Anatomy of a walk to work
Following on from the gripping photo-documentary I did of walking from my hotel to the bus stop in Shimla a few years ago I thought I’d do a similar exercise concerning my daily walk to work.
I’m always fascinated by photographing the mundane, because it’s only mundane at the time and your circumstances may change or indeed history might roll on and you’ll lose track of incremental changes that have taken place. But photographing mundane things in isolation just leads to a bloody confusing and irrelevant Flickr album. So here’s my collection of the walk to work.
Currently I’m living in Chinatown in London. The office isn’t very far away, although that’s already changing, because we move to a new building at the end of the month.
Along one side of the street everything’s always shuttered up when I leave and quite often when I get back, too. One day when I was home sick I was amazed to go outside with it all open and find what sort of weird things there are going on every day right where I live! There’s a litte window that sells steamed Chinese buns, there’s a shop that sells the ubiquitous trilbies and bowler hats that market stalls have, there’s a Chinese supermarket full of stuff I won’t even try to identify, there used to be a jeweller until they moved out (presumably sick of junkies trying to smash the door in), and there’s a weird shop which doesn’t appear to have any conducive theme to it, but sells weight loss powder, unlocks phones, and sells cutesy Japanese bullshit.
This bit of Charing Cross Road is the Easternmost end of Chinatown. At varying times of day you’ll see stalls selling cheap shoes set up in here, or reprobates spilling out of a seedy club at the top end of the colonnade. Or is it a cloister? I don’t know.
Caffe Vergnano is what you might call the “best available”: their coffee’s acceptable, although nowhere near in the same league as several other places in the area. Notes on St Martin’s Lane is completely the wrong direction, so no use for me to go when I’m in a hurry, and there’s always a queue at Monmouth. Since Damson Cafe opened up though I’ve not been into Vergnano.
G. Smith & Son was formerly a tobacconist, but is now closed down & up for sale. Shame – they seem to have been in there a while. One of the windows has “Noted Snuff Merchant” emblazoned on it. A snuff merchant now the casualty of the modern economy.
If you look east down a sidestreet you can see The Mousetrap – the Agatha Christie play which started in 1952 and has famously been surprising audiences with its utterly impenetrable twist ending ever since. My grandparents went to see it on their honeymoon.
Since I’ve been in London I’ve seen Spamalot, Priscilla – Queen of the Desert, Whistle Down The Wind, The Woman In White set up in this theatre, and now Singin’ in the Rain’s in there. I took these photos back in January, whereas if I’d waited til summer, it’d be actually raining in this shot.
A right turn onto Shaftesbury Avenue at the corner.
I didn’t say they would all be riveting, did I?
Quickly peeping right you can see the Tim Minchin orchestrated/lyricised musical of the Roald Dahl book, Matilda. One of the better things on in the West End at the moment.
Finding a hardware store in London’s always been something I’ve had trouble with since moving here. There’s a few big B&Qs and HomeBase stores around the place, but for central London this one’s really handy to know about to pick up tools & whatnot.
Crossing the road here, you wind up at Forbidden Planet – the huge collection of film/comic toys, accessories, costumes, and soforth. They’ve always got lots of implausible bullshit in the front window, designed to tempt moneyed kids and 30-something man-children. They had a complete set of replica Harry Potter wands in there a few weeks ago. The sorts of things where you buy them thinking “awesome”, and then never have out on display once you’ve got a girlfriend.
Walking up a bit and looking back south over Shaftesbury Ave are a couple of sandwich shops, and the top bit of Monmouth Street (home to Monmouth Coffee Company).
Continuing up Shaftesbury now, there’s the Shaftesbury Theatre across the road – where Rock of Ages presently resides, but was most known to me for being the place where the 1986 Comic Relief video was filmed, which introduced me to loads of UK comics back in the old days – and ahead to the left is the Central St Giles branch of Byron (burgers).
Taking a left to go through the plaza of the Central St Giles development, there’s this sculpture thing which looks like somebody probably paid a lot for it. It looks like a bronze cast of somebody’s digestive tract.
The Central St Giles development was designed by Renzo Piano, the guy famous for London’s newest erection, The Shard. We’ve craftily nicknamed this complex “Legoland”, and I learned the other day that the colouring of the buildings (ceramic frontage, to prevent fading) is inspired by & designed to blend into the colours of guitars in windows nearby on Denmark Street (aka “Tin Pan Alley”). The shops are filling up mainly with eateries – Zizzi’s & Byron were first. Now there’s a POD (weirdo lunch stuff), a Brazilian BBQ, a Peyton & Byrne (coffee/pastries), and Union Jack’s – a Jamie Oliver led joint selling “flatbreads” (i.e. pizzas) with a British bent.
The walk takes me through the back of CSG through to a service lane. Nothing interesting about that.
There’s a little lane thing now joining to New Oxford Street – caution to be exercised here, because impatient cabbies quite often swing down here unexpectedly if the lights are red.
On the opposite corner to where I’m heading is a very fine shop – James Smith & Sons, umbrella makers. After losing the last brolly I lost, I bought a new one from in here (seeing as it was handy to work), and am extremely happy with it. And, even though I only got a cheap(ish) one, I’m yet to leave it somewhere – never quite had the same presence of mind with cheap brollies. A Victorian shopfront, though the sign says “Established 1830” it didn’t actually take up this site til 1857. As well as brollies, they sell walking sticks, seat-sticks, and all manner of related stuff (including “dog walking canes”, with provision for booze flask inside).
After crossing the road the destination is Bloomsbury Street. This intersection’s usually totally jammed up, and will be one thing I don’t miss one bit when we move office. A little bit further up is the British Museum, and another thing I won’t miss much is the at least daily enquiry by a tourist on how to find the British Museum.
Just over from us – by utter coincidence, I promise – is Royal Mile Whiskies; the London branch of the well-known Edinburgh specialists. This is invaluable as both a source of booze, and a handy landmark.
Turning right, you get to our office. Further down on the opposite side is a Wagamama, and at the end of the backstreet, a Pizza Express. So all pretty handy if you’re not obsessed with a thrifty lunch.
And that’s the walk to work! Not exactly as rich and textured as the Shimla walk I guess, but that’s all relative. I’ll probably look back on this in years and think, “What was my issue with being able to find hardware stores??”.