Friday, 29 May 2009

City scents - or, just for the smell of it

1. There are those who contend, with some justification, that London stinks but there are some scents that make up for it. Probably my favourite London smell is produced by the Costa Coffee Roastery just outside Waterloo – exactly what you need to brace yourself on a gloomy journey into work.

2. When I lived in Battersea, I was often met by a warming malty smell as I left home in the morning, presumably from the Young’s brewery in Wandsworth.

3. The hot food at BLT Deli on the corner of Great Eastern Street and Curtain Road always smells lovely although, oddly, I’ve never eaten there. I think I was put off by the idea of a roast beef and Yorkshire pudding wrap – with all the trimmings! That can’t be good for you.

4. A popular one, I think, is the scent after a summer rain shower. Similarly, there’s the slightly fuggy damp smell of the wettened paths along Richmond riverside when the tide goes out.

5. Certain London Underground stations – notably the corridors to the Central line at Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Circus, strangely – smell as if someone’s cutting plywood with a jigsaw (perhaps it’s the brakes). I have to admit, I really only like this one because it reminds me of the Paris Métro.

6. The smell of laundry from the B&Bs between my flat and the station, and the dry cleaner's next to work.

7. When you can smell the sea at the South Bank.

Alien invasion thwarted

A couple of these have gone missing from Brick Lane in the last few days. According to the Space Invader website, there are more than 100 of the tiled extra terrestrials around London, though perhaps more are now on eBay?

I've picked up some street art myself in the past (deliberately left out by MisterMN – more of that another time), but these had become part of the environment. I doubt the council or developers can be blamed as the pieces had been up for some time. It's inevitable that street art will become a target as it becomes more collectable – a victim of its own success – but the loss of these likeable visitors does take some of the colour from the area.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

The collector collector

There comes a point where documenting graffiti can become obsessive: how often do you wander the streets in the hope of capturing something new? Do you photograph every example of a new tag/paste-up/spray art that you see? At what point does it change from being a way to pass the time to a collection, and should you then start cataloguing it? (The pictures above are just some of Eine's shutter letters that I've photographed.)

This reminded me of meeting Robert Opie, the man behind the Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising in Notting Hill. In more than 40 years of collecting, Opie has amassed half-a-million odd objects, from cereal packets through shampoo bottles to space helmet-shaped TV sets. The first item in his collection was a Munchies wrapper – bought from a vending machine at Inverness railway station back in 1963, when he was 16.

"We have this innate instinct to collect things that's very much part of our human psyche," he told me. "I guess it's something to do with, the corn is going to run out some day, we must gather it in and have something to survive the winter. Manufacturers have used this instinct to collect things as part of their promotions, such as cigarette cards."

He started with the things many of us might collect as children – stamps, postcards, toys – he just never stopped. "A lot of people do give up because other pressures of life take over, so collecting things tends to be a childhood hobby but by doing that you're learning about life; I remember when I was collecting stamps you learnt about other countries. I'm sure it instilled in me an appreciation of commercial and graphic art as well because you've got these wonderful miniaturised versions of graphic designs as opposed to the modern variety, the majority of which are photographs."

We might associate collecting with men, something Opie again thinks has ancient roots, though his views betray something of his age. "There are huge numbers of women who collect but by comparision to the number of men it'll be 80 per cent men; it's partly instinctive, it's the hunter gatherer component of the male. It is also that women tend to be more preoccupied with running the home, children and everything else."

Opie's tips to collecting are relatively simple: focus your resources because once you've acquired the items you want you have to look after them; keep things in their boxes; keep the price and other information which helps place purchases; and avoid sunlight and glue. Then there are things that even he might not have thought of: "Someone gave me a collection of wine labels where they had written on the back what they thought of the wine that they'd just drunk – that's a very subjective analysis but it's an insight I wouldn't have had otherwise."

Thursday, 21 May 2009


For the footloose and fancy free of EC2 – I'm assuming there's a point to this?

UPDATE: This report from the BBC in New York also features an Eine 'E' in the background.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Shoreditch menagerie II

Seems I'm not the only one who thinks it's a jungle out there.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Shoreditch menagerie

EC2 has had a rep for its wildlife for a while, but all sorts of wallflowers have been emerging at night in the last month (this is just a small selection). While 10 Foot's "art fag" war and the DEPS invasion continue apace, there's still room for all sorts of rats, cats, some foxy urban foxes and, of course, tits. If this menagerie isn't your thing, the good news for font fanatics is that Eine's not only been sprucing up some of his old shutter letters, but several new ones have gone up too. And pity the street cleansing department the stickers that continue to go up on every street sign, hehe.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Furst-class travel

My favourite author for a good read on a long journey is Alan Furst, who has now written 10 spy thrillers all set in the run-up to World War II. In his latest, The Spies of Warsaw, the aristocratic hero, Jean-François Mercier, decides to take a 17-hour train trip from the Polish capital to Belgrade in the hope of meeting up with a woman he has fallen for. He takes with him a copy of Stendhal's The Red and the Black; "[Mercier] had always had an instinct for something improving, demanding, but by page 14 he gave up and brought out what he really wanted to read, a Simenon roman policier, The Bar on the Seine…"

Now Simenon is a great choice but perhaps better for when you reach your destination – and in omnibus edition – because his books are, as Mercier finds, "all too soon finished". (The Bar on the Seine is an early, very good, Maigret novel, set in the guingettes Simenon would no doubt have known from his days sailing around France with his first wife, Tigy, and her maid, Boule, who was also his lover.)

In his latest book, Nothing to be Frightened Of, Julian Barnes admits that as a young man he, like Mercier, used to carry an impressive book with him, though in different circumstances – Barnes was terrified of flying; "The book I would choose to read on a plane would be something I felt appropriate to have found on my corpse. I remember taking Bouvard et Pécuchet on a flight from London to Paris, deluding myself that after the inevitable crash a) there would be an identifiable body on which it might be found; b) that Flaubert in French paperback would survive impact and flames; c) that when recovered, it would still be grasped in my miraculously surviving (if perhaps severed) hand…"

Perhaps I am a reverse snob and happy to be caught reading a good thriller; certainly, if I am found in a crash clasping the latest Alan Furst, at least you can count that I died happy. There is another question here, too, of reading in public, being seen to read. A gentleman on my daily commute into Waterloo gives up his seat every morning to women passengers (never men) and is always grasping CS Lewis on Christianity (the same book for months); I can only assume this is some sort of pose. (And then there are those books you don't want to be seen reading: the Traveller's Companion Series of books were essentially pornographic novels published by the infamous Olympia Press within plain green covers.)

I've always found Arturo Pérez-Reverte reliable for a good travel read, though I haven't tried his Alatriste books yet. I can also recommend Philip Kerr for his Bernie Gunther mysteries, largely set in wartime Germany, though now going beyond; and Stieg Larsson is unmissable. It sounds as if I ought, also, try Polish crime writer Marek Krajewski who, like Kerr and Larssen, is published by Quercus – they're on quite a roll.