diamond geezer

 Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Streets of London
'A' Bomb in Wardour Street - The Jam (1978)


"'A' bomb in Wardour Street, it's blown up the City
Now it's spreading through the country"

You get the feeling listening to this angry anthem that Paul Weller and pals weren't particular fans of late 70s Wardour Street. This was the heart of London clubland, home to the Wag and the Marquee, and also the epicentre of the burgeoning punk rock movement. Alas the new wave scene was in danger of being overtaken by violent racist thugs, so the Jam penned this retaliatory two-finger salute in unbridled defiance. Much of the street has since fallen victim to stifling commercial dullness, but certain buildings stand out as more odious than the rest. I took a walk from Leicester Square to Oxford Street to see which three sites still deserve to be nuked. With a very small, target-specific, people-friendly 'A' bomb, of course. Here's my choice of three ground zeros:

'A' Bomb 1: The Swiss Centre
"Where the streets are paved with blood,
with cataclysmic overtones"

In 1962 the Swiss tourist board erected this plastic palace as their London showcase. You probably remember the Swiss Centre as the building with the chiming cowherd clock. Every hour, on the hour, passers by assembled in mass amazement beneath this mechanical marvel to gawp at a few Alpine marionettes jerking along to a cowbell symphony. As musical spectacles go it was semi-charming the first time you saw it, and downright irritating on all subsequent occasions. But time has not been kind (who is this 'Switzerlad', for example - some kind of teenage lout in lederhosen?). Many of the Centre's more exclusive businesses have moved out to be replaced by cheap souvenir shops, and the stilted musical milkmaids no longer perform. But it looks like my desire to see this building demolished is about to come true, and within the next few months. An Irish property company recently snapped up the freehold and plan to build a new hotel on the site with penthouse apartments and "ground and first floor brand retailing, bars & restaurants." This new development may give Leicester Square a valuable facelift, but I fear I might just prefer the building the way it used to be.

'A' Bomb 2: Scotch Steak House
"Fear and hate linger in the air,
A strictly no-go deadly zone"

These garish restaurants lie in wait on every other street corner in the West End, alternating with the disturbingly similar Aberdeen and Angus Steak Houses. The 'traditional' menu ensnares passing tourists and theatregoers who probably believe they're about to experience genuine Highland cooking. Alas not. Indeed one sure sign of Scottish culinary excellence is that there are no Scotch Steak Houses north of the border. Potential diners are likely to be ushered into one of the restaurant's nauseatingly plush red-green booths (probably designed by a colour-blind vegetarian). Here they risk ordering bland sirloin and damp French fries, served up by disinterested Eastern European waitresses who've never been anywhere near Aberdeen in their lives, then picking the watery tomato out of their limp salad and vowing never to return. Americans be warned. Next time be brave enough to cross Shaftesbury Avenue and sample some genuine Chinatown cuisine instead.

'A' Bomb 3: Ann Summers
"Through the haze I can see my girl,
15 geezers got her pinned to the door"

When I was about ten years old, my Mum had to accompany me to visit an upstanding musical instrument shop located just off Wardour Street. I'd never ventured this far into deepest, darkest Soho before, and I couldn't understand why I was being led so cautiously, and yet so quickly through these narrow streets. Little did I know at the time how many dodgy establishments existed in the vicinity, peddling lurid literature and latex accessories of a dubious nature. I'm rather older now, but I'm still somewhat shocked every time I see a full-on display of sexual accoutrements in a Soho sex shop window. I know very well what lurks inside without having it thrust in my face, so to speak, but I still fear for the continued innocence of any passing ten year-olds. "Mummy, why is that nurse's uniform so short?" "Mummy, what's a pussy pouch?" "Mummy, can I have a rampant rabbit?" Hell, even mainstream Oxford Street contains an upfront Ann Summers pornmart these days. OK, maybe this backstreet branch doesn't need an 'A' bomb, just a carefully whitewashed window. But thanks Mum, all the same.


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