diamond geezer

 Thursday, December 26, 2013

For Boxing Day's "road in London with the word Noel in it" we're off to somewhere you might be going later, which is just off Oxford Street. But only passing through, perhaps - this isn't really a sales and shopping sort of street.

Noel Street (Soho)

Running barely 100 metres from Poland Street to Wardour Street, Noel Street is part of the labyrinthine grid that makes up the streets of Soho. It's very much a street of two halves, one end wide, the other narrow. It's also only one street back from Oxford Street, running pretty much parallel, approximately opposite where the Plaza is and HMV soon won't be. Great Marlborough Street is Noel Street's continuation to the west - a belter containing the London Palladium and Liberty's, but alas we're not going there. And Hollen Street is its continuation to the east - only brief but containing the marvellous Henry Heath's Hat Factory, and running slap bang into Crossrail's TCR Western Ticket Hall building site at the end. We're not going there either. We'll have to make do with inbetween.

Noel Street's most striking feature is undoubtedly the Soho Mural. This huge painting of a branch snapping off a tree is daubed across the end of an entire building on the corner with Poland Street, and is entitled "Ode to the West Wind". You'd only know this if you've ever stood up close and read the fading 'plaque' painted underneath, where you'll also learn that the artist was Louise Wiles and she painted it in 1989. No clues alas to the identity of the crouching woman reading a book beneath the tempest, nor any sign of anyone returning to clean up black streaks of gutter-runoff discolouring down each edge. Nextdoor to the mural is the YHA's central London backpackers youth hostel. More than a hundred beds are crammed inside for the benefit of international travellers, although I suspect sheet sleeping bags are now a thing of the past. An ostentatious tattoo parlour is conveniently located two doors up, for the aftermath of especially drunken nights, with its own blog that posts inky work in progress. Meanwhile opposite are some dull corporate officey buildings, and some messy bike racks, and various media types scuttling by.

The eastern half of Noel Street feels a lot more Soho-esque, being older and narrower, indeed with room only for one-way traffic. Cars and taxis, mostly taxis, whip in round the corner from Wardour Street and zip on through. There are proper (small) shops here, and several of the eateries for which the area is famous. At one end of the scale is a dirt cheap proper cafe, selling toasted ciabattas and topped jacket potatoes for under a fiver, with a laminated menu posted in the window featuring ancient clipart and handwritten prices. At the other end of the scale is a pretentious sit-down outlet whose brand name is the word burger with all the vowels missing, who do a meat'n'donut afternoon tea for £17 and who were offering a vanilla pattie on the day I passed. I know which of the two I'd prefer to eat in. A similar contrast exists between two adjacent garment shops, one selling high class silk dresses, the other all the bits a seamstress might need to knock up an imitation. It's much the more interesting end of Noel Street, this, and I hope the gourmet intruders don't completely edge out the Soho originals.

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