Saturday, February 02, 2013

The Great West Road, captured by me in January's snowfall
So I am leaving my temporary abode in West London and returning to my native North-East London. Along the way, I’ve checked out a number of country manors that are down the road from me, all of which look deeply desolate in the winter. Osterley Park and House, for example, where the band The XX will inexplicably be playing in June (right next to that cool bookshop I mentioned in my previous post).

There’s also Syon Park & House, which looks like the kind of thing you’d see in Oxford or Cambridge or York rather than West London just beyond the Hammersmith flyover. You can imagine Vikings attacking its forts in 850 or whenever it was England was under King Canute’s Danelaw:

But what’s been most if interest to me is a rather fascinating, deeply dystopian-looking, art-deco edifice right near me – The Gillette Building, which happens to be a Grade II listed. In case you’re wondering, yes it is named after Gillette the razors, but Gillette aren’t there anymore. So what’s it used for?

Like Battersea Power Station, it’s all a bit of a mystery. Some of the scenes from the entirely forgettable Rowan Atkinson vehicle Johnny English Reborn were shot there. Other than that, who knows? There’s hardly any activity inside except for the occasional sinister photoshoot that you can spy taking place in the basement. Those forbidding red wavy grills on the windows (left) make it look like something out of 1984 or The Handmaid’s Tale (the latter of which I’ve just finished reading) – you can imagine the Ministry of Truth or the Headquarters of the Republic of Gilead in there. It also reminds me of some of the decaying art-deco buildings that you see in pictures of Detroit, right down to these slightly creepy statues in front of the entrance:

Meanwhile, at night, it’s only lights come from the neon clocktower above, which – and this is extremely Orwellian – always has the wrong time. Perhaps secret plots are being hatched up there, a bit like in Hitchcock's Vertigo? Or...maybe not.

What a place it would be to have gigs and art happenings; you can imagine Godspeed You! Black Emperor squatting a decaying building like this in recession-blighted Montreal in the mid-90s and playing songs about the end of the world. Sadly, there is a manned entrance at the side to the car park at the back, which is pretty much the only way you can get to the building. So it's clearly guarded in some way. Well, you could put a ladder over the fence…but I won’t. Just like Battersea Power Station (even with the ludicrous current plans, which will probably lead to another housing crash when everything goes wrong - you read it here first!), it’s an example of another amazing building in London left to rot. Whether or not you like Tesco's, at least the Hoover Building is being used for something.

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