A January Miscelleny

Observatory

Why do all my posts need a single subject? Here are some random moments from the past month that slipped through my fingers. First, I took a walk along Regent Street on Christmas Eve – there was hardly anyone around, and little movement except the flapping of electronic angel wings.

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One of the nicest (and oldest) bars I know survives under the road in Villiers Street, Charing Cross. Most Londoners know about it, but we sort of forget to visit and look at its collection of newspapers advertising products for the Crimean War. Gordon’s Wine Bar. It’s been there since about 1890, but there was a drinking establishment on the site long before that.

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Off to Estonia on my annual jaunt to find the most ridiculously Christmassy place within a short flying time. I’ve been there before and was pleased to find nothing changed. Freezing in winter, glorious in summer, the people are friendly, the food spectacular. The main square hosts the perfect Christmas market. According to the notoriously inaccurate Daily Mail the town is full of drunk English tourists, not one of whom was to be found.

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Bookbinding is a matter of great pride in Tallinn, and there are shops everywhere selling elegant one-off leather volumes of all sizes. Here’s a tiny sample of the ones I saw.

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Meanwhile, the junk shops are unheated and filled to the rafters with alarming statues of dictators, Russian naval memorabilia, dolls, prewar phones and periodicals, toys and millions of very odd clocks. Prices are high, but European prices are all high to the British now. Cheers for that, Brexiters.

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Outside, there’s a city wall running around Tallinn designed to keep out medieval invaders. Work on the town’s defences began in 1265, but the current outline of the wall dates to the 14th century. By its heyday in the 16th century, the wall was 2.4 km long, 14 to 16 metres high, up to three metres thick, and included 46 towers.

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A few days later, I’m in another junk shop (albeit a superior sort) in Barcelona and find this, an ornate gothic copper chunk of steeple (for sale as what? A coffee table?) and I read the inscription on the top; ‘The copper work to this steeple done by P. Breneman Castle Street Leicester Square Nov 5th 1823’. The idea of there being a steeple-maker in Leicester Square, where now there’s only a TKTS and two cinemas, is amazing to me.

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Finally I’m back in London, freezing but otherwise looking like midsummer, and walk through Blackfriars Station where there’s a busker playing ‘The Teddy Bears Picnic’ on a combusting tuba. Each time he hits a bass-note flames roar out of the top. And they say there are no eccentrics left in London!

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10 comments on “A January Miscelleny”

  1. Poul Thorsen says:

    What a lovely missive. You really did get around. I am a great fan of your Bryant and May books
    Kind. Regards
    Poul Thorsen

  2. Brian Evans says:

    There used to be another wonderful institution in Villiers Street-the late lamented Players Theatre. It was a variety theatre with a drinks license and they supplied the chorus for BBC TV’s “The Good Old Days” which are being reshown in Friday nights on BBC 4.

  3. Matt says:

    Looking at those lovely shots of Tallinn gave me a warm happy feeling. Memories of a lovely time there just wandering around and enjoying the old town. Climbing the church tower and looking out over the city and old town showing the contrast between the old and new Ahhh happy days. I long to visit again but there are so many other places to visit.

    Thanks you so much for this post It was wonderful.

  4. ceci says:

    I would probably have been a better music student if the eventual goal of playing the combusting tuba had been presented to me. Darn.

    c

  5. Ian Mason says:

    Ah Gordon’s Wine Bar. a frequent haunt, along with the erstwhile Troy Club, in my younger days. Rumour has it that Quentin Crisp got his housekeeping philosophy from Gordon’s – “There is no need to do any housework at all. After the first four years the dirt doesn’t get any worse.” I suspect that inevitably some council jobsworth will, if they already haven’t, force Gordon’s to scrape the 60 odd years worth of dust off the windows and window sills.

  6. Jackie Hayles says:

    Because it is so packed, Gordon’s must have developed a wonderful patina of spilled port etc. over the years! I love the artwork and the feeling of being out of time – any time at all. I hadn’t realised the Players’ Theatre had gone – I think the bar is still open. The Vaults at Waterloo have a similar ambience.

  7. Ed says:

    Thank you for another interesting article. I enjoyed reading it just like all the others. Great blog

  8. admin says:

    There’s a long article on the Players Theatre and its fate here somewhere, Brian – let me see if I can dig it out for you.

  9. Brian Evans says:

    Thanks Chris. Very, very interesting.I have read it and added a few memories.

  10. Vivienne says:

    Gordon’s Wine Bar has become a bit too popular. There used to be only slightly seedy types in trilbies and tweed coats. At least it is still a place you can buy port or Madeira as a non- special request. Good on a cold winter’s night. Must try soon.

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