Le Macabre

The jukebox had an appropriate playlist: Chopin’s Funeral March, Drac’s Back by Billy DeMarco & Count Dracula, Monster Mash by Bobby “Boris” Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers, but we always played Cat Stevens’ – Lady D’Arbanville:

Your lips feel like winter
Your skin has turned to white

Le Macabre Coffee House was at the western end of Meard Street, near the junction with Wardour Street, in London’s Soho.  Just around the corner was Hammer House, home to the horror film specialists, Hammer Films.

“You could always tell you were in Meard Street, because ladies’ legs tended to dangle out of the windows. With vocal commentary”Russell Davies.  In 1970 they had either moved on or I was unaware – in those far-off  days, there was only the one girl in my universe.

The interior was witch-dark, the tables were in the shape of coffins, the ashtrays were Bakelite skulls and skeletons adorned the walls.  It was a delight to a pair of teenagers with an unhealthy interest in Dennis Wheatley – The Devil Rides Out, To the Devil a Daughter, The Satanist – they were nothing if not obvious. I guess we were early goth. 

I don’t remember the quality of the coffee, but Starbucks would do well to emulate the atmosphere. 

She lived in Sydenham and I worked in Manchester.  Until I contrived to move south, I travelled between the two, often hitch-hiking.  Setting off early evening meant the motorway slip roads were less populated with like-minded travellers.  There was an etiquette loosely based on first come first served, although lone girls and couples were more likely to be singled out by the eagle-eyed driver.  The late departure meant arrival into London in the early hours – breakfast was free milk from the doorstep and heat from the Euston Station concourse, until moved on. Police searches were common but never threatening – my limited baggage space might include some freshly laundered underwear, sent south by my girlfriend’s mother.  No great deal except when searched – it seemed to amuse the constabulary.  No officer, they are not mine – do they look as though they would fit?Each to his own, laddie.

The lack of sleep lent those long weekends a dream-like quality.  Le Macabre was the perfect place to maintain a chimerical state of mind.

(This post inspired by a tweet from Rob Baker – author of two excellent books about London: Beautiful Idiots and Brilliant Lunatics and High Buildings, Low Morals)

Starting the year …

… the way I intend to continue – on a bike on January 1st. Plenty of rain meant there was no salt on the roads and the temperatures well above 10ºC – almost perfect riding conditions, but for the mucky surfaces.  I am fortunate to live among country roads, not best for a sports bike, but ideal for the Scrambler.  A couple of miles north and I am on the Military Road, which runs from Heddon in the east to Greenhead in the west.  For much of its length, it runs parallel to Hadrian’s Wall and north of the old Stanegate Roman road.  There are any number of diversions, south or north, which take you away from this almost arrow-straight tarmac, built by Field Marshal Wade in 1746 to enable easy movement of the troops and equipment necessary to supress the Jacobite uprising.  It is a wild, exposed, glorious landscape.

The arrow-straight Military Road near High Teppermoor.

The road less traveled – between Hound Hill and Melkridge Common.

Towards Gibbs Hill from Hound Hill.

Parked up at the foot of Hound Hill.

Towards Cowburn Rigg from Hound Hill.

Crindledykes.

Crindledykes

Escape …

… down forestry roads, deep into Wark Forest.  I am no off-road hero but, some loose gravel I can cope with at sensible speeds.  The attraction is that it takes you places you would never otherwise go and mostly, you are completely alone.  This route starts at Whygate, a place already far from anywhere, at which point narrow tarmac with passing places turns to unmade forestry roads.  Three miles in a sign advises that the already rough track is unsuitable for motorised vehicles.  I have a sneaking suspicion that this is designed to deter through traffic – apart from a ford, Google Earth seems to show a cycle route which at worst has grass growing down the middle.  I was suitably deterred but intend going back to attack it from the southern end.  With echoes of the Northwest Passage I have a burning ambition to break through from Once Brewed on the Military Road to complete a fabulous circular route.

As it was, I turned back and headed over Shitlington Common (I kid you not) to Bellingham, down the North Tyne Valley to Wark and then along the eastern side of the Tyne to Barrasford, Chollerton and home.

It was wonderful to be out and I make no pretence about it being an ‘essential journey’ other than for the sake of my sanity.

The off-road section in Wark Forest

Almost a selfie

Beyond Whygate

End of the road at Grindon Green – or is it?

Turning around

One of two fords at Whygate

Shitlington Common

…and again.