THE suzi feay COLUMN

4 Cock Lane is the only street where brothels once operated. `So why isn't it called Fanny Lane?' demands Mark unanswerably 4

"HELP, we've been kidnapped by an itinerant pedant," Mark Simpson mutters in my ear. Why are we standing hunched and dripping in a Holborn alley listening to a man with a grizzled ponytail explain the difference between insurance and assurance? It was all my idea. Mark's new book is out, and since this rite-of-passage in a boy's life should not go unmarked, we have decided to go on a columnists' day out, to indulge in our favourite sport: Laughing At Sad People.

But as Mark's collected columns in It's a Queer World point out, sad people have a way of laughing back. His investigation of "the twilight world of the heterosexual" has sent him hunting sex in Soho, going on a stag night, enduring Roy "Chubby" Brown and visiting the Motor Show. Who else would spot the queer resonance of Morecambe and Wise ("cardigan- wearing bachelors with a passion for Shirley Bassey and musicals"), Reeves and Mortimer ("one of the great comedy homo romances") and, heaven forfend, Ren and Stimpy ("flagrant anality ... mad, bad and totally pervy"). And the stuff that doesn't get written down is just as memorable, like his observation, after interviewing Suede's drummer and lead singer, "a master- slave relationship, if ever I saw one", and his verdict on exhibitionist lesbian activists: "Now there's a group of people who haven't come to terms with the fact that their sex organs are on the INSIDE."

I want to lug him along on a Jack the Ripper walk, but there isn't one on, so we plump for "Hangings and Hauntings: Historic Holborn", a title with aspirations if nothing else. I am so solicitous about getting him to the assignation on time that he asks tartly if I'm to be his mummy for the day. It's the Hen and Simpy show ...

It's chucking it down, but Simpy is sporting a rather fetching hood. "My weather eye told me it would rain today," he gloats. Turns out he was a deckhand for a year after running away from beastly, male-dominated Oriel in his first term. But we can't go into this interesting topic, as our guide is droning unstoppably on: "Does anybody remember the Man from the Pru? I know I do!" "I wonder how many punters he'd get if this walk was called Facts about Insurance Companies," grizzles Simpy. We drift towards the City at an agonising, slow pace, bombarded with facts about war memorials, the difference between the uniforms of the Met and City police, the free Gresham lectures in rhetoric and geometry, and the ancient livery companies.

This is desperate. I try to pay up so we can escape with a good conscience, but the guide insists he will only take money at the end of the tour. "Well, we might have to go before the end," I say. "We have to get to the London Dungeon before it shuts." "You won't get there now," he asserts. "It's down by London Bridge. You need to allow four to five hours for that. Don't skimp things," he winds up, brusquely. "Oh, let's just make a run for it," mutters Simpy. "I don't care if we piss him off. I hate him." But our guide has got eyes in the back of his head. Like rebellious kids on a school trip, our only recourse now is subversion. Simpy muses aloud about the potential for cottaging in the magnificent Edwardian conveniences we keep passing: "All those aldermen, with their rough trade forever delivering consignments round the tradesman's entrance." And, in the non-conformist temple by the Viaduct, we are momentarily diverted from our guide's lecture on Methodism by the sight of a functionary dragging up the aisle a crude, home-made cross, with lacerating twigs and thorns still attached. Kinky!

Then we traipse to Cock Lane, the only street where licenced brothels once operated. "So why isn't it called Fanny Lane?" demands Mark unanswerably. What with the car fumes, the noise and the rebuilding, the palimpsest of the past has been almost completely typed and Tipp-Exed over. The Wren Church is shut, the Saracen's Head has been demolished, a nosy janitor wants to know what we're doing outside "his" office building. Our guide is equally proprietorial about history, warning us off London's hordes of disreputable guides who "just make things up". "What does he think history IS?" fumes Mark. Finally, he grudgingly accepts our money and we escape in a cab.

One traffic jam later, we arrive at the London Dungeon. This milestone in the kitschification of state-power is entirely staffed by extras from a Motley Crue video. Here, bodies dangle from nooses, perch atop crepe- paper bonfires, and twitch on racks. "Walk This Way!" screeches a Dickensian urchin in flapping britches and battered top hat, doing a hideous Aerosmith prance, before announcing "Last Jack the Ripper Experience of the day," and scuttling off into the vaulted gloom. Guttering candles can't obscure the grime, tattiness and over-enthusiastic use of red paint. The Ripper victims are seedily effective, though: sprawled awkwardly, coming to terms with the fact that their sexual organs are on the outside. All around us are Germans and Japanese, getting off on sadism.

There is only one way to return swiftly to late-20th century Britain, and we do it: we go over the road and have a baguette with pommes frites in a mock French bistro.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

    Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

    Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

    £15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

    Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

    Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

    Day In a Page

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

    Dame Harriet Walter interview

    The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links