Having posted about my novel Foxy-T (Faber and Faber, 2003) being included on the Book Club Quilt recently, I just found this excellent photo by my old friend Daniel Wootton of the former Telecall International shop on the east side of Cannon Street Road, London E1, up towards the junction with Commercial Road; the street and general area, if not quite the precise building, where the novel is set.
Telecall International didn’t exist when I started to write Foxy-T, but it was there by the time the book was published. This photo was taken a couple of years later and cropped for the cover of the Croatian translation.
Part of what inspired Foxy-T was a chance confluence of two events around the turn of the century. One was the closure of a minicab office called Megna Cars on Cannon Street Road, which prompted the immediate observation that it was almost impossible at that time to predict whether this newly-vacant commercial space would be occupied by a high-spec commercial art gallery or by an internet shop. The other chance event was the adoption for a few weeks of the stairwell of my building by a bunch of GCSE students from Mulberry Girls School on Bigland Street, who would habitually smoke B&H there on the way to school and ‘tag’ their names, but in neat, schoolgirl writing using blue felt tip pens.
Here is a photo that I took a few months later when I realised that the graffiti in that stair well was being painted over. Sorry about the poor quality of this image, the only camera I had to hand was a decade-old disposable with a few unused shots; the important thing was to document this before it disappeared.
The photo shows lovely neat kind-of-tags (all in one hand) of Ruji, Lima, Jaz, Naz, Maz and Tera of the Brick Lane Massive, and Kay of C.S. (i.e. Cannon Street), illustrating nicely the derivation of one of my characters’ names: Ruji-Babes.
In fact, the old Megna Cars office became neither gallery nor internet shop, and although the street-level shop space re-opened for a short time in the months after 11 September 2001 as an Islamic Bookshop, the three-storey, one-room-wide flat above the shop remained open to the elements for many years, until it appeared to be approaching the point where neglect might become dereliction. It was partly perhaps the fact that it was so obviously vacant that enabled me to revive the flat in fiction as the home of Foxy-T and Ruji-Babes. In the real world pigeons would be fluttering in and out of its broken windows whenever I passed.
Telecall International, the shop which appears in Dan’s gorgeous photo at the top of this post was located at 166 Cannon Street Road, in what had previously been a sari shop. More recently, when the Googlemaps Streetview images were shot, it had transformed again to become ‘BMT’ with a sign that reads MONEY TRANSFER and TEL SERVICE, and with A4 printouts taped to the inside of the window promising NEXT DAY DELIVERY.
If you bounce a click or two north (left) on Streetview, you can clearly see the former Megna Cars office at 174 Cannon Street Road where Foxy-T was set (it is mistagged on Streetview as number 172, and the area incorrectly described as ‘Poplar’), but the building has now been rechristened as Megna House. Here is a screengrab.
I wonder if to judge by the Western Union stickers above the roll-up security shutter and by the Payphone and Topup sign to the left of the door the old place may finally have become some kind of internet shop. I haven’t walked down Cannon Street Road for a while, so at time of writing I can’t tell for certain. If anyone happens to pass that way before I do next, please let me know. The man standing in the doorway of Megna House is not, I don’t think, the same man who is standing in the doorway of Telecall International in Daniel Wootton’s photograph taken those few years ago.
Tilting the ‘view’ upwards after taking that screengrab, I was pleased to see some changes to the upstairs flat where Foxy-T and Ruji-Babes ‘lived’ above their fictional ‘E-Z Call Telephone and Internet’. When the Streetview images were taken, the flat was in the process of being refurbished. Have a look. There are new panes of glass (complete with safety stickers) clearly visible in all of the newly-white-painted sash windows. For some reason this makes me happy.
Foxy-T is available from Amazon of course, but if you want to support a diverse book trade do consider buying Foxy-T and other titles from your local independent bookshop, or from the Book Depository here where it is currently available for 34% off the RRP.