My upbringing was both weird and boring. And one of the weirdnesses was that I’ve ended up with a strangely extensive knowledge of the lyrics of dreary show tunes. (Stick with me here.)
And some of the lyrics that always confused me as I was growing up were in the song “On The Street Where You Live.” It’s by Lerner and Lowe, from My Fair Lady though I didn’t know that at the time. Lyrics run:
I have often walked
Down the street before,
But the pavement always
Stayed beneath my feet before.
All at once am I
Several stories high,
Knowing I'm on the street where you live.
I was baffled – because all the streets I knew consisted of two up, two down terraced houses. If you were “several stories high” you’d be floating around somewhere up above the rooftops. What was good about that? What street DID this woman live on?
In fact the only people I’d ever met who didn’t live in a terraced house were Uncle Oliver and Aunty Kath who lived in this block of flats in Hillsborough, in Sheffield. It’s Regent Court, now regarded as a classic of (admittedly rather watered down) modernism.
It was built just before the war, and during the Sheffield Blitz people used to run there to take shelter, because metal plates were supposedly used in its construction, and it was therefore safe. I only ever had my mother’s word for this.
If you walked a few hundred yards from Regent Court you’d be in Penistone Road, and it says much for the innocence of those times that nobody I knew ever referred to in as Penis-tone Road, which everybody surely would these days.
In Hillsborough there was also Dyke’s Hall Road, though as far as I knew there was no dyke. And for that matter there was Swamp Walk, again with no evidence of a swamp.
But I suppose it’s in the nature of being a kid that you accept whatever’s in front of you, and I walked those streets without much surprise or curiosity about the names. Well, times and sensibilities change.
The fact is – and I admit this is not a very serious psychogeographic reason for walking anywhere – I find there is a certain thrill that comes from walking along a street with a cool or odd or curious name, even if the street itself is fairly ordinary.
I can hardly tell you how much I enjoyed walking along Tinderbox Alley in Mortlake:
And in Lewisham, there's the very wonderful-sounding Fossil Road – it did no harm that the street sign itself looked a bit fossilized.
Walking anywhere in Guadalajara was pretty interesting, but things perked up even more when I got to walk along Cometa, Astros, Atmosfera, Nebulosa:
And right now this is my current favorite – Uranium Avenue, in Moab, in Utah:
I did walk along it earlier this year, and it was a very ordinary street to walk on, no evidence of uranium, running between a supermarket and a tourist information center, but even so wouldn’t it be great to be able to say this was the street where you lived?
Oh and just so we don’t forget that this is in fact the Hollywood Walker, here’s Cosmo Street – a very short street that runs south off of Hollywood Boulevard. I’d lived here for years and walked along Hollywood Boulevard scores of times before I noticed it.