25 July 2013

LIKE 48: A spellbinding walk through The Thin Veil of London

This year's LIKE Summer Social was another walk and because last year's walk was so successful we again called upon Robert Kingham to guide us and this time he brought some friends along with him, including co-conspirator Rich Cochrane who I also know from the Big Ideas philosophy group that I dabble in and they run.

Last year we explored the Grey Soul of London, also known as Finsbury, and this year we tackled the Thin Veil of London lying somewhere in Holborn.

This is a part of London that I know quite well as I spent my first two years in London working on a project for BT in Red Lion Square and then, as now, I took every opportunity to explore the area in regular lunchtime walks.

So it was something of a surprise to spend more of the evening in unfamiliar territory than in places that I knew.

We started in the familiar Queens Larder on Queen's Square but after that it was mostly a mystery filled with dark stories.

We were told to expect a little more this year and that's what we got. As well as Robert we got a frequently passing actor (Will Barratt), Rich as a hermit asking questions on philosophy and signs along our route.

There were stories about Machen and doctors and poets and philosophers all conjured from the streets we passed.

As with the Grey Soul there was a lot to take in. Probably even more this time as there is less walking and more talking.

The other big difference this time round is the scheduling. There is some.

One the three times I went on the Grey Soul walk we overran by about 50% on average. The last time that meant that a 3 hour walk took 4.5 hours!

The schedule on Thin Veil is dictated by the other participants, especially the passing actor who we passed several times. We also had just the one beer break which gave us even more time for walking and talking.

The walk took us down many alleyways exposing the old industrial and commercial heart of Holborn that has generally escaped gentrification. The mix of buildings is incredible with trendy gastro pubs next to large blocks of social housing, a collection of current and former hospitals, including Great Ormond Street, and even a waste depot.

The beer break was taken at The Enterprise just off Red Lion Square which was one of my locals when I worked there. To be fair, all the pubs within five minutes walk were locals and got visited regularly. In those days a rather different view was taken of lunchtime drinking, it was almost mandatory, and we had the recent delight of afternoon opening to exploit.

This time the pub was a chance to rest, refresh and refuel. We ordered tapas to fortify the team and they went down very well. That was the part of the evening organised by LIKE, everything else was vanilla Thin Veil that anybody can go on.

We crossed and recrossed paths but that was only partially helpful in working out where we were (how did people survive before smartphones?). Occasionally we passed places I recognised, pubs mostly, but that was rare and I had a lot of fun discovering new places and new buildings.

The stories and the storytellers came thick and fast for two hours and it was a spellbinding evening. I went on the Grey Soul walk three times and I can see myself doing the Thin Veil again too. It was rather special.

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