Tag Archives: Secret London Runs

On Noses….they are watching you….85/100

cofOn Tuesday night I was supposed to join Secret London Runs (the cleverest and most fun running company out there) to find the hidden noses of Soho followed by some pub conviviality. But it was rcofaining. Hard. It was cold. I was tired. And I am a terrible map reader (no wonder I only guide inside), I can’t even follow google map instructions properly. Getting lost in a cold hard rain while running isn’t fun. So I made my (pathetic) excuses and stayed home. But the lure of the noses had me. And getting lost while strolling on a sunny, warm Saturday morning is bliss. Not least because I absolutely LOVE the morning after the night before in big cities. When the streets are devoid of people but the detritus of nighttime fun is everywhere, Show me your filthy doorways and your littered alleys. Hastily bagged rubbish and appallingly parked cars. Mysterious liquids running down pavement cracks. Dried vomit and pungent wee. Shuttered windows andsdr metal encased entrance ways. The silence. The stillness. The emptiness. I love it. You can walk in the middle of the road. Snap photos of street art without anyone tutting. Notice things you would otherwise never spot. A chance to look up and around. The perfect time to find a few noses.

What noses?? I can hear you all saying. Well, it turns out that there are 7 noses and 2 ears affixed to buildings in the Mall, Soho and the West End. About the same size as my own impressive honker, they have become a thing of mild urban legend. There are as many explanations for their existence to be found on the internet as, well, anything to be found on the internet. But I am going with it being a bit of a prank that has turned into a bit of fun. Nostalgic fun, as it may be. The story I am sticking to is that artist Rick Buckely molded these plaster of paris noses on his own and placed them about London, in 1997, to protest, discreetly and wittily, the ubiquitous CCTV camera. State survelliance. Nosiness (get it). There may have been 35 of them in total at the start, scattered throughout London as an art installation, and these are the 7 that remain, though two don’t fit the size or look of the others, so perhaps some additional artistic license has been used.  But no mind. A hunt for noses is a hunt for noses. And I found them all. The two ears too.

digEars?  They seem to be casts of the artist Tim Fishlock’s own ear. Why? When? What for? I haven’t a clue. Both on Floral Street. One attached to a Ted Baker shop, the other the Tintin shop. If there is a political or social message being made here, I missed it. Or else I am too worn out by the last election to care. But they are rather magnificent ears. Gorgeous helix of the auditory system. Certainly something worth smiling about. And smile I did. As I wondered about. In the early morning sunshine. Backtracking, diverting, enjoying a city stretching itself awake and taking on the day.

cofAnd all with a tremendous sense irony. Because I was hunting for what could be symbols of anti-big brother behavior in a city experiencing a heightened state of surveillance. Police, barriers, road blocks everywhere. The St. Anne’s church in Soho, which boasts a gay congregation,  had security out front  when I walked by.  I have no doubt that computers and cameras are working night and day to track people with terrible intent. And, one week on from the London Bridge/Borough Market attacks, that is exactly how we want it. Need it. digThis is the world we now live in. As I walked up Haymarket I noticed the London Welcome Everyone banners hanging from above, in a variety of languages. London: multicultural, international, the best city in the world, and site of yet another extremist attack. Freedom, of the monitored variety,  the plurality of modern living.

digBut let’s get back to the noses themselves. Found the first one on the Admiralty Arch. It took a while to find it, but once spotted I couldn’t believe I had ever passed under the arch, currently impossible, without seeing it. Another nose on Great Windmill Street and then into Soho. Oh what a rich past this area has. The oversized protuberance on Meard (one thought to have been added later) can’t quite compete with the history of this very short street of still existing  and stunning original 18cth Georgian townhouses, includingcof the one with the famous sign This is not a Brothel. Then on to D’Arblay Street where I worried the crowd outside the inexplictably popular Breakfast Club that I was trying to queue barge (as if!) to find what (to be honest) looked more like a bent screw than a nose. Peeked through an olive tree on Dean Street, loitered outside the Milkbar on Bateman and found the last nose on what was an otherwise totally uninspiring printshop store front on Endell Street. Equally fun were all the Invader pieces I found. A French street artist who creates 1980s video game creatures out of tiles and mounts them high up.

Then onto Floral Street and the fabulous ears. Ted Baker and Tintin. Lucky them.

cof

It had been a lovely, entertaining morning. But with constant reminders of what had happened the previous Saturday. So before I headed home, I stopped into St Martin’s in the Fields. The beautiful 18th century church (having replaced at least two before it, dating back to Norman times) just across from Trafalgar Square. Currently, the nave is filled with hundreds of paper doves, folded by people in the community at large: church goers, late night revelers, visitors, people of all faiths and none. An art installation entitled Les Colombes by the German artist Michael Pendry. Doves are a symbol of peace, something so badly lacking right now. Suspended in flight, as sunlight streams through the windows,  it is a beautiful and humbling experience, full of hope. This is London.

 

On Running & History…..Secret London Runs 43/100

There is nothing that fills me with quite the same amount of Not Taking Part despair as the London Marathon. No matter that I had no place nor trained even one step, I knew that on the morning I would be filled with longing, tears maybe, as would my friend Alice. What to do?  A private booking with Secret London Runs, In the Shadow of the Shard tour, to the rescue. It is an idea sooo clever, I really really wish I had thought of it myself! Founded by history buffs and experienced runners, Amy and Vanessa, they organize runs in London that include a good dose of history and great deal of fun.

IMG_20160331_203753My first outing with SLR was on their  Jack the Ripper night, a few weeks ago. A short run, in teams, through Spitalfields/WhiteChapel/City in pursuit of clues on the identity of Jack the Ripper. Actors (or long-suffering friends?) were scattered along the route, dressed in Victorian costume, ready to answer questions and direct or mis-direct inquiries. This should have been so my kind of thing. But at the very last minute, my only teammate and above mentioned Alice had a childcare crisis and couldn’t join me.  When I finally arrived at the starting venue, a pub just off Petticoat Junction, the only other single runner was a woman who told me, but only once we were outside in the freezing cold!!, that she couldn’t run. Oh dear. Suddenly my running attire seemed woefully inadequate to cope with the weather. Because we walked. Slowly. It was bloody cold. I did try to get into the spirit of it as much as possible and, as we were now not really competing against other teams for times, I felt free to chat away to the Victorians as much as I liked. We were hardly going to get less cold or be any slower. This is how I know that the policeman at the Tower is from Ventura, CA and that pretending to sell oranges in front of the old Billingsgate Market is a cold and lonely prospect indeed.

IMG_20160331_204309We didn’t guess the correct villain, but I did get some lovely photos of London at night, never can have too many of those, and had my circumstances been different, it would have been a fantastic night. I had to try again.

So that is how Alice and I found ourselves greeting Amy half way across London Bridge, such an alluring place to meet, feeling slightly sorry for ourselves that we weren’t traveling on to Greenwich with the other marathoners….but a few minutes on London Bridge cured that. Just look around in all directions, Amy encouraged us. To the north the City, still the financial heart of the capital, and to the south, Southwark. Once a dangerous and filth filled area of town.  Now, with the  Shard, the tallest building in Europe (for the moment), a symbol of new wealth and power, looming of the southern bank, a respectable, trendy and expensive part of London. But yet, touches of its dirty days still remain, and those are what we came to see.

IMG_20160424_103245One of the first stops was the ruins of Winchester Palace. London history can be dreadfully confusing, both chronologically and geographically. This is a good example. The Bishop of Winchester had his palace, not in Winchester (about 70 miles SW of London) but here on Bankside, between Southwark Cathedral and Clink Prison. The Bishops, down the ages, would have allowed prostitues to ply their trade in the area, but for a sizable fee. Extracting money from the desperate has always been a reliable money maker for  those in power. But when they died, these same women were not given final rest on consecrated ground. Instead, they were buried at the Cross Bones Graveyard, along with plague victims and the general poor. A literal dumping ground for the unloved. A final insult to lives filled with injury.

IMG_20160424_103934The land was closed to burial in 1853 on health grounds. It retreated into folk-lore and was then forgotten. Until London Underground started digging around in the 1990s. And historians realized what they had found: a tip filled with the unwanted of ages past. A garden of sorrow, if ever there was. Now the gates are covered in ribbons and it has become a quasi-shrine to remember the outcasts and unwanted of society, though increasingly it has become a place for people of all traditions to show respect and remembrance. Today, many of the ribbons are for people who are deeply loved and painfully, achingly missed. IMG_20160424_104258_editA baby, a young mother, a son. It is a wall of collective grief atop bodies for whom no grief was shown. With the iconic Shard looming overhead. Circle of life at its most theatrical.

And that was just the start….for about an hour we ran, at a very nice pace, chasing tales. Listening to Amy’s stories of misery and dirt and death (I do love a bit of grim) and the subsequent transformation to…well, the café and art gallery  filled Bermondesy Street we know today.

By the time we finished, many, many photos later, Alice and I had rather forgotten about the Marathon. We couldn’t get the rejected women of Cross Bones out of our minds. And the fact that running history laden streets with a knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide like Amy is a pretty perfect Sunday morning.

http://www.secretlondonruns.com

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