Post 33: Thinking, walking, kerbing
Scurrying across the West End in the rain I was aiming to get to a restaurant on Monmouth Street. I set off from Brook Street and headed over Regent Street, via Carnaby Street, Berwick Street, Old Compton Street and then to Seven Dials. As I crossed Shaftesbury Avenue I look down towards the Odeon Cinema which used to be the Saville Theatre where Hendrix played with the Experience. He didn’t live in Brook Street when they played the Saville, but when he was in London he was always based in this part of town so it is possible he walked a similar route to me. Whilst the rain may have been the same so much must have changed. On my way back I thought about these changes I was trying to work out why things felt quite so different. Of course people, cars, fashions and buildings have changed but I decided that one subtle but important change were the kerbs.
If you walk along Carnaby Street now it is entirely smooth and level. Cars can’t drive down it, which of course is a blessing but I suggest that this changes the whole vibe of the street. I know access is probably vastly improved without kerbs and the arrangements of the street stones indicate where a kerb once was. But with no gutter for litter to gather in, or for rainwater to collect in annoying puddles, it somehow rather loses its grungy, cool feel. Just a few streets down, Berwick Street, on the other hand still has its kerbs and despite no cars and a coffee shop called Flat White has maintained an urban less suburban feel. Perhaps I am overrating the heritage value of a kerb but I can more easily imagine Jimi walking down Berwick than Carnaby Street. Indeed I suspect if Hendrix were looking for a place to live in 2014 he would not have even considered the West End. Even more important, therefore, that we try and capture the spirit of his time here in the Brook Street flat while we are still able to remember and imagine it.
If you ever want to see how a city hasn’t changed just look up instead of down! The plastic corporate vandals seem to neglect anything above the first storey or so. Time stands still.