diamond geezer

 Monday, July 05, 2010

Random borough (26): Westminster (part 2)

Somewhere random: Jubilee Greenway (section 1)
To get a flavour of western Westminster, I took a stroll along London's newest Strategic Walking Route. The first part, that is, not the entire 60km, starting at Buckingham Palace and pausing at Little Venice. I had to print out instructions before I went, because the Jubilee Greenway's virtually invisible on the ground. But I got to enjoy a bit of royalty, a lot of park, some Georgian back-terraces, several hotels and a stretch of canal. I even walked some streets I've never walked before. Here are some highlights (plus a major highlight)...

» Buckingham Palace: It always amuses me that Londoners don't give the Queen's place a second look, but tourists can't seem to drag themselves away. Late each morning, thronging behind the barriers, peering through the bars, trying to catch a glimpse of a few furry soldiers. They wait, and they wait some more, then snap snap flash as the marchpast fleets by. I left them to it.
» Hyde Park Corner: I popped into the delightfully amateur information booth at the edge of the park for some information. They didn't have it, but instead a lady in there thrust her mobile phone at me and asked if I could dial 999. Nothing serious, nothing life-threatening, it was just that she didn't understand how to dial a number that wasn't already pre-programmed into her mobile's memory. It took me a minute. And then I left her to it. I wonder whether she got the Royal Parks police or the proper lot.
» Hyde Park: Reclining on grass, browning flesh, rows of unclaimed deckchairs, the vibrant summer colours of the formal gardens, kids on scooters, ducks in the shade, toes dipped in the Diana fountain, swans poking their necks under pondweed, ice cream anyone? [Albert memorials photo]
» Serpentine Gallery: This year's temporary pavilion was in the middle of being erected over the weekend. It's incredibly red. And then I ventured inside the main gallery to see the Wolfgang Tillmans exhibition. Interesting enough, but I was out again within ten minutes.
» Bayswater: A lot of Westminster is residential, and this is one of the better-off quarters. Big houses, lots of flats, and a definite Middle-Eastern flavour too. Plus a big secret...
Somewhere especially random: 23-24 Leinster Gardens
This can't come as news to any of you, it's probably the most famous bit of obscure tube trivia around. But there are two houses in a Bayswater sidestreet which aren't really houses at all, and all to keep the neighbours happy. When the Metropolitan railway was built in the 1860s, via the cut and cover method, several buildings along the route had to be demolished. Most were replaced but a few stretches of open tunnel were needed so that the engines could vent their steam at selected spots. One such gap was here on the line between Bayswater and Paddington, although residents of leafy Leinster Gardens weren't best pleased at a gap being knocked in their elegant fa├žade. So some five-feet-thick false frontage was constructed, almost perfectly matching the rest of the street, and two fake addresses took their place between numbers 22 and 25. [photo]

Even though I knew what I was looking for, I still walked straight past and had to double back to double check. Oh they're good, apart from a few blatant clues that all here is not what it seems [photo]. The windows don't open, they're painted grey, leaving a lifeless impression across several panes on five storeys. And the front doors, there's no way to make those open, neither are there any letterboxes either because nobody lives inside. I was particularly fooled because one of the dummy houses had scaffolding outside, and there were workmen lifting up obviously genuine construction materials to a flat on an upper floor. Closer inspection revealed that the building works were nextdoor, and the neighbours had been sensible enough to erect their scaffolding in front of a house whose residents couldn't complain.

But for the the ultimate proof there's nothing here, you have to head for the street round the back. To Porchester Terrace, where Victorian residents weren't quite so forceful in their demands. Here the railway thunders undisguised beneath a low-ish brick wall, and the fake facade of Leinster Gardens is clearly seen. Six girders keep the neighbouring houses apart, and Circle line passengers pass safely between the two. They've been Transforming the Tube for nearly 150 years now, and residents of W2 are evidently well pleased.
» Paddington: For a supposedly tourist-friendly walking route, the Jubilee Greenway doesn't take the most gorgeous way through town. But I guess it's got to get from the park to the canal somehow, and round the ugly edge of the station will have to do.
» Little Venice: Ah that's better. This waterway junction retains a lot of period charm, and there's a nice floating cafe if the urge to nibble strikes. From here the Jubilee Greenway follows the Regent's Canal towpath for the next seven miles, which I presume will save the organisers money by reusing existing resources. But I broke off at Lisson Grove for...

Somewhere sporty: Lord's
Blimey, that's both of London's major cricket grounds covered on this blog in under a week, who'd have thought? This one's older, even taking into consideration it's actually the third Lord's Cricket Ground over the years. The first lies under council housing on the Lisson Grove estate, and the second had to shift when the Regent's Canal ploughed through in the early 19th century. The Marylebone Cricket Club played their first match on their latest ground in 1814 (beating Hertfordshire by an innings and 27 runs), and the first Test match came along 80 years later. Lord's may only busy for a few days a year, and the owners could surely make a huge amount more money if they sold the land for building, but still the MCC rolls on.

I arrived on a busy day. England v Australia, fifth and final one day match, and the ground packed out by keen cricketeers. Those unable to get inside appeared to have taken up residence at the Lord's Tavern, a not-very-old pub on the southern perimeter, and were watching the action from a few yards away on a big TV. From inside the ground came a sudden brief cheer, loud and sharp in a way that a football yell isn't. This turned out (I discovered later) to be the local crowd's reaction to "Smith c Anderson b Broad 15". A similar cheer, slightly noisier, greeted "Hussey c Anderson b Broad 79" a couple of minutes later. And then it was lunch, or whatever the end of an innings is called in a fixed over game, and the grandstands rapidly emptied of people. They streamed down the steps and around the perimeter passageway, heading to whatever bar or restaurant or urinal most took their fancy. A few passed out of the ground through the Grace Gate to grab a beer or food elsewhere, although it was hard to be sure precisely whereabouts nearby they might be going [photo]. Panama hats appeared to be very popular, especially amongst gentlemen of a certain age, and frequently coupled with a blazer for good measure. But the crowd was relatively mixed, if clearly skewed towards the middle and upper classes. When they finally got back to their seats it was to watch England lose by 42 runs, but to win the series. I'm sure the final cheer was both heartfelt and polite.
by tube: St John's Wood

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