Tangled yarns from London's passers-through

017 : Gemma Barder on Abbey Road zebra crossing, St. John’s Wood
Born in 1981 in Northampton. Gemma Barder currently works as a children’s writer/editor Why London? It was our first home away from home. She digs the following London bits: the people, the culture, the buses, the shopping and the music. She is, however, a bit miffed by the people, the pollution, the tube, the rats and the litter. For more info on Gemma Barder you should send an email.

image: mick y

“I often wonder how many of those photographs I have popped up on.”

As birthdays go, it had been a good one. Presents in bed, a stroll through Regent’s Park, shopping on Oxford Street, then dinner at Maggiore’s in Covent Garden.
All of those places could produce a thousand different moments of joy and excitement, but today was going to be topped off with the ultimate moment. The most joyous, the most exciting.
Hopping out of St John’s Wood tube, strolling back to the tiny flat we rented together, our stomachs were full of rich, expensive food. The May evening air was just getting a little chilly. I was chattering on about something, but he was quiet and holding my hand that little bit tighter than usual. As we reached Abbey Road, he stopped me.

At times amusing, sometimes annoying, sometimes completely lost, tourists crowd the zebra crossing on Abbey Road (the one I padded over every day to catch my bus to work). It must have been photographed a million times[1]. I often wonder how many of those photographs I have popped up on. When a guy in Japan flicks through his holiday photos and shows his friends a picture of the ‘famous Abbey Road crossing’, there I will be with my Tesco carrier bag, or chatting on my mobile, or hopping off the bus. I’ve been asked to take the photos myself, directed people to point their cameras in the right direction so they can get just the right shot, and have been caught up in the numerous daily tours that pass by the studios every day. Before that moment, the crossing meant two things: the Beatles and ‘almost home’.

Now, at 11pm, the only people to see him and I on Abbey Road were the occasional car and anyone who happened to be logging onto the live webcam the studios have pointing at the crossing 24 hours a day.

‘I need to stop you’, he said. My stomach leapt. He was watching the road, and instantly I knew why. As soon as the traffic cleared, he led me into the middle of the crossing and got down on one knee[2].

I won’t tell you what he said, that’s just for me. But as you can guess, I said ‘yes’, and now, wherever we travel, that place will always be ours.

referenced works

  1. The cover of the Beatles’ Abbey Road album is one of the most iconic images in rock ‘n’ roll history, and has been imitated and pastiched countless times (although, in my opinion, never more successfully than in this absolute laugh riot from Freaking News). Apparently, Paul McCartney was barefoot in the original photo because he was actually a replacement brought in secretly after the real Paul died in a car accident, and the other Beatles assuaged their guilt at this deception by putting all manner of hints about Paul’s death in their album covers and lyrics. It is at this point that I would be considered by many to be duty-bound to insert a wry remark about how everyone was on drugs in the sixties and would believe all kinds of nonsense, but I would not dream of insulting you with such drivel.

  2. As marriage proposals go, this one, despite its potential for traffic disruption and the consequent strain on London’s transport infrastructure, is at the poignant yet tasteful end of the scale. Inspired by such romance, I went to firstdance.com to find more, but my wistful spirit of exploration quickly turned to horror when I learned that it took 20 people three months to create Love Letters - an Animated Proposal. At a conservative estimate, that’s 10,000 (wo)man hours of work for a four-minute film whose basic message is ‘I’m too much of a coward to ask you properly, but enough of an egomaniac that I can justify getting several other human beings to sweat their guts out for several weeks in order to animate this sentiment’. When we as a race are finally judged by the Intergalactic Commission on Wastefulness, it is this short, ugly film that will tip the scales against us, condemning us to a billion years of penal servitude.

location information

  • Name: Abbey Road zebra crossing
  • Address: Abbey Road, London NW8
  • Time of story: Evening
  • Latitude: 51.531814317901606
  • Longitude: -0.17702579498291016
  • Map: Google Maps



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