Go figure!

London calling.

London Walks connecting.

This… is London.

This is London Walks.

Streets ahead.

Story time. History time.


Good morning, London. It’s April 18th, 2024. The learning about London. It never ends. To get us out of the blocks, I’m going to run some numbers again. Going to count the London lawyers. Well, the solicitors. Big picture first. Then we’ll narrow the focus. There are almost 118,000 solicitors in England and Wales. Nearly half of them – 44,000 – are in London. Just over 20,000 of them in the City of London. 20,000. That Jules Vernes title. 20,000 l

Leagues Under the Sea. 20,000 solicitors in the City of London. London. The City of London. It’s under a sea of lawyers. That’s no exaggeration. There are 1760 solicitors for every 1,000 residents in the City of London. You’re a resident in the City of London you can go out and about with a lawyer on each arm. The City’s best-known sobriquet is “the Square Mile.” There are 1,760 yards in a mile. Your morning constitutional is a mile. In you’d be stepping over a lawyer for every yard of that mile-long walk.

Sobering thought, isn’t it. Ok, now let’s narrow the focus right down. Narrow it down to just one of the 44,000 lawyers in London. Who knew? Turns out there’s a London solicitor who’s known as – and I’m quoting – “the diva of divorce.”

And – and, yes, this is the pin for today’s London Calling podcast – turns out that one of the solicitors in the “diva of divorce’s” firm made a computer error. They clicked the wrong button, the computer did its thing, and it divorced the wrong couple. The solicitors realised their mistake two days later. They applied to the high court to rescind the divorce order. But a senior judge has ruled that it cannot be overturned. The Diva of Divorce, one Ayesha Vardag, has had at the judge. She says he’s reached a bad decision. He’s decided effectively “the computer says ‘no, you’re divorced.’’ Put me in mind of those tales of hospitals inadvertently – accidentally – switching babies at birth. That famous tale – it went viral – of the native-American who never looked native American. He was blonde, fair-skinned, he looked Germanic or Scandanavian. But no matter, he was exceptionally proud of being native-American. Then one day, an adult, he makes the mistake of getting one of those DNA tests. The result comes back: he doesn’t have a single drop of native-American blood. He’s 100 percent Germanic or Scandinavian-American. Twenty-five years previously – when he was two hours old – somebody had made a mistake in the postnatal ward. Put him in the wrong crib. Switched him with a newborn native American baby. What a lot of interesting questions that simple mistake – made by a health care professional, presumably a nurse or a doctor – what a lot of interesting, deep-rooted questions that simple mistake led to. The man thought of himself as native-American. He was raised as a native-American. He identified as native-American. He was proud of it. And suddenly it turns out he doesn’t have a drop of native American blood. So is a native American What’s the tip balance factor in a case like this? Is it DNA? Or is DNA irrelevant? Is it nature? Or nurture? Is this pin about London. Damn tootin it is. It is because London’s not a city, it’s a world. And a London lawyer making a computer mistake that gets the wrong couple divorced… if you’re a Londoner the reach and expanse of your mind could well go hareing after the tale of the German-American baby who was put in the wrong crib in the postnatal ward right after he was born. And in consequence grew up thinking he was a Comanche. Being a Londoner. You live in London but you think of yourself as a citizen of the world.


Moving on, today’s Random. We’re in Sevilla. For Feria. We were on a Sevilla bus yesterday bound for the Arena de Toros. The bull ring. Not to watch a bullfight, I hasten to add. No, we were going there to see the spectacle of Sevilla’s finest turn up in all their finery. Turn up in many cases in extremely smart, drawn by five horses, carriages. The whole scene adds up to: well imagine a mashup of the Chelsea Flower Show and a Wyoming rodeo and a Wisconsin state fair, and the coaching days of Dickens’s Mr Pickwick’s southern England and the Kentucky Derby and the Royal Windsor Horse Show…mix all those together, stir in tapas, Flamenco, red wine and Spanish pride and passion and you’ve got Sevilla in Feria week. Anyway, we were on the bus, bound for the Arena de Toros. And Mary immediately picked up on – it hadn’t dawned on me – she said, ‘it’s much chattier than a London bus.’ She was right. They were all nattering away. Whereupon our son Sam chimed in, “I once met a Spaniard who’d been to London and he thought it was against the law to talk on the London Underground.”

Ah, cultural differences. What’s not to like about cultural differences. And the way the culture we’re brought up in – are used to – is the lens through which we see the foreign parts we’re visiting.


Drum roll now. Here’s today’s Ongoing. Thinking, in the first instance, about how my Kensington Walk begins. The first sights we see. One of them is the old 1852 vestry hall just over the wall. It’s impossible to miss. Looks like a carrot cake with lots of icing on it. And I ask my walkers to take a really good look at it, make a mental note of it, because there’s a really neat connection come the end of the walk. Has to do with the mural on the side of my friend James’s house. And I make sure they, my walkers, clock the most extraordinary crosswalk in London. It’s unique. There’s no other crosswalk in London that’s remotely like it. And once you know the back story it’s Eureka, it all clicks into place. And I make sure they clock the curvature of the High Street and the way Barkers, the Harrods of High Street Kensington, is fitted to the curvature of the street.

Now all of that is ‘out there’, ‘right there’ before our eyes in Kensington. But I’ve got an ace up my sleeve. Well, three aces up my sleeve. Two old maps. One of them 1754 and the other 1879. And a very old photograph of the High Street. An 1865 photograph. Which I show my walks. Indeed, hand round. I’ve made multiple copies of them so I’m not just holding up a single copy of each of the old maps and the old photograph. I hand the multiple copies around so everybody’s more or less got their own copy and can take a close look at said documents. Now what’s that military – that artillery – term? Bracketing. Fire off one salvo. Notice where it comes down. Adjust the artillery piece accordingly. Fire another salvo. Make another adjustment. And thus gradually walk your artillery fire in on your target. So the 1879 map I hand round shows High Street Kensington Station. The meeting point for our Kensington Walk. The station came along in 1868. The old photograph I hand shows where we’re standing in 1865. The station’s obviously not in the photograph. The station’s still in the future. Not far in the future. Just three years later it’ll pitch up. So if I’m bracketing my artillery fire I’ve got the 1879 map. That overshoots my target by 11 years. And sure enough, as I said, the station is there – we can see it on that old map –  it is there in 1879. The old 1865 photograph of the High Street undershoots the target. By three years.

And here we go. The last thing you’d expect in La Gallina Bianca, the best Italian restaurant in Sevilla. I look up and there’s an old clock on the wall. Bears repeating; I’m in an Italian restaurant in Sevilla, nearly 1400 miles from London, from Kensington. I look up at that old clock and I do a double take. A jaw-dropping moment. The clock is still keeping good time. It says 10 o’clock. And beneath the minute-hand it says – in capital letters no less – KENSINGTON STATION. And then just above the number six, at the bottom of the clock, it says, London 1868. And just like that, thanks to an Italian restaurant in Sevilla, my artillery fire, my bracketing is on target. Camera gets whipped out. The next time I do that walk, those Kensington Walkers are going to see the 1879 map and the 1865 photograph of the High Street. And they’re also going to get a peek at the station in the year of its birth, 1865. Going to see what the very first Station clock looked like. Now that old clock obviously didn’t get switched at birth, didn’t get switched in the post-natal ward. But somehow at some point it found its way to Sevilla. It’s happily retired – retired but very active – in the sunny south. I’d give a lot to get that clock to tell its life story, tell me about its travels. Starting out in Kensington in 1868 and finding its way to an Italian restaurant in Sevilla. Give anything to ask it, does it get homesick? Does it miss Kensington? Does it identify as a Londoner? Or as a Sevilliano? Does it tell time – tick tock – with just a trace of a London accent?

You’ve been listening to This… is London, the London Walks 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 accomplished, in many cases

distinguished professionals:

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 a 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.

Or take our Ripper Walk. It’s the creation of the world’s leading expert on Jack the Ripper, Donald Rumbelow, the author of the definitive book on the subject.  Britain’s most distinguished crime historian, Donald is, in the words of The Jack the Ripper A to Z,“internationally recognised as the leading authority on Jack the Ripper.” Donald’s emeritus now but he’s still the guiding light on our Ripper Walk. He curates the walk. He trains up and mentors our Ripper Walk guides. Fields any and all questions they throw at him.

The London Walks Aristocracy of Talent – its All-Star team of guides – includes a former London Mayor. It includes the former Chief Music Critic for the Evening Standard. It includes the Chair of the Association of Professional Tour Guides. And the former chair of the Guild of Guides.

It includes barristers, doctors, geologists, museum curators, a former Museum of London archaeologist, historians,

university professors (one of them a distinguished Cambridge University paleontologist); it includes

criminal defence lawyers,

Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theatre 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 walking and Good Londoning

one and all. See ya next time.

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