Feasting the senses


It’s been a bit of an indulgent weekend, feasting our senses, and there’s more to come.

We started with the visual and a trip to the Guildhall Art Gallery in the heart of the city for an exhibition of John Atkinson Grimshaw paintings.  Grimshaw started out as a bit of a fellow traveller with the Pre-Raphaelites, but quickly moved away to his own style, typified by his stunning nocturnes of both town and country.  These have a photographic clarity and use of depth of field, and an extraordinary understanding of light, natural and artificial, direct and reflected.

I discovered his work in my teens and was very struck with his silhouetted figures and lampposts against green skies.  Actually his figure work is pretty poor, he is much better at crowds where you get the essence of bustle and little knots of humanity; when he puts a solitary figure into his landscapes you feel it is there purely for convention and scale, a bit like the woman in a red coat in picture postcards of the 60s and 70s; and the proportions are frequently suspect – one group of young women all looked decidedly implausible: if the middle one had been standing she’d have been around eight feet tall!

Allegedly Grimshaw’s fellow painters were scandalised by the fact that he worked from photographs (black and white obviously and fairly rudimentary at this stage) and by his style of painting which is very smooth – there are no visible brush marks.  This gives his skies a clarity and lucidity which is very true to life – you can feel the cold of his winter moon, wrapped in scudding cloud, and there is definitely a feeling of the painting as a source of light.

Grimshaw John Atkinson Humber Docks Hull

Humber Docks Hull (wikimedia commons)

You do start to notice his tics when you see a large collection of pictures all at once – his female figure-in-a-landscape  is generally mob-capped and clutching an open basket to her waist with one hand, there is generally a bay window on the dock with a net curtain on the lower half and venetian blinds on the upper; there is likely to be a chemist in a street scene – so that the light can pour through those red and green bottles.  I would not for a moment suggest he has invented the chemist, just chosen that spot to paint because the chemist is there – I’m less persuaded of that  window with the venetian blind in Hull and Glasgow and… and its surprising how regularly the woman about to open her umbrella appears –

it’s as though he created his own clip art figures to go into his landscapes.  However I can honestly say there isn’t a single painting in the exhibition that isn’t at least entertaining.

My particular favourite is of tall ships at anchor (Nightfall down the Thames).

At first you see the moon, and then the thin cloud, then the mass of St Paul’s in the background and then the forest of masts and rigging … and then you notice that there is a small light on the rigging of the most prominent ship, and then you notice another and another … lights everywhere, tiny pinpricks, reflecting in the gentle ripples that ruck the surface of the water.  You can almost hear them slap against the wood.

Grimshaw-NightfallThames

Nightfall down the Thames (wikimedia commons)


Reproductions do not do these pictures justice. It is really exciting to see the real thing.

There are some gaw’blimey interiors with a bit of a Tissot feel to them (an influence apparently), though more sentimental and fussy – this is where you remember he was a Victorian, and wish he wasn’t quite so photographic in his recording of every last plate, but even in the ghastly Dulce Domum, where the woman of the house doesn’t quite manage to sit convincingly in her over decorated chair, I was captivated by a small patch of green velvet in a chair back, the nap brushed up the wrong way where someone has been resting against it.

In his later works Grimshaw turned to daylight most emphatically: there is a lovely beach scene that reminded me of Hendrik Willem Mesdag’s Panorama of Scheveningen in 1881 (though nothing like the same scale!) which must be close in time, with its crowded busy water edge, and empty sands in the foreground, but the detail is more sketched and the light is all his own, flooding and overwhelming the day-to-day excitement of children at the sea.

Lawrence Alma-Tadema 04

Pyrrhic dance - Lawrence Alma Tadema (wikicommons) If you think THIS is silly look up Pyrrhic dance on youtube!

We had a quick look at the rest of the collection while we were there, and they have a hilarious collection of large-scale historically themed paintings of great imagination, Salome dancing for Herod, (some fascinating faces in the onlookers) Greek warriors dancing a ‘pyrrhic’ dance like some ancient version of Strictly…, rival philosophic groups in a cabbage field… (why?) some predictable worthies of London, some Pre-Raphaelites, and some London cityscapes (my favourite by John Virtue, almost entirely black with a sky just emerging behind St Paul’s) and, in the basement, discovered relatively recently, the remains of the Roman amphitheatre.

There is only a scattering of foundations and a bit of wall about hip height, and a miraculous drain with the wooden lining still preserved, but the way it is presented, lit only as you walk into it, the columns holding the building up with figures drawn in light, and the rest of the amphitheatre and gladiators sketched in on the wall ahead of you as you come in, like some soon to be realised hologram, is quite thrilling: despite being in a fairly small underground space it feels like you are in the amphitheatre, and then you notice above the air-conditioning a faint hubbub of voices that occasionally peaks in roars of approval, though still very faint; like voices reaching from the past.  I’ve seen more complete Roman amphitheatres in France and Spain, including ones still in use they have worn so well, but this works.  It shouldn’t but it does.

We had walked from London Bridge, and decided to walk back via St Paul’s, the Millennium Bridge and Bankside. This is a bit of the City that is hard to love, all unattractive concrete, glass and steel, whereas the walk up was all limestone, just as ostentatious and blocky, if marginally less oppressive; but I do like the way the streets still hold the medieval pattern of London in their narrow twists and dog-legs, and their names.  And there is a church on almost every corner, and mostly they are open, often with a café in the crypt.  We bought sandwiches, and A said, we need a churchyard to sit in, and I glanced up and there was a spire, we walked a few yards turned left and there we were, at the Guild church, which seemed appropriate seeing we’d just been at the Guildhall.

Walking over Millennium Bridge we passed two accordionists and a fiddler playing Autumn Leaves as a Tango, which managed to make it rather more dirge-like than ever.  The far end of the bridge there was a steel drum player who was a lot more cheerful.  We had been thinking of dropping into the Tate for the Gerhardt Richter, but we already had museum feet (and hips and knees) so we kept going and, recalling that it was Friday, instead went to Borough Market.

pumpkin and squash copyright Cherry Potts 2011

We were intending to just pick up a bit of cake for tea, but you can’t just anything there, you have to check every stall and resist what you can bear to resist, and leave only when your bags are full or your purse empty.

I may be vegetarian but these are beautiful to look at copyright Cherry Potts 2011

We found an interesting liquorish stall, and the Chocolate Artisan (of course) and a spice stall, and a cake stall which we could not resist, and plenty that we could.

Saturday, and I persuaded A away from her book proofs to go to the Union Chapel at Highbury ( I love the Overground! 34 minutes on the train, 3 minutes on foot either end) for their daylight music concert at lunchtime.

Sensibly they have a food stall, and just ask for donations to get in. The concert kicked off with Heidi Elva, a harpist from New Zealand, with an annoying giggle who is over fond of playing with her sampler and her iPhone apps.  The harp isn’t my favourite instrument, but I can enjoy the complexities of the harmonies one person can create on it, Ms Elva was more into mood music and the occasional plink repeated ad nauseam on her sampler so I felt no guilt at all in taking advantage of the daylight to read a book until she’d finished. No doubt she has fun, but it wasn’t a performance:  there was nothing to look at and I really take exception to being played sampled flute on a sodding iPhone  – she said that despite her constant plugs of iThis and iThat she wasn’t employed by Apple… just as well, she was putting me right off.

Bulgarian choir copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Flirty copyright Cherry Potts 2011

The London Bulgarian Choir were quite a different outfit, energetic, exciting and charming.  I can’t tell you the names of the songs although I recognised some of them, they ranged from flirting to death, via sock-knitting (no, really!).

Sock knitters? Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Led and discreetly conducted by Dessislava Stefanova, a long line of mostly women, in black but sporting vivid red embroidered aprons and big silver belt buckles, and men in Astrakhan hats and embroidered waistcoats, linked arms and gave it some welly.  There are some glorious harmonies, great dynamics, humour, pathos, drama.

Dessislava copyright Cherry Potts 2011

The occasional lead singer, drummer or windplayer steps forward for a moment in the limelight, then steps modestly back, smaller groups take over briefly for a verse or two, but this is about ensemble and community and having a good time.  The acoustic in the Union Chapel suited them perfectly, and they probably didn’t need the minimal amplification they had.  (UPDATE: I have been corrected, Ulrike from the choir has contacted me to say the mikes were recording them not amplifying… they really are that loud.  As she says, – It’s the singing style for mountains! ) New album launched next month.  It’s in my diary.

Off to the singaround at The Goose is Out tonight, to round of our indulgences.

Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Giving it some welly Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Songs from the Edge


Our local church, St Augustine’s on One Tree Hill, likes music and as a consequence sees more of us than they would otherwise.  Last night there was more reason than usual to go, as our friends Mel, Katrina and Laura were playing.

The evening was entitled Songs from the Edge: The edge of what, I didn’t discover.

Katrina Rublowsky copyright Cherry Potts 2011

We kicked off with Katrina Rublowsky singing songs of protest from America, encouraging audience participation (whoopee we’re all going to die) and moving me nearly to tears with Reunion Hill.  Another high spot was James Taylor’s Mill Worker, based on Stud Terkel’s oral history project.

Katrina has a lovely light soprano, and a gentle way with her, particularly when talking about her family history and linking it to the songs.  Her voice might be better suited to a more intimate setting than the rather cavernous St Augustine’s, where she wouldn’t need a microphone, but she set the hairs up on the back of my neck none the less.

Laura Davis & Andrew Petrie copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Laura Davis’ set was altogether more dramatic.  Laura knows how to work the room, and engages with her material very much at gut level.  She has a fantastic voice and sings the Sephardic tradition songs of love and disappointment, birth and death with passion; ably assisted by Andrew Petrie on guitar.  They both made it look enviably easy.

Katrina joined Laura to put some harmonies onto a chorus, and their voices melted together most satisfyingly.

Katrina Laura & Andrew copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Melanie Harrold Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

After the interval Melanie Harrold took over, chuntering happily at the audience as she fidgeted with an amp lead that didn’t want to play nicely, and introducing her back catalogue, mainly self penned.  Melanie has several alter-egos, including recording a record in the 70’s under the name of Joanna Carlin, which is soon to be re-released.

There was more audience participation on one of these songs, My Guru Says No;  Mel conducted the audience with her usual vigor.

Mel has plenty of different styles at her finger tips, at one moment wistful, the next stomping through a big number, and frequently sending herself up, particularly in a number which I think is called It’s the way you... which regularly deteriorated into what I call her ‘mud monster’ persona.  Very funny.

Mel Hilarious Harrold Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Melanie Harrold and part of Tradewinds copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Melanie was joined by a small selection of Tradewinds folk (Maggie, Maria, Carrie and Trish) to put backing vocals onto her rendition of Gerry Rafferty’s Whatever’s Written on Your Heart, which is a bit of a signature song for Mel.

The evening finished with Mel, Katrina and Laura singing a couple of songs together, notably Love Hurts, which they really went for.

Songs from the Edge trio going for it copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Despite vigorous applause there was no encore…  What were you thinking ladies!

Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

A Sense of Place


As a writer, reading is hedged about with difficulties – every book read takes time away from time writing (even when travelling, these days, although the book-to-read-on-the-train is still an honoured tradition), and there is the danger of absentmindedly siphoning off themes and even style, I am easily influenced by a good writer.  And, except when researching, I tend to find it hard work reading non-fiction.  So it is out of character for me to be reading what I have read over the summer.

Hancox, by Charlotte Moore is described as the story of a house and a family, and is based on the extraordinary archive of letters and diaries and other papers squirreled away by Moore’s family in the cupboards and attics of the house, Hancox.

I found myself actively jealous of the resources at Ms Moore’s disposal, during the Edwardian period in particular it would seem the family barely moved a muscle without recording it, and threw nothing away.  It makes A’s paternal ‘broody box’ look very half-hearted.

Moore tells of madness inherited, lovers thwarted, uncles estranged, aunts accommodated and aunts avoided; men who explored the arctic and women who never went further than the next village.  The complexity of family loyalties and betrayals over a wide-flung family tree are expertly examined, I never once got confused as to who she was writing about.  Inevitably almost no-one behaves well, and every selfish act and foible each unthinking slight and angry word is documented. Sibling rivalries and dependencies are exposed; the efforts to which the women have to go to eke out independence is breath-taking: the woman responsible for bringing Hancox into the family going to the lengths of letting it to a society for the relief of inebriates rather than share it with her needy sister and her overbearing husband, who completely failed to understand that she wanted to run  the farm herself.

And sitting toad-like on the south downs and in the middle of this narrative is the house itself: a house with a history written into its fabric, and stuffed into its drawers and cubbyholes.  It was the house, and the fact that it was on the downs, that drew me to the book and put it on my wish list, (fresh from the Eric Ravilious exhibition at the Towner and enthused by his images of the down and farmhouses thereon); but a couple of months after reading it, it is the people I remember, that and the matter of fact way people thought nothing of getting the train to the (not very near)est station and then walking for several hours to visit family, then turn round and go back, the same day.

Complementary but contrasting is Katherine Swift’s The Morville Hours, which uses the creation of a garden (at Morville Dower House in Shropshire) as its centre piece, diving off into the history of the land the garden is growing in, the house that sits adjoining it, and the people who once lived there; and equally into Katherine’s own personal family history.  It’s hard to say what works best, she is marvellous on geology, medieval history and has an ability to step outside her relationships and be brutally and movingly honest about her parents.

The book is framed by the catholic medieval church hours, in that elastic time when the hour shortened as the year got dark, and lengthened again into the summer.  In some ways this is the difference between the two books, Moore takes a slice through a few years of the life of a house and family, stopping abruptly as she reaches people who are still alive, Swift delves as far back as she can go and is aware that she stands on the lip of the future, barely a mote in the blink of history.  Despite the potential for workaday in what should be a gardening book, The Morville Hours is a work of imagination, and Hancox emphatically is not, the wealth of evidence Moore has at her fingertips leaves little room for speculation.

Which leads me on to a book about London: An Acre of Barren Ground by Jeremy Gavron is described as a novel.  It isn’t, quite. It is a series of interlinking stories and slabs of research, taking Brick Lane in East London as its jumping off point.

As wide-ranging as The Morville Hours, it takes in Saxon history and the Victorian temperance movement, immigration from Eastern Europe and Bangladesh; comic books and medieval woodcuts; weavers and murderers, mudlarks and crooks.  It is so random and tangled I wondered occasionally if what was being presented as research was actually fiction.  It reminded me of Peter Ackroyd’s London, the biography; but what I found endearing about it was how characters from one story popped up in another.  Hugh the purchaser of the original brickfields in a narrative poem Le bryk place wandering through the wreck of the priory (St Mary Spittal) sees an old woman… in the retelling of the medieval woodcuts, Snecockswell, we discover Hugh’s back story, and find out who the woman is.  (This is a fascinating piece of writing, describing each imagined picture in turn; it is only when the writing on the papers within the pictures is reported that we realise who everyone is.  Were it not for those few words it would be a perfect example of how to tell a story using only visual language.)  I’m tempted to use another subset of brackets but I will restrain myself and uses dashes instead – Gavron has an odd habit of not using speech marks, which makes me feel that the words are coming from a great distance, and are echoing, very disconcerting. –

East London Female Total Abstinence Society strips away the artifice and shows the process of research and how each new nugget of information informs the development of character and plot, and gives you the story that would have been written without quite writing it.  I particularly liked the way the flood of beer released in this story invades another.

Like any London street that has been around a while, An Acre of Barren Ground is a bit of a mixed bag, some things work better than others, but it is a book I will come back to, just as I get great satisfaction from walking through London, taking in the layers and layers of history and life that make it the city it is.

Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Open Queue


Sweet Thames flow softly copyright Cherry Potts 2011

It’s day two of London Open House and we’re off to Crossness Pumping Station.  This has been a long-held ambition, but with so much to choose from over the weekend it has taken, ooh, six years? to get here.  The instigator of this sudden resolve is our friend J who phoned and said:

I’m going, come with?

cobwebs copyright Cherry Potts 2011

So we did.  Trying to avoid using the car and with the promise of a special bus to meet the train, we meet J and C at Lewisham and get the train to Abbey Wood.  There is a bus … a minibus that seats 12.  I count the queue.  The bus takes half an hour to make its round trip… We are going to be here two hours.  We rebel and get a mini cab to the gates. We walk up to the back of the queue for the door, which is moving very slowly indeed. There is a distinct smell of drains, and I find myself absentmindedly humming Sweet Thames Flow Softly which we learnt over the summer.

Overwhelming Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Forty minutes later, we arrive at the door, and are given our tickets for the engine house.  We enter, and there is another queue.  We join it with dread, but it only takes another twenty minutes to finally reach the sacred portal and to be handed our hard hats.

Now.  Why would I be prepared to put myself through this?  I am not a patient kind of gal.  And visiting a sewage works isn’t your average glamorous London day out.  Well, the several thousand people who have visited Crossness will be grinning just now.

OTT painted ironwork copyright Cherry Potts 2011

It

Is

STUNNING.

Overwhelming, over the top, Ro-co-co (except it isn’t) Byzantine, laughter inducing mayhem.  The outside gives no clue to the interior.  The austere if decorative brickwork could be any typical Victorian engine shed – railway architecture at its best – Lombardy arcading, arched windows, bah blah.

floor copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Inside the first hall where the queue is, it is airy, spacious and light… and then, hat on head you enter the inner sanctum, and the dazzle and razzmatazz of the theatre takes over – every surface is moulded or filigreed, even the floors.  There is a feel of Moorish palace, except that the colours are wrong, and then there is the noise.

Flywheel at full tilt copyright Cherry Potts 2011

The beam engine is steady, regular, almost relaxed and surprisingly quiet, a sort of sigh and knock and hiss as it slides up and down, and the flywheel spins.  it is awesome in its grandeur.  There are four of these gracious monsters, but only one has been restored.  And only part of the engine house is painted back to its former glory, about which I am glad – I hope they don’t restore it completely, the ironwork is magnificent and the paint is garish, and whilst amusing, once painted the true skill of the iron casting is hidden.

And the still, silent end of the hall, is magnificent in its cathedral-like space.

Cathedral-like spaces copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Up the stairs, (also pierced into a pattern) there is yet more filigree floor, which is humming ever so gently.  I find this rather unnerving.  In fact it brings me out in a cold sweat.  I am quite relieved to get down again.

Stunning ironwork copyright Cherry Potts 2011

And yes, there is another queue to get into the basement.  The basement is very different dark, dusty and cramped.

Basement Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

I’m not surprised the queue is so long, as we spend ages going round, and they can only let people in with a hard hat.

After a cup of tea and a bit of cake, we take advantage of the fact that there is a gate onto the Thames path (not normally open) and walk back to Woolwich along the river.

Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Thames path near Thamesmead copyright Cherry Potts 2011

London is Open


Mary Wollstonecraft's pew copyright Cherry Potts

Every year in September, buildings of historic, architectural and ecological note open for the public for free.  In London Open House is in full swing. Take a look at the overwhelming website – it’s all going on tomorrow as well.

Most years I go and feast my eyes and wear out my feet: holidays are planned around Open House we have to be in London the right weekend!  Fortunately, Heritage Open Days  which is similar but nationwide, is usually the weekend prior so some years we’ve managed both, although for the forseeable future we will be Singing for Water over H-O-D weekend.

So, A is busy with a family wedding, and I’m on my tod, and decide to take full advantage of the lovely Overground and quarter the borough of Hackney. I set off with my ‘favourites’ list and Transport For London maps, full of purpose and enthusiasm.

Graeae exterior copyright Cherry Potts 2011

First stop Hoxton.  I’ve been to the Geffreye Museum recently so I bypass it and head for Graeae Theatre’s offices and rehearsal space, right next door.  I bump into R, who I know from BSL classes and who works there, so I get a personal tour.  The building started life as a Tram depot and stables and has great arches all along the front which make for excellent natural light and a showcase for the sculptural logo that runs the entire length of the building.

Graeae rehearsal space copyright Cherry Potts 2011

The rehearsal space is particularly fine, with a sprung floor, and sophisticated lighting rig, all of which can be accessed and controlled from ground level.  The whole building has been thought out very carefully for access issues with textured flooring, good adaptable lighting, plenty of circulation space, induction loops… And according to R it really is a pleasure to work in.

Hoxton Hall detail copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Galvanised by this first venue, I toddle round the corner to Hoxton Hall, which is a very different kettle of fish – still with a drama theme – HH is a tiny musical hall.  It has done time as a temperance hall, a Quaker meeting-house and various other things, and is typical of theatres of its time in being seriously uncomfortable!  I notice a pile of patchwork cushions in the gallery, I’m sure they are needed.

Hoxton Hall performers copyright Cherry Potts

The Hall is being brought to life by a couple of performers, singing about wanting their beer and not getting it.  Disconcertingly they are flanked by a couple of headless dummies in theatrical costume, which in the dim lighting are a bit on the sinister side!

Newington Green Unitarian Church exterior copyright Cherry Potts

Back to the station and a short hop to Canonbury and then a stroll up to Newington Green for the Unitarian Church, at over 300 years old it is the oldest dissenting church in London that is still in use. Built when religious dissenters were still breaking the law ,and expanded since, it isn’t a particularly beautiful building, though it has a peaceful, open atmosphere (they were positively encouraging a young child to play the organ) and apparently the ball-hinges on the pew doors are rare… but it is its history that matters, both in terms of religious dissent, and in terms of feminism.  Mary Wollstonecraft worshipped here (pew 19), and I have a soft spot for her.

I am struck as I have been before, by the similarity of layout in religious buildings of this period, and the musical hall I have just come from.  Something about the galleries…

Newington Green Unitarian Church ball hinge copyright Cherry Potts 2011

I have a long list of other places I could go – a tower off Mare Street, The Hackney Empire, another theatre at Dalston (in the old Reeves paint factory), a tour of the East London Line stations… But I’m hungry and its trying to rain, and we are doing Crossness Pumping Station tomorrow, so back to Canonbury station and the train all the way home with no changes.  I love the Overground!

Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

London Particular


Holborn Viaduct Griffon copyright Cherry Potts

Sometimes I hate living in London, and sometimes I love it.

In January rain it can feel as though it has turned its back and doesn’t want to know you, but it doesn’t take much to find a way through the cracks and into its secrets.

We walked, A & I and three friends from Charing Cross to Cannon Street, a station-to-station walk; not what we intended and more circuitous than the map might suggest.  the original plan had been to walk round Bloomsbury, but the rain (torrential) meant that we skipped from cover to cover.  Starting off in Embankment gardens with cups of coffee to give the rain a chance to clear (ha ha ha ha ha…) we stopped to chat with tree surgeon cutting into slabs that were still too big really, the remains of an enormous London Plane, which had been threatening the glazed roof of the tube station.  Plane trees are a wonderful light coral colour inside, which blazed in comparison to the dark sky.  Rain was dripping off my nose at this point, and I was regretting the new raincoat I sent back to Cotton Traders because it wasn’t big enough.  Casting astonished glances at the memorial to Arthur Sullivan which has a… Nymph?… splayed across it naked from the hips up as though she’s drugged up on something quite intoxicating (not his music, I would think!) Then up the terrace on the river side of Somerset house where they were setting up a dome thing which it turns out is housing an ice concert where all the instruments are carved out of ice. Through Somerset House and to the courtyard where kids were skating aided by penguin things, then onto the strand.

Still looking for cover we stopped to glance at the museum in the back of Twinings Tea shop, which was a delight for anyone interested in the history of advertising and packaging ( that would be me).

We then dived into Lloyds Bank law courts branch to admire the Edwardian tiled vestibule (rather like Leighton house, heavily influenced by Moroccan architecture, but with a heavy overlay of the steam age somehow). The main banking area has tiled panels of what seem to be characters from Shakespeare and carved wooden owls.  Lengthy discussion of the planning permission required to convert the heavy wooden doors (almost certainly listed) to open automatically.  Very clever.  Back onto the Strand and right into the Temple and to Temple church, which was almost completely destroyed in the Blitz, but carefully restored.  I came here first when I was ten and spent a happy summer with my Gran visiting every church in London, (for the architecture and history, rather than any spiritual motives). I remembered the roundness and the knightly effigies, and nothing else, and to be honest roundness and effigies is still what it has to offer.  The knights writhe as though trying to get up, but held back by the weight of their armour.

Helpful lady in the church suggested our next haven from the rain should be Prince Henry’s room, over the gate onto Fleet Street.  Unfortunately it has been closed to the public for three years, said the man in Wildey’s Legal bookshop next door where they had what he described as a ‘flock’ of knitted stuffed owls in the guise of lawyers and judges perched on the stairs.  This is something I have noticed about bookshops- the more serious and specialised the more given to flights of fancy.

Up Chancery Lane and detouring through Lincoln’s Inn and Staple Inn away from the traffic and back to Chancery Lane and onto Holborn where I remembered being in a building for a meeting which had another steam-tiled vestibule. A quick glance round and I identified the old Prudential Building at Holborn bars, now a De Vere Conference centre.  We sauntered in to admire the completely tiled stairway and pillars. Kind lady on reception who is obviously used to blow-ins gawping at her tiling provided us with a sheaf of paper that explained the history of the building and escorted us downstairs to admire the safe which is like something out of Metropolis, a stunning bit of engineering and polished to within an inch of its life.

Holborn Viaduct Lion copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Still raining.  Back out onto Holborn and across the Viaduct, which has more statuary that is strictly necessary for such a small stretch of road (but I love the serious lions) and round the corner into Ely Place and St Ethelreda’s church.  This is another place I visited with my Gran, and I think we can have only been in the crypt for some reason, because  right up until we went in today, I remembered it as being essentially underground. This feeling of being underground.  It was this church, and of course St Ethelburga’s among others that led me to write All Hallows, that and feeling that T.S. Eliot had got it wrong about London’s ghosts being on the move in The Wasteland.

A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,

I had not thought death had undone so many.

Finally, a cup of hot soup and the train home.

Doing this walk made me think a lot about my Gran, and reminded me of that long summer of hot pavements and cool dark interiors, reading monuments to women dead in childbirth, and learning the history of London from its buildings.

the taste of greengages straight from the bag

still reminds me of Fleet Street in the rain

Grandmother’s Footsteps copyright Cherry Potts

Sometimes, I really hate living in London, and sometimes I really love it.

Copyright Cherry Potts 2011