Sunday, 19 September 2004

Lets All Go Down The Strand, Have a Banana

Open House. I decided I wanted to see St Mary Le Strand - a church I've stood outside many times waiting for a bus and never been in. Felt too lazy to go and stand in massive queues for what may have been some of the more popular buildings - thinking the Gherkin, St Pancras Hotel etc.

I love that part of Fleet Street where the modern roads split and run round central island buildings like streams.

St Mary Le Strand is small and filthy on the outside from centuries of pea-soupers, coal dust and modern day pollution. Due to its location it doesn't have a great deal of space for its churchyard. Vaults are built into the outside walls of the church. There's a lovely chuch garden inside the fence with colourful flowers that edge the old paving stones leading up to the mossy semi-ciruclar steps to the door.

Inside its small but beautifully ornate with coloured glass windows (no stained glass pictures however). Needlepoint prayer cushions. If I was religious its the kind of church I'd like to come to. Quiet, old, dark. Welcomed by a church lady with a big smile and an informative leaflet. The vicar was holding fort at the tea and biscuit stand. A whole other world. Visions of parish meetings, helpful spinsters bustling round organising events and fundraisers and things for the children. Weak tea and cheap coffee and butter biscuits. Gentile and old fashioned. I'm so far from there.

Also popped into St Clement Danes where they do the poppy wreath thing (and famous for its bell ringing from the rhyme Oranges and Lemons - say the bells of St Clements). Just because its behind St Mary's on its own island. Not so sure it was participating in Open House, think it may just have been open. A clean white space by contrast. I didn't stay long. Its the Central Church for the Royal Air Force and it felt more clean cut and military.

I expect they've got rid of them now but there used to be a homeless person encamped at the back of this church - they had a massive tarpaulin stretched between some railings and a tree and would hang a line of clothes out sometimes. They've probably been evicted.

On the way back I noticed the old Strand Tube Station, ex-picadilly line. And some anti-bush graffiti on the sandblasted windows of Kings College. Amazing what you see when you actually take time to look around you. Not sure I've ever walked along this stretch of pavement. Just been past on the bus. Nipped into Somerset House courtyard as well (never been in there either) and looked at the fountains which in winter are turned into an ice-rink.

If you are curious about the title its from a song I learnt at school but these are the only lines I remember. Old cockney song I think (unless of course its a playground bastardisation of an old cockney song, can never be sure).

Previous years I have visited: Lloyds Building (great view into the atrium), Canary Wharf (fab view off the 50th floor), Mary Ward Centre (arts and crafts movement building), Midland Grand Hotel (building over St Pancras Station - amazing inside with wallpaper and carpets designed specially for it - this year is the last chance to see it before its refurb).

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