The Duplicity of Walking in London
I spend too much of my life underneath London. But yesterday was one of those days that blasted through every possibility in the English weather lexicon, from soaking drizzle to blazing sunshine and windstorms. Obviously the ideal day for a city walk. Starting at King’s Cross, I headed to Clerkenwell and the city, stopping at a yet another new New Zealand hotspot, where I had a stonking great breakfast of poached eggs, corn fritters, halloumi and tomato kasundi.
On my way through Finsbury to Hoxton, Spitalfields and Whitechapel – less than three miles from my front door – I got into unfamiliar territory. I wasn’t lost – although that’s still very easy to do in London – but what the hell were these buildings, and how could I never have seen them before? Walking in London always unveils surprises because you can guarantee something will have changed since the last time you took that route. This brewery appears to be in the middle of some kind of restoration, but proved empty. All the signs around it seemed to suggest that the area was still an active brewery, but it looked like a film set or part of a hotel. There was no-one around to ask.
Half an hour later it was pouring again, so I dived in here – emerging none the wiser as to what the shop was selling. Coffee and puppets and cheese, possibly.
London is infinitely duplicitous – it promises one thing and delivers something else, takes you one way and turns you another, and behind your back the river moves about. And just to make everything more complicated, shops don’t do what they tell you they do. The electricity Showroom is a pub. The Fish Shop is a hairdressers and The Old Butcher’s shop sells jeans. All Saints, a clothing store, has a window full of sewing machines. Dans Le Noir at least does what it says on the tin; it’s a pitch-dark restaurant run by blind people.
I passed a bicycle repair shop which was also serving teas, ending up here at a pub which, it turns out, wasn’t – or might be as it had two signs, one in Italian. Finally I returned to a station that had one name on the surface and another, different name on the platform – Monument is linked to Bank underground, but to find the Northern Line at Monument you have to go down Bank’s platform – god knows how tourists manage.
Finally back, it seems that in the three hours I’ve been gone a new shop has appeared called ‘Utility’, except it sells items that can only be described as luxuries – a Philippe Starck orange zester, anyone?
The experience reminded me of the story ‘Camera Obscura’ by (I think) Basil Copper, in which a man becomes trapped in his own vision of the world.