Dear Readers, I was walking through Camden Passage in Islington today en route to my pilates class and was somewhat surprised to see that, for a short stretch of the road, the petunia-filled hanging baskets had been replaced with Christmas lights, which looked very incongruous in the summer sunshine. And this wasn’t the only unexpected sight…
The area outside The Breakfast Club is set up for mulled wine, definitely not required today when it’s nearly 28 degrees Celsius….
And there are all manner of Christmas wreaths hanging on the wall of the Pierrepoint Arcade, along with some decidedly homemade Christmas Fayre signs (definitely not the done thing in Islington).
It felt a bit as if I’d stepped into a parallel universe. But then, of course, all was revealed….
Ha! Well, they had me worried there for a minute. What I don’t know is what was being filled, and how far the illusion was going to go. Is Camden Passage about to be filled with fake snow at any minute? Are sweltering actors going to be meandering about in their winter coats and woolly hats? Alas, I was heading home, so I will never know, but any Islingtonians might want to keep an eye on the goings on, and if I find out anything subsequently I will let you know.
Camden Passage is, confusingly, not in Camden at all, but in Islington. I lived in Islington from about 2000 to 2010, and in that time it has changed from a historic antiques market, with dozens of small specialist shops selling everything from militaria to glass to medals to jewellery, to a place full of cafes, with a few artisan food shops, a barbers and some upscale clothes shops. Honestly I think it’s a shame – while there are some great shops (Loop the wool shop and Pistachio and Pickle the cheesemongers spring immediately to mind), Camden Passage was unique. Unfortunately the rise in rates and a devastating flood, when a water main burst and many of the shops lost their stock due to the flood water, finished off many of the little places, and then the pandemic was the final straw. Still, the place is bustling, and it’s traffic free, which makes it a much more pleasant place to idle away a few hours than many spots in the Capital.
Ooh, I nearly forgot Paul A. Young the chocolatier when I was mentioning places to visit. I notice that at the moment they are offering a mango, coriander, chilli, coconut and lime truffle and a bergamot bellini truffle, amongst other flavours, and that they do vegan and gluten-free as well. Worth skipping a few Snickers for, for sure.
This was not the most extraordinary change I’ve ever seen to a building to facilitate filming though. Where would you think this is?
No, it’s not the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, it’s Caird Hall in Dundee, from 1983. The snow was all artificial, and, in this very bolshie town it caused quite a lot of excitement, not least amongst my colleagues and I who worked at the local night shelter and were all too eager for the revolution. The Caird Hall was being used for the TV production ‘An Englishman Abroad’, which told the story of Guy Burgess, who spied for the Russians while he was an officer at M16, and his meeting with actress Coral Browne, who was appearing as Gertrude in a production of ‘Hamlet’ in Moscow. The unlikely true tale was turned into TV by Alan Bennett, and was directed by John Schlesinger. I seem to remember it being rather fine. Burgess was played by Alan Bates, and Coral Browne played herself, which must have been a very strange experience.
And so this is a reminder that television and film really are a box of tricks, changing summer into winter, Dundee into Moscow and Alan Bates into Guy Burgess. But how magical it is! If the story is good enough, we are drawn in and spend a few hours in a place that exists only in the imagination. Let’s remember that such trickery, while innocent enough in these cases, can also be used to persuade us that things are different from how they actually are.
Photo One from https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0085492/