Friday, 27 January 2012

A slightly Alan Moore themed mini-walk from the Bank of England to the Tate Modern via St Paul's

In which we don't so much do a proper walk/hike but instead take a stroll through London, have a look at the Occupy protest outside St Pauls and play a spot-the-Alan-Moore reference in the places we walk throungh.

Map: Any cheap map of Central London will do. I think ours is a Collins pocket map we bought in Euston or similar at some point.
Distance: 1 mile
Time: 40 mins (includes time for peering about the Occupy site and making pretentious observations in the Tate Modern)

Rating: Easy

I find it difficult to talk about how much I like Alan Moore as I writer, because I like his work so much I tend to go purple in the face and splutter, and so I don't tend to put it in a good light. In my youth, I had read some comics - The Crow, for example, and 300. But I never really understood where the phrase 'graphic novel' came from. Until, however, I picked up a copy of Watchmen at the local library and found myself waving it at my husband with the cry of 'it's a book, a proper book, except its got pictures'! The thing I like about Moore's work is that the characters, whether in Victorian London or pre-First World War Austria or 1980s New York, is that they are all completely realised with complex psychologies and motivations in a way you don't get with many conventional books, let alone the one-dimensionality of a comic. He's really thought about what it is he's doing. I am quite evangelical on the subject.

Starting at Exit 2 of Bank tube station, come up out of the underground (which you can do with ease with your child in a sling. I wouldn't want to try it with a pram, but I know people do manage it). Turn left and admire the 18th Century architectural cake of the Bank of England building. Now, I am almost certain that the Bank of England is featured in From Hell - possibly in relation to its similarity with St George's Church in Bloomsbury - which is why we started the walk here, but I have lent my copy to The Godfather (like all evangelists, I find myself doorstepping people with literature. In the case of From Hell, it's just a  little bit bigger than a pamphlet.) so it's hard for me to check. It's built in what I will politely refer to here as the 'Foxtrot Off' style of architecture, all Neo-classical Corinthian Columns and big old chunks of stone.

Turn away from the Bank of England and cross over Princes' Street at the cross roads, and take the next right down the charmingly named 'Poultry'. Not Poultry Street, not Poultry Way, not Poultry Place - Poultry. No messing around with what used they used to do here, then. And, if nothing else, it gives you space to enjoy a childish giggle at whether or not 'Poultry Retail and Food Outlets'  is a retail and food outlet selling only poultry based products, or if I have found the place Nic's chickens  have been trying to get to every time they break out. All they've been wanting is a little shopping break to the Capital, obviously!

(A vague aside, but many streets in London bear names that suggest their previous usage. Poultry is pretty obvious, and Cheapside is a reference to the markets that were once in the area ('cheap' having mutated in meaning to now mean 'inexpensive', but it used to refer to a market). Not far from both Poultry and Cheapside is the now seemingly innocuous-sounding Grape Lane, but if you wish to read about fruity words & rude activities, I direct you to Wikipedia to enlighten you about its history.)

St Mary-le-Bow, Cheapside
designed by Christopher Wren
Poultry quickly becomes Cheapside, on which you can see St Mary-le-Bow church, which my husband waved a finger at and declared 'surely that's a Hawksmoor, look, it's got a bloody great obelisk on the top'. Later investigation has proved him to sort of be right - St Mary-le-Bow church was designed by Christopher Wren, for whom Hawksmoor worked as an apprentice.

It is definitely my intention to copy the tour of Hawksmoor Churches using the route laid out in Chapter 4 of From Hell. It's on my list of Things To Do, as is walking full the length of the Blackpool Illuminations at some point. Whether or not there are hints of black magic and child sacrifice on both walks as yet remain to be seen.

Not far after St Mary-le-Bow, the road opens up to reveal the massive bulk of St Paul's Cathedral. This is the denouement of the Hawksmoor churches tour in From Hell, and is used symbolically to depict the corruption which is seen to be existing within the very heart of the establishment. It's also a large and impressive church without ponderings as to whether it is or not at the centre of an occult conspiracy. Cross the two roads between you and the Cathedral, and follow the path going down the right hand side of the building.

St Paul's Cathedral
For those interested in the history of St Paul's, you can find a brief summary on the cathedral's website. We didn't go in on this visit, although both me & ChapDad have been there before. I went on one of the jaunts that a friend and I used to do in summers around our sixth form year with her German pen pal. It was only years later I thought what mischief we could have been raising in the capital - illicit drinking, nightclubs, ne'erdowells... what we actually did was wander round museums and take in a show each year. My teenage years were nothing if not rock n roll.

The reason we went on this occasion was to have a look at the Occupy London Protest. Coming round the side of the church we were met with a line of tents a few rows deep, each tent kept off the floor by pallets to keep the occupiers warm overnight. It all seemed quiet and rather tidy. We peered at tents from a distance, although were not lured by the offer of free tea from one of the tents. There were placards out asking for things to help support the camp (gaffer tape, cooked meat, tinned veg & hummus was high on the agenda, it seemed), and it all seemed clean, tidy and not matching with the accusation of the Occupy movement being "nothing but a pack of louts, thieves, and rapists, an unruly mob, fed by Woodstock-era nostalgia and putrid false righteousness". Some stallholder did shout out at our baby about being cute and seeing him later, but I don't think rape or thievery was on his mind when he did so. Maybe they leave the louting and unruliness til later, but The Godmother had said she'd been in the evening and they were all outside their tents strumming tune; as she observed, there's only so much damage one can do with an acoustic guitar.

The quote about 'louts, thieves and rapists' comes from Frank Miller, who, like Alan Moore, also writes comics (most notably Batman: The Dark Night Returns and 300). Alan Moore is not his fan (indeed, Alan Moore is not a fan of Batman, despite the copy of his The Killing Joke Batman story that I have on my shelf. More often than not Moore trots out something similar to the phrase "most of us, if our parents were killed when we were little, would not become a bat-themed costumed vigilante; that’s a bit mental" he uses in this interview on Youtube.). They had quite a bit of spat online and in the papers in December 2011 in which Alan Moore described Miller's work as "unreconstructed misogyny..wildly ahistoric, homophobic and just completely misguided. I think that there has probably been a rather unpleasant sensibility apparent in Frank Miller's work for quite a long time.". Alan Moore, however, supports the Occupy movement, and in the copy of the Occupy Times we got he has written an article entitled On Waiving Rules and Ruling Waves, which in his characteristic style employs paragraphs such as:

 'A wave, like a 300lb gorilla, goes exactly where it wants. If one is bearing down on you then hurriedly-concocted legislation ordering it to cease or orchestrated tabloid disapproval, realistically, aren't really going to make a lot of difference to it. The same goes for pepper spray and water cannons. While these might be temporarily effective in dispelling some localised spillage of dissent or scattering some protesters it should be recalled that people aren't the wave itself but the medium it moves through. Suppressing individuals does nothing to address the much more serious problem of the motivating seismic force behind them, which is historically irresistible and will not be denied'.
The Occupied Times of London, Issue 9, 20th Jan 2012, page 12

Which is all very well and encouraging to the protesters, but smacks a little of Dulce Et Decorum Est to me...

Having kept a wary distance from the tents, and had been a bit reticent to go in any of them (why? I don't know.). One tent, however, did suck me through its door...

Detail from side of the Info Tent
at Occupy London
Honestly, if a small, second hand bookshop were tidily tucked just inside the gates of Hell, I would find myself accidentally falling in 'just to have a look'. Now I think about it, Hell's Own Bookshop would either be a cracking place of banned juiciness or full of foxed copies of Heart of Darkness, Pamela and Domby & Son.

I was rather disappointed by the offerings from Occupy London's info tent. Occupy Wall Street apparently had an astonishing array of books in their library before many of them were allegedly thrown in the bin. Disappointingly, there were a few grey & white misery memoirs, and some pink and mint green covered chick lit, but nothing inspiring. Maybe this would also be the contents of the Bookshop Inside the Gates of Hell - a dispiritingly small selection of nothing much. Pity, really.

Front of the Info Tent at Occupy London
At the front of the tent, next to the legend 'Caring is everyone's business. Our presence here expresses our concern for global economics and social justice' and the picture of Ghandi is the other link to Alan Moore as we stood outside St Paul's - there's a poster for Occupy Oil and bearing the Guy Fawkes mask from V for Vendetta.

(Some quick background - V for Vendetta is set, so the back of my copy says 'set in an imagined future England [when 1998 was the future] that has given itself over to facism', and in it a self-proclaimed but unknown anarchist fights against the establishment. If you've ever seen the Princess Bride, the theory of V is similar to that of the Dread Pirate Roberts - as V wears a mask, you never know who he/she is, and therefore anybody - or everybody- can be V)

Since V for Vendetta was made into a rather dismal 2006 film, Time Warner have been selling the masks which were then picked up by the hacker movement Anonymous, which has pleased Alan Moore but Time Warner have remained quiet about their association with rogue hacktivism. They're still selling the masks, though. It's a nice little money spinner.

Either way, the V mask was being used on the Occupy Oil posters as well as being worn by a number of people wandering round the Occupy site. I've read the book, and I know the theory, but still a person in a mask is a threatening thing, for all your clean and tidy site, your tent libraries and your free paper. That being said, a person in a mask is a threatening thing until they wander over to the Hare Krishna lunch chap, acquire a plate of pasta and then push their masks onto their heads to eat it. Then they're just a load of people eating lunch.

V for... the queue for lunch?

Hare Krishna monk in Adidas trainers
serves lunch to a the Vs

The Occupy encampment
outside the front of St Paul's Cathedral
 Having nosed enough around the Occupy site, we turned our backs on St Paul's and headed across the road to Godliman Street and then onwards to the Millennium Bridge. Just before you go on to the bridge, it's always worth a look back to have another view of St Paul's towering above you. 
That done, we wandered across the Millennium Bridge, pausing in the middle to look across to London and Tower Bridges (a similar view, from a lower viewpoint and with more 'red muck' in the Thames can be found in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Volume II Chapter 6). As I stopped to take the picture, I heard a father taking the time to educate his son on the finer points of architecture. "You see that building?" he said ."What is it, Daddy?" his son replied. Without hesitation, his father answered"It's glass. It's called The Shard. It's rubbish.". "Yeah." said his son. "It's rubbish.". We have all been told, it seems.
Having crossed the bridge, we then ended our walk in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern. As far as I know, this has no link to the works of Alan Moore - we just went there because I like to look at the exhibitions. On show at the time of our visit was FILM by Tacita Dean, which projected 35mm film onto a 13 metre white monolith at the end of the Turbine Hall.

It wasn't really my thing, to be honest. My top three exhibitions in the Turbine Hall so far have been Olaf Eliasson's 2003/4 The Weather Project (a huge sun at one end of the hall and vast mirrors on the ceiling. The hall was made slightly humid, and the yellow lamps in the sun played funny tricks on your eyes that made you see in black and white), Carsten Holler's 2006/7 Slides (fantastic fun for a Christmas trip - timed tickets allowed you to have a go on water-shoot type slides from various floors of the Tate down the Turbine Hall. I'm not sure what it said about art, but it was fun) and Doris Salcedo's 2007/8 Shibboleth (an enormous crack in the floor running the length of the hall). Notable mention should also be given to Louise Bourgeois' Maman, which as a huge and somewhat menacing spider said something about motherhood that was a refreshing change from pastels and cupcakes.

On the whole, it was a nice little wander. We got to see some interesting things, have a bit of a think, and the Chap was entertained by tall buildings. Although it does mean he leans backwards out of his sling at quite an alarming angle.

Things I Learnt

Revolutionary Crossword in the Occupy Times
  • We were delighted to discover that the Occupy Times runs a Revolutionary Crossword (16 Down - Month of the Bolshevik Revolution. (7) 20 Across - Untamed feline withholds labour (4, 3, 6)). I love the thought behind that - we're going to smash the system! But first - word puzzles! Why not while away your hours as you wait for the downfall of Western capitalism with a crossword, eh?

  • Inspired by the visit to Occupy to read V for Vendetta again, I found myself googling the Violet Carson rose... to find that Violet Carson was the actress who played Ena Sharples in the soap opera Coronation Street. There's a curious Venn Diagram waiting to happen...
  • My husband loves a challenge - which is why for dinner the next night I was presented with something he was proudly calling the Occupie:

Yes, that is a bold attempt at
 a V mask rendered in mashed potato


  1. Things I've learned.
    1)There is a writer/artist called Stephen Moore. If you are such an evangelist why have you never mentioned this to me? Or if you have, not in an evangelical way. Do you judge me to be the sort of person who would be embarrassed to be caught reading a book with pictures?
    2) Quite a lot about the origins of street names.

    Things I already knew
    1) Violet Carson was Ena Sharples
    2) If St Mary-le-Bow was Hawksmoor the tower would be narrower.

  2. I love the Occupie!! That made me grin more wildly than I have done for days!

  3. Actually, I have. I tried first with Watchmen, and I believe the concept was slightly sneered at because it deals with superheroes, and the second time it was From Hell, which I went so far as going upstairs to fetch, but it never went further. I believe the National Allower wasn't interested.

    Maybe I should try V for Vendetta next time? It's not my favourite of his, but it at least will explain the background to the V masks...

    Also - ahem - Alan Moore. I don't know who Stephen is, but I'm sure he's lovely.

  4. Okay so you have, but not so evangelically that I remember. Try again. And yah-boo to the National Allower.
    Stephen Moore is an actor - he played Marvin the Paranoid Android.