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.

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.

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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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Tuesday night Dérive

In Gough Square EC4 there’s a homemade sign which reads “BEWARE DIVE-BOMBING SEAGULL IN SQUARE”, with a photo of the bird. There’s the noisy chatter of afterwork drinks in the legal chambers of Gunpowder Square. In Shoe Lane I look through the windows at suits in corporate drinking dens built into the ground-floor levels of glass and steel office blocks – cathedrals of capital with alcohol on-site. It’s 9.25pm and still light.
Turn right, still Shoe Lane, and now it’s dirty gothic and the back of a Wren-like church where I can see a bricked-in door that at this subterranean level must have been an entrance to the crypt. Cab driver sleeps in the back of his Taxi with the engine running under the viaduct.
I take the steps down into Saffron Hill from Charterhouse Street. The rule for my dérive is simple, go where it looks interesting, head for uncharted territory.
Greville Street runs east to west and looks ripe with pubs and eats. I drift on north up Saffron Hill. “THAI CAFÉ AT THE ONE TUN”, Bombardier bunting and Budweiser neon in the windows. It’s too early to hit the beer, I haven’t found familiar territory yet, the dérive is still on and this place doesn’t look so appealing. There’s a painted sign on the wall telling its history: The One Tun was patronised by Charles Dickens and is mentioned in Oliver Twist as “The Three Cripples”, a One Tun is 252 gallons or 4 hogsheads and Saffron Hill takes its name from the Saffron crops that grew here in the eighteenth century. A large white Cadillac is parked opposite advertising the Venus Table Dancing Club. There’s a stone plaque above a metal door with two crossing shields one bearing a swan with L&Co. underneath and the other a ship and the date 1726. It looks like an old warehouse (for saffron?) – there’s a sign advertising flats for rent. As I get near Clerkenwell Road loft apartments take over, familiar territory is in sight.
I hit Hatton Wall and the dérive is effectively over. I could go in the Deux Beers Café Bar but I’m no fan of the Belgian beer crowd so I duck down Eyre Street Hill to The Gunmakers where Maxim conceived the machine gun over a pint. I’ve cruised this place two or three times and been put off by its apparent clubiness but tonight it’s quiet enough to draw me in. I sit under framed photos of a young Albert Finney circa Saturday Night Sunday Morning and above is Samuel Beckett naturally enough. The sixties music is not loud enough to blot out the design-speak from a nearby table. One fella uses the word “über” a lot as in “she has this über über über cool job,” and someone says that “it’s vital we have ownership of the paradigm.” This is Clerkenwell. You could throw a crisp at the Ben Sherman offices from my comfy seat in this roughed-up Social chic pub which works in a kind of way that would make old Albert feel at home. I finish my pint of IPA.
On Amwell Street at 11pm I pass Boris Johnson Tory MP and editor of The Spectator pushing his bike yelling into his mobile phone “So much for the intellectual powerhouse of the Labour backbenches.” The sweaty crowd spilling out of Filthy McNasty’s (yes it is filthy and it is nasty)give him worried looks like he’s some kind of nutter. On Penton Street a northern TV Comedienne is debating with the guys from the Chinese take-away about who’s responsible for the bag of rubbish split open on the path. There’s more than a touch of midsummer madness around.
I pop into Borat’s for a chat and come away with can of Holstein Pils. Get home and email The Guardian Diary page with my Boris story.

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