Cities are deeply mysterious places because it’s almost impossible to understand the full truth of what’s happening. People are moving around, occasionally pausing in doorways to chat on the phone, but what are they really up to? Are they simply asking: “What’s for dinner?” and: “I’ll be home around eight” — or are they planning some complicated scam or plotting an assassination?
Maybe it’s because in my early teens I enjoyed too many Agatha Christie novels — around forty of them in succession. As a consequence I’ve always been aware that life is not as it appears on the surface. I’m wary of other people and I’m absolutely sure a lot of them are “up to no good.”
In another article, which I’ve not yet posted, I complain about the shape and style of the Agatha Christie Memorial at the corner of Cranbourn Street and St Martin’s Lane in London. Somehow, it doesn’t seem to sit nicely when there’s a crowd of suspicious-looking people hurrying past.
However, a few months ago I succeeded in getting a shot of the memorial (above) when the pavement in front was completely clear. OK, there are some very honest, hard-working men digging up the road behind it, but all the panhandlers, city-slickers, con artists, would-be showbiz personalities and street musicians who normally hang around it are nowhere to be seen.
It actually looks quite good! It’s a fitting tribute, as they say, to a woman whose work is so much better on the page that it is on the screen. Film and TV adaptations of Agatha Christie’s novels are nearly always dreadful, unlike the many brilliant versions of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories.
Street photographers who enjoy mystery novels can easily find people, locations and incidents on the streets of London to inspire their work. When I walk through the West End I come across such scenes all the time. On a recent trip I was deliberately looking for “Places Where Bad Things Have Happened” — the title of an article I have in mind — and so I was ready to think the worst. Then I saw a man clutching a clawhammer (below).
I suppose it was the white protective clothing that attracted my attention. It reminded me of an incident in a recent TV police thriller in which a rogue pathologist dons a white jumpsuit before attempting to dispose of his victim by chopping up the body. Fortunately, there are no bloodstains on the man in my picture, so I’m sure he’s “on the level.” In fact, he’s wearing a visitor’s badge round his neck (the ribbon says “visitor”), so I’d guess he’s a hands-on designer who’s been working on the shop fittings.
The Incident in China Town
Later that day I was in China Town, south of Shaftsbury Avenue, trying to locate a restaurant where the Chinese Triads used machetes to chop up some customers, many years ago. On my way there I came across a scene which I’ve called “Incident in China Town.”
This incident appeared to be somewhat less serious than the one involving the Triads, but it was certainly attracting a lot of attention. I didn’t hang around to find out exactly what was going on (I’m not a photojournalist!) so I can’t tell you how it all ended. A woman was shrieking blue murder at the police, who were methodically going through some items on the ground.
I can read only one word on the white sheets hanging from strings in front of the shop. Because the word is on the other side of the sheet, the letters are reversed. I can just make them out. They spell the word “blood.”
The British public has always had a healthy appetite for murder stories. I remember when my late Aunt came back from London, having seen Agatha Christie’s new play “The Mousetrap.” She said she’d enjoyed every minute of it.
Ten or twenty years later I went to see the play and fully agreed with her. Although it has since moved from the Ambassadors Theatre to the St Martin’s Theatre next door it’s still attracting audiences after 26,000 performances over 64 years. Honestly, I can’t tell you who-did-it. It was so long ago!
Before diving into China Town I walked past the two theatres and found a trio of visitors enjoying themselves taking selfies under the blue plaque. They’re clearly fans of Dame Agatha.
Will “The Mousetrap” ever close? It seems improbable in the near future. The run is guaranteed until at least 2018 and I would like think it will be running for many years in the future. I recall it as being superior to the film adaptations of the Christie novels, not least because it was written by her specifically for the stage.
It’s not long before I turn my attention back to the people in the street. Even before leaving the vicinity of the two theatres I see two men who are in step with each other, although they’d heading in different directions. Is that suspicious? Are they in secret communication with each other? The man in the suit certainly appears to be saying something as he passes the man with the rucksack.
It’s all deeply mysterious.