The black telephone box and other Clerkenwell mysteries.
Enid Blyton had a knack of spinning a mystery out of a seemingly inconsequential event. So, for example, a midnight delivery to the local grocery shop might well lead to a gang of Nazi spies trying to infiltrate the UK. Well, here are two connected mysteries that took place on my doorstep, in Clerkenwell in the middle of London.
First, the disappearing security camera. It appeared quite suddenly, towering over us and swivelling in a way that was ever so slightly sinister, following us up and down Cowcross Street. Who was watching us and why? Perhaps it was related to the many drug deals that take place here (though after its installation, the dealers moved a few yards round the corner).
But then, one night, in an equally random fashion, the camera and its pole vanished. My first thought was that it had been stolen. Perhaps, like various war monuments, it had been taken for its scrap value which would be a very worrying development because it would mean that in future we would have to construct CCTV cameras to watch the CCTV cameras and where would that end?
But now to mystery two. Where the camera once stood, we now have a telephone box. Not one of those ugly modern things but a Gilbert Scott original except – and this is another detail worthy of Blyton herself – it is black, not red. I thought that in the age of the mobile, and since we now all know that Clark Kent is Superman, nobody actually used telephone boxes any more.
And there’s another, intriguing twist to the story. Although it has stood there for almost six months, nobody has yet installed a telephone inside it. There are a couple of trailing wires, old coffee cups, a pool of urine of course – but no phone! What is it for? Is it an attraction for tourists as they wander up to Smithfield Meat Market? Is it a meeting point for a secret society? Is it perhaps a colossal waste of money inflicted on us by a council that should know better?
One of the joys of living in central London is that I feel myself constantly surrounded by stories. After all, Fagin lived just round the corner from me. Bleeding Heart Yard (which appears in Little Dorrit) is up the road.
So – some other thoughts. Why are there no escalators at the new Farringdon Station? Why can you never dock a Boris Bike? Who invented (and paid for) those electronic signs that tell you when the next bus is coming but which are actually about as informative as the lights on a Christmas tree? Watch out for The Black Telephone Box & Other Stories – coming soon.