The sales assistant raised an eyebrow.
“Could we look at the small A-Z please.”
The clerk blinked acknowledgement of the request and continued to arrange packets of cigarettes on the shelf behind her. A long ten seconds followed before she turned to the small row of London A-Zs to her left of the counter.
“The small one please.”
She lifted the smallest book, then placed it back against the wall and lifted a larger one.
“Actually, could we look at both sizes please.”
The sales clerk rolled her eyes at this point before tossing both books onto the counter, shaking her head knowingly at her nearby colleague.
This is the opening scene to… Couch Potato’s Staycation: the Movie.
OK, OK, I’m being ridiculous. I know that’s not going to happen anytime soon, or ever, but that scene did happen and it was the beginning of the three-day staycation that my partner (to be known as Sofa Spud from now on) and I enjoyed in London last week.
Funnily enough we didn’t purchase any of the A-Zs from that rude sales clerk. The incident occurred at a newsagent within London Bridge station and we subsequently came to the conclusion that said sales clerk assumed we were gullible tourists unlikely ever to return, so what did it matter if her pre-recession-style customer service turned us away? “Ha,” I spat with madness and rage, as we made our way out. “How shocked will she be to learn that I commute into London Bridge station every day? Maybe I’ll go into that shop every morning and ask for something from behind that counter and each time I’ll change my mind at the last minute.”
“Or you could rearrange things when her back is turned, like in Amelie,” suggested Sofa Spud.
And that made me smile. Remember those fantastic scenes in that wonderful Paris-set movie where Amelie plays a series of mischievous jokes on the greengrocer who bullies his worker? The idea of repeating something like that in order to get revenge on that lazy disrespectful London Bridge sales assistant filled me with glee, then amusement, and then the anger wore off. That’s the power of film – to imitate life, but also make you see situations differently. I’m so glad that Sofa Spud chose the life-affirming Amelie as a movie reference rather than say, the 1993 Michael Douglas all stressed out, highly strung, mental breakdown over a few minor mishaps movie Falling Down. I say that not just because Douglas’s William Foster is a negative role model and we were in a positive holiday mood, but because we were venting our rage over this incident as we crossed the bridge that inspired that movie’s title.
So, I’ve waffled on for quite a bit in this diary so far and not yet mentioned a single London location that has featured in a movie, and you know what, I’m not going to name London Bridge as one either. Tower Bridge, the Millennium Bridge – now they’re recognisable and they’re iconic movie stars, but London Bridge, well, today she’s not got much going for her. I would, however, love to see a film starring the old London Bridge in the days when shops, houses, businesses, a chapel, all existed on the bridge, as well as a few heads on sticks at the southern entrance. A bit of CGI, some clever modelling and I think a thriller period plot could make a great film. What do you think?
At the other side of the bridge, in the City, Sofa Spud and I finally purchase our A-Z. Despite numerous of decades of living in London between us, we do not have the taxi driver’s London street knowledge. We do though believe in the words of 18th century author Samuel Johnson: “when a man is tired of London he is tired of life.”
And it’s for this reason that this diary is not going to be a tired list of random movies that have been shot in locations in and around various areas of London. No, it will be a celebration of the way our love of movies enriches our love of London.
For Sofa Spud and I, the goal of our staycation is to explore new areas of London, see places we’ve not seen before, revisit some favourite haunts and as we plod around, give a nod here and there to those locations that have inspired or served as the setting for our fave movies. We’re also intending to have great fun letting our imaginations loose to spot places, events, people etc that have as yet not been exploited on film.
It’s hardly surprising really that the ornate architecture of Leadenhall Market was chosen as the location for the magical portal into the now famous wizard retail hub from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
We search the market for that drinking hole, but being Muggles we can’t see it. We finally choose to move on when the market traders began to stare at us suspiciously.
We move on towards Spitalfields. It was around Spitalfields and the nearby Whitechapel that the real life Jack the Ripper murders took place. Those notoriously shocking slayings have inspired numerous dramatisations and copycat stories and being fascinated by this unsolved crime, I’ve seen most of them. Today the area is largely unrecognisable as Ripper territory. Office blocks, rundown properties, car parks, shops and residential blocks now fill the once winding, dark alleyways. So, it’s understandable then that for Ripper films such as From Hell, the filmmakers chose to recreate the locations in the studio. When I did a Ripper tour here some years ago, it was thanks to those films that I was able to form mental images of how the area looked back in the Victorian era. That’s the power of film for you!
Now, at this point I could provide a list of other movies shot around the place – The Crying Game, Run Fatboy Run, Secrets & Lies (and as we continue on our journey, Naked), Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Children of Men…
But because these didn’t necessarily add anything special to our journey, I’m not going to continue with this pointless listing process.
Instead I must mention another nearby location – Liverpool Street.
Yes, the station that has featured in such contrasting films as The Elephant Man and Mission: Impossible sits on the site of the former ‘spital that bordered the nearby fields – the infamous Bethlem Hospital, better known perhaps as Bedlam.
I’d love to see a film about the original Bedlam. Originally a priory, Bethlem became a hospital in 1330 and began admitting mentally ill patients. Unlike today’s Bethlem Royal Hospital, now situated in Kent and regarded as a leading UK psychiatric hospital, the conditions in 14th century Bedlam were dreadful, The place was noisy and chaotic and no doubt many of the “patients” wouldn’t have been mentally ill at all, but “put away” there for “immoral”, antisocial or undesirable behaviour. Had I lived at that time, I’m sure I’d have been incarcerated there, or somewhere similar.
Horror and abuse combined with a moving storyline could make a fabulously powerful movie I reckon. A Bedlam film was made in 1946 but that was a horror movie about the hospital in the 18th century when it had moved to Moorfields. It’s the idea of that 14th century place on the edge of the walled city that fascinates me most.
Anyway, on we plod towards our destination up Kingsland Road. This area of London is culturally exciting more than architecturally amazing. From the trendy Hoxton with its bars and clubs and distinctive fashion sense, we find ourselves entering an area populated by a strong African-Caribbean community, and then within seconds we’re at the heart of a strong Turkish community. This particular area is captured in Stephen Frears’ Dirty Pretty Things, that thriller about Chiwetel Ejiofor‘s illegal immigrant Okwe, who uncovers a human organ trafficking operation in the hotel where he works. When not working (which is most of the time), he stays in the Dalston flat of Audrey Tautou‘s Turkish asylum seeker Senay.
And, it’s in Dalston’s Turkish community that we will locate our morning’s final destination. However, I’m not going to reveal that delight until tomorrow, so do come back then….