On Sunday, I had just started the walk with Sarah, Tim and Sue and also Christina and Dave (who came on one of my first ever Saturday morning walks just over a year ago) when we were approached by four others searching for another guided walk, a company who describe themselves as the 'first and best' in London. Well, all I can say is that their loss is my gain, because Dennis and Ann from Canada, Gretchen from Los Angeles and John from Kent joined us and I really enjoyed the walk around the east end.
Here they all are in Hoxton Square. The building behind them is currently occupied by bluu, (one of the many bars in the area) on the site of the home of James Parkinson (1755 - 1824), who aside from a career in medicine was variously a geologist, paleontologist and political activist. He wrote an essay on what he referred to as the 'shaking palsy' and is now more commonly known as 'Parkinson's Disease'. It was his tumultuous political career and activism that lead him to being arrested and questioned about a plot to assassinate King George III (often referred to as 'the mad King'), know as the 'pop gun' plot as it seems the plan had been to use a pop gun to fire a poison dart at the King, thus ending his reign.
Gretchen was keen to see the site of 'The Theatre', so called because, in 1576 it was the first purpose built playhouse in London. The troop who occupied it were called the 'Lord Chamberlain's Men' of which a certain William Shakespeare became an integral member. I know I've mentioned this before, but basically it was the same theatre that in 1599 opened on Bankside as The Globe. They dismantled it and took it over the Thames due to an ongoing feud with the landlord who wanted to get rid of them, but as they owned the building (but not the land) they removed it. Gretchen told us an interesting little snippet of information as to why they were keen to maintain the fabric of the building, which was that the price of oak had soared due to ship building requirements necessary to repel the Spanish Armada. There were two Elizabethan theatres in the vicinity, the other, was The Curtain. Now Great Eastern Street and Old Street are connected by Curtain Road, which during the Victorian period was the hub of the furniture industry and looked like this ...
And now looks a bit like this ...
Sorry, I got distracted. The reason Gretchen was keen to visit the former site of The Theatre, was because she happens to be an author of children's books and has written a book entitled 'All The World's A Stage - A Novel in Five Acts' about a young boy called Kit who as an orphan gets embroiled in to a life of crime at the very same theatre, but gets caught up by the drama on stage and the whole dismantling of the theatre I just mentioned, as well as rubbing shoulders with William Shakespeare himself. You can even watch a nice little trailer for it, if you feel inclined.
Most likely to run 10 miles home - Tim
Best hat - (joint winners) Sarah & Gretchen
Best moustache - No winners
Bowl Of Chalk veterans - Christina & Dave
Most Canadian - Dennis & Ann
Image of Curtain Road courtesy of Hackney Archives Department
As you’re going about your London business today (4th February), getting to grips with the start of the week and trying to remember what exactly it was you did with your weekend, you might notice a sheet of yellow A4 paper on the Underground, left on a seat, a cafe, or stuck on a wall. On that piece of paper will be written a quote, which unless you’re a fan of the late author Russell Hoban, probably won’t mean much to you or even register. In fact, you’ll probably not even think anything of it.
However, every 4th February since 2002, a growing number of people who are devoted followers of Hoban, (quite rightly regarded as a cult author in his own life time) mark the great man’s birthday by leaving aforementioned bits of yellow paper (a Hoban-esque motif) not just around London, but in cities around the world. It's known as the Slickman A4 Quotation Event.
Hoban died in December 2011, aged 86 and even if you think you haven't heard of him, it’s still very possible that you might have come across one of his many books. As a child you might have read (or been read to) ‘The Mouse And His Child’, which was just this Christmas staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford, or the ‘Frances The Badger’ books or the succinctly named ‘How Tom Beat Captain Najork and his Hired Sportsmen’. Hoban also wrote a plethora of adult books, the most well known, probably being the Will Self endorsed novel, ‘Riddley Walker’ in which Hoban famously wrote the entire thing in a sort of pseudo English of his own creation; a brave move indeed, but one, which kind of works.
As a tour guide in London (and Hoban fan), and someone who loves wandering around the city, mooching around art galleries, popping in to museums, sitting in pubs, generally exploring and taking streets I’ve never taken before, it doesn’t surprise me that many of Hoban’s novels appeal so much. The reason being that, although born in the USA in 1925, Hoban moved to London in 1969 and never left. Many of his novels not only use London as a back drop, but as another character or characters, and the people he writes about tend to do what I do, and I imagine what Hoban did himself, and just wander around the city, soaking it in.
In fact, ‘The Bat Tattoo’ hinges around two people who encounter one another, due to a mild fixation with an Eighteenth Century bowl in the Victoria and Albert Museum which has a picture of bat on it. I distinctly remember taking the book to the V&A and using the description that Russell Hoban gives of the route the character takes to find the bowl … and found it myself. On another occasion I was sitting in a pub in Clerkenwell that features in one of Hoban’s books and felt compelled to ask the owner whether he was aware that his pub made an appearance in a novel. He wasn’t aware as it happens, but also didn’t share the same enthusiasm I did, which is fair enough.
So, if you find a piece of yellow A4 paper today with something written on it, and you use twitter, then take a photo and send it to @SA4QE or use the hash tag #Sa4qe. It’ll make a lot of Russell Hoban fans very happy, but if nothing else, maybe if you hadn’t heard of Russell Hoban before, you might now look him up or search out one of his books. Maybe.
Dylan, who came along on the east London guided walk I did last Sunday sent me some great photos he took. I won't spoil them by writing comments and bits of blurb under each one, so basically they were taken around Old Street, Hoxton, Shoreditch and Spitalfields.
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.