Bryant & May And The Exhausted Writer


Thanks everyone for some interesting suggestions about what to do with Bryant & May for their twentieth excursion.

Some of these ideas have already been covered. I’ve written about the Blackheath plague pits twice before in short stories. The stories appeared in the shared-world ‘Zombie Apocalypse’ anthologies. When I was small much of the heath was still covered in scrub, with great ditches that were perfect for bike riding – they were all filled in.

I don’t really want to time machine the unlikely lads back to Victorian times, partly because Bryant is a closet Victorian and would simply fit in too well, partly because if I bring in SF elements after years of keeping them out, there will be Trouble From Certain Quarters.

The nano-device idea was used by Michael Crichton (not very successfully) in ‘Prey’, and I’ve had Royalty visit the PCU (back in ooh, ‘White Corridor’ possibly). I have set quite a few plots in bits of East London but the area is ready to get a bigger look-in in the next novel. I haven’t got them out to Essex proper, though other writers, like the excellent Syd Moore have made this their own special field.

Jan’s ideas about Blackheath and Greenwich play into my background nicely and I will explore more here – Greenwich is rich in folklore and strange tales.

Swimming pools could be part of a larger look at derelict or overlooked London, although I have to say that there’s not much of it left that hasn’t been rebuilt, usually with a Pret A Manger on the site.

I always liked the way Ian Nairn wrote about London – ‘Nairn’s London’ is a masterpiece, and part of his series about travelling from London to the North can now be viewed on BBC iPlayer in the Archive section.

Roger – very funny. Sadly, I’m no Gibbon.

I covered the Winter of Discontent in ‘Seventy Seven Clocks’, and am reluctant to revisit that horrible time. I could do one set in the Thatcher era but this is Jonathan Coe’s manor, and he is a whizz at it.

But I do have an idea now – although it’s one not so far suggested. I was thinking about Nairn championing the unloved covers of modernity, which led me to another saviour of London architecture…

Watch this space!

33 comments on “Bryant & May And The Exhausted Writer”

  1. Brian Evans says:

    How about the 1950’s with a rock and roll backdrop? Eg, the Soho coffee bars where Cliff Richard and Tommy Steele were discovered? I can see Arthur getting very wound up with modernity, as he did in the 1960’s “Hall of Mirrors” You could also bring in the pubs of the area inhabited by Jeffrey Barnard etc.

  2. Brooke says:

    See older posts — readers favored Greenwich, as Arthur’s tenuous relationship with standardized time has interesting possibilities.
    I’m holding out for Kew Gardens Strangler and Italian Whelk Horror.

  3. mike says:

    Waltham Forest, birthplace of Alfred Hitchock and site of the Walthamstow Palace should fit into your time scheme

  4. Jan says:

    He was a funny bloke that Ian Nairn. Why on earth would he decide to be a pretend Geordie? I mean what was that all about? He was from Reading apparently but fantasized about being a Geordie and used to crack on about it for much of the time!

    I think Newcastle is a great place BUT …..Scots lads at work used to be like this. They talked proper London most of the time then some other North of the border personage would happen along and they became instant Jocks! Very odd.

    That derelict London website is pretty good.

    Mikes right about Walthamstow Palace and Waltham Forest. Interesting locations both.

    There’s also tons of really interesting connections between the City of London and Epping Forest. There used to be an annual service at St Paul’s to do with deer in the Forest. Ceremony of the Horns or something similar seemed as much pagan as ChrIstian. There’s lots of other stuff lots of industry that took place within the C of L was relocated out to the Forest almost like it was a very early off loading of dirty industries. Much repeated since.

    You know looking back at the work that was done immediately prior to the 2012 London Olympics could provide some rich pickings. Lots of industry shuffled about for that to happen. Lots of street work.(of all kinds ! )was disrupted in order to facilitate the smooth running of the Olympics. Bow Back rivers which had survived remarkably intact for centuries pretty much destroyed for the Olympian effort! Listed trees were felled – no other agency could have got away with it. Shipwreck removed maybe even destroyed from.the Rivers. Three Mills island really changed.Incidentally the original site of the Bryant + May factory is celebrated at the Olympic site (now park) West Ham end up in the Olympic Stadium. Poor old Leyton Orient played up about it but were overruled. Olympic Stadium being too close to their stadium see? This contravenes F.As own rules. Think that flats were built on West Hams old ground site near Green Lanes that’s on odd corner of the N.E. London suburbs Did a fair bit of work.over there.

  5. Christine says:

    What about mysterious doorknockers?

  6. snowy says:

    “What about mysterious doorknockers?”

    *Makes note to find a DVD copy of Labyrinth*

    [The film where you see David Bowie doing tricks with his orbs…

    well those trousers were ridiculously sheer!]

    ⁽ᴮᵉ ᶜᵃʳᵉᶠᵘˡ ʷⁱᵗʰ ᵗʰᵃᵗ ʲᵒᵏᵉᐧᐧᐧ ⁱᵗˢ ˡⁱˢᵗᵉᵈ ᵃˢ ᵃⁿ ᴬⁿᶜⁱᵉⁿᵗ ᴹᵒⁿᵘᵐᵉⁿᵗ⁾

  7. Stuart says:

    There is an old World War One era rifle range under Blackheath – I went to shooting practice there a number of times as a cadet back in the day. Brick vaulted low ceilings like tubes, sand on the floor and you sent the smallest cadet to the back to get the targets when you had finished. Spooky in the extreme with bullet holes and ricochet marks on the brick etc. They got us to fire at a two pence piece (or a penny if you were really cocky) to embed the bullet in the coin – then remarked you had committed treason by defacing a coin of the realm and the Queen’s image and could still technically be hanged or shot etc. Still got mine. Happy Days!

  8. Martin Tolley says:

    Brooke, I too have a fancy for Kew Gardens, lots of myths and things to do with tropical plants, poisons and the like. And it’s near the fantastic Music Museum, where all sorts of mechanical devices make music from windup music boxes to wurlitzer organs – arcane and magnificent stuff in there.

  9. Susanna Carroll says:

    Crystal Palace Park, apparently some of the dinosaurs are hollow. Mr Bryant might take offence at suggestions that he’d feel right at home among them…

  10. Jo W says:

    Have no fear, I laughed and then carefully dusted and removed any damaging fingerprints from that AM of a joke. It is back in its box. 😉

  11. Jan says:

    A dinner party was held inside one of the Crystal Palace dinosaurs. Honestly.

    Seemed like no sooner did some large hollow structure appear than the gentry decided to have an evening meal there.

  12. Jan says:

    I never knew that there was a old rifle range beneath Blackheath! Stuart that’s very interesting. There’s quite a lot to Blackheath if I still lived in town I would get across there for another good look.

    Over in Fryent way NW London (a chunk to the N of Wembley Stadium) there was one of those underground places created where a couple of RAF reservist blokes would have been posted to check radiation contamination levels if WW3 had happened. Interestingly it turns out that a very ancient track way ran along the W section of Fryent way running parallel with the modern roadway. Not far away from this little bunker at all. It’s so interesting that places of importance STAY IMPORTANT some way or another. The hedge which still remains marking out this track is part of a Saxon pilgrimage route which ran from Westminster/Thorney island up to St Albans. As it turns out “pilgrimage” was not essentially first off a Christian thing it was just modified by the coming of Christianity it was probably part of life since Mesolithic times walking the land at different times of the year for various reasons. It’s an odd thing that some places survive and are appropriated time after time for reasons of defence. Essentially because they are open spaces – nothing fantastical about it.

    A couple of weeks back I went on an organised visit to Badbury Rings an Iron age Hillfort in Dorset.. A search light had been placed up on the Hill to guide WW2 fighter bombers back to a nearby airfield (now defunct) after night raids into Europe. In amongst the iron age stuff there were remains of concrete bunkers! The guide explained that Badbury Rings and nearby Spettisbury rings formed a sort of border area between Romans legging it to the West and the incoming Saxon tribes back in the late 4 and early 5th century. The hillforts mark out a sort of demarcation zone in a sense. Their presence caused this border. It’s as if back in prehistory templates were created by the early people which have resonated down through history ever since. They couldn’t have knowingly done this. Just worked out that way. It’s interesting.

  13. Jan says:

    Sorry I did burble on a some length there.

  14. mike says:

    One of the Rippers victims, Mary Jane Kelly is buried in Leytonstone in St Patricks RC cemetery.

  15. Peter Tromans says:

    I’d also see Kew Gardens as an interesting possibility. With the outbreak of Brexititis Mononoxitis, what about Mr Bryant goes to Brussels?

  16. Helen Martin says:

    Kew Gardens is good, but most of the suggestions above are interesting and I have a fondness for Greenwich. Just reading the Penguin excerpts from Haklyut and found a bit about Sebastian Cabot coming with a number of courtiers down Greenwich to greet a ship sailing on behalf of the Muscovy company in 1556. He came on board and prayed for the success of their voyage. The man must have been 80 so you can understand why the description is full of respect, but it just read with so much warmth.

  17. Bruce Rockwood says:

    Some of the Extinction Rebellion protests might provide an opportunity for an interesting event, accident or crime that provides a puzzle worthy of Bryant ‘s insights. Sabotage of a solar powered boat as well?

  18. Jo W says:

    I’ve been thinking that maybe the title of this day’s blog is the one you’re looking for, Christopher. A tragic tale of writers’ cramp and (slightly) potty correspondents.

  19. Laura Humphrey says:

    Grew up in Greenwich and would love to see B&M there, but for a real challenge go over Shooters Hill to the miles of tedious suburbs, Welling Bexleyheath etc, now if you could make them interesting, that would be amazing

  20. Jan says:

    No Jo you could probably drop the slightly out your comment!

  21. Ian Luck says:

    How about finding a modern corpse under the Tower Of London – a new-age nutter trying to find the remains of King Lud? Or the mysterious death whilst working, of the bloke who mows the grass on top of the Admiralty Citadel?

  22. Helen Martin says:

    Mows the grass on top of the Admiralty Citadel? Is this the 3 story bunker at the corner of Edgeware Road and Oxgate Lane? It is now in “private hands” according to Wikipedia but there is no citation to confirm that. It does sound as if there’s a certain amount of plot potential, especially when you consider how much gets left behind in these changes of ownership.
    [It’s been snowing on the prairies – and raining – and hailing while farmers are still getting in their crops. The wine makers in the Okanagan are rushing to get in a harvest before fall storms hit them and meanwhile the nation, in the throws of a federal election, is celebrating Thanksgiving. Don’t wonder if we sound a little confused.]

  23. Jan says:

    If you sit in the Nat Gallery Cafe you get a proper good view of the green roof of the Citadel.
    That’s where your witnesses could sit Ian.

  24. Jan says:

    No Helen the place you are referring to is in fact a Naval underground installation built in the 1930s with an eye on the upcoming World War 2. It is in NW2 North West London suburbs. It was sited beneath a government building until the 1970s an unemployment office if I remember correctly. Sites on W side of Cricklewood Broadway not far from Smiths Industries. A private carpet warehouse purchased it in the 1980s – a Middle Eastern carpet emporium. I visited it + asked to see the bunker and the owner a proper gent took me round this intriguing sub-basement and brewed me some app!e or mint tea.

    There’s a whole cluster of government buildings housing bunkers around NW2, Wembley and Wealdstone. Beneath the post office research centre in Dollis Hill is the mysterious Paddock where Churchills cabinet would have first withdrawn to if the UK had actually been invaded.
    I have visited that with Sub Bruttanica. Really interesting place. Wealdstone had Station Z, and Wembley had a couple of bunkers beneath a secondary school and beneath an industrial estate near East Lane.

    The place Ian is on about is the Ivy covered blockhouse near Admiralty Arch off Trafalgar Square.

  25. Jan says:

    Actually Tommy Flowers whose contribution to modern computer development is exceeded (only just) by Alan Turing carried out much of his work at the Post Office research centre Dollis Hill. Much of the work ‘re computer development accredited to Bletchley Park did in fact take place at Dollis Hilll. Why the government maintains this fiction and forgets the research centre I dunno. They can’t lie straight in bed these people. Flowers has been almost entirely forgotten maybe his being a working class ‘engineer ‘ rather than an accredited intellectual is part of his being overlooked. I think a row of council houses a little road in East London being named for him is about the only recognition he ever received. Again it took a real social change for Turing”s rehabilitation to come about. Although Winston Churchill utilised all the brains available to the British government there seems to have been a lot of forgetfulness when credit for the contribution of many folk was due.

  26. Helen Martin says:

    Not being able to lie straight in bed pretty well covers them, Jan. Your suggestions regarding Mr. Flowers are probably correct as well. If he were Dr. Thomas Flowers, Oxon, things would be different I imagine. Initially the idea was probably to keep everything of all sorts quiet with no explanations offered to anyone. Later, as things started to come out and the whole industry expanded some information had to come out, but let’s watch what we say, right, chaps?
    I feel a revolution in the history department coming on, don’t you?
    By the way, I notice that the scientists presenting tv programs these days don’t worry about changing their accents of origin.Perhaps things are changing a little.

  27. Jan says:

    Yes you are most probably right Helen the future right at the end of WW2 was incredibly uncertain and things were kept under wraps in case of further conflict.

    People were reminded they had signed the Official secrets Act and simply told to keep their mouths shut. People who had done incredibly important work as Flowers had on “Colossus” towed the line and kept quiet. In the following decades folk died without ever mentioning their work and role even to their closest mates or partners and relatives.

    If you have time to spare take a quick read of the story behind “Colossus” it’s incredible really.

    One of the odd things about Dollis Hill and the P.O. research centre is that the soil from the excavations where the earth was hollowed out to create the bunker was simply dumped into Gladstone Park which is practically opposite the place! Difficult to miss really. I worked around NW2 and walked all around this locality and trust me the massive mounds of soil were still spottable in the mid 1970s They must have been pretty bleeding obvious at the time.

  28. Ian Luck says:

    There really is a man employed by the M.O.D. to mow the grass on the Admiralty Citadel roof. He’s booked in, presumably searched, then he, and his mower are escorted up to the roof, where he mows the grass. Not doing this would be tantamount to anarchy. A Naval Shore Establishment with weeds on it? Unthinkable.

  29. Jan says:

    You can tell the internet here has returned can’t u?

    “Yep” groan Fowler + others. “Shurrup you boring old tart why don’t you?”

    ‘re the above bit about Tommy Flowers. He actually used some his OWN DOSH to build “Collosus” @ Dollis Hill. The Bletchley Park bods thought it wasn’t doable. A few years after WW2 Flowers toddled off to the bank for a bank loan to take his ideas forward. The Bank managers said it was impossible to achieve and totally undoable Cos of the veil of secrecy and Official Secrets Act Flowers couldn’t let them know he’d already built computers of a sort and they had been used successfully in WW2. Incredible really.

  30. Jan says:

    Ian – They caught on to this green roofing and walling pretty early didn’t they the M.O.D? Camouflage really the large lawn didn’t register on aerial photos accurately did it?

    Other than from above the bloody place is unmissable though.

    Similar thing in Store Street WC1.

  31. Nick says:

    Cheers for the tip-off about Syd Moore – I shall have to investigate! 🙂

  32. Ian Luck says:

    There is (or was) a huge arrow marked on top of a structure – possibly a gasometer, to point civilian aircraft towards Heathrow, so that they wouldn’t land at RAF Northolt (home of hush-hush flights, if you are into conspiracies), as one unfortunate aircraft did, several years ago. What if someone was to somehow erase that arrow, and re-paint it pointing in a different direction?

  33. Ian Luck says:

    The buildings for the Olympics were praised at the time, and people loved the new bridges. When I heard locals talking about the newbuild, I would wince inwardly – I knew something they did not. A good friend of ours worked to build the site, and was also waiting to demolish it when the games were over. All the new bridges that locals and visitors raved over, and a great many buildings, had been sold before they were even put on the site. No wonder so many people were disappointed and annoyed when the site was cleared, with the bridges of many types of stone replaced by strictly utilitarian river crossings, and the buildings that one would have thought to have been of benefit to the local inhabitants, carefully taken down, packed on to trucks, and driven away.

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