F***ING LONDON!

The tower seen between the railings in the top picture is the priapic lump of open-plan office space called 'The Shard" which is jack-booting its way across an historic part of the city.  Already it has partially destroyed the wonderful Victorian Vaults below London Bridge station and evicted the Shunt arts collective that had been occupying them.  For several years, Shunt presented an amazing range of work and events to the delight of many Londoners.  I played there several times myself.  But the grey men came with a piece of paper which said it had all got to stop.  After just having been taken brutally from behind by the banking sector to the tune of several billion, it seems strange we're now letting their property developer friends do it again in Borough.  Mind you this part of the city has never been averse to vice. The railings in the picture and the 'offerings' seen in the lower photo are in the "Crossbones Graveyard" in Redcross Street
This is the site of the burial place of 'The Outcast Dead' - persons who were not considered fit to be buried within the boundary of the historical city of London.  So basically this is where all the prostitutes, suicides and pagans went.


The prostitutes were known as 'Winchester Geese' because they were licensed by the Bishop of Winchester who owned and officiated the land hearabouts.  He did this so that the pious burghers north of the river could legally hop over and get their leg over.  They got laid, he got paid.  Yes, it's completely true I am afraid.  After an often short and painful life of servicing the good citizens, the 'single women' could be buried here as the ground was unconsecrated.  And up to 15000 of them were by the mid eighteenth century.


Thanks largely to writer John Constable and others, the site, at present a scruffy piece of concrete waste-ground, is commemorated with regular events. The next is at Halloween.  It is hoped that a permanent memorial garden will be created there - well, if the greedy hands of the property developers can be kept off it that is.

THE CITY RE-CYCLED

There are bikes everywhere in London now.  If you are not from here, it is because there is a new amazing scheme of thousands of public cycles for anyone to use. It's really wonderful.

Speaking of which, back in March last year, I posted about this kid's bike we saw leaning against the river wall down on the foreshore at very low tide. The other day I was surprised to see it still there.  I don't know why I should be - it looks like it is from the seventies and may have stood there since in spite of a hundred thousand tides.  I like the polite way it is parked against the wall - almost as if its young owner has just popped off to do something - a wee perhaps - and will be back in a minute.  

Well, they never did come back - or haven't yet.

For absolutely no apparent reason, apart from general musing on time passing, this reminded me of one of my favourite quotes.  It is by Orson Welles from 'F for Fake' (surely one of the greatest of his forgotten films).  It always cheers me up:

"Our works in stone, in paint, in print are spared, some of them, for a few decades or a millennium or two, but everything must finally fall in war, or wear away into the ultimate and universal ash - the triumphs, the frauds, the treasures and the fakes. 

A fact of life: we're going to die. 

"Be of good heart," cry the dead artists out of the living past. 
"Our songs will all be silenced, but what of it? 

"Go on singing!""

UNQUIET SLUMBERS

I started this blog over five years ago with an account of a visit I paid to the lost River Fleet.  London's subterranean waterways have remained an obsession.  I don't know why.

Here is a picture of the gate which guards one of the mouths of another river, the Tyburn, under Westminster.  It's very difficult to get in there now - it flows beneath Buckingham Palace so I suppose they are very concerned about terrorists getting access to the Queen's loo.

Seeing it yesterday reminded me of the sewermen I met when I visited the Fleet.  A couple of them were quite old then and must have retired now I am sure.  They had spent all their working life roaming the vast underground labyrinths of London and had a knowledge of the system which had been passed down verbally for over a hundred years by those who preceded them. This knowledge could not be written down and will be lost when they are gone -  the privatised Thames Water company have stopped recruiting the necessary apprentices for the usual cost and profit reasons.

It must have been a strange and difficult job - and one with a kind of lineage back to the 'mudlarks' and 'toshers' described by Stow in his 'Survey of London'.  These were the hereditary 'guilds' of professional scavengers who trawled the Thames foreshore and the city sewers for valuable items (including dead bodies which could be sold to surgeons for dissection).

I asked the oldest sewerman what was the spookiest thing he had found underground  - expecting some horror story of vicious rats or mangled bones.  He told me that he seen many strange things but the one that haunted him still was the memory of the time he turned a corner into some subterranean chamber far below the Strand and discovered a perfect Victorian cast iron double bed-stead standing there in the darkness.  This otherwise innocuous domestic object was made so strange by the fact that there was no hole anywhere big enough for it to have fallen in.

In other words, somebody had taken it in gradually in pieces and for heaven-alone-knows-what-reason re-erected it there on purpose.