Long version. Borderlands are always interesting. Always interesting – and “interesting.” Think of San Diego and Tijuana. The border’s there for a reason. Depending on your viewpoint it’s like a barrier of white blood cells “protecting the body against infectious disease and foreign invaders.” That would be the viewpoint of Mayfair (San Diego), looking across the border of Regent Street into the Tiajuana of Soho. That was one of the principal objects of “the Great Wall of Regent Street” – to protect, seal off, lah dee dah Mayfair from [aristocratic nose haughtily sniffed here, the name barely fit for polite company] Soho. I mean, the goings on in this part of Soho. The “sort of people” you have there. “People brought to this country as an infant ‘concealed in a basket of vegetables.’” Or “smuggled in in a barrel of potatoes, my dear [aristocratic shudder here].” And jazz musicians and [horror of horrors] an oilcloth shop and an Irish asylum keeper and a French diplomatist who doubled as a transvestite and [another shudder] a cigar shop to which a gambling and drinking room was attached and “that sort” of woman [translation: ladies of easy virtue] and [another sniff here] the Particular Baptist Chapel and a Bavarian Chapel and a French Huguenot church and “the report said ‘his male organs were in every respect perfectly formed’” and a coach painter and “oh, the names of the streets my dear, quick, pass the smelling salts.” Well, you get the idea. That’s one side of the borderlands, the Soho side. The other side, of course, is Mayfair. Different world. Utterly. We explore both sides of the border. The one is ragtag and rough and tumble, the other is rather better at concealing its warts and warty beginnings. “Robes and furred gowns [let alone mansions] hide all.” Anyway, right up my street, this walk. “Lost lanes” – love ‘em. “Hidden pubs” – love ‘em. “Shadows of the past” (however murky) – love ‘em. Characters [however murky] – love ‘em. I mean, how do you improve on getting through border control in a basket of vegetables or being a transvestite Chevalier diplomatist? To paraphrase (ever so slightly) Ruthven Todd’s great poem,
Cities are more than places…
A city remains a city on credit from the tide
That flows among its rocks, a sea of people.
IN THE SHADOWS OF THE PAST – THE PRACTICALS
The In the Shadows of the Past – Lost Lanes & Old Pubs off Regent Street walk takes place at 7.15 pm on Saturday, April 13. Meet Peter just outside exit 2 of Piccadilly CircusTube.
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