Saturday, September 21st 2013
After our visit to the church of that legendary dragon-abuser, St George, we took a bus to darkest Belgravia. This is the realm of the rich; where there are no houses, only mansions; and where many of those grand properties fly flags, for it is also the district where many of London’s foreign embassies are to be found. They close their doors on Saturdays and Sundays, as do the upper-crust offices that inhabit some of the buildings, and so, as you pass across the imaginary boundary, you step from noisy weekend London into a realm of eerie quiet.
One could of course take photos of all the embassies (and I don’t doubt that someone has done so) but that would be time consuming and tedious. We did stop and photograph the Belgian Embassy, though, out of a feeling of nostalgia from our recent trip to Brussels. We came here in the vague hope that the embassy might be open and that there might be facilities for people interested in Belgium and its culture but we were disappointed.
We also paused at the Embassy of Luxembourg, mainly because I noticed the unusual number plate on the car parked in front. I assume that this is the ambassadorial car.
I haven’t been to Luxembourg for a while but it’s on our list. One of these days… Officially a grand-duchy, Luxembourg is tucked away on the south-east corner of Belgium. It is shaped like a deflated triangle and its three sides border three countries, Belgium, Germany and France. My first visit was when I was a schoolboy and on arrival at the border, my mother sent me to the bureau de change. I presented my Belgian francs to the man behind the glass and politely asked that they be exchanged for “argent luxembourgeois”. He yelled back at me in exasperation “That’s what we use, sir!” I was embarrassed but took the lesson.
About the only sign of life in these quiet streets was five floors up. I spotted this workman sitting on a window sill, high above the ground, and felt quite nervous on his behalf though he seemed quite unconcerned by what was, I admit, his rather theoretical danger.
In Motcomb Street we found this rather grand building with the unusual name, Pantechnicon. I have not so far been able to find out the history of this building or the purpose for which it was built, though it is said by the present occupants to date from the 1830s.
On a window sill of Pantechnicon sat a pigeon. Although the day was mild, the pigeon had fluffed up his feathers. He (or might it be she?) gave me a sidelong glance but looked nervous when I took a step forward, so I maintained a respectful distance to take the photo on the left. Later, I saw that a couple of other birds had joined the first pigeon and that they too were fluffing up their feathers. Pigeons may squabble vigorously over food but when there is no pressure, they are companionable creatures.
In West Halkin Street was another mystery building. Currently undergoing interior work as new occupants move in, it gives few clues as to its original purpose. I am guessing that it was once a chapel or small church, possibly Victorian, and that the first-floor glazed terrace was a later addition. Did the tower once contain a bell to call the faithful to prayer?
This is Blake’s Hardware in Eccleston Street. In addition to its mansions and mystery buildings, Belgravia also has shops, though these tend to be what hoi polloi such as we would call “posh” or “upmarket” and often have have some quaint gimmick to set them off. Seeing this trade bicycle parked outside Blake’s, I had visions of an apron-clad and flat-capped youth pedalling around the streets of Belgravia delivering kettles and screwdrivers to the affluent indigenes but closer inspection revealed a more banal truth: it was used simply as a picturesque support for an outside ashtray…
We went along Kinnerton Street to explore it. This street has an atmosphere that I might describe as “urban village”. What I mean by that is one of those neighbourhoods that feel self-contained and all-of-a-piece, like a rural village but in town. Despite its sheltered, exclusive air, the street is long enough to accommodate two pubs, the Wilton Arms, which proudly displays a date of 1826, and the Nag’s Head. I vaguely wondered why this man was walking up and done to use his phone but the answer was displayed nearby.
The reason is that the landlord of the Nag’s Head, one Kevin Moran (not to be confused with the football player of the same name), has banned the use of mobiles within his establishment. That his interdiction is obeyed by customers is testimony to a character whose prominence is suggested by the fact that his name is written on the pub in letters bigger than the pub’s name. Not that I in any way criticize his rule: people shouting into phones are annoying at all times, especially when when you are in search of a quiet drink in peaceful surroundings1.
Leading off Kinnerton Street at its closed end is what looks like an alleyway or a factory yard. It does in fact have its own name, though a slightly strange one, Duplex Ride2. It goes to show that there are peculiar byways even in Belgravia.
Kinnerton Street feels like a cul de sac and for most of its length, such narrow thoroughfares as branch off it lead to nowhere but themselves. Near the top end, however, an offshoot goes off to the right. Confusingly enough, this is also called Kinnerton Street. It leads to Wilton Place where, somewhat unexpectedly, one comes across a bronze sculpture of a stag in front of one of the houses.
We progressed to Belgrave Square and photographed the rather decorative building (c1825) that currently houses the Turkish Embassy. Standing on the front steps was a police officer, watching our antics though not interfering in any way. We exchanged a few words with him and learnt that he and his colleagues took it in turn to do two-hour stints in front of the embassy. This was the only one so guarded and I should perhaps have enquired why it alone rated police attention but didn’t think to do so at the time.
We had been out in the streets walking for a while now and the idea of a late lunch had formed in the back of our minds. The area was not conducive to this, however, and so we planned to catch a bus and move on.
Before leaving the area, however, we accepted the photo opportunity offered by this beautiful white cat looking out of the window with a rather disapproving expression. Quite the Belgravia cat, wouldn’t you say?
A bus took us to Marylebone station, opposite which is Gino’s Cafe. It may not be Belgravia-posh but the service was efficient and friendly and the prices moderate. What more need we say?
1Why some people when using mobiles think it is necessary to shout into them is something I have never understood. The whole point of these devices is to carry your voice over a distance, even to the other side of the planet. Why can’t these dunderheads realize this?
2I am aware that Duplex Ride is also the name of an album released by Sidsel Endresen and Bugge Wesseltoft.