The movie “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” opens with Gordon Gekko being released from prison after a lengthy sentence. He is handed back his belongings. A mobile phone the size of a brick – plus his overcoat. From the coat’s tailoring it is obvious fashion has moved on. As I pack my suitcase ready for Blighty I dust off my raincoat. After ten years in an arid climate my coat’s seen little rain and like Gordon Gekko’s coat, is also a prisoner of time.
David Jeffery Creative Director at 50°E treats his raincoat to a holiday in the rain.
It is a typically English summer’s day when I arrive in London. It’s raining. Pulling on my retro raincoat I feel I’m a time traveller – kinda like Dr. Who.
I’m staying on London’s Southbank overlooking the Thames. An area, unlike my raincoat, that has changed significantly over the past decade. What was once a power station is now The Tate Modern. Walk eastwards along the embankment and on reaching Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, you travel back to 1599 passing a functional replica of the Elizabethan original. In those days, theatre was performed in the round, wherein rowdy audiences enjoyed bawdy performances, interrupted by Gin soaked hecklers. How different from todays’ silent reverence. With each step eastwards, you walk centuries backwards. In bygone days, Southwark boasted the fleshpots of London, ironically in a district owned by the righteous Bishop of Westminster. Royalty mixed with the riff-raff indulging in decadence and debauchery whilst paying dues to the clergy. What odd bedfellows those priests, princes, pimps and paupers were. Bygone Southwark t’was certainly a colourful area. Many new words originated locally and made their way into the English vocabulary, most notoriously “The Clink” London’s original prison founded in 1166. The name is said to have originated from the sound a blacksmith’s hammer makes when closing the iron shackles around a prisoners’ arms and ankles. You can visit the prison on its original site. The cells are in a grim cellar, desolate and damp even with the luxury of electric lights. Inmates ranged from aristocratic Royalist supporters during the civil war, to the Pilgrim Fathers all rubbing shackles with harlots and debtors. Little grub was given so sinners had to beg from passers by through their cell bars. Gordon Gekko’s blow-dried bouffant would not have fared well. Continuing along bankside the streets liven-up as I approach Borough Market a cosmopolitan cornucopia of merchants – a veritable farmers market, craft ales, home cured meat, farm churned butter. A provincial French cheese maker is neighbour to a ruddy Cider nosed Summerset yokel trading his cheddar. Tres bon – ooohh ahh. Proof, if ever there was, that food is a great healer of cultural conflicts.
No visit to London would be complete without a walk in a park. My favorite is a ramble across Hampstead Heath from Belsize Park to The Spaniards Inn.
After all this historic time travel, it’s time to journey future wards. Where better to start than at Charles Saatchi’s contemporary art gallery in Chelsea. Always stimulating. The current exhibition explores the “Selfie” phenomenon. On the ground floor self portraits by bygone artists like Van Gogh, Rembrandt etc. are framed in mobile phone screens suggesting selfies are a long-standing tradition. I’m not convinced. Upstairs, a man-sized mobile phone snaps passers by and steals their eyes substituting eyeballs with cigarette smoke. Unnerving, but impossible to pass. In fact, quite addictive, just like cigarettes and you guessed it – Selfies. Perhaps that’s the point. Confused by the future it’s time to return to the past. Chelsea Physic Garden is one of London’s best-kept secrets a haven of tranquility. Established in 1673 it’s possibly Britain’s oldest garden. Founded for apothecaries its purpose was to grow herbs, fruits, berries shrubs and alpines for making ointments, potions and medicines. Darwin returned from his voyages of discovery with many species still growing in Chelsea to this day. Consequently, many of today’s cures have their ancestors still flourishing in Chelsea.
No visit to London would be complete without a walk in a park. My favorite is a ramble across Hampstead Heath from Belsize Park to The Spaniards Inn. The Heath is au-natural not man made landscaping. One of the oddest and typically English eccentricities is the bathing ponds. Uninviting dark, cold pools which in summertime folks queue up to swim in. Appearances are perhaps deceptive then, you have to remind yourself that all water is clear. There is no such thing as a blue or turquoise sea – only the sky reflected. Likewise, the pond’s murky colour is due to its muddy basin and green plankton. In essence, perhaps human beings are much like water, all born pure and clear then tainted by our environment.
Like an old friend waiting on the horizon The Spaniards Inn looms into view, thankfully distracting my philosophical mood. The tavern is quintessentially English dating back to 1600 coinciding with Shakespeare’s Globe theater, I ponder, imagining the bard slurping ale in the pubs quaint oak beamed bar. After a pint of cask ale, the idea isn’t quite so fanciful. Coincidentally, the inn marked the entrance to the Bishop of London’s estate, so yet again the clergy show an interest in salubrious hospitality! A boundary stone can be found in the garden where it has rested since 1755. If only it could talk, I reckon it could tell a few licentious yarns. The road narrows outside the inn and a 17th century tollhouse stands where it once collected dues from passing coaches. Dick Turpin, the romanticized highwayman frequented The Spaniards, possibly purchasing brew from the proceeds wrestled from rich folk after holding-up their carriages. Bygone highwaymen did not end up in The Clink; they were hung from a tree a few yards from the tavern. The Spaniards Inn has a fine pedigree of literary patrons Charles Dickens mentions the inn in his Pickwick Papers as does Bram Stoker in Dracula, the poets Byron and Mary Shelly were regulars, Keats penned “Ode to a Nightingale” in the pub’s garden. Mary Shelly, William Blake, Robert Luis Stevenson plus the painters Hogarth, Reynolds and Constable all enjoyed a pint in The Spaniards. Departing the phantoms of this bygone and highly esteemed retinue. I step into the sunset, back across Hampstead Heath, walking in the present; a setting sun gives me no cause to wear my time traveller’s raincoat.
In truth, meandering in the “now” is not a bad place to be on a warm summers evening in London.