Our latest lockdown is coming to an end today, and our shops, offices and businesses will open again, although still with some restrictions. T and I go out for exercise every day that we can, and mostly spend our time cycling up the steep hill to Hampstead Heath then roaming around for ages because (a) there isn't much open in London, and (b) it's so rewarding being around nature. Yesterday, for instance, was wonderful. The sky was bright blue, and the silver birch trees glittered ethereally in the sunshine as if their leaves had been dipped in gold.
We got a takeaway lunch from a BBQ beneath the arches of the Victorian railway bridge.
T. had wild mushroom croquettes with black garlic and pickles, I had venison skewers with kimchi and sour cream. Excellent! And this is my venison, cooking.
It is a reminder that once this area hadn't been Chinese at all, but the Little Italy of London, and it announced that "The Magic Circle was founded on this site at Pinoli's Restaurant by twenty three Magicians on July 1st 1905."
So it was 115 years ago since the magical twenty-three had tucked into their spaghetti, and in those days, Pinoli's was a magnet for professional entertainers and other theatricals. The restaurant lasted for half a century, and although the magicians had no idea that their little club would turn into a world wide organisation, Mr Pinoli must have hoped that his name would live on. And it did. It's still there in large letters right at the top of the building, although not so easy to see as it's painted in white on pale blue.
The site has been occupied by various Asian restaurants for decades now, although I noted with interest that the new restaurant currently occupying the site is called "Fogo de Chão" and is Brazilian. And, unlike the darkened Chinese eating places surrounding it, it was brightly lit and open. In fact, so many of the Chinese restaurants were closed and dark that it did occur to me that the Chinese, (who are normally famous in Britain for being open when everyone else is shut), might be losing interest in the area. What if the sad mass closure of South American businesses in Elephant and Castle provoked an influx of Latinos keen to turn this place into Little Latin America?
If you stand in the middle and look up, (above) you see an assortment of quaint old lamps, a CCTV camera and.....
...a sign saying ANCIENT LIGHTS. This refers to a law of 1663, which says that a window that has had natural light for over 20 years can claim "ancient lights" - or the right to stop any development which will obstruct its natural light. It was a useful law in the days when London was full of narrow courts with poky houses jammed up against one another with no regard for hygiene or fresh air. My guess is that at some point about 150 years ago the garret at the top of the building became a cheap office, and so it was worth applying for the Ancient Lights so the clerks could slave away all day without the need to waste the boss's candles.
Beneath the archway is another strange relic, a group of long thin mirrors of a type that were put up in the 19th century in dark places in the hopes of reflecting back what light there was. They were found all over London, and were perhaps necessary because of the smoke and soot and fog which turned all the buildings black and filled little courts like this with a stinking, foggy miasma. I have to admit they are not very effective in daylight, but imagine they made some a difference at night when the gas lights lit them up.
We also passed Maison Bertaux, which has been a feature of the area for as long as the Algerian Coffee. I remember staring longingly at it when I was a sweet toothed teenager, as its pastries were always perfectly fantastic, if expensive.