Friday, June 23, 2006
Among the items on my list of things to do in London was snap shots of short, oddly-named streets a la the Backstreets of Toronto series. Every passage, every alley, even some narrow entrances to homes in central London have street names. The variety is staggering, as is how quickly streets may change their name.
One of my favourite names was discovered while wandering along the backstreets near Bond Street. It's hard to turn down the curiosity meter when you discover a lane named after a joint of meat.
I stumbled upon it again on the first day of the trip. Day one would end up as the lowpoint of the trip. The weather was unbearably humid, there had been torrential downpours, the keys were mixed up at my residence, etc. (at least the annoying stuff was out of the way early on - after these and the event outlined below, the trip was a blast).
Across from the start of Haunch of Venison Yard are two buildings marked with the ubiquitous blue "...lived here" plaques. Seems this section of Brook St has many musical connections. Jimi Hendrix spent a year at the building pictured above, while Handel lived next door.
The street sign in context. The area is surrounded by boutiques and art dealers (include a large one named after the street).
However, it was with another art house that my problems began.
I made my way down the yard, which consists of two sections. I was snapping away in the second section when I heard an Eastern-European accent behind me.
"Is everything OK?"
"Why are you taking pictures of this street and that door?"
"I like the name of the street and wanted to take some pictures of it."
"It's illegal to take pictures of buildings in London. It's like leaving your window open for a thief."
Before I had a chance to explain this site, the man (a security guard just going off shift) proceeded to lecture me about last year's subway bombings, the terrorist threat, security and how sudden flashes on the close-circuit cameras wouldn't help my cause. I apologized for any unintended harm.
That wasn't good enough.
He was extremely sensitive about one building that appeared in the background of several shots and wouldn't let me go on my way until they were erased from my camera. He stood over my shoulder until the offending images were scotched, with repeated reminders about not shooting pictures of buildings and remembering what terrorists were capable of. He let the odd image go, such as this one of birds enjoying a drink of dirty water.
Somehow, this shot of the inner section eluded his gaze. Once the wiping was over, we parted, though I doubt he heard me utter "bloody arse" under my breath as I headed out of the yard.
Scoreboard for Haunch of Venison Yard: Terrorists 1, Everyone Else 0.
Over the next few days, I noticed how security has increased in London. Every building has a minimum of one security company logo on it. More bobbies on patrol. Long treks to find any garbage can (I wound up using fast-food restaurants to toss the trash).
On my last day, encouraged by a friend's assertion that I had met an overly paranoid guard, I wandered back and quickly snapped a shot down the yard from Brook St, a shot I took purely out of spite (I'm funny that way).
This experience served as a reminder of how fear has gripped certain people. While I'm not naive enough to believe no bombing incidents will happen again, or that some measures of security are necessary, there comes a point where it can get out of hand. If there was one thing that saddened me about London while I was there, it was this feeling that everything was a security threat. The atmosphere, the mood, the tone...a dark cast never seemed far from the street surface (disclaimer: I lived in London during the "Cool Britannia" era, so my perspective may be skewed).
Perhaps that's what a passport official at Heathrow meant when he said London wasn't like it used to me when I told him this was my first visit in a decade. - JB