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Day 221 – Explosive

November 5, 2014

Song of the Day: Sheep – The Housemartins

It’s Guy Fawkes Night, when we celebrate the foiling of a plot to blow up Parliament by building bonfires and sending explosives into the night sky. Funnily enough, the actual designated night, November 5th, seems to get fewer fireworks than other nights around it these days. There are a few bangs and whizzes going on outside but it’s hardly London during the Blitz.

Speaking of which, I’ve been researching the history of Berwick Street for a new Soho paper and I stumbled upon this incredible site called Bomb Sight: a map of where all the bombs fell on London during the Blitz of October 1940 to June 1941. Click on the image to visit it.

Screen shot 2014-11-05 at 12.17.34

Zoom in and you see that each red dot represents at least one bomb, in many cases two or three. It’s a miracle anyone or anything survived! Nevertheless, Berwick Street escaped just about unscathed, though it would have had its windows rattled by a couple of bombs landing round the corner in Broadwick Street and Brewer Street. And I believe it took a few hits later in the war, though I’m still trying to confirm that.

Had an interesting chat yesterday with Ed Jones, CEO of PMB (oh boy! more acronyms), the company that’s developing the building at the bottom end of Berwick Street from the Co-Op to the old Endurance pub and helping to renovate the market. It’s a sensitive development, aiming to marry modernity with tradition. Now where have I heard that before?

With Soho it’s particularly sensitive because the traditions are tangible and a lot of people care deeply about them. Way back in the mists of time I wrote about seedy underbellies. I probably had Berwick Street in mind. Much of its character lies in the fact that it’s eclectic, yes, but also that it’s a bit grubby. Because grubbiness is the living antithesis of corporateness and has become more so since the corporates learnt how to reproduce ‘character’ on a mass level. If it’s clean, don’t trust it!

Of course, that’s not an adage you want to apply to a restaurant, and Berwick Street has become renowned for its food outlets, soon to be joined by Alan Yau’s Duck and Rice, a Chinese gastropub in the aforementioned Endurance. And it’s from here that the new Rice Paper (get it?) will emanate, edited by my friend Joe, and featuring a feature on Berwick Street in Issue 1. See how it all comes full circle?

In other news, just to prove that not all of England goes mad around Guy Fawkes Night, the good people of Ashbourne in Derbyshire have chosen a sheep to turn on the town’s Christmas lights. Not just any sheep, mind; this one’s in the army. I wonder if it will turn up in ewe-niform.


Ah never mind.


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