From Giraffe Stalls to Pokéstops: The London Art Gallery

From ages 3 to 11, I lived in a green and white house at the corner of Wharncliffe and Charles. My house is soon to be torn down. So, I’ll need to snap a photo before it’s gone for good. Back in the day, this location would be considered walking distance to the Thames River and Downtown. I’m not sure what the average Londoner now considers walking distance but I am going to assume that it still lies somewhere between what a Vancouverite considers walking distance and what a Texan considers walking distance.

Anyway, in the early 80s, on one of these walks Downtown, we saw that something was being built on the east side of the Thames beside the Old Courthouse which in those days was covered in ivy adding to its hoary ethos. The climbing ivy and knowing that people had been hanged there gave the courthouse an air of mystery like something out of a fantasy story. I remember when they stripped the courthouse. I could almost feel its shame at being so exposed. No, the courthouse is best dressed in ivy.

On our walks, we watched with mild curiousity as the new building was erected. We did not yet know what the building was.  However, when the roof began to take shape, its purpose became clear. The tall parallel lines, the arched roofs, in a series could only be meant to house one thing. They were constructing giraffe stalls. St. Thomas had its Jumbo. London shall have its giraffes of unusual size. Of course, we knew that was not likely its true purpose but that’s what our youthful minds saw and so I have affectionately referred to the Art Gallery as the giraffe stalls to this day.

Yet, what a striking contrast between the modern lines in glass and steel beside the old courthouse of ivy and stone. The forks of the Thames became the forks of the past and the then future now past.

But now, this old modern courthouse and the young modern art gallery have been united in a common bond. They are great places to catch Pokémon! My children’s first trip to my old Downtown stomping grounds and the forks of the Thames was to gather with a crowd of people to take advantage of the many Pokéstops and to catch Pokemon. I wonder how many people were drawn to this locale by the lures of Pokemon for the first time that day.

The area has had some fine upgrades since my childhood. The park behind the courthouse is new and I have already returned to it on my own. Yes, I caught more Pokémon while I was there. I don’t remember the walking bridge at the south end of the park but when you are small things that seem right there and accesible now were once formidable boundaries at the edge of your known world and comfort zone. “Here there be dragons! or Dragonites, anyway.”

Did I ever cross that bridge? Was it even there? It must have been but my childhood world did not extend that far south. My childhood world extended in a more northward direction toward Oxford St and occasionally to Gibbons Park — unless we took a car but now we are moving outside the realm of walking distance for a Londoner in the eighties.


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