Why is it that I don’t like Seven Dials? Partly it is historical: historical to me that is, not historical historical. The fact is, I have never liked Seven Dials, and I don’t intend to go changing anytime soon. Partly it is historical historical, though. When Seven Dials was first designed in the late 17th century, it was supposed to be a junction for six roads. A monument was specially constructed as a centrepiece for the junction, which bears six sundials at its summit in neat symmetry to the roads. However, at a late stage in the realisation of the construction project, a seventh road was added. As a Glorious Revolution Age Robert Peston might have remarked: “WTF!” Irritating then; still irritating today.
I am presuming that the late interloper to the party is Shorts Gardens. Monmouth Street, Earlham Street and Mercer Street all neatly bisect the junction, like sharp skewers through a suckling pig roast, but Shorts Gardens is a conspicuous anomaly; a Johnny-come-lately to the BBQ, arriving after all the hard work with the firelighters is over, bearing a bottle of cheap Liebfraumilch, and then eating all the cocktail sausages. I don’t like to unfairly point a finger, but Shorts Gardens is such a brazen gate crasher that I don’t think it will flinch from my criticism.
However, none of this addresses my primary cause of irritation. London is my city. When I move around it, I like to move around it swiftly. I have no need to stand and gawp. I have little patience with the sedentary-tourist obstructions in Oxford Street; try to bypass the slow-moving pedestrian traffic of Covent Garden. These are the human-cholesterol, which drive me into the backstreets; the fast-moving, less-congested arteries of my city.
Except, at Seven Dials, I always encounter a coronary blockage. Seven converging streets crammed into a tiny square footage. Green Cross Code––stop at the curb; look right; look left; look right again––performed multiple times in quick succession, simply to cross from one side to the other.
My problem with Seven Dials is that it brings me back too keenly to reality; it is a place where it is impossible to escape from one’s own mind/body to fully appreciate its undeniable attractions, because there is always another bloody car to look out for.
Having said all of that, the entire area briefly closed off to traffic for Christmas shopping, and it was actually quite nice.
© Simon Turner-Tree
Simon Turner-Tree enjoys the freedom of Seven Dials while the cars are excluded.