London Walks : London Bridge / Blackfriars circular

 
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Now this is a proper London walk. We take in ‘olde’ London, new shiny London, industrial London, latte sipping beard and tats London. Some history, food, great buildings, bridges, boozers. I’m calling this my Southwark Shuffle (for no other reason beyond it’s in Southwark and who doesn’t like alliteration?).

I return to this walk time and again. It’s vibrant area and so the landscape changes in subtle or huge ways at what seems to be an increasing pace. That didn’t always seem to be the case.

Back in the mid 90’s I was doing a Masters degree in property. I may have mentioned this fact before but formative experiences are the most vivid in retrospect. I had a term paper to write where the brief was to work up a development on the South Bank of the Thames. I suggested a mixed leisure and office development in Blackfriars overlooking the river. My professor shook his head at this and said I was talking bollocks, and like some late night pre Uber taxi driver, told me no one wants to go south of the river. Idiot. But who was right mate? Me or him? Yes, Me. That’s who.

But - old scores aside - let’s look at my path for this walk shall we?

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Now; not every walk has to lurch from pub to pub but it’s rude not to suggest a couple of stopping places along the way. And this walk has great pubs, historic pubs; pubs the conjure the past with each passing pint. We’ll get to that but first, we must have a starting point. And, in this case, it’s also our ending point as this is - wait for it - a circular walk!

So, we start at the extensively refurbished London Bridge Station. Guy’s Hospital tower used to be the tallest kid on the block but now, the Shard muscles itself over all it surveys. This redevelopment has kicked off a spate of similar, smaller, innovative designed buildings throughout the area. As far as I can see, the casualties to make way for this frenzy of new build have been crap 50’s and 60’s concrete office blocks. Good.

Walk straight down from the station onto that historic thoroughfare into London, Borough High Street. Opposite is Southwark Cathedral and Brough Market - we’ll get to those later - but for now, you need to turn left heading south. About quarter of mile down the road is one of London’s hidden gems, the galleried ex-coaching in, The George (pictured opposite).

It nestles in a little side street off the main road. This part of London is full of alleyways and passages and it’s possible to cross the space time continuum back to Tudor times. I was shown this pub by a lady friend many years ago. Thanks! Its worth this little diversion from our main walk for a picture and maybe a pint (though if you’re drinking this early into the walk it’s all going to get messy. Best to come back here later.)

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And so with a swift shimmy northwards, we get onto Southwark Street going east-west. About 20 years ago I used to walk to walk down this very street every day so it’s nostalgic but getting less so. It has changed from then to now. This is a street that is, in many respects, unlovely - there are no great landmarks gracing it, the buildings were warehouses and industrial units and now, it hosts increasingly bizarre glass office towers and residential units.

You can still spot some ex-warehouses of Victorian vintage on the street. See the examples in the picture to the left. Now converted to cafes and flats, you can still make out where the pulleys used to haul up goods.

 

One interesting building is the grade 2 listed ex Mernier chocolate factory which is now a theatre and art gallery of the same name. It’s kind of a stunted, fatter version of the Flat Iron building in New York. It’s probably the best of the old buildings on the Street. You can grab a drink there apparently - I’m guessing some wanky free trade coffee served by a ‘barista’ with a beard. Joy!

Newer, larger and experimental glass buildings are springing up all around Southwark Street but their appearance is welcome; they replaced dreadful post war concrete boxes that defined cheap and seemed designed to crush the spirit for those walking without and those working within. At least the new buildings are vibrant and quirky.

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And so we get to Blackfriars Road. Here, the area between the bridge and Southwark Jubilee Line underground station is festooned with new buildings, loads of restaurants, take aways and pubs. It didn’t used to be that way. As I’ve hinted, I worked in property in the mid-90’s. I acquired a building on Blackfriars Road for a large multinational company. In my business case, I took several photos of the area including the then unfinished Southwark Jubilee Line station. Take a look at the pictures below - the top one I took 20 years ago and the second one is the same view in 2018. Interestingly enough the view doesn’t seem to have changed that much (beyond a new skyscraper in the background on the left).

Southwark Jubilee Line Underground being built early 1999. Photo Tim Robson

Southwark Jubilee Line Underground being built early 1999. Photo Tim Robson

 
Southwark Station Sept 2018 : GoogleMaps

Southwark Station Sept 2018 : GoogleMaps

 
The Globe Theatre - photo Tim Robson

The Globe Theatre - photo Tim Robson

A quick drink in the reassuringly dreadful Prince William Henry and then back up Blackfriars Road towards the river. We’re going to walk along the Thames path for a while back towards London Bridge. This stretch of the walkway is pretty historic with many attractions - views across the water to the ever expanding number of towers in the City, St Paul’s Cathedral, London Bridge, The Millennium Bridge, The Cutty Sark, The Golden Hind, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, The Tate Modern. There’s almost too much to see, too much to absorb. One way you might digest your surroundings is in the ancient pub, The Anchor, overlooking the Thames. Apparently Samuel Pepys watched the Great Fire of London from here. Before the pub burnt down the next year.

So onto Southwark Cathedral and Borough Market. Was it two years ago when those pieces of shit went on a rampage here? Unbelievable. But I’m glad the market is as great and trendy and crowded as normal. Plenty of places to get snacky food around here - hotdogs for me, thank you. And then we’re on Borough High Street again and walking back to London Bridge station for the tube or train that takes us to our next adventure.

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Yeah, the ending was slightly rushed. I’ve been writing this article - seemingly - for months. Once discipline has gone, can it ever come back?

Anyway, more regular content starting next week and probably more London Walks. My next one is London Victoria to the Haymarket. Must do it again and take some pictures. But this Southwark Shuffle is a great walk for me. Is it me just talking about my past? Dunno. Try it.



London Walks : Harrods to Victoria Station

 
St Peter’s Church

St Peter’s Church

 

This is a favourite walk I’ve been doing for years - essentially a stroll through one of the posher parts of London, some mews, hidden pubs and lots of embassies! Takes about twenty to thirty minutes depending on how slow you walk. If you stop in the nearby pubs - and there are nice ones on this route - then this time can easily stretch to a full afternoon.

My walk from Harrods to Victoria Station; note the interesting mews diversion down Kinnerton Street - to find The Nags Head and the Wilton Arms.

My walk from Harrods to Victoria Station; note the interesting mews diversion down Kinnerton Street - to find The Nags Head and the Wilton Arms.

A few years ago - before time began, before Land Securities redeveloped Cardinal Place in Victoria Street - I worked in Portland House. For those of you that don’t know, Portland House is a 1963 concrete skyscraper near London’s Victoria Station. If you’ve been in the area, you’ve probably seen it standing like an inappropriate erection menacing the surrounding area. However, it does have a good view from the top floors over the nearby private Buckingham Palace Gardens (Hi Queenie - put that bikini top back on).

I had a stressful job back in the early 2000’s. I know, I know, you weep for me. Occasionally though I would break the chains of my captors, shoo away the ravenous eagles pecking at my vitals, and head West (young man). I’d explore the quieter streets of Belgravia. So when my company moved to Belgrave House on Buckingham Palace Road a year or two later, I found I could walk to Harrods in my lunch hour. Once there I’d give my Harrods loyalty card a heavy work out. That’s how I roll. And so the Victoria Station to Harrods walk or - it’s more famous cousin - the Harrods to Victoria Station walk was born.

I retraced my steps recently, reminding myself, as I walked, of memories, memories of people and situations long gone but, as I turned familiar corners, not forgotten. For you see, whilst I often did this walk alone, I often didn’t. There was a girl once. There’s always a girl. But I’ll get to that.

As you come out of Harrods, turn away from Brompton Road, past the tube exit and into Hans Crescent. Latterly, this quiet road has become infamous as the place where that self-regarding idiot Julian Assange turns a whiter shade of pale inside the Ecuadorian Embassy. But also, marvel at the illegally parked limos littering the road. Clearly very rich people can’t be expected to obey petty traffic restrictions. They have to launder, sorry spend, their ill gotten gains in Harrods.

Turning right onto Sloane Street, we cross the road and idle past all the high-end shops no-one I know uses. Around the corner we get to the Jumeirah Carlton Hotel on Cadogan Place. It’s an ugly 60’s built hotel but very popular with rich people who like the nearby shopping. Here, if you linger, you can watch the rich go in and out, observe old men parade impossibly beautiful women - maybe to stock up on lingerie at La Perla next door - and then wonder, ‘why the fuck isn’t that my life?’

And across the road to Motcomb Street. I’ve always liked this little high street. There’s an elegant Waitrose, where, back in the day, I used to come to for lunch, buy some rolls, some ham, sun-dried tomatoes and make an al fresco sandwich in the open space behind the Pantechnicon across the road. Back in the mid 2000’s this was where old Roma ladies in shawls used to gather for lunch after a hard morning’s begging outside Harrods. It was quite the style back then; full East European garb, a walking stick, a shake and a shudder. Anyway, I’m pleased to report their various ailments seemed to be much improved by lunchtime as they discussed the day’s take.*

There’s just one pub, latterly called the anodyne The Alfred Tennyson but previously, the more spicy Turk’s Head. In either incarnation I never much liked it and, on my last visit, it seemed a restaurant masquerading as a bar. Anyway, I always turn left just in front of the pub and walk down the mews that is Kinnerton Street. Clearly I never go in Gordon Ramsay’s Petrus. Instead I head to the rather marvellous Nag’s Head and less marvellous but more spacious Wilton Arms.

The Nag’s Head has two bars; a tiny front bar - curiously low down - and a larger room down some stairs at the back. It didn’t allow mobile phones nor - as I found out - laptops. It’s a quirk but one I’m happy to abide by. I fondly think that much of Franco’s Fiesta was handwritten here. It wasn’t. That privilege goes to the bar in Burgess Hill’s Beefeater. A classy joint where you get thrown out for not wearing a football top.

Years back, I used to hold team meetings in the Nag’s Head, gaining the respect of my team by playing endless games of Shag, Marry, Push Off a Cliff. I usually ended up as ‘Marry’ which personally I’m okay with.

The pub almost next door - The Wilton - is a bit louder, a bit brassier. Outside in the summer it tends to be populated by Belgravia estate agents braying loudly about their latest deal. I’ve eaten here a couple of times. Nothing special.

A twist and a turn and we’re on Wilton Crescent, one of those gorgeous arched stucco terraces that home old money, embassies and money launderers. When I make my millions, I think I might buy here. No, not a flat. A whole house. And then I could pop out to The Grenadier - London’s most difficult to find pub which is out back, in another mews. I’m usually too pissed to find it. It’s worth a stop. Tell Madonna ‘hello’ from me. I still remember that night in Ciprianis.

A white van on Belgrave Square January 2019. Tim’s skill as a professional photographer are called into question.

A white van on Belgrave Square January 2019. Tim’s skill as a professional photographer are called into question.

Into Belgrave Square and we’re now into serious embassy country. Armed police, CCTV, manic taxi drivers, diplomatic plates, Simón Bolivar statue. Then down Upper Belgrave Street. Usually I’m picking up the pace by this point because either I’ve got a train to catch or - more likely - I’m needing the loo. A good place to stop is another hidden mews pub - The Horse and Groom. There’s a couple of tables outside on the road, summertime this area in front of the pub gets crowded. It’s much quieter in the afternoons if you’ve snuck out for a cheeky half. Yeah, WTF is a ‘cheeky half’?

Road sign Eaton Square

Road sign Eaton Square

Now I’ve really got my head down and heading towards the station. Two points of interest. First is St Peter’s church. Now this could be either Upper Belgrave Street, Lower Belgrave Street or Eaton Square. Not a clue. Shame someone couldn’t invent software where one could look up these things - you know like a telephone directory but online. Anyway, it’s a pretty church in a vaguely temple type way. It’s the picture at the top of the page. And then we have The Plumbers Arms. If I’m heading in Victoria / Harrods direction this tends to be my first port of call.

The Plumbers Arms, Lower Belgrave Street. Lord Lucan not pictured.

The Plumbers Arms, Lower Belgrave Street. Lord Lucan not pictured.

Of course, it’s famous as the place where Lady Lucan fled to after getting whacked on the head by her soon to be missing husband (they lived opposite). The staff seem to have no idea about the history of their pub and look at me like I’m a nutter when I ask about it. Anyway, it’s a decent boozer, usually busy, not bad food. Good place to start but not end the walk.

The Victoria - hiding off Buckingham Palace Road

The Victoria - hiding off Buckingham Palace Road

For we have one more pub. Now called The Victoria I’m sure it used to be The Princess Victoria back in the day when I used to go there. Needless renaming. It’s hidden down a mews - Phipps Mews - so tourists never find it as it has no entrance onto Buckingham Palace Road. I used to work in the next door office - Belgrave House where American Express and Google used to uneasily share the building. It tended to be the place we headed after a hard day’s toil. But that’s not why I remember it…

Back in the 90’s I attended South Bank University doing some useless Masters Degree. There I met a girl. Both of us had other attachments. I suppose we all have our secrets... We used to go into The Princess Victoria - as it then was - and make plans, organising the gloomy logistics of our affair. I don’t remember there being many laughs. And then a furtive kiss outside before I headed off back down to the South Coast and she went home to Hammersmith to another man.

Whirling leaves catch at our coats
As we kiss in dark places
Careful. Suspicious. Alert
We make our final embraces
— Wintertime - Tim Robson

I raise a glass to the memory when I go in.

And then, cross the mayhem of Buckingham Palace Road to the Station - now thankfully liberated from the ridiculous three foot high fence that we all vaulted pissed trying to get our train. Some colleagues would mistime their jumps and end up sprawled in the road (yeah, you know who you are).

To conclude, do this walk either way. Do it in winter. Do it in summer. Do it sober and take in the great architecture, the sedate upstairs / downstairs history. Do it for the shops or exercise. Or have a great pub crawl in some great pubs with a sense of the past, with stories to tell, in places you wouldn’t normally find pubs without knowing. Do it for me. Or for an idea of me. Once.

Outside the Victoria pub. There was once a wall where that white van is. No one cares.

Outside the Victoria pub. There was once a wall where that white van is. No one cares.

*Fashions change. Here in Clapham you’re not considered a beggar unless you’ve got an accordion on which you bash out some meaningless tune.

Tim Robson: Top Posts 2018

 

Tim Robson Top Posts 2018

The Timmies Awards

 

As we head to the vinegar strokes of 2018, I thought I would list the top blog posts of 2018. And then list the top blog posts that should have been were it not for the poor taste of the public ganging up with my own obscurity.

Top Posts Written in 2018

1) Top Mick Taylor Studio Tracks

2) Top 10 Britpop Songs

3) 20 Minute Playlist : The Queen at Live Aid Test

Most Read Articles in 2018

1) Mick Taylor and that Guitar Solo

2) Tom Petty and the Death of Gene Clark

3) Mick Taylor - Street Fighting Guitarist

4) Top Mick Taylor Studio Tracks

5) Top 10 Britpop Songs

What should have been the top Articles (aka Tim’s Favs) 2018

1) Le Baiser de l’Hotel de Ville - Tim discusses Robert Doisneau

2) Deleted Scenes - The Growing Chill of the Censor

3) Some words on Impermenance - Tim reflects on time passing

4) Brighton to Manchester Train - Tim remembers this 7 hour journey before mobile phones

5) 20 Minute Set Lists. Oasis. Beatles. Abba.

2018: Tim Robson's Music Review

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Tim Robson’s 2018 Music Review

Yeah

I downloaded 255 songs in 2018. Or in some cases uploaded. But mainly downloaded.

255 songs.

Obviously, not all of these were released in 2018. In fact, most of them weren’t. There was lots of classical - and that’s like really old kids - and from Sinatra in the 40’s my downloads were pretty consistent through the following decades. I’m eclectic, man.

And yes, there were plenty of 2018 tracks. I have two teenage daughters and so its inevitable, even if I wasn’t such a hep-cat, that I’d have plenty of new material anyway from 2018.

So, here are my 2018 Musical Downloads (and sometimes uploads) Awards!!

2018 Award

Well, the most played was SZA (who?) with Calvin Harris and The Weekend. I detect the hands of my daughters on this one. It’s a good track but a bit morally dubious - two hot chicks decide to share a man on different days during the week. Who’s been reading my diary?

My favourite new release in 2018 was Lucie Silvas and E.G.O. and the standout track was First Rate Heartbreak. I saw Lucie in London in December so maybe I’m biased. Criminally under-rated but always brilliant Luice is - I found out - also great live. See the coming article on Lucie and her music.

Other notable 2018 songs were - Clean Bandit and Marina - Baby and also James Bay Strawberry Lemonade. I’m pleased for Marina (and the Diamonds) as her Primadonna Girl is a favourite of mine.

Best re-release in 2018 was Gene Clark Sings For You - a cache of Gene demos from 1967. The best track? Past My Door

(Hard to) Find of the Year

Musical find was Terry Hall’s two mid 90’s albums - Home and Laugh. I bought the Forever J single in 1994 and it became one of my favourite records ever - an evergreen candidate for Tim’s Desert Island Discs. I could never find the parent album but this year - probably thanks to dodgy Russian websites - I did! Favourite track - No No No. Fun fact - I found that the best tracks on both albums were written along with Craig Gannon. Yes, he of the latter day Smiths. Also good is Grief Disguised as Joy.

Live in 2018 Award

The runaway winner is - of course Lucie Silvas live December 2018 at The Courthouse London. An intimate, bonus gig for Lucie diehards, it was a close, hot, sweaty, amazing gig. Lucie was relaxed, taking requests and did songs old and new. She belted out stuff from her old albums (Breath In, Twisting the Chain), several from E.G.O. and plenty in between. Best song - Happy.

As some of you may know, I went to the 2018 Brit Awards and so had the opportunity to see no-marks like Duo Lipa lip sync whilst wearing jack-all and talk bollocks about feminism. Of course, Lord Liam of Gallagher, did an excellent Live Forever which went someway to atone for the fact I missed Oasis in the 90’s when I could have easily seen them. Here’s the video I shot which is basically a Liam / Tim duet. Sorry folks. Also, the picture is shit.

But, Justin Timberlake was also good. Especially Say Something with some beardy called Stumblebum or something. I downloaded the track and its one of the most listened to songs in 2018 (helps I got it in Feb, of course)! Most of the rest on the night were shit.

Classical Download 2018

I got into Georg Telemann in 2018. Thanks to my membership of Wandsworth Libraries, I get 3 free downloads per week from their catelogue and Spring was spent downloading - slowly - various notable Telemann concertos. And my favourite? See opposite - Concerto in E Minor for Oboe and Strings - Andante.

Why did I download this crap Award 2018

There’s no contest for this one. Some bollocks German Rap (why Tim, why?). The artist (?) is called Summer Cem and his gem which he curled off for the world is called Tamam Tamam. Look it up. I like Sandra, Nena and er, weren’t The Scorpians German? But this… What was I thinking?

Up My Own Arse Award 2018

This award is given to pretentious music I probably won’t listen to. I see I downloaded loads of early acoustic Dylan - Girl From the North Country, Masters of War, Corrina Corrina. No, not listened to them. I got sucker’d into downloading a couple of David Hemmings tracks because of the Gene Clark connection. Face palmly shit. Avoid. But, I think my deep exploration of Bossa Nova wins the award for 2018. Downloaded (too many) tracks from 60’s diva Sylvia Telles. I like a bit of Corcovado or Insensatez (especially when Anglicised by the Monkees - hey I’m versatile). But Dindi or Sol Da Meia-Noite are definitely there just for show.

So - there is my musical review of the year.

Anyway, I’ll leave you with a Christmas classic, well at least in my house (when no one else is around). It’s the cardigan wearing, bluesfest we call ‘Santa Claus is Back in Town’ from two years ago. I miss that cardigan.