Friday, 22 July 2011

Lost Lyons

Walking along Piccadilly at lunchtime today I was shocked to see a huge gap surrounded by hoardings where an attractive group of Victorian buildings once stood - the whole block down to Jermyn Street has gone; the shops had been shut for some time but I thought they were going to be refurbished, not totally demolished. The alleyway on the west side was very atmospheric, with its old-fashioned tocacconist and newsagent. The most significant loss is the building at No.213 which was once the very first Lyons teashop - see my books London's Coffee Houses and Decadent London - it opened on 20 September 1894. The distinctive fascia has been long gone, but it's a shame nevertheless that another piece of London's past has vanished.

On a similar note, Phil Baker tells me that No.124 Victoria Street, formerly the temple and headquarters of Aleister Crowley's A.A. Order is also about to disappear - I must get down there to take a photo before it's too late.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Underground Rumblings

The July issue of Modern Railways has a very useful supplement on Crossrail with maps and computer-generated images of the finished stations - still in the shops.

Plans for HS2 are not being universally welcomed. Proposals to dig a tunnel at a depth of 30-35 metres beneath parts of north Westminster have met some opposition from local residents. Recently the Stop the Tunnel North Westminster action group protested outside City Hall against the potential disruption works would cause in the area, noise from the tunnel and the plan to build a huge ventilation shaft in Queen's Park. Personally, I'm not sure that the expense, disruption and journey time saved will be worth it - isn't 1 hour 20 minutes a fast enough time to get from Euston to Birmingham? The case against is put here.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Handcarved Coffins

I recently read a fascinating interview with Marlon Brando from the New Yorker written by Truman Capote. Highly impressed by this piece of work I realised that I'd never read any of Capote's books, despite having seen the films of Breakfast at Tiffany's and In Cold Blood and enjoyed the Philip Seymour Hoffman biopic (I'd also like to see Infamous, which is highly rated -you wait years for a Truman Capote biopic and two come along at once).

While I've never studied the 'craft' of writing (obviously, you may say) I think I can recognise a great piece of writing when I read it; fortunately someone more qualified in this department has explained some of the reasons why the Brando interview is so good. On the train into London last night I finished Music for Chameleons, the centrepiece of which is 'Handcarved Coffins: a non-fiction account of an American crime' - another terrific read, beautifully constructed, but clearly containing many fictional elements and unlikely coincidences. Just how non-fictional it really is can be found here - Capote was branded a hoaxer as a result. There have been a spate of 'non-fiction' works found to be mostly fiction in recent years - Dan Brown's claims that The Da Vinci Code was based on fact always annoyed me.

Another book I reread this year was Fiesta/The Sun also Rises by Ernest Hemingway - I was perfectly prepared to think it was going to be disappointing, having been very impressed with it as a young man at university. In fact, this time I thought it was even better than I remembered, very vividly written and evocative of the parts of France and Spain in which much of the book is set. What a pity his later work fell off dramatically - Across the River and into the Trees I found especially poor. If, as a drinking game, you tried to keep up with the amount of alcohol consumed in the course of that book you would be dead well before it ends.