A glorious gallimaufry of London perceptions

London calling.

London Walks connecting.

London Walks here with today’s London fix.

Story time. History time.

Let’s start with a couple of fine words.

Both of them are ultimately cooking terms.

First, gallimaufry. It means a confused jumble or medley of things. A sample sentence the Oxford Dictionary offers up is, “a glorious gallimaufry of childhood perceptions.” I’m going to rephrase that ever so slightly to “a glorious gallimaufry of London perceptions.”

As it happens, gallimaufry comes down to us from an Old French word for hash, ragout, a dish made of odds and ends.

And very agreeably, you can drill down even deeper. You can break the word into two parts, both chunks of which are mightily agreeable. The first bite – galli – comes from the Old French galer which meant “to make merry, to live well”. And the second bite – maufry – comes from an Old North French word which meant “to eat much.” Eat much, make merry – what’s not to like about that. Anyway, all rolled together and rolled down the centuries you get gallimaufry: a confused jumble or medley of things.   But I think it’s probably a not disagreeable confused jumble or medley.

And the other word – well, term – actually terms – is also a foodstuff matter. A perpetual stew. Also known as a forever soup. Or a hunter’s pot. Or hunter’s stew.

It’s defined as a pot into which you toss whatever foodstuffs you can find. Toss the lot in and cook it up. And you just keep it going. Add water and meat and veges as and when. It’s claimed that there was a French perpetual stew that got going in the 15th century and was maintained until World War II when they ran out of ingredients thanks to the German occupation.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve got in mind for this podcast. A gallimaufry. Or a Perpetual Stew. A bit of this, that and the other. A mini London Perpetual Stew. Or if you prefer, a glorious gallimaufry of London perceptions.

Starting with something that happened a couple of days ago. I took five young women from the United Arab Emirates on my Kensington Walk. They were absolutely delightful. And yes, each of them was wearing an abaya, I think it’s called. It was open-face but absolutely said middle east garment.

I asked them how hot it was right now in the UAE. They said 50. That’s 50 degrees Centigrade. I was impressed.

And I sure understood why they were in London. After the walk I went to the gym. Went into the sauna for a ten-minute bake. The sauna temperature was 49 degrees Centigrade. How hot is it in the UAE right now? Short answer that speaks volumes: it’s hotter than a sauna.

Now, moving on. A bit from everyday London life. A bit of quotidian London. My quotidian London. I think the world of my pharmacist. His name is Ajit. Ajit is Indian. But mainly he’s a Londoner. He’s quick. He’s fun. He’s well-read. He’s gloriously opinionated. Absolute character. I love going in there. I know there’ll be some banter and it’ll be fun.

So, scouting around a couple of days ago – looking for stuff that was date-specific, for this date-specific podcast – well, roughly date-specific – I discovered that July 22nd is the Feast Day of St Mary Magdalene. And that Saint Mary Magdalene is the patron saint of prostitutes and pharmacists. Going to be fun to hit Ajit with that one. For good measure, she’s the patron saint of glove makers. Shakespeare’s father was a glove maker. It’s like being nine years old and choosing sides for a baseball game. It’s a fun side Mary Magdalene is putting together. And to prostitutes and pharmacists – it sort of makes sense if you think about it –and glove makers you can add hairdressers, converts, tanners, women, sexual temptation, perfumeries, people ridiculed for their piety, repentant sinners and the contemplative life. Now that is some kind of perpetual stew. Or gallimaufry if you prefer. And since we don’t have to be a purist about these matters, let’s just slide forward a day. To July 23rd. Today. Here are a couple more scraps to toss into the Perpetual Stew. It was on July 23rd, 1903 that the Ford Motor Company sold its first car. A Model A. And over here, London, on July 23rd, 1986, the now forgotten royal wedding. Yes, at Westminster Abbey. Prince Andrew married Sarah Ferguson. In one fell swoop Randy Andy got himself a wife and a new title. On marrying Fergie, his mum, the Queen topped things up for him, by making him the Duke of York.

And what do you know, I’ve already got an item to toss into the Perpetual Stew come August 22nd. That night, at 6.30 pm, I’ll be doing the Belgravia Pub Walk. Goes from Hyde Park Underground Station, exit 3. And it’s going to be a little bit different from the last time I did it. That was three or four years ago. That time I did not know where the Mews house was where the Duke of York happily got himself photographed with his arm around the waist of a 17-year-old American girl. A photograph that’s caused him no end of trouble and expense. And rightly so. And what’s even better, for me personally, is that the house is directly across the street from the Mews house where I lay me down to sleep on my first night in London all those years ago. Not just my first night but my first week or so. Little did I know at the time of course. But it’s going to be a lot of fun telling my group the usual story, “it was right here, that the taxi pulled up, having gone round Belgrave Square, I got out, backpack in one hand, typewriter in the other, about to cross my first London threshold. And now if you turn and look behind you, through that door and up on that floor just above you a certain royal personage once posed for a photograph with his arm round a 17-year-old girl.”

In the life and times of a guide, these are satisfying moments – penny-dropping moments.  As a guide, you love seeing that look on their faces. That look of ahh, that look of comprehension, that look of recognition, that look of ahh, so this is where that happened.”

And yes I grant you it may be a teensy bit prurient, but you know something, I don’t care. Prim and proper I ain’t. My blood’s red and I like a bit of gossip.

You’ve been listening to the Today in London History podcast. Emanating from www.walks.com – home of London Walks, London’s signature walking tour company. London’s local, time-honoured, fiercely independent, family-owned, just-the-right-size walking tour company. And as long as we’re at it, London’s multi-award-winning walking tour company. Indeed, London’s only award-winning walking tour company.

And here’s the secret: London Walks is essentially run as a guides’ cooperative.

That’s the key to everything. It’s the reason we’re able to attract and keep the best guides in London. You can get schlubbers to do this for £20 a walk. But you cannot get world-class guides – let alone accomplished professionals.

It’s not rocket science: you get what you pay for. And just as surely, you also get what you don’t pay for.

Back in 1968 when we got started we quickly came to a fork in the road. We had to answer a searching question: Do we want to make the most money? Or do we want to be the best walking tour company in the world? You want to make the most money you go the schlubbers route. You want to be the best walking tour company in the world you do whatever you have to do to attract and keep the best guides in London – you want them guiding for you, not for somebody else. Bears repeating: the way we’re structured – a guides’ cooperative – is the key to the whole thing. It’s the reason for all those awards, it’s the reason people who know go with London Walks, it’s the reason we’ve got a big following, a lively, loyal, discerning following – quality attracts quality.

It’s the reason we’re able – uniquely –

to front our walks with distinguished


By way of example,

Stewart Purvis, the former Editor (and

subsequently CEO) of Independent

Television News. And Lisa Honan

who had a distinguished career as

diplomat (Lisa was the Governor of

St Helena, the island where Napoleon

breathed his last and, some say, had

his penis amputated – Napoleon

didn’t feel a thing – if thing’s the mot

juste – he was dead.)

Stewart and Lisa – both of them

CBEs – are just a couple of our

headline acts.

The London Walks All-Star team of

guides includes a former London

Mayor, it includes barristers (one of

them an MBE); it includes doctors,

geologists, museum curators,

archaeologists, historians, criminal

defence lawyers, university professors,

Royal Shakespeare Company actors,

a bevy of MVPs,

Oscar winners (people who’ve won

the big one, the Guide of the Year Award)… well,

you get the idea. As that travel writer

famously put it, “if this were a golf

tournament, every name on the

Leader Board would be a London

Walks guide.”

And as we put it: London Walks Guides make the new familiar and the familiar new.

And on that agreeable note…come then, let us go forward together on some great London Walks. And that’s by way of saying, Good Londoning one and all. See ya next time.

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