Through Temple Bar into Paternoster Square. There’s a Mussolini-like modernism about it. Neo-classical fascist. It’s a cold Sunday night and a few souls criss-cross the asymmetrical space, it could be Rimini. I feel like a shape in a Di Chirico painting. It is ghostly and out-of-place which fits this city of dislocation. I’m pulled in strange directions from one side of the square to another, then under a portico which has sprouted concrete umbrellas from its ceiling.

I escape the vortex inside Paternoster Square and find myself looking into Hat and Mitre Court EC1, 10 yards long, chain-link gate, fragment of mediaeval street plan. Not a soul around. Brewhouse Yard, gleaming new and empty. The news from Clerkenwell is that loft development kills the street. The only flaneur round here is the deli of that name on Farringdon Road.

At Borat’s shop a 12-year old talks into his mobile phone. “That’s CID just gone past”.
“How can you tell?”. “I know, right”. They’re in a heightened state. Training their Bull Terrier to attack. Small time criminals in embryo.

london

Dobney’s, Penton Street

Penton Street, N1

“Upon the site of Dobney’s Place, at the back of Penton Street, stood an old house, having a bowling-green, and tea-gardens, with ponds, &c. similar to those at White Conduit House….”
This strip is in the midst of a make-over whilst White Conduit House remains a locked up dodgy boozer.

J. Nelson’s History, Topography, and Antiquities of the Parish of St.Mary Islington in the County of Middlesex, pub 1811 also has a nice note about topographical writing:
“The study of our National Antiquities has called forth the talents of the most eminent scholars; and it is generally admitted, that writings on this subject, combining Historical remark with Topographical illustration, are calculated to convey a knowledge of our domestic concerns in a way the most entertaining and instructive.”

london

Grays Inn Road-North Devon

Grays Inn Road Mansions

Dulverton and Dawlish Mansions just up from Holsworthy Square. I’ve checked their alignment with their namesakes in the South West and it yielded no clues to the mystery.

Update: 10/01/2006
Eileen Reid sent me the following by email:
Re all the Devon connections in Rosebery Avenue, etc. They’re there because the developer James Hartnoll was of Devonian extraction. Born in poverty in Southwark, he died worth more than £400,000.. not very psychogeographical, I’m afraid. But true. There was an article in the Camden History journal in 1980 all about him.

london

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.

london

Into the Bear Pit

Finally ventured into the 1 o’clock club, the bear pit, dragged in by my son. We stood at the door, son struck by shyness. All eyes turned towards us, conversation halted. The scary granny-childminders of my previous post were all smiles and cooes for the little fella’s curly locks. We stayed for a good hour, covering ourselves in bright pink paint. The doors were shut but the real Vera Drakes were sweetness and light; one even gave us a packet of raisins.

london

1 O’Clock Club

“Open the doors and let the kids play”, is what one Mum said to me. She was talking about the 1 O’clock club in Barnard Park but I took it on a metaphorical level. Open the doors and let the kids play, take down the barriers and unleash the little tykes’ creative energies. It seems odd that in one of our precious bits of greenspace (Islington has the least amount of greenspace of any Borough in London) the doors at the 1 o’clock club should remain closed keeping the children inside the little concrete cube with the gossiping women. I’m too intimidated to go in myself, I rely on the hearsay of others. It comes across as a tight cabal of fiercesome grannie-childminders and fag smoking baby-mums spouting Daily Mail headlines.
One source reported a conversation about Mike Leigh’s film ‘Vera Drake’ that went along the lines of “Saw that Vera Drake”, “Me too, boring…”, “Dreary,” “I walked out”. The irony being that Leigh has said in his mind the character of Vera Drake lived in Copenhagen Street, the street that runs right past the 1 o’clock club; these lovely ladies could be the real Vera Drakes.
‘Course you’d never find Mike Leigh at the 1 0’clock club, it’s far too working class.
The conversation about getting the doors open literally and metaphorically and ending the club’s status as a free coffee stop for the childless women of the area ignited my political instincts. We were still bathing in the glow of our Sure Start playgroup being taken into the hands of a parent-led management committee and had successfully changed the time of the kids’ morning snack to 11.15. “A coup d’etat”, I suggested, “a 1 o’clock club putsch”.
“Sing song time”. One of the group facilitators rounded us up and soon talk of the march on Barnard Park was drowned out by “Wind the bobbin up, wind the bobbin up…..” A song glorifying exploitative piecework labour practices of capitalist mill owners.

london

Writing the Great Necropolis

I cross the border into deepest darkest Hackney, a journey worthy of Conrad, taken aboard a 394 all the way from Angel to Homerton High Street. This journey should have its own blue plaque, a magical mystery tour through the fringe of the old City, through its plaque pits, burial grounds and hunting fields. White Conduit House, The Eagle, Shoreditch, London Fields. It’s a moving expo of public housing schemes from the best of the LCC 4-storey blocks built but idealists to seventies efforts fit only for crack-dens.
The purpose of my pilgrimage back to my post-Poly stomping grounds is to listen to London’s seer, Iain Sinclair sharing a platform with two other writers who use the city as their muse, Maureen Duffy and Ferdinand Dennis. The venue is a treasure, Sutton House that boasts to be the oldest dwelling in East London and I’m guessing that it’s C16/C17th. I remember it as the place I could never get into, kept impossible hours and my days back then were divided between the Job Centre, the library and Mare Street pubs.
Sinclair reads for perhaps 15 minutes but it’s long enough to deliver a few choice lines on how working in freight yards and parks he created a kind of “mythic geography” of the area; that his London is defined by invisibility and secrecy, and Mike Moorcock turned back at the river unable to cross the Thames heading south.
Duffy and Dennis offer slightly different visions of our great necropolis. Duffy has memories of the blitz and Dennis delivers fruity slices of the post-war immigrant experience. But as Duffy reminds us we’re all immigrants in London (in England I’d say).
It triggers off various thoughts. For me London is a city that dis-locates you rather than gives you a sense of location. So much is buried beneath our feet and behind the brickwork that echoes of past lives pulse up through the pavement and seep through the plaster.
When I walk to work I cross the River Fleet, “River of Wells”. Despite being beneath Kings Cross Road/ Farringdon Road there is a tangible divide when the river is crossed. Again when I emerge from Fetter Lane into Fleet Street the atmosphere alters as I enter the realm of Sweeney Todd and Samuel Johnson.
I came home from Hackney via the more prosaic No.38, one of the last surviving Routemasters and alight at the end of Essex Road. Homerton feels a million miles away, down below us on boggy ground while we swan around on the sacred Penton Mound.