within the sound of its bells was seen as a real cock-er-ney) and was amazed to come across the huge open sapce of Guildhall Yard (where the Roman amphitheatre used to be. But nor had I ever been to the Monument to the Great Fire of London or indeed Pudding Lane (which I would turn into an interactive Fire of London experience, given its one of the most famous streets in the capital, but which is rather nondescript. A pub nearby from 1663 somehow survived the conflagration, but it's astonishing how much damage the great fire did. And other fires and German bombs have destroyed many other historical churches and buildings, so in many ways it's astonishing how much of old London survives.
My wife had been surprised to find that Dick Whittington was a real person, but we saw the site of his house and the church that he was buried in (conveniently next door to each other - lazy, lazy dick) and thanks to the book we went through passageways that we'd never have guessed were public and saw merchant houses from 1703 and guildhalls. London is fucking awesome. Come and visit it. Especially if you already live here.
I hope they hurry up and invent the holodeck so that we are able to travel back and walk through London as it was in the late 17th Century. I'd love to see St Paul's half-built without its dome or to get an idea of how the city and the people looked then. And if we ever get time-travel holidays I think I'll got back for a coffee in that place where businessmen work so hard getting pissed now.
We went to see the brilliant Ben Moor in The Seagull at the Southwark Playhouse tonight. I was disappointed to see that he wasn't playing the Seagull, as I think he'd have been great, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.
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