I got a rather splendid item last week. I guess it was a pretty easy choice for me, given the whole anonymous thing but nevertheless Herb Lester’s quirky map of Clandestine London, showing 31 suggestions of places in London where, if you were a cold war spy, you could meet your associate without being overheard or noticed, is fascinating. They claim “hidden alcoves and easy exits, neglected restaurants, unreconstructed wine bars, ancient pubs and even natural isolation” where ‘discretion is assured.’
I enjoyed it a lot and decided to take their invitation that “it’s entirely up to you to decide how you make use of” their information to heart.
Herb Lester’s one big failing for a Phantom is that the map only covers central London – rubbish if you’re planning on passing state secrets in Greenwich.
So today, I am going to don my grubby Phantom mac, homburg tricorn and thick black 1970s glasses and start a list of places for Greenwich George Smileys who don’t want the bother of going all the way up to the Circus to find a place to ‘feed the ducks.’
1) Talking of ‘feeding the ducks’, the obvious place for a Russian double agent to look absolutely normal-nothing-to-see-here would be the lake up at the top of Greenwich Park. Plenty of paths leading to it, plenty of tree cover for slipping away should the moment require a quick exit, plenty of noise from local children and the fountain to mask any bugging devices, and plenty of benches for sitting on next to a bland-looking briefcase.
There are, of course, lots of duck ponds in the area – the boating lake across the heath is a possible choice, but the one in the park is least likely to have Neighbourhood Watch twitching the nets.
2) The chainlinked area by the deer park inside the flower garden would be a good choice for a sting. Initially promising, the unsuspecting double-agent will, on arrival, discover it’s far too closed-in, with not nearly enough exits for any kind of escape. The sniper installed in the deer hide will have a clear shot.
3) Davey’s Wine Vaults. The booths in Daveys are at once public and private. As long as the first person to arrive is seen ostentatiously swirling their glass of white Burgundy with a connoisseur’s frown of concentration, after that you’ll be left alone. Even better would be the extensive vaults themselves, underneath the main bar – loads of corners for discussing Top Secret Stuff. Shame they’re only open for functions and parties, though I guess if it was timed properly, that 21st birthday fancy-dress party would provide the perfect opportunity for two middle-aged spies to discuss a car bomb in Stalingrad dressed as bananas.
4) High Arctic. TBH I didn’t learn anything at all from the current exhibition down in the bowels of the new Sammy Ofer Wing but it’s monster fun. For starters it’s all dark and there are loads of Giants-Causeway-style white pillars, swirling projected lights and stuff to play with. But the piece de resistance is the ultra-violet torches they give you (well, actually, lend – you have to give ‘em back, chiz) which interact with the projections. Put all that together with the slightly odd soundtrack and it’s Espionage Heaven. You could get a whole nest of spies in there, sitting back to back on the benches, they could spill all sorts and no one would be any the wiser.
5) While we’re on the NMM, the recording of roaring waves as you enter would definitely create some interference for bugging devices. Trouble is you’d look a bit iffy meeting in the middle of the path. Not to mention the the excellent view in the crosshairs for the dastardly turncoat waiting across the road on the second floor of the King William Block. So my advice would be to suddenly develop a deep fascination for Admiral Hardy’s tomb. It’s close enough to the noise to mask any conversation and although virtually no one goes there, two ‘apiarists’ in full masked kit ‘inspecting the hives’ around a mausoleum would cause no raised eyebrows from even the most determined conspiracy theorist.
6) Depending on how long you’re going to be about it, the sheer secret-in-the-midst-of-madness-ness that sees the Bridge of Tiles span the railway between Greenwich High Road and Straightsmouth would be a good place to pass-by an associate, switch briefcases or even dispatch that sinister figure who’s been shadowing you since the pre-credit sequence (silencer on, please, residents are trying to sleep.) The body may be dumped over the wall onto the tracks for full opening-scene horror, or in the bushes by the side, next to the glamorous stink pipe for the shock ‘third body’ discovery at the end of Chapter Six.
7) The Thames Path is open and shut so often, it’s not a reliable place to make any long-term or regular arrangements for assignations but, when it is open, that Long Good Friday feel around the sundry closed factories, although much less scary than it was, being mainly flattened rubble these days, remains bloomin’ creepy.
Just up the way another good place to meet would be willows:
My suggestion would be for one of the agents to pose as a fisherman. Not both – anglers never talk to each other. When the other guy, a ‘rambler’, comes along, the code-phrase is ’are the haddock biting today?’ ‘Actually thinking about it, it’s a bit shallow there for fishing, so when the tide’s out, try the landing stage nearby. But the willows need not be a washout. Merely pose as an earnest urban landscape photographer and switch the phrase to ‘The light is reminiscent of Paris in September.’
8 ) Oliver’s Wine Bar. No explanation needed. You can meet anyone downstairs in this fabulous place, full of swirling iron, faded plush and dark corners and no one will bat an eyelid.
9) St Alfege Church. Make a great show of choosing which charity Christmas cards you’re going to purchase, then take a stroll to inspect the stained glass memorial to Gen. Wolfe. If the ‘vicar’ who sidles up and asks you to ‘make a donation to the East Front Restoration Fund’ does not have a beard, check his cassock for umbrellas.
10) Back to benches and the ones I’d recommend would be the Pledge Benches outside the Queen’s House. I would suggest the best bench in Greenwich but sit on that and you will be noticed. The pledge benches have the benefit of being somewhere you might genuinely want to sit and admire the view, but with plenty of other choices if the one at which you’d agreed to meet your counterpart happens to already have an old lady feeding the birds sitting on it. Ascertain that her bag of crumbs isn’t a cunningly-disguised camera (check by ‘accidentally’ knocking it out of her hand. It will please the pigeons for hours and she’ll be so distressed she’ll have to have a cup of tea in the Trafalgar Cafe, which, happily for her, will mean you don’t have to drug her after all. So actually, you’re doing her a favour.) If after all that your contact is late you can always amuse yourself by wondering how many cardigans for premature babies Sheila Trevithick has knitted by now.
11) The Old Royal Naval College Colonnades. I thought that one might be a bit cheesy, but since they did actually have a CIA baddie meet the boss of M15 in there in an episode of Spooks in 2007, I’ll buy it. And while we’re about it, I’m sure there’s some clever code-thing that could be arranged using the mirror-on-wheels in the Painted Hall.
12) Greenwich Book Place. A wonderful, labyrinthine second-hand bookshop full of dusty corners, dark shadows and shelving to peek through. An agent could discuss confidential missile blueprints with a mysterious soft-accented Soviet beauty and never actually see more than a pair of dark glasses, a giant furry hat and a wisp of honey-blonde fringe between surplus copies of Michael Palin’s Around the World in 80 Days in the foreign travel section.
So – here’s my first twelve to start the ball rolling. There would be more but I’d be writing this all day and I really have to do some actual work now. So – your turn. I want to know your top places for clandestine encounters. Remember, espials meeting at your chosen rendezvous mustn’t look too suspicious, can’t be overheard and should go for as much cliché as possible. Opportunity for silly disguises will be given extra points.
Actually – this all gives me a great idea for a flash mob. Everyone has to turn up to the places above dressed as cliché Cold-War era spies and have oblique conversations about the weather conditions in Vienna…
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