diamond geezer

 Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Streets of London
Baker Street - Gerry Rafferty (1978)


I'm sure most people who've never been to Baker Street have a very romantic view of Sherlock Holmes' home patch. Perhaps an imposing terrace of Victorian townhouses, with hansom cabs parked up outside and street urchins playfully wheeling hoops over the cobblestones. Or maybe a wide tree-lined boulevard of gas-lit Georgian villas, barely visible through the all-enveloping fog. I hate to disappoint you, but it's not like that at all.

"Winding your way down on Baker Street
Light in your head, and dead on your feet"

Gerry Rafferty was right. You can only wind your way 'down' on Baker Street these days, not up. This key London thoroughfare has become a one-way three-lane arterial highway, complete with partial bus lane and eight sets of traffic lights. Not the best road to cross if you're light in your head, because you do indeed risk ending up dead on your feet. It's as characterless as it sounds, and I really wouldn't bother visiting.

"Well another crazy day, you drink the night away
And forget about everything"

You might expect there'd be several watering holes down a mile-long Central London street but no, there's only the one. That'd be The Volunteer, located right up at the northern tip of Baker Street, close to Regent's Park. I thought the pub's spacious interior looked cosy and welcoming (in a leathery yet homely way), but I bravely resisted the temptation to go inside for a foaming pint. Alcoholics further down the street have to make do with off-licence wine or tinned Tesco lager instead, or perhaps a fine vintage to accompany their meal at one of the elaborate middle-Eastern restaurants.

"This city desert makes you feel so cold,
It's got so many people but its got no soul"

The majority of Baker Street sums up all that's wrong with uninspiring urban development. Imagine the architectural merits, or otherwise, of a postwar office block called 'Accurist House'. Imagine glass-fronted shops selling conservatories and carpets. Imagine identikit banks with beds of flattened cardboard boxes spread outside their entrances. Imagine Marks & Spencer's imposing corporate HQ being systematically demolished to make way for a "450,000 sq ft mixed-use development". And imagine the corporate smothering which is a KFC nextdoor to a Starbucks nextdoor to a Costa nextdoor to a McDonalds nextdoor to a Pret A Manger. In fact the only stretch of road with a modicum of soul is the short section immediately alongside Baker Street tube station, which may just be why HG Wells once lived here.

"Way down the street there's a light in his place
He opens the door, he's got that look on his face"

The most famous address in Baker Street is 221B, the fictional home of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's deerstalkered detective. Sightseers attempting to visit the site of Sherlock Holmes' London residence will have been disappointed in the past to find nothing more than a feeble display of cardboard cutout characters in an Abbey building society window. Today they'll probably be even more disappointed to discover no building at all, because the whole of Abbey House has been demolished (bar the the very top tower) and currently awaits a total rebuild. Never mind, because enterprising entrepreneurs have set up a Sherlock Holmes museum-cum-shop just up the road, complete with jolly policeman standing outside the entrance for the benefit of happy-snapping tourists. But be warned. The gold lettering on the lamplit window above the door may read '221B', but the fact that the shop is located immediately between '237 Baker Street' and '241 Baker Street' should suggest that this mock-Victorian emporium is really a bit of a fiddle.
Read 48 (out-of-copyright) Sherlock Holmes stories, for free


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