Monday, 24 January 2011

Through the dark alley-ways and passages of London*

I like an alleyway. Well, you do if you live in a city. Knowing the alleys is one of the ways you distinguish yourself from — okay, can make yourself feel superior — the out-of-towners.

I like the fact that I can walk most of the way from Marble Arch to Tottenham Court Rd station without touching Oxford Street. It makes me feel I know where I am.

Yesterday, I found a new alley. Two, actually.

I’d heard of one of them before but found it quite by accident. It runs from Finchley Road down the side of Finchley Road and Frognal railway station. Despite having lived not far away for a very long time, I’d never walked down it (or up it) before.

It’s called Billy Fury Way, named for the Scouse popster born Ronald William Wycherley — whose Sound of Fury 10-inch album should be in every home, if only for the cover picture.

Why? Again, I’d forgotten but it was the oddest of reasons. Someone — who knows who — realised/decided that there were alleys which didn’t have names. Which meant . . . the police couldn’t record crimes committed there. ‘I’m sorry, sir, I know you’re dead but there’s nothing we can do. You can’t just die nowhere. Therefore you can’t be dead. Evening all.’

So it was decided to name the local alleys. Billy Fury? Because he recorded at the nearby Decca studios — now the base for the ENO, I think. So: West Hampstead, the rockabilly connection.

The alley? Long and dark, with no way out most of the time, but a wonderful short-cut, with trainspottery views on both sides. The whole of the side wall is painted a dramatic black, giving it a distinct threatening air — not unsuitably for an alley, I guess. They’re not meant to be warm, sunny and welcoming. On a fairly busy Sunday afternoon, I had it all to myself. It emerges almost opposite West Hampstead north London line station.

Cross the road, past the Thameslink station — such a small locality, so many stations — and there’s the second alley. This one runs down to the bottom of my friends’ house. I’d walked this one before, several times. But now it has a name, too. Black Path — from, I guess, the black-painted wall motif which continued on from Billy Fury Way. Fantastically prosaic, too.

Which got me thinking of two things . . .

One, daft street names (and signs). In London . . . Crooked Usage (in Hendon) and Amen Corner (near St Pauls). In Truro, Squeeze Guts Alley — there’s one in Whitstable, too, apparently. In St Ives, there’s a Teetotal Street and a Virgin Street — yet it still manages to call itself a holiday resort.

Two, London and songs generally. Here a couple . . .

Ray Davies. I’ve seen it written that the Krays liked this so much they asked — well, you know what I mean — the Kinks if they could manage them. But that can't be true, as it wasn't written till the 1990s.

* A line from the Ray Davies song.

While I’m about it, here’s a picture of the house next to my gran’s. That’s it on the right — it’s not me going in, though. Once uncle and his family lived next door. Another the next house along. A cousin next to that etc etc. The house straight ahead is 97 Evering Rd, Stoke Newington. That’s where the Krays killed Jack The Hat McVitie. (They lived a few streets away, in Cazenove Rd, so it wasn’t much of a journey home for them.)

Caetano Veloso ‘I cross the streets without fear . . .’ What sounds dumb and cliched isn’t. Veloso was in exile here from the Brazilian military dictatorship. ‘A group approaches a policeman. He seems so pleased to please them.’ I moved (back) to London the year this song came out, 1971. To my shame, I never even noticed Caetano Veloso moved in, too.

And finally, thinking of songs and London and alleys, some Sondheim . . .

‘There's a whole in the world like a great black pit
and the vermin of the world inhabit it
and its morals aren't worth what a pin can spit
and it goes by the name of London.’

(Just asking, Mr Sondheim, but where can you buy a spitting pin?)

Next up Back to the Origin of the World

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