Monday, April 27, 2009

Two-Faced Mayfair

Mayfair reminds me of Boppard-am-Rhine, where I went with a colleague on a school trip to in the seventies. By day it was all Lorelei song and oompah bands echoing from pleasure boats as they steered past the famous rock ,or outdoor cafes and fairy-tale wooden chairs with heart-shaped holes. But we spent the hours of darkness peering into cellars guarded by large men in turbans, looking for our teenage charges and wondering how we'd explain their loss to the headmistress when we got back to Camberwell

In a similar fashion, daytime Mayfair's all posh shops and innocent facades, nightingales in Berkeley Square and art gallery types strolling about. At night, when those Hell's Kitchen- style flames are lit outside the exclusive nightclubs, it seems quite sleazy.

I had the chance to observe this when Joanna, who's almost a fully trained Westmster Guide now,treated her friends once more to a walk in parts we don't normally reach. It started in daylight at Burlington House, in front of Sir Joshua Reynold's statue, where art lovers were enjoying the RA's late night opening and ended at Shepherd's Market, with candle-lit diners under heating posts calling for more Champagne . The pubs, of which there were four, had no shortage of rowdy customers.

In between, Joanna's walk took in all the best buildings, well laced with anecdotes, like Brown's Hotel where Somerset Maugham once stayed and reputedly said 'I've always been interested in people but I've never liked them'. With afternoon tea priced at £35 I don't blame him, although I expect it was cheaper then. Her back-street meandering took in not only Berkeley Square, and the oldest Poplar trees in London, but the pretty Farm Street Garden with its beautiful 'Church of the Immaculate Conception'. It has the sort of facade you see only on cathedrals, as a rule.

It hadn't occurred to me there'd been an actual May Fair for which the district was named, but apparently it had been an annual event unto it was closed in 1708 because of complaints by the neighbours and the bad influence on the young people of the time. Considering what I learned of eighteenth century morals on Joanna's previous walk they must have been going some to lower the tone.

For more information on Westminster walks:

The London Marathon

I had to laugh at 'The Archers' attempt to recreate the start of the London Marathon. It's true that an announcer told participants to go to their correct zones before the start. But to marshal 10,000 participants on a large park, with friends and well-wishers shouting above the noisy helicopters you need better amplification than one last used at the Ambridge Flower and Produce show.

The real thing sounded like the main stage at Glastonbury.

It's comical, too, when the BBC uses a member of the existing cast with a lightly disguised voice when the plots call for a one-off extra character. Considering the £100 licence free , you'd think they could pay an actor for once. They make enough savings, after all, by mentioning characters never actually heard from week after week.

The real announcer's Geordie accent carried round the park and probably half across Blackheath. At I thought at first they'd got Ant or Dec, but he announced at one point he wasn't and that he wasn't Gazza either.

His job, apart from chivvying the runners to their zones, was to keep up a stream of banter as the runners massed slowly towards the park gates and the start line, which took about about twenty minutes for some, and to reassure them their ankle chips wouldn't activate before they crossed the line.They must be sure to wave at the Mayor 'wearing his bling' on the podium with his lady wife. That's where the cameras were positioned.

I'd walked around beforehand watching the runners doing stretching and limbering up, smelling the tang of liniment and asking could I take photos. As I pointed the camera towards a young man in a Batman costume his friend encouraged him to move about: 'You could be famous on YouTube, man'. So I switched to 'video', unfortunately, as you'll see, only towards the end of his display.

I heard the starting gun, but didn't see the serious contenders out on the heath. Instead I photographed the parade of people running for hundred of charities. Many were dressed as super heroes or animals, including a plastic rhino, and there was even a woman on stilts. The mood was cheerful but nervous, maybe because the jovial commentator kept reminding them they had 26.5 miles to go.

I'd got there by walking over the heath, but decided to take th DLR back to Lewisham. The Cutty Sark DLR station was completely cut off by the stream of runners, but it's only a ten minute walk down to the other one. I couldn't believe the scene.

I was going the other way, but the huge crowds wanting to travel to central London found they had to queue at the DLR ticket machines, or take their chances with the replacement buses, because Greenwich station was closed for weekend engineering works. I'd have thought the Mayor could have laid on proper transport arrangements for such a big event.

We don't know how the The Archers got back to Ambridge but I hope it wasn't via central London.