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.

11 comments on “The Duplicity of Walking in London”

  1. Leigh says:

    Love it. You know this would have made a great London walks podcast. Just sayin’. And I also wanted to say thanks for taking the time to share your experiences. It’s always a pleasure to read from here in the USA and remind me of the many charms of London life. So thank you.

  2. Dan Terrell says:

    At risk of sounding like a broken record, as my parents would have said, I will ask: were you decompressing from finishing the latest B&M?(Because this excellent post is Bryant & May rich.) Or were you, perhaps, unknowingly doing research? Great stuff here as Leigh writes. More walks and photos, please, they are good for everyone.

  3. Helen Martin says:

    I would certainly assume that The Chequers was a pub and I love it’s entrance with those early 20th cent. livid green tiles. At least that’s the time period for them here in the former colony.

  4. Gretta says:

    Ahhh yes…nothing says ‘New Zealand’ like halloumi and kasundi…

    (What the H***’s kasundi when it’s at home??)

  5. Vickie says:

    Hear, hear! I’m joining the throng: more walks and photos would be delightful…great post!

  6. admin says:

    Expect more ‘decompression’ walks soon!

  7. Helen Martin says:

    With Gretta I ask what is kasundi or halloumi for that matter?

  8. Dan Terrell says:

    Gretta & Helen: kasundi is a Bengali spicy mustard relish & halloumi is a traditional Cypriot (…..Greek, best to keep these two seperate)cheese.

  9. Dan Terrell says:

    Dang, these fingers. That last should read: a traditional Cypriot (Turkish…Greek, best to keep these two separate)”add space” cheese. Gurrr…

  10. Helen Martin says:

    Thank-you, Dan, not New Zealandish at all, then.

  11. Gretta says:

    Thank you, Dan. It seems a bizarre selection for an NZ establishment. I’ve only ever heard of halloumi, and never eaten either of them. I hope they at least had Pavlova on the desserts menu.

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