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:

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