hidden europe 11

London: Vauxhall pleasures

by Nicky Gardner


For most Londoners, Vauxhall is just a formidably busy traffic intersection on the wrong side of the river. hidden europe discovers that Vauxhall is a place with interesting connections.

I used to judge that part of London known as Vauxhall to be a not particularly memorable district of the capital. It was the sort of place I passed through to get to spots I never especially wanted to go. Dominated by what seemed to be the busiest traffic intersection on the planet, Vauxhall certainly did not yield its charms easily. True, there was, right in the heart of Vauxhall's urban chaos, a single building that always caught my attention as the red doubledecker bus waited patiently for the green traffic light.

The building I quite liked was a modest structure, and may still be there for all I know. I rather hope it is, for it was an elegant nineteenth- century town house, architecturally well proportioned and human in scale, a survivor dwarfed by modern buildings around. A sign on the exterior proclaimed it to be home to the British Interplanetary Society - surely a venerable and ancient society. Perhaps a charity that offered bed and breakfast to visiting Martians, I speculated. One day, during an uncommonly prolonged snarl-up in the traffic, and tired of waiting on the upper deck of a stationary bus, I ventured across the threshold of 27 South Lambeth Road, intent on catching a glimpse of aliens taking tea in the front lounge.

Sadly the Martians were not in evidence. In the foyer, a rather earnest lady peered at me over the top of her pince-nez spectacles, possibly assessing if I hailed from Venus. I explained that I came merely from the upper deck of the number 88 bus. I detected that the lady seemed a little disappointed by this revelation but she nonetheless offered me a complementary copy of the Society's journal and embarked on an engaging tutorial on the history of spaceflight. We were somewhere around the nineteen forties and a discussion on the merits of lunar taxis when the Vauxhall traffic started moving again. So I made my apologies and left. Somehow, the British Interplanetary Society slipped from my attention - as did Vauxhall itself. Perhaps I took different routes to get to the places I never really wanted to go. In time, that great traffic junction melted into a melée of memory, supplanted by new places, new vistas and traffic chaos in other continents.

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