Saturday, November 15th 2014
We haven’t been out much lately. Both of use have had bad colds and, at the risk of you accusing me of being a “man flu” sufferer, I was quite unwell for a few days, spending most of my time in bed. Today we decided to make the effort to go out though we had no particular goal in view.
We started by looking for breakfast. We strolled along Upper Street to see if Gallipoli was open. There are three Turkish cafe-bistros here with Gallipoli in the name (the other two are Gallipoli Again and Gallipoli Bazaar) but two don’t open until later in the day. Fortunately, this one was open and is the one we like most. It has a very pretty interior (see Anniversary and birthday) though I have to be careful not to bump the low hanging lamps with my head! They serve a very nice Turkish breakfast and happily swap the sausage for some slices of grilled Halloumi.
We next found ourselves, after a bus ride, at Warren Street tube station. Here, where Tottenham Court Road, Euston Road and Hampstead Road meet at a busy crossroads, there is a large painting of a bird posted on the side of one of the office blocks. I have no idea whether this is an attempt at public art or whether the bird has some other significance. It makes a colourful, and slightly bizarre, splash among the concrete and grey glass.
One of the things I like about the Turkish breakfast is that it is served with Turkish tea. The way the Turks make tea is to brew it very strong and serve it topped up with hot water. A special pair a kettles is used for this (see here for more details). The tea is drunk without milk (as it should be) and is very tasty. The only problem with that is that it is served in tiny glasses so you hardly feel you have had a good drink. Thus, by the time we came to Yumchaa in Tottenham Street, we were ready for a top-up.
Yumchaa has several branches. This one has a no frills interior and looks as though it was once a warehouse or a workshop. This is the place to come for a proper cup of tea. As the notice declaims, there are “NO TEA BAGS”! There is a whole range of teas to choose from, either to drink on the premises or to buy to take home. At one end of the counter is a set of small cups, each containing a sample of one of the teas on offer with a notice inviting you to sniff them. Along with the pure teas, such as Oolong and Lapsang, are blends, including my favourite, Russian Caravan. I noted with approval that the ingredients of the blend were stated (Oolong, Kemun and Lapsang Souchong), something that is rare in the tea trade these days1.
We were now in Fitzrovia, one of whose famous inhabitants is the local branch of Pollock’s Toy Museum and Theatre Printers. Of this establishment, its Website disarmingly says “Not a physical shop, not a museum.” Whatever it is, it is named after Benjamin Pollock, a Victorian theatre printer, which title I think designates a maker of toy theatres. Examples of these are to be seen in the Theatre Printers section of the premises. In Victorian times these model were considered not merely as toys but as a form of entertainment and Charles Dickens, actor manqué that he was, liked to play out scenes from his novels in one.
I stopped to photograph these pigeons because (apart from the fact that I like pigeons) I saw they were eating something closer to their proper food than they usually eat in the city. Whether by design or accident, someone had scattered a lot of seeds in the road and the pigeons were gobbling them up. I am glad to see that their usual diet of bread, chips and fast food hasn’t spoiled their appetite from more natural food.
I always admire this house in Percy Street because it stands out prettily among its neighbours. According to English Heritage, the house was built in the 1760s though what you see from the street is the façade, which is much later. It was probably done around 1900 and is decorated with beautiful patterning in faience. The ground floor has unfortunately been converted into a shop and one can only guess what it looked like when freshly restyled.
In a prime position on the corner of Rathbone Place with Rathbone Street stands what I take to be a Victorian pub. It has survived and looks to be in robust condition but has been anonymized and stripped of its former no doubt fine decor. It presents – to my eyes, at least – a rather sad sight, like that of someone who has come down in the world, having known better times. This, of course, is the fate of many old, once popular pubs, and just to survive amid changing economic conditions is already a feat.
We worked our way down to Oxford Street where, on a corner, building work is proceeding on an edifice that is probably destined to be an office black or a store. On the roof appears a peculiar skeletal structure. What is it going to be? I have no idea but someone knows.
We waited for a bus and on the other side of the road I saw this neat little building with its birth date of 1900 proclaimed proudly on its façade. It was obviously once the premises of a business and probably a flourishing one able and willing to include a large clock in the design. A jeweller-clockmaker, perhaps? Dwarfed though it is by the larger buildings on either side, it stands out because of its unusual design and its character.
Along the road, visible peering over smaller structures, Centre Point appears currently wearing a green apron, no doubt to protect it from the building work going on around it. This 33-storey block caused controversy when it was built in the 1960s by Richard Seifert, no stranger to controversy. An aggressive promoter of his buildings who liked to get his own way, Seifert was widely reviled in his own time but today opinions have shifted somewhat. It is recognized that though he did indeed design some dreadful buildings he also built others that are now coming to be appreciated, some even receiving the accolade of being listed. What does the future hold for Centre Point? I suspect they will still be asking that question several generations in the future.
In London Wall, we stopped to look at the Girdlers’ Hall. The Girdlers, makers of belts and suchlike accoutrements, are one of London’s livery companies that have existed since ancient times to protect the professions they represent and to ensure high standards of work. Today, the livery companies have largely invested their energies and funds into charitable works and foundations. Each has a hall which serves as the company’s headquarters.
The Girdlers received letters patent in 1327 and their royal charter in 1449. Their first hall, built 1431, burnt down in the Great Fire of 1666. Disaster struck again in 1940 when its replacement was destroyed by bombing. The foundation stone of the present building was laid in May 1960.
The Girdlers were granted their coat of arms in 1454 and a fine exemplar of it appears over the door of the hall. The arms are topped by a representation of the Company’s patron saint, St Lawrence, and includes three gilded objects. What are these? The figure in fact represents a visual, and slightly gruesome, pun. The metal objects are grid irons, which are also known as griddle irons and girdle irons – hence the punning connection with the name of the Girdlers’ Company. According to legend, St Lawrence was martyred in AD 258 by being burnt to death on a grid iron. This, however, is disputed by some historians according to whom he was beheaded, as was the custom of the day2.
Peering over the railings at the back of the hall, I was able to get a glimpse of the garden though this is, of course, not open to the public.
Near the Girdlers’ Hall is another hall, that of the Brewers’ Company. Beside this is a garden which I take to be a public as it is unenclosed. In it stands a sculpture by Kirin Jonzen entitled The Gardener. It shows a young lad crouching in a somewhat awkward posture, one knee to the ground and one hand on the soil as though he has just covered a seed or a bulb that he has planted.
We passed through the back streets on the way to Finsbury Square. In the City at weekends the streets are very quiet because most of the banks and offices are closed, as are the shops and pubs. This means that various species of birds are out in force scavenging. I photographed this crow who had found a paper bag containing something interesting and was busy pulling it open. Crows are clever enough to put one foot on an object to steady it while tearing it with their beak. Neither pigeons nor gulls seem to have learned this trick. (Click to see the slideshow.) The pictures have been cropped from distance shots so the images lack sharpness.
We passed through a sort of business campus of office blocks and passageways. Lights showed here and there in the windows but most of the offices were dark. Daylight penetrated through the glass roof high above and the windows, transparent here and opaque there acted like mirrors, reflecting one another until it was hard to tell what was real and what was reflection.
At weekends in the City, the doors are locked but the office blocks are manned by security guards. Every so often they patrol the building in their care and the rest of the time sit at the front desk. What do they do to pass the long hours of the weekend? Read? Listen to the radio? Dose with one eye open?
This entrance was lit in blue light and the people inside the atrium looked as though they were floating in an aquarium.
1Most tea merchants don’t say what they put in their Russian Caravan and this is why I buy the ingredients separately and mix them myself – to be sure I am getting what I think I am getting.
2One source, Pio Franchi de’ Cavalieri, suggests that the legend of the burning came about as a result of a mis-spelling in the announcement of the martyr’s death. In such announcements, the phrase passus est (“he suffered”, i.e. was martyred) was used and it is proposed (I don’t know on what evidence) that the scribe missed out the ‘p’, writing assus est, which would mean “he was roasted”.