Shape One

January 16, 2010

The Shape began close to a ghost road in East London. Ostensibly, the junction at the southern tip of Kingsland Road is a crossroad. Except it isn’t. The junction is the convergence point of four roads: Kingsland Road, Old Street, Shoreditch High Street and Hackney Road. But, in fact, there is a phantom fifth: a small invisible right turn leads Kingsland Road into Old Street: Ophir Road. As far as I know, its naming is obscured, perhaps even unmarked on street level, but the ever roving Google Eye discloses the past as simply as the present.

If that is not intriguing enough – that an ancient road can exist but not not be seen – then its name offers a further enigma. Ophir is a biblical name for an unidentified region. The name is linked with King Solomon’s Mines: a mythical treasure trove purported to exist in Zimbabwe, Pakistan and China, among others.

From Kingsland Road I took Ophir Road, unknown to me at the time, and my perambulation – and Shape One - began. I hadn’t planned the shape, and in fact I wasn’t conscious that the shape had begun either. I was heading to the Artbook Bookshop on Pitfield Road and as soon as I turned the street corner I could see the bookshop was closed. A small panic arose, subdued only by reaching the sign in the window. I would have to wait a further  forty minutes until it opened and it was then I decided on my derivé.

I crossed Old Street diagonally, to the corner of Tabernacle Street, where a nondescript religious brick monument stands opposite another, doomed, brick bastion which holds a far more powerful and contemporary resonance: The Foundry. Along Tabernacle and right into Leonard Street, sidling beside the church nestled among the bars, graphic designers and architects. Along one side of the church prose had been sprayed on a long jet-black construction hoarding. The silver sprayed words disjointed, dodging and weaving the fly posters. It read:

NO Different to Our Fathers Sons
OUR BOYS We Bring Em Back
In Shrouds
THICK RUBBER PLASTIC
Wrapped tight in UNION
We say that they our Glorious
We name these Boys as BRAVES
We call these MEN
OUR HEROES
We tell them to their Graves
Wounded
WORLD WON DAY
For until Each one is
Pray For
Our Collective Violence
And if we say they died in vain
WE INVALIDATE THE INVALIDS
AND MAKE A MOK OV GIVEN LIFE
AND SHATTER Bitter Comfort Dear!
Held Dear Close
By GRIEVING Why(f)
They Do Not Die In Vain My Friends…
They Do Not Throw Their Turn A WAY
They Die So We Can See Ourselves
CLEARLY
In The DAILY MIRROR ov their FRAGMENTED SHELLS
Real Souljahs
OUR SELVES
ALL MUST CUT WITH LOVE THE KNIFE
AND HEAL THE

It finished abruptly, the final word missing. Perhaps the author ran out of time. Perhaps the author was caught.

What followed was a series of loops. I walked in a circle around the wheel at the crossing of Leonard Street and Paul Street, and then I took another loop around the old Church and back onto Leonard Street to head East. I crossed  Great Eastern Street (presumably named after the 1862 railway company) and up Charlotte Road to cross Old Street and into Hoxton Square. There I made a full anti-clockwise circuit.

On Coronet Street, behind the Lux bar, stands The Vestry Of St Leonard Shoreditch Electric Light Station with its Latin motto carved in stone:

E PULERE LUX ET VIS (‘Out of the dust, light and power’).

Over time since 1895 it burnt refuse to create steam which powered a generator for electricity. Only the shell remains now. Inside, students use the huge chambers to learn the circus trade. From here, I sauntered up a Hoxton vein (Pitfield Street) into the heart of Hoxton, past The George & Vulture pub, past the Habidashers Alms house, bombed in World War I.

By now the bookshop had to be open. So I moved south down Pitfield Street and Shape One ended.


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3 Responses to “Shape One”

  1. Jay Says:

    Found this through searching for the Leonard Street text, which I’ve just mentioned on City Project above. The combination of a kind of sympathy for the military and TOPY spelling is puzzling me – might I say it doesn’t semiotically fit?

    Really like what you’re writing here, so I’ve added Chaotic Semiotic to my ‘localist’ sidebar for blogs that write London.

  2. Jay Says:

    You’ve heard of ‘trap streets’ inserted by cartographers to prevent copying? One such is Lye Close in Bristol, suggesting a mapmaking humour that likes to acknowledge its tricks a little indirectly, hence ‘Ophir’. From the bus this morning I looked but saw no street sign of this name, and the turn isn’t a dedicated slip road so – whatever coloured lines Google Maps draws – there’s nothing there to name…

  3. Mat Says:

    No I’ve never heard of trap streets. That’s great…like a cartography watermark, or yes, a copyright easter egg. That’s a project in itself. I’m currently writing up the Shape Two blog, but I think Shape Three is going to have to include some ‘trap streeting’…


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