Sunday, January 24th 2016
After the usual morning shopping expedition and resting therefrom, we took a bus and the bus took us to Covent Garden. Our first call was at an establishment on the corner of Mercer Street and Shelton Street, the London Graphic Centre. Whether you go there to buy supplies for art or design or simply to acquire a ballpoint pen, it is a fascinating place.
We were met at the door by this figure, apparently a mannequin covered in various brands of sticky tape, strangely reminiscent of the Egyptian mummies on display in the British Museum.
On the way out I spotted this attraction. It is a board covered with black-on-white line drawings and a shelf of coloured pens. You are invited to colour in the drawings. This couple obviously enjoyed taking a turn at the board. Colouring-in is usually thought of as an activity for children but it seems to be popular with grownups too as witness this, this and this, to mention but a few.
We walked down Mercer Street and admired these pleasantly styled apartment blocks. Mercer Street, it turns out, is named, not after a person, but after the Mercers’ Company, one of London’s ancient livery companies. It was the Mercers, owners of the land, who built what English Heritage describes as ‘Artisan’s dwellings’ in about 1905. Nowadays, the complex has a Grade II listing. Nor do I think that today’s occupants would think of themselves as ‘artisans’, not least because they would currently need to spend about £850,000 to buy one of the flats.
Ever since we had visited the Hergé exhibition (see Another damp Saturday), I had intended to renew my acquaintance with the stories of the intrepid young Belgian reporter and crime solver Tintin – not forgetting his sidekick Milou. Finding ourselves in Floral Street presented the ideal opportunity to fulfil that ambition because it is here that the Tintin Shop resides.
The Tintin stories have been translated into many languages (and Tintin has often been renamed in these languages) but they are best read in the original French which best expresses the drama, irony and humour of the plot and the characters. The shop had only a few titles in French and I eventually chose Tintin en Amérique (‘Tintin in America’), which I had not yet read. Hergé’s third Tintin story, it was first serialized in 1931-2 in Le Petit Vingtième and later published in book form (the familiar slim, large format ‘albums’), a monochrome version in 1932 and full colour in 1945.
The page illustrated above shows Tintin in a tight corner – tied to the railway track and about to be run over by a train – from which he of course escapes and, accompanied by his equally intrepid canine companion Milou, gets the better of the villains.
We then passed through the Piazza, as it is called. I think that in any other town this would have been named Market Square but the posher name perhaps predates the existence of the market which grew up in a somewhat haphazard fashion from the 17th century. The market having received official status, a building was designed to house it. This was built in 1828-30 and, unlike most of the public building of the day, was designed to serve the practical needs of the occupants rather than to impress with its beauty. Nonetheless, I think that the architect, Charles Fowler, succeeded on both counts. The Grade II* listing is fully deserved.
(The unattended heap in the middle distance is the chair and other accoutrements of a performer of Chinese music who, at the time of the photo, had taken a break. He later returned and resumed his musical endeavours.)
We crossed St Martin’s Lane, where I took the above photo looking roughly south. The globe sits on top of the London Coliseum, home of the ENO (English National Opera). The steeple to its right is that of S t Martin-in-the Fields in Trafalgar Square.
We continued into Charing Cross Road where we waited for a bus. The building in the background with a row of windows is the National Portrait Gallery.
We got off the bus in that fascinating neighbourhood called Fitzrovia and set off on a quick tour. There is always something to catch the attention here and today it was the large mosaic adorning the front of the Transport Police Office in Whitfield Street. To be honest, I can’t really make out what it represents but those with sharper eyes ad faster brains might be able to interpret it. (If you are unsure exactly what the role of the Transport Police is, see here.)
Also in Whitfield Street is an Italian restaurant called the Spaghetti House. On its façade was a brightly shining net of lights. As we are now well beyond Christmas, I imagine the restaurant displays these lights throughout the year.
Opposite the BTP office and the Spaghetti House is a park called Crabtree Fields. Beside it runs this pleasant lane. At the Whitfield Street end, there is a single row of houses which becomes a double row at the other end. Originally called Colville Court, it was built from 1766. During development of the site, the lease changed hands several times, latterly coming to one Edmund Pepys whose contractor, John Colvill, seems to have given his name to the estate. No vehicles pass along the path and it seems a very peaceful place to live in.
A looming in presence in Fitzrovia is what is now called the BT Tower. Officially opened in 1965 as the Post Office Tower, it has since been known as the Thames TV Tower, the London Telecom Tower and the British Telecom Tower. Under whatever name, the tower was famous for its rotating restaurant giving diners splendid views of London. However, security fears following discovery on the premises of a bomb (claimed by the Provisional IRA) led to the tower being closed to the public in 1981, except for occasional corporate events.
Here, the BT Tower seems to be casting its baleful gaze over works that have closed part of Charlotte Street, though that, of course, is a purely subjective impression!