Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Nairn's London by Routemaster

That's Ross Bradshaw, posing as if he was Ian Nairn on the front cover of Nairn's London, just re-issued by Penguin Books. Five Leaves basks in the glow of this as our Ian Nairn: Words in Place helped launch Nairnmania on November 10th 2013, which led to a TV programme and the release of the Penguin book. Indeed, we planned to release it at one stage before discovering that Penguin still owned the rights.
On 30th November fifty Nairnites boarded this bus - the same one that Nairn pretended to drive in 1966 - though with a different driver than Ross, for a guided tour round places dear to Ian Nairn.
The tour started on the Mile End Road in the Foxcroft & Ginger trendy cafe (two coffees - £6.19) which had been carved out of Wickham's department store of 1920. The building still has its doric columns interrupted by the remains of Spiegelhalter's the jeweller. How annoyed Wickham's must have been to have to have built round the little jewellery shop. By the way, if you ever go down the Mile End Road stop off at the 1695 alms houses for decayed ships' captains.
The next stop was The Whitechapel Bell Foundry, established in 1570 which, well, founds bells. The current founder in chief is a woman, the first in 450 years, striking a blow for women bell founders everywhere. Whitechapel made the bells of Big Ben, one small example of their work.
We then moved to the Bevis Marks synagogue "[A] great luminous room, compassionate light streaming in through big clear glass windows on to a set of curly brass chandeliers from Amsterdam that are almost at eye level. Nothing has fretted it or worried it for two hundred and fifty years... " said Nairn.
On further into the city to Leadenhall Market where once it was "... a riot of fish and fowl with row after row of turkeys and chickens on hooks right up to the cornice and the glass roof". Nowadays the fish and fowl have all gone, being replaced by bankers, plotting evil financial deeds in their wine bars as Leadenhall is next to the Lloyds building, which, I was pleased to see, is starting to look tatty.
Onwards to the Hill & Evans vinegar warehouse "Victorian wildness... demonaic" but now looking quite cuddly in front of the scary "cheesegrater" building that looks like it is going to flatten us all in its collapse.
Cheapside... West Smithfield... St Bartholemew-the-less... and a baked potato in a Chinese cafe that caters to taxi drivers. Past St Pauls, and off at Hawksmoor's Christ Church,. Spitalfields, looking naked without its pews. Up Fournier Street to see the Huguenots houses. The Five Leaves author Bill Fishman was once offered one for a thousand pounds. He did not have a thousand pounds. The buildings are now worth a couple of million each.
Back from the East End to the back of Kings Cross for talks and films. The panels included Gillian Darley, co-editor of our Ian Nairn book and Gavin Stamp, a contributor who also wrote the intro to the new Nairn's London. Our venue was The Cock Tavern in Somers Town, an Irish pub with a real fire, hanging on against the developers. The highlight for me was the talk by Travis Elborough on the Routemaster, which included some great film clips including the most ghastly performance by Tom Jones.
It was here that the event organiser David Collard sat on the bookstall table, and went through it, his Guinness doing a perfect parabola to go splat on twelve copies of our book. It somehow seemed appropriate that drink would provide a final focus, given the impact of the stuff on Ian Nairn. His death certificate was referred to in one of the discussions. People can imagine it. The table in question, now also deceased, is, Michael Rosen tells me, the very same table at which the executive committee of the Communist Party of Britain would sit round while plotting their revolution. I won the prize for the most battered copy of an original Nairn's London, the prize included a now drink-sodden copy of our own book, a new edition of London, a bottle of London Pride (declined) and a fine box of Nairn's Oatcakes. David was unharmed and is planning a rerun for all those who tried to get on the bus but will have to wait for the next one coming along in a year's time.

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