Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Cheapo Revisited

My Cheapo gaffe friend (see earlier post) has a young nephew also given to superfluous utterance. His grandmother once told him that her mummy was up in heaven. To which that mite replied : "She's dead - face it."

But perhaps today was the right time in my own grieving process to seek a final pointless-but-necessary confirmation of my own loss by making a pilgrimage to Rupert Street to see - well, whatever there was to see where once Cheapo stood. Subjecting my battered psyche to this ordeal, I reasoned this morning, could only strengthen it - and besides, I had to go into town for work-related purchases, anyway.

Aware both of the ridiculousness and the necessity of adding Rupert Street to my itinerary, I proceeded to make the journey precisely as I would have done in those long-ago days before my love for the place became devalued, or at any rate changed, when I moved into professional purchasing mode. I left the Argyle Street exit of Oxford Circus tube, walking past Carnaby Street (that "heaven on earth," as I believe the New Vaudeville Band once termed it) and what had been, until 1997, Marshall Street Pool, where I used to swim regularly. The site of the building was covered in scaffolding and padding, but there was an entrance through which I caught a glimpse of the whitened shell of the pool. It would have been easy to walk quickly in, take a few snaps before anyone thought to question me, and go. For a moment, I was tempted, but (in what I fear is fast becoming this blog's catchphrase) I didn't. Not simply for fear of being chased by "the man", but at least partly because I think I already knew, the instant the thought formed, that a few snaps of a now dilapidated pool would be unilikely to bring either pleasure or succour.

The same might be said for going back to Cheapo, but the difference is that, quite apart from the the twelve and a half years I've had to get my head around the closure of Marshall Street, there was a very neat cut-off point. The Guardian newspaper has a column entitled Notes and Queries, a mind-boggling mix of the trivial and the serious. One of the questions put to readers was: "What would have been the lead story on the day Princess Diana died, had she not popped it?" This was my response:
Not, perhaps, headline-grabbing on a global scale, but the imminent closure of the Marshall Street swimming pool, just off Oxford Circus, was uppermost in at least one mind that day. Going for one last swim before it shut its doors for good that afternoon, I attributed the long faces to employees losing their jobs. I did not see a newspaper with an alternative explanation until about 1pm.
That diversion over, let's zigzag down from Marshall Street to Rupert Street and "face it." I have my camera ready for whatever awaits, and here it is:

The grey is an apt touch. Harsh and metallic where once there was the green of growth.Click on the next image if you want to torture/heal yourself by getting even closer:

And finally ...

Now there's no doubt about it anywhere, is there? as a Noel Coward character might say. No, no doubt anywhere.

As I type this, it occurs to me that, having taken the photographs from the opposite side of the road, I didn't then cross and peer inside. Had I done so, I'd have been looking for what, exactly? A binbag full of forgotten CDs? Unlikely: the repainting and the darkness of the interior suggest nothing has been left to chance. No; as with Marshall Street, I think I immediately grasped that any further investigation would not bring comfort.

There isn't much else to say. All images in the earlier post were taken from the net: the picture Lennonised then adapted for my blog heading is by Laura Appleyard, whose flickr photostream, and the image in its original form, can be found here; other flickr images were by abkeating200, Tschechoslowakische Ausschussware, renaissancechambara and TheNotQuiteFool, who has his own, slightly briefer, lament for Cheapo here. The above mementoes were taken by me today, January 19th 2010. If others want to use them as a staging post in their own half-real grief, feel free. I took some more, hoping to capture someone in the act of walking past in the manner of Ms. Appleby's image, but I'm new to the world of digital photography and kept being half a second late for the decisive moment.

In any case, the empty street captured above feels more true to my subjective experience - although I was moved by the small kindness of one individual who waited until I was done (unusual in Central London) before walking past; perhaps he, too, had lingered overlong in Cheapo on occasion.

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