Au pairs, driving on the wrong side of the road, cats, dogs & Brexit

London calling.

London Walks connecting.

This… is London.

This is London Walks.

Streets ahead.

Story time. History time.


Good morning, London. It’s April 15th, 2024. Should also be Buenos Dios Sevilla because we’ve done a flit for a few days. This is Feria Week in Sevilla and Mary and I have decamped from London and pitched up in Sevilla for a beaker full of the warm south and sunburnt mirth and unquestionably the most spectacular spring fair –  which is what the Spanish word Feria means – in all of Spain. Picture a daily parade of carriages and riders carrying Sevilla’s leading citizens – the women wearing gorgeous flamenco dresses and a flower in their hair – it’s an explosion of colour and joy. A week of every woman in the Andalusian city capitol being a queen. Anyway, the parade of carriages takes them to the bullring, where the bullfighters and breeders meet. And then the whole city – everybody decked out – repairs to the vast fairground on the other side of the river. To the casetas – the marquee tents – for non-stop, all day and all night, partying. Drinking, dancing, socialising, enjoying themselves and the perfect – utterly dependable of course – warm spring weather. Yes, six days of Andalusia at its most spectacular. We’ll take it.

Which is by way of saying, we’ve faded far away, dissolved and quite forgotten the weariness, the fever and the fret of troubled Britain, where we make our home. The lines by the way are of course a straight lift from Keats’ great Ode to a Nightingale. It is, I grant you, slightly disorienting to think that a matter of hours ago I was under the plum tree – on a fine London day – under the plum tree, well, the descendant of the plum tree, in Hampstead where Keats wrote those immortal words.

And, hand on heart, we haven’t quite entirely forgotten the weariness, the fever and the fret. Thanks not least to yesterday’s Sunday Times. And so we come to today’s pin. I’m talking about the story headlined Au pair despair – is this the end for the family’s secret saviour. A minimum wage ruling and the impact of Brexit have ruined the convention of exchanging bed and board for help with the kids. Yet another casualty – this is fact not opinion – of the 2016 referendum.

Moving on. Today’s Random. I said Good morning, London. And Buenos Dios Sevillas. Should have added Good morning America. Where the greatest number of listeners are. Some of you will be looking forward to and planning trips to the UK. So here’s a word to the wise – and a bit of historical anecdotage – about driving on the wrong side of the road. Which some of you will be doing. And rightly so, will perhaps be a little bit nervous about it. What I can tell you is it’s no problem at all as long as there are other vehicles on the road. Coming and going. As long as you’ve got the company of other cars you’ll be fine. The danger is when you’ve got the road to yourself. It’s that bit easier then to absent-mindedly forget that we drive on the left over here. And do what comes naturally to you – thanks to a lifetime of driving on the right – drift over to the side of the road that habit and practice tells you is the right side of the road to be driving on. Other vehicles on the road, no problem. You’ll be where you should be. You’ve got the road to yourself beware, don’t lose concentration and drift over into the wrong lane.

That’s the first thing. Here’s the second matter you should keep in mind. Crystallised in the Road Traffic Act of 1988. This came to mind because of the mention yesterday of Ann’s brilliant monthly niche walking tour that’s all about cats in London. And especially their role in London history. This isn’t an entirely pretty subject but for your own best interest you need to keep in mind that British law treats cats and dogs very differently when it comes to having them do what you don’t want them to do: namely dart out in front of your car. If you cause an accident because you swerved or slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting a dog or a cat the law treats you differently. The Road Traffic Act of 1988 says if you cause an accident because you slammed on the brakes or swerved to avoid hitting a dog. The general rule of thumb is animals large enough to justify an emergency stop are dogs, horses, cattle, pigs, goats, sheep, donkeys and mules. Cats I’m afraid aren’t regarded as ‘animals large enough’ to justify that emergency stop. One reason why, I suspect, they’ve got nine lives. But an animal darting in front of your car, that all happens in a split second, you’ve only got a split second to react, it’s just as well to be prepared for what your course of action should be vis-a-vis where said course of action might take you both with the courts in this country and with insurance companies.

Moving on, today’s Ongoing. Back to Brexit. Sevilla airport yesterday. In the old days we got here – or Paris or Berlin or Vienna or Rome or you name it – we sailed right through Immigration. The UK was a member of the EU. We were effectively citizens of the EU. Sailed right through. Took no time at all. In that regard, to put it into biblical terms, that referendum was, for those of us with British passports, the fall of man from the Garden of Eden. The outcome of that vote – in terms of coming and going at Passport Control in EU countries, well we ate the apple, ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil. You could say our EU passport taken away from us we’re now aware of our nakedness. Yesterday that meant, for most of the 300 or so of us on that London to Sevilla flight, that meant a good half hour slowly shuffling along where the second-class citizens queue. The queue for non-EU passport holders queue. Instead of just whizzing through – as we used to do – in the days when the UK was in the club, was an EU country. Half an hour, 300 people. Well, you know what I did. I ran the numbers. Half an hour, 300 people – that’s 150 hours, that’s six days. But since human beings sleep approximately eight hours a day, in waking time, consciousness time, that translates into about ten days of time needlessly wasted. Thrown away. And since time isn’t just money, it’s also life and spirit and everything that’s most precious. And then of course I was well away running the neighbours. Ours was one plane load of Brits flying to one European city. How many British flights were there to how many European cities were there yesterday? And how many other flights to European cities from other parts of the world were there yesterday? Other flights carrying in virtually every case at least a few British passport holders who are now second-class citizens in terms of passport control. And that’s just one day’s flights. How about a year of flights? Or year in and year out. What’s that add up to in terms of wasted time? I know the Brexit advocates would say, ‘look, it’s just a half an hour of inconvenience, that’s nothing, that’s a small price to pay for your sovereignty.” The thing is, this laddie feels a whole lot less sovereign when he has to shuffle over to the second class citizens’ queue. And in any case, I’m not weighing it up on an individual basis. Just one half hour for me personally. I’m weighing it up thinking of all those people, all those flights, all those days and years of flights. All that wasted time. Thrown away. Squandered. Lost. One of the greatest moments in all of Shakespeare is his opening to Sonnet 129. His sonnet about lust. The sonnet opens: “The expense of spirit in a waste of shame Is lust in action…” Those lines yesterday came to mind while I was doing a slow burn in that long, second-class Passport Control queue at Sevilla airport. “The expense of spirit” was of course the expense of time, of life. And yes, it was a shame. A waste of shame. Needless to say, I paraphrased Shakespeare slightly, the lines became, “The expense of spirit in a waste of shame is Brexit in action…”

Be it the lost world of au pairs or standing in a long queue at passport control.

You’ve been listening to This… is London, the London Walks podcast. Emanating from –

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *