31 July 2011

Walk The Lines by Mark Mason

There are lots of book about London. You'd think there couldn't be any more to write but every now and then someone comes up with a new idea; a new take on things...
Mark Mason has walked the entire London Underground overground, by which I mean he has followed the tube lines at street level. His book 'Walk The Lines' tells the stories of his journeys, covering hundreds of miles. It's a great read... full of wonderful London facts, amusing trivia and meetings some odd and interesting people. I like it a lot. Here's M@'s review.
I am now singing that Wombles' song, which reminds me of Steven Smith's wonderful Underground London. I keep saying I won't buy any more books and will instead just borrow from friends or the library, but every now and then another one comes along that I just have to have. I need to put up some more shelves. These are nice.
Top: Mason in Battersea, Victoria in Victoria, Baker[loo] in Tottenham, Central in Holloway
Middle: Hammersmith in Holloway, District at Gloucester Rd, Northern in Hornsey, Circle in Bloomsbury
Bottom: Piccadilly in Piccadilly (but no more; RIP), Waterloo in Waterloo, Jubilee at Hungerford Bridge, Metropolitan at Farringdon.

27 July 2011

The Mercers' Maiden

Walking along Long Acre the other day, looking up at the buildings, admiring the historical details as I do, I kept noticing the same motif of a woman. Then it occurred to me I had seen her before in the City – she is the symbol/coat of arms of The Worshipful Company of Mercers, an association of merchants who dealt with the luxury end of the textile trade. Hence, in Covent Garden, we have Mercers Street and what used to be The Mercers Arms in Shelton Street. These days this livery company is more of a charitable concern.

In 1614 the Mercers leased the area north of Long Acre, then known as Elmfield, to Thomas, Earl of Exeter, who subsequently sold it on to Sir William Slingsby. Incidentally, both of these men are also now remembered in street names of that area; respectively, Earlham Street, Neal Street and the shopping arcade Thomas Neals, and Slingsby Court). The buildings they erected on this land displayed the Mercers’ symbol to show ownership. Indeed, the Mercers still own the coloured areas on this map today.

The Mercers’ Maiden, first appeared on a seal on 1425, and is always depicted in 'Flemmish Rennaisance' style with long hair, expensive clothes, a necklace/chain, a crown and, as as my male friend pointed out to me, more often than not she has rather pert breasts with distinguishable nipples (!).

Perhaps 30% of the plaques in the Covent Garden area are identical and probably taken from the same mould, but the remainder vary in style – sometimes she looks bored or grumpy, sometimes an enigmatic smile, sometimes she's looking at you, sometimes she's looking off to the right. And sometimes she's had a bad hair day or is sporting a pointier crown.

She can be found not just in Long Acre, but on all sides of these buildings, carved directly into the masonary or brickwork, or within a plaque above a door or between windows, or etched into glass, or depicted on door brass knockers. (Knockers!)

24 July 2011

London Chamber of Commerce RIP

I am a bit late with this... the demolition of the old London Chamber of Commerce building at 69-75 Cannon Street, along with others further along the Cannon Street, happened earlier this year. I watched for months after the hoardings went up and crossed my fingers that the building might be saved and renovated. But no :-(
It's so hard to believe that this simple stone building with its understated details has been obliterated. I am unsure what is planned to replace it but if the new buildings further up the street near the Cannon Street Station are anything to go by, it will be fairly nondescript. In fact, the new location for the LCC is actually inside one of these 'Lego' buildings. Rooting around in the LCC's website I cannot even find a picture of the exterior, so they must know themselves how bland it is.
Sadly I never saw the inside of the old building. The exterior had intricate grilles and bronze gull light fittings around the doors – I can only hope that some of these delightful details have been salvaged for use elsewhere.

20 July 2011

The Victoria Line

I recently learned that the Victoria Line's upgrade is now complete and every train on the line is 'new'! According to TFL's blurb, these new trains are "more spacious and have wider aisles, as well as improved customer information, CCTV and better ventilation". Well well.
So what have they done with the old stock? Will we be seeing the carriages looming over Shoreditch as pop-up offices? Or perhaps they can be given to youth groups to practice their tagging skills on?
But don't get too excited just yet... all is not finished, for there will be planned closures on the line for sometime yet, and on most of the other tube lines too... But at least we can rest assured, knowing that when the Olympics begin the whole tube network will be running as smooth as clockwork* ;-)

16 Victoria Line stations:
*a wind-up clock

17 July 2011

Save Wilton's Music Hall

Hidden away down a little alley off Ensign Street in E1 is the wonderful time capsule that is Wilton's Hall – the oldest surviving grand music hall in the world.
Wilton's charming decaying frontage, crumbling interiors and galleried theatre with barleytwist pillars is still in use today for concerts, screenings and plays. The building is also often used as a period location for films and TV dramas. For instance, I spotted it being used in the BBC's recent and brilliant adaptation of "The Crimson Petal and The White" as a drinking den (that particular drama was a real 'identify the London location'-fest!).
But to the point...
Wilton's needs our help. The building is in dire need of maintenance and repairs. Earlier this year, though proving its popularity by managing to raise £25,000 in one week, it lost its bid for £2.3 million worth of Heritage Lottery Funding. Frances Mayhew, Wilton's Artistic Director is quoted as saying, "If every Londoner donated £1, that would be amazing".
I urge you, if you haven't been there already, to go and see this wonderful glimpse into the past. There are plenty of events and plays coming up, plus tours of the building every Monday. See more here. Wiltons's will also be used for some events during the Anthropomorphic Summer Festival which continues until 9th September.
Please help to save this gem... there really is nowhere else like it.

14 July 2011

DIY party at JUST – EJF's Pop-Up Shop in Covent Garden

On Saturday, 16th July, The Environmental Justice Foundation is hosting a special one day DIY party at its pop-up shop at 36-38 Earlham Street, Covent Garden.
The shop has been open since May, but tomorrow, from 1–6pm a selection of designer-makers who work with recycled and collected items, including me and Alessandra, will be there in person making and selling all kinds of upcycled products including jewellery, bags and hats. Visitors to the shop will be encouraged to join in the DIY experience and there will be advice about how to revamp and accessorise your old clothes. This merchandise will remain for sale at the shop until the end of the month.
The shop stocks EJF's T-shirts plus a diverse range of ethical fashion and accessories from brands including Monkee Genes, Veja trainers, and From Somewhere. A large percentage of the profit from all sales is donated to the charity.
The EJF pop-up shop will be open until 31st July.
More info on EJF's Facebook page.

Some interesting details to be found in the Seven Dials area of Covent Garden:

8 July 2011

Chat rooms or live gigs?

I go to see a fair bit of live music. I go to see the bands and hear the music, hopefully performed in a different way to the recored version. But I am getting more and more jaded by people around me who seem to be there just for a social get-together.
Let me explain...
Last week at Arcade Fire I'd paid £45 (+fees, which is another rant in itself!) to find that the sound was dreadful, the stage was too low to see the band and the 'live' visuals were out of sync, there was rubbish everywhere, there were portaloos but nowhere to wash your hands, and only weak over-priced lager on offer. To top that people were just standing around having conversations. Or they were jumping about wildly, flinging their arms about in a "look at me; I am at an outdoor gig!!!" kind of way. This particular extrovert behaviour is actually very rarely in effect at indoor gigs. Discuss.
Anyway, I wondered whether it might have been a better idea to have invited my friends round to my house for a crap drinks party the back garden with the band's music playing in the front room.
Then, last night I went to see Eels at Somerset House. This time I got better value for money (£27+fees) as the sound was great and I could see the band clearly – even the bar was well-organised. But in front of me were two young girls who talked though almost the whole thing. When they'd nattered and giggled and gossiped through three Eels' classics it was fairly evident to me that these girls didn't know any of the songs. So I poked one of them on the shoulder and pointed at the stage. Like rabbits in the headlights, they looked forwards, suddenly attentive, as if, up until then, they had no idea there was a band on at all. Two songs later a third girl joined them and they started gabbing again. Oh gawd. Why were they there? Why had they paid to stand and shout at each other when they could have gone to a cafĂ© or pub and saved their throats (and my ears)?
Years ago, at a Flaming Lips gig, two girls were constantly nattering behind me. They'd started before the band came on stage. They were relentless. After about 30 mins I overheard one complain that the band had only played two songs. Er, she was wrong it, was three, but she'd totally missed the point of Wayne Coyne's charisma and charm, and she hadn't even noticed the large colourful balloons being batted about! A Flaming Lips gig is all about the experience. Silly little girl.
So my question is, what on earth are these people going to gigs for in the first place?! Why are they paying good money to go to gigs for a chat?
I should point out here that I am not some old fuddy-duddy who thinks people should stand silent at gigs – that's just daft – it's all about having a good time, though the flip side is people who stand at the back bar and complain that people are chatting... er move nearer the front, you plonker, this is a bar!
My problem is that the constant chatterers (and it's mainly young girls), who go to gigs by bands they don't know or care about, are ruining it for the rest of us who have gone to see and hear the performance. Not only that, there is a bigger crime – they are snapping up tickets that true fans would have paid good money for.
I believe a lot of people these days just want the 'badge' of having been somewhere or attended something. Perhaps this is why Glastonbury gets sold out so fast.
Oh, and then there are the couples who snog or gaze at each other through the whole set...

7 July 2011

I want to be one of Eurostar's Olympic Pioneers because......

Eurostar, an official provider (provider?!) to the London 2012 Olympics have invited me and other bloggers to enter a competition where the prize is attendance at a special 'One Year To Go' event later this month.
We have been asked to write something with the title as above, so here goes....
How shoddy of Seb and the boys to contact me at this late stage – they ought to have invited me to this 'One Year To Go' event as a formality being London is mine – it's in the name 'Jane's London' – so, by default, everything to do with the London 2012 Olympics is mine too! For this reason I ought to have been involved with the design and management of the Olympic sites from the outset. It's no good showing me something that's almost finished. After all, I visited the Stratford site two years ago and didn't give very good feedback about it, so you'd think they'd be wanting to sweeten me up and convince me everything's going OK. I really, really do hope they have pulled their socks up since then.
Every garish option of that nasty logo still niggles me. They look like the Saturday staff at KallKwik knocked out a few scribbles one afternoon with a limited set of felt tips, some coloured paper and dry transfer lettering from the local Poundshop. They are splattered all over the place like poor graffiti with that hideous typeface, the bad letter-spacing and lower case L on London – yuck! We were told that the logo would 'come into its own' nearer 2012, but I am still waiting for that 'aaah-ha I see!' moment. I wish I could get graphic design jobs like that.
Seriously though, I really do want to see that the London Olympics turns out to be a big success. Not for just me, but for everyone; I need to be convinced that all this building and disruption for a one-off showcase event will be worth all the hassle; during the event and for decades afterwards. But from where I sit now, it all seems to me to be such a huge waste of money; money that could have been better spent on other things, especially in what was a neglected area of London. For instance, how does building another huge shopping centre there (Westfield) help the small businessman in the local area?
I did not apply for tickets to any of the events as I think I will be able get a better view of the proceedings watching it all on TV from the comfort of my sofa. I don't understand why the Olympics cannnot be staged in the same place every time – Athens would have been the logical choice once it returned there.
Sport and the Olympic sites aside, I have applied to be a London Ambassador, which I really hope works out for me because sharing this great city with Olympic visitors will be a much better use of my time.
So, to conclude, as the owner of [Jane's] London, I'd like Eurostar, Boris and Mr Coe to assuage my concerns and convince me that work being carried out on the Olympic sites is all up to my high standards and that I have nothing at all to be concerned about.

London-wide pics relating to the Olympics:
Top: N7, W14, WC2, WC1
Middle: WC1, W1, EC2, EC1
Bottom: N1, NW1, W1, N7

4 July 2011

What a load of bollards

Bollards. There, I've said it again!
They are all over London and all sorts of different shapes. Some are there to protect pedestrians, buildings and corners; others have dual purpose as boundary markers.
My 'collection' is quite pathetic compared to Maggie's set... she's bollard mad!

Top: Caledonian Rd, Bow Common Lane, Hoxton, Acton.
Middle: Carter Lane, Lambs Conduit St, Leytonstone, Holland Park.
Bottom: Camden, Middlesex St, Highgate, Upper St.