Black Mary’s Hole

I decide to go back into Black Mary’s Hole to take some photos. I enter from Grays Inn Road via Elm Street and discover that the ominous looking block sprouting military sized satellite dishes on the roof is in fact the offices of the Serious Fraud Squad (a building they appear to share with ITN). The offices are illuminated by strip lights, a swivel chair turned to face the window with a bulging folder sat half open. I wonder if this is the infamous George Galloway file.

Luckily the basement office stacked high with old IT gear belongs to the neighbouring building. Two fellas are sat there feet up. I move along a little down Gough Street, flash off, too far away to get a good picture. It’s freezing. A guy walks down the middle of the street with two dogs. This is a desolate dark lane. The office that I snap has a semi-deserted carpark beneath – a skip full of broken office furniture. It doesn’t take a wild leap of the imagination to see the murder of John Etheridge that took place here in 1766. Etheridge was driving cattle through the area and one of his bullocks strayed into a field belonging to William Floyd. Thomas Plymmer came out of the smith’s shop, struck him once on the nose, he collapsed and died.

From the top of Phoenix Place I look out over the lights of the huge carpark that house the post office vans of the Mount Pleasant sorting office. My great aunts Edie and Ethel worked here when they returned from South Africa in the 1920’s. The tower blocks on St John’s Street Goswell Road shimmer in the background, roughly on the spot of the old madhouse, the historic symmetry is instructive.

This dark pit between Calthorpe Street, Kings Cross Road, Farringdon Road, Grays Inn and down to Clerkenwell Road keeps drawing me in, night and day. It retains a medieval feel, even after William Floyd’s fields have given way to a roughly surfaced carpark and the sorting office has been dropped on Sir John Oldcastle’s orchard. C20th street lighting fails to illuminate the damp blackness that rises from the Fleet beneath the pavement. Alleys and lanes proliferate. There is an absence of people on the street after dark, you earn your passage through here and it stays with you.


The scene in Muratori on Kings Cross Road is one to catch. Faces alive. The waitress has the floor, animated, arms waving, she’s holding court, all the blokes in post office drag having their hearty dinners laughing. It’s like an Edward Hopper painting injected with mirth.

This morning, going up Mount Pleasant the covers start to come off the back of the infamous Grays Inn Buildings. It’s starting to look like just another block of luxury flats, a long way from it’s days as a notorious den of drugs and anarchists.

B.S Johnson in High Wycombe

Did a classic walk in from Wycombe to Wooburn last week, along the River Wye. We’d gone down to do a talk to the Fine Art students at BCUC and I’d had this urge to walk home, chart the changes taking place to the area where I grew up as they manifest themselves along the river which gave the area it’s purpose and its identity.
But before I got onto the river I couldn’t resist a diversion to Gordon Road where BS Johnson stayed as an evacuee. Somebdoy contacted me via this blog to point out the long descriptions of Wycombe in his novel ‘Trawl’.
I started reading him because he lived in Claremont Square, Islington, just down the road from me, the top of Penton Mound. He writes about night-time schleps around Islington in ‘Albert Angelo’.
It’s another reference in my ‘autopobiography’.

You can read about the walk here: http://remappinghighwycombe.blogspot.com

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‘Walking Class Heroes’

Found the site of The Pedestrian Council of Australia whilst researching Walk to Work Schemes.
They promote a national Walk to Work Day. Their aims and objectives are pretty tame but at least it’s a start. I’m not really aware of anything similar in the UK apart from Sustrans who advocate cycling. The Ramblers only promote recreactional walking which is more or less true of Transport For London’s walking initiative.
http://www.walk.com.au/pedestriancouncil/page.asp

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Pedestrian Culture

Pedestrian Culture
I went straight to this blog after I found yet another new route for my daily plod to work – how many more variations can there be on a walk from Penton Mound to the South Bank. This one goes from the end of Grays Inn Road along High Holborn down the alley next to Pendrals Oak into Lincolns Inn Fields (where I found a cluster of black cabs and white stretch limos last night), Portugal Street, Aldwych. A classic.

The reason I visited Pedestrain Culture is that this very idea is frequently on my mind during my walks – how, by making walking part of your functional routines, could transform daily life, and naturally by extension if people do it on mass our cities and town would be quite different places. Put simply – walking can change the world.

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Boots

My trusty walking boots have finally expired. It’s a big deal for someone who plods around as much as I do. I must have been to about 20 shops trying to find a replacement looking for something cheap, comfortable and sturdy enough to do about 3,000 miles of pavement.

Shops seem to cater for mountaineers, hill walkers, jungle trekkers, light trekkers, travellers, but not urban walkers. Our needs are quite different and the whole thing left me quite perplexed. Eventually wet feet got me down and I ended up with a pair of cheap Reeboks from Lilywhites.

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Farringdon Road


farringdon road
Originally uploaded by soapbox.

At almost the same place on Clerkenwell Road this morning and again at 9.30pm I got a definite trembling in my hip. Like a mobile phone vibrating in my pocket, except my phone was turned off in my bag.
I have been getting strong impulses to go a particular way on walks to and from work. Impulses I can’t refuse. Last night I was virtually pushed away from my usual route along Fetter and Leather Lane, my legs just wouldn’t permit me to go that way. I ended up being drawn beneath the Blade Runner office blocks of Shoe Lane and into Farringdon Road. I took photos on my phone and sent them to my sister with cryptic clues as to the location. She was allowed to use The London Compendium and the A-Z.
Tonight though I had no problems taking a minor deviation down Hatton Garden, one of London’s most alluring streets. In daytime there’s a mixture of builders, jewellers counting the diamonds rings in their shop windows, young couples looking for engagement rings and great hunks of men in dark suits providing protection. The transactions that take place in this non-descript looking Lane must run into the millions. But twenty yards away in Leather Lane street traders knock out bargain priced designer copies and cheap bags of dried fruit. At night Hatton Garden is full of mystery.
Walking down there my head was still spinning from all the conspiracy sites I’d been reading about the London bombings. They’re rubbish of course but they’ve tuned me into the malevolence I sensed abroad in the city after 7th July. It’s still there. It’s not just the nutcases with bombs in their backpacks but the shooting of that poor lad at Stockwell Station by the Police and the sanctimonious droning of Tony Blair.
Of course the conspiracy theorists and the establishment always forget about the power of the street, the unpredictable force of the mob, the echoes from the past pulsing up through the pavement.

Liberty lies in your feet

It was Elm Street WC1 that set me free and took me through the square that wasn’t there. Holsworthy Square is merely a block of flats with a courtyard. Holsworthy, a town in north Devon, another link in the Rosebery Avenue connection that includes Exmouth Market, Bideford, Braunton, Dulverton , Dawlish, and Barnstaple Mansions.
The Gunmakers closed its doors as I got there, Duke of Yorks was kari-effing-oke. Disillusioned I wandered into Mount Pleasant, then Elm Street. As I strolled onto Grays Inn Road I sensed a more urban ambience, Bloomsbury’s poor cousin. Endless possibilities open up. Should I finally try the Calthorpe Arms? Nah too snug, a real regular’s pub. Further up the Queen’s Head was geezers playing pool and the Percy Arms remains boarded up.
I end up in the comfortable pseudo-trendy Clockwork atop Pentonville Road full of relaxed vibes for the Blank Generation. There are exactly ten people in the place, maybe it picks up the sad souls who can’t get into Salmon & Compasses and the Elbow Room? Upstairs from 10-3am is Skrew! Nu-Electro Dirty Disco & Sleazy Punk with DJs T-Lady and The Real Joan Collins. Dobney’s Tea Gardens, White Conduit House and Busby’s Folly have been replaced by pubs hastily converted into bop-bars, demi-clubs of the Annam ilk that draw the City clerks north and leave them scattered on early morning puke-and-piss-splattered pavements just as in the days that Victorian inheritances were squandered on gin, races and whores and written about by Oliver Goldsmith.

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