It being not raining, and that being a pleasant surprise, I went for a wander at lunchtime, around backstreets that I’d not wandered before, and stumbled into Bleeding Heart Yard.
In one corner there was a Dickensian looking pub. In another, an office building.
The rest of the small squre was taken up by a crowd of people wearing woolly jumpers and talking about organic food and the next anti-war demonstration they’d like to organise. I’m sure I heard someone say “Won’t somebody please think of the children” at least once.
That is, of course, a lie. I didn’t even go into the yard itself – although I’ve heard since that there’s a nice pub in it. And a Dickensian one, to boot. Giving a warm London welcome, and serving a wide range of bar snacks and more substantial fare (in trying to find out the origin of the name, I stumbled on several promotional pages) at very reasonable prices.
But Bleeding Heart Yard now joins my list of favourite place names, along with St. Louis de Ha! Ha!, Quebec, a street called Gibble Gabble in Broadbottom (there being some 2 for 1 deal on novelty names in Cheshire, apparently), and the village of Flash in Derbyshire (which, I believe, deserves an exclamation mark just as much as St Louis Ha! Ha!, a la ‘Flash!’)(in fact, if you remember the film theme, it would do well to have an ‘Ah ah!’ following it as well. ‘Flash! Ah ah!’. That would be great. Maybe we could work out some kind of anagrammic placename Derbyshire/Quebequanese timeshare arrangement).
There’s also Monkey’s Eyebrow Arizona, Moose Factory, somewhere in Canada, and the now renamed Gropecunt Lane in London.
The nice thing about Gropecunt Lane (why would anyone rename that?) – and, of course about so many other place names is that they simply state the facts of the place or the feelings of the people that named it about that place.
The ‘fact’ thing always endears me. When I lived on Iona, everyone would pour over the map of the island, and always read the Celtic place names with a voice of mysticism and awe, slightly disappointed when they found out each meant ‘That big pointy black rock‘ or, perhaps, ‘The middlesized pointy black rock‘ or, occasionally ‘The pointy black rock that is smaller than the other two pointy black rocks but not as small as the pointy black stone‘. Gropecunt Lane did exactly what it said on the tin. Prostitutes were there. You went there to grope a bit of cunt. No point in putting flourishes on it. It’s a good Anglo-Saxon word. They said it, not me. And that was what they meant.
Every town in England has a Market Street or a Market Square, the rest of Britain have variations on the same – they’re place names that honestly represent what happens there. And that endears me. It’s charmingly straight forward. I’d like to think that Boring, Oregon and Normal, Illinois were exactly as they announced themselves to be. And if there was a Moose factory, a factory that Actually Made Mooses (Meese, sorry) in Moose Factory, I’d be the happiest woman alive.
I like, even more, the place names that say something about twhat people found when they reached there, or how they felt about it all. Point No Point has to be my favourite. People travelling day and night, slogging their guts out to get somewhere, to explore, to discover, to conquer only to reach somewhere and go… “Oh.” “Oh. Is that it?” “Oh, right.” “Oh”.
Come by chance is a place that was quite nice, on the other hand, to happen upon, although I like the suggestion that they were trying to get somewhere else – although probably not Point No Point, which they’d possibly heard about on the grapevine by then.
And, now I’m thinking about it, my new favourite is Dead Horse, Alaska.
“Why did you settle here, exactly? Was it the fertile ground? The river? The weather? Is there gold? Oil? Is it rich in natural resources?”
“No sir – goddamn hoss died. It was either live here or walk.”
Or that’s how I like to think it happened, anyway.
Once you start looking, it’s great, they’re everywhere. Crutched Friars in the city. Went there. There weren’t any. There weren’t even any friars, which is a good thing because I probably would have kicked them in the knees. There’s an old street called ‘West Bank’ just North of our house, which is only funny by location, running, as it does, through the centre of Jweish London. There’s Frostproof, Florida, Egypt in Hampshire, which couldn’t be less like Egypt if it tried, and oh I don’t know, about a billion others.
But no, today, I like the mental picture of Dead Horse. That’s Dead Horse, not A dead horse.
Anyway. Come on then. I’ve shown you mine…