Discover more from Huw Lemmey's 'Utopian Drivel'
Cruising ghostly spies
A secret gay walking tour
image courtesy of Studio Voltaire
London is a ghost town, even if they are ghosts we live among. Some are half-remembered parties a decade old, still blasting from a flat above a shop when you walk past, years after your friends moved out. Some are dates kissed on street corners, or strange encounters with strange men in strange blocks of luxury apartments, and every time your bus rumbles past you remember pushing the door closed behind you, and the words he said.
Ghosts too of books or films, strange, dated figures professing their love on park benches as you pass, women running through the rain. And then there’s the ghosts that are a mixture of both, the ghosts of our historical imagination that we gather from books and films and half-remembered school lessons, ghosts meeting on Whitehall to see the king lose his head. These ghosts accrue with time; I envy those who have been born there and never left, just gathering crowds of memories and histories. These ghosts are what make the city. Tourists can never reach them, because they’re nurtured into our lives over years.
I have started to feel like the ghosts watch back. They accrue us, and with us get a little more afterlife. This autumn I wanted to share some of the ghosts that have swum around the city for me over the past years. I lead a small group on a walking tour around central London, visiting the locations that have emerged in my research over the past few years into the strange relationship between gay Englishmen and the British security services. I’ve written about it before, and I made a film about it with my collaborator Onyeka Igwe, which was recently shown at Studio Voltaire. But it was nice to talk to people about it in the locations in which the history happened. The ghosts felt closer, walking in and out of the hotel lobbies, jumping into taxis and looking over their shoulders, or rustling through the bushes. Studio Voltaire, who arranged the walking tour, very kindly recorded it.
I thought it would be nice to put it out here, so that, if you’re ever in London with an afternoon to spare, you could take your headphones and listen yourself. I’ve included the locations with each section below , and also some shots from Google Street View (with links), for those who want a virtual experience. There’s a full playlist here. If you want to follow the route, it’s mapped out here. There’s also a transcript on Studio Voltaire’s website. If you do the tour in person, do let me know!
Stop 1: The Tin and Stone Bridge, St James’ Park
Stop 2: 54 Broadway, St James’
Stop 3: St Ermin’s Hotel, Caxton Street
Stop 4: Parliament Square, Westminster
Stop 5: Thames House, Millbank
Stop 6: SIS Building, Vauxhall Cross
Stop 7: Park Mansions, South Lambeth Road
Stop 8: The US Embassy, Nine Elms and Dolphin Square, Pimlico
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