07 March 2008

Let's All Go Down the Strand!

I've been doing a lot of walking on this trip. Hovering over the model in the Building Centre yesterday I got rather ambitious. Can I walk to Shepherd's Market? Surely I just go back down the Tottenham Court Road, keep going along Charing Cross Road, swing right at Oxford Circus along Shaftesbury Avenue, and then once I hit Piccadilly Circus I just head up along Piccadilly itself until I hit Green Park?

Which reminds me, having read Do Not Pass Go is causing me to run a risk of becoming a London bore. God alone knows what I'll be look once I've got my teeth into London: A Biography. Still, in answer to something I've wondered for years, and which I suspect at least one of you has done too, here's the tale of where Piccadilly earned its name, courtesy of Mr Moore.
If you don't know how it got the name, don't waste your time guessing. What happened was that in the early seventeenth century the land near what is now the Circus was bought and developed by a tailor who had made a fortune from the manufacture of pickadils -- spiked metal collars employed to support the elaborate ruffs popular at the time. See what I mean? It's like a risibly transparent false definition in Call My Bluff.

As the fields along the ancient road disappeared beneath grand mansions, so repeated attempts were made to endow the street with a more appropriately stately name. For a few years it was Portugal Street, honouring the nationality of Charles II's missus, but Piccadilly was just too good to waste and by the end of the eighteenth century it had stuck fast. Dozens of dukes and earls built or acquired large and plush residences all the way up to Hyde Park Corner -- for a hundred years until the 1850s, Piccadilly was the grandest address in London.
And in case you're curious, the first electrically lit hoardings appeared at Piccadilly Circus in 1893. Yes, you wanted to know that, didn't you? All part of the service . . .

That was yesterday, though, before drinks and embarrassing recollections with an old friend who I haven't seen in an eternity, and before heading off to meet up with the charming young lady with whom I've been staying for the last two nights.

Today saw me being rather more ambitious in my walking, setting out from Fulham Broadway, getting lost somewhere in South Kensington but eventually finding South Kensington tube station where I almost collided with Chris Evans before heading up past to V & A to the Brompton Oratory -- a tad too pompous for my tastes -- and Holy Trinity Brompton, mothership of the evangelical Alpha Course, the bowels of which I eagerly explored, browsing and pondering books whilst comely wenches flitted about with a peculiar air of serene industry.

On then past Wellington's house at Hyde Park Corner, along Constitution Hill towards Buckingham Palace, down the Mall - stopping to stare open-mouthed at the Household Cavalry who have enthralled me as a child -- to Trafalgar Square. Glad to see it rather less heavily plagued by pigeons than before, I took a right onto Strand -- not 'The Strand' curiously enough, and deriving its name from an Old Norse word for pebbly beach, don't you know? -- and hurried along onto Fleet Street, tracking the course of what was once a notoriously foul river. Ah, Bell Yard and St Dunstan's, where that nice Mister Todd once plied his tonsorial trade! And then, somehow, making it to St Paul's at exactly twelve, there to soak up the sun in Paternoster Court and wait for an old friend and onetime neighbour for lunch!

After lunch and much catching up -- it's been five years, after all! -- I wandered around by London Wall to the Museum of London and idled my way onto Holborn, by which point my feet were starting to ache. I'm afraid my boots were not really made for walking, after all.

Into the Cittie of Yorke I slipped, there to sip at a pint, to reminisce on my last evening there more than two years ago, to scrutinise my map, and to ease myself back into The Secret Agent. It wasn't long before the Fairy Blogmother phoned, and, on realising how close I was to her place of work, zoomed around to join me for a post-work beverage. A couple of pints and much catching up later -- and no progress made with my book -- I realised the time and raced for the tube to Fulham!

It's been a leisurely evening, which is just as well after my walking and my hostess's week. Tomorrow should be a little livelier. For now, though, the wine continues to flow, and I'm learning rather more than I expected about Italy.

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