As a child of London, Cleopatra’s Needle has long been present in my memory and my imagination. But it wasn’t until I began researching my book City of Verse: A London Poetry Trail/ that I learnt that when this ancient obelisk was erected on the Victoria Embankment in 1878, a pair of what would nowadays be called time capsules were sealed in its base.
After Brian Epstein’s death, the Beatles were effectively managing themselves for a time and the business that was the Beatles took off in new and sometimes strange directions. Freed from what had become Epstein’s erratic oversight, the band felt liberated to conduct business experiments, more often than not with expensive consequences (though by this time they were making so much money that the losses were manageable).
The coming of the railways gouged, scoured, and re-made the British landscape more dramatically than any process since the glaciers of the Ice Age went to work millennia before. Embankments, cuttings, bridges, tunnels were built, embedded, imposed, as the web of iron, wood, and stone was spun across the island.
Flying through Fitzrovia, Cupid collided with a drone. He fell to earth in New Cavendish Street, landing in a bin filled with fast-food detritus. By the time he got himself out, his wing feathers were so tacky with grease, ketchup, and mayonnaise that he couldn’t fly.
My new book, the second of the London Trails series, is out now. City of Song: A London Sixties Music Trail takes the reader on a walk from Chelsea to Soho, stopping off at twenty-four locations that hosted significant musical performances, encounters and happenings in that decade.
Brutalist architecture mostly leaves me cold or repulsed but I’ve always had a liking, verging on an affection, for the Barbican Estate, perhaps because I worked there for six years and got to know its vastness, its labyrinths, and its hidden byways. I’ve always thought that if there was one structure in London that would survive nuclear war or natural catastrophe it would be the Barbican.