Thursday, April 20, 2006


It’s hardly news to the tourist that London abounds in quirky corners, of the kind described in guidebooks with words like “quaint”, “delightful”, “picturesque” or “charming”. A cobbled alley here, an ancient gateway there; places characterised by crumbling stone, crusted layers of glossy black paint on railings and door jambs and one-time gas-lit street lamps. And in one such haven of antiquity, whole collections of these quirky corners come together to create a photographer’s treasure trove: a labyrinth of narrow stone paved alleyways which open onto tree-planted courtyards; enticing corners lead to compact vistas of brick and stone, tree and flower; short flights of stone steps accommodate the many level changes as the land slopes toward The Thames - this is The Temple, an area comprising two of the four London Inns of Court, home for centuries to London’s legal community.

Sandwiched between The Strand and Victoria Embankment, this is a largely traffic-free zone; the few narrow roads are mostly shadowy cul-de-sacs and most of the network of connecting passageways and courtyards are pedestrian only and stone paved; there’s hardly a square inch of tarmac in sight, a feature which accounts for much of the location’s feeling of relative peace and tranquillity.

My brief visit was sandwiched too, a slim half hour squeezed ahead of a lunch-time get-together. I wandered round with my camera in my hand, frustrated because I was sure there were dozens of wonderful shots every way I looked, yet I couldn’t see them. My mind was too full of before and after to pay proper attention to the present. The before was the aftermath of an excruciating bout of pain from a tooth on which I’d had a crown fitted a few weeks ago. Out of the blue a couple of hours earlier had come instant, debilitating pain that, for a while, eclipsed all else. The double-forte crescendo subsided eventually to a mere mezzo-forte, but it was still a major distraction. Then the half of my mind that wasn’t engaged in trying to ignore the residual basso profundo grumblings was caught up in anticipation of my meeting with Jon, who was stopping off for a few days in the UK on his way back home to Canada.

Incidentally, you can blame him (and Euan) for getting me started in blogging - I liked their club and wanted in. Still do, for that matter, but that’s another story. So it was that the few brain cells not otherwise engaged looked around for photo opportunities but failed to penetrate the mental fog sufficiently to notice the wealth of marvellously idiosyncratic detail that I’m sure was all around, or indeed to make a technically competent job even of the postcard-style views I did manage to record.

A couple of cameos stick in my mind that I wasn’t able to capture in pixels. An ancient gnarled and warty tree, whose branches’ twists and turns in every direction had become so out of hand that they had to be supported by massive iron posts, giving it the appearance of a bent and wrinkled old man with walking sticks. A view in through an open window where I half expected to see a scene straight of Dickens – a wigged and gowned clerk seated on a stool bent over a high desk; instead, my eyes met those of a young man dressed in a lurid pink striped shirt, his finger jabbing a text message into his cellphone; maybe his wig and gown were on a peg just of sight?

I’m afraid I wasn’t exactly scintillating company for Jon and Matt (another blogger, whose URL I failed to get). The toothache had returned with a vengeance; the best I could manage most of the time was to nod sagely and answer direct questions. All the same, it was very good to meet with both of them. More on that in a couple of days.

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