I’ve been thinking about
a lot lately. I haven’t lived there for any length of time that counts, only in an outer north eastern corner of it for the first three years of my life, about which I remember very little. Oh, apart from a rather bloody incident involving the back of my head and a brick, from which just the memory and a faint scar on my scalp have remained. (The moral of that tale is: toddlers, do not play games pretending to be a naughty child who won’t go to bed in which you and your friends use house-bricks for pillows). London
I was born in the London Hospital at Whitechapel, a big, rambling building with centuries of history, once home to Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man, and (perhaps apocryphally) within the sound of Bow Bells, which apparently makes me a Cockney. You won’t find me down the rub-a-dub rabbiting with the Pearly Queen about jellied eels, though… my family relocated to the sticks before I was four.
, however, can still make me feel childlike in some ways as it holds a degree of magical appeal. For me it’s a bit like a fairytale mixture of good, bad and ugly, as well as sometimes very beautiful: a place of contrasts. Whenever I step off the train into Liverpool Street Station, where flocks of people in dark suits dash about purposefully in all directions like hungry starlings, I feel like I’m entering another world. A metaphorical world of secret rooms in high towers, deep dark caves, scary ogres and charming princes, not to mention the genuine palaces, a real-life castle and some very much alive-and-kicking rats in underground tunnels. I find our capital slightly unsettling at times yet often thrilling, full of people and things with the potential to fascinate, horrify, annoy or beguile me; it is big and different and legendary. I know, it’s just a city – but it is an inspiring one. And it is its legendary aspect that inspired this little magazine called One Eye Grey, ‘a penny dreadful for the 21st century’. London
Each edition of this pocket-sized publication is a spine-tingling collection of pieces based on traditional folktales, ghost stories and a sprinkling of urban legend, but what makes them so uniquely appealing is that they are retold in the context of modern
. In the first three issues the stories, all written by the magazine’s creator Chris Roberts, are skilfully linked through a main character and his group of friends and this provides a sub-plot which enriches each individual tale very satisfyingly. In subsequent volumes, discrete stories have been contributed by a number of different writers, but all are evocative and chilling enough. I’ve long been a fan of a good scary story – adolescent memories of reading what seemed like an endless number of volumes of the Pan Book Of Horror are lodged deep within my psyche – so reading about apparitions, shape-shifters, witches and metamorphosing rodents is appealing. But what enhances One Eye Grey is the contemporary setting, the more adult approach and content (some nice juicy helpings of sex, violence and modern slang) - and London . I want to read each story and visit every associated location, then scare the pants off myself, not just by the price of a London pint but with imaginings of a shadowy female figure on Maiden Lane or the giant rat with eyes of different colours (the eponymous One Eye Grey) lurking near Cannon Street Railway Bridge. These often specific geographical references make each account more vivid and help satisfy a teasing desire to believe in them. London
If you want to scare the pants off yourself too, One Eye Grey is available from http://www.fandmpublications.co.uk/pages/pennydreadfulevents.htm
Unsurprisingly, I’m going to conclude this post with a London-themed song - I know it's obvious, and there are too many good ones to choose from! - but this could be the first of a few.