Cartoonist savages Boris Johnson, 10-year-old girl bests the City of London

A London miscellany.

Something a wee bit different. David’s been reading the newspapers (3 December 2020). Here’s what caught his eye this morning. Having a good soak in a couple of newspapers – one national, one local – it’s a good way to take the pulse of a people, of a country, of a capital city, of a neighbourhood, of a polity. What they’re looking at, what they’re remembering, how they see their leaders, what’s going on, both nationally, and in the case of the two Hampstead stories, locally.


London Calling. David here.

Let’s kickback tonight. I’m in the mood for a London miscellany. Miss Cell Anie if you’re British, Miss ah Lanie if you’re American. Anyway, yes, a London miscellany. The London equivalent of the 7th-inning stretch at an American baseball game.

Thought I’d take a look at a couple of this morning’s newspapers. At what my eye fell on and was struck by. What this Londoner – this American Londoner – ruminated about for half an hour or this morning. What this Londoner, in a couple of cases, was delighted by. 

We live in – and rejoice in, are comforted by – a Golden Age of British political cartoonists. Aside here: we’ve got on the team – the London Walks team – an expert on British cartoons, past and present. That’s Adam. Adam, the London Walks Renaissance man. The multi-gifted Adam. The only person I know who talks like a well-written magazine article. (So you can imagine what a joy a conversation with Adam is.) Brilliant, award-winning guide. Writes like a dream. Encyclopedic knowledge of London. Musician and music-historian. Regularly does long-distance – 25 miles or so – walks across London. Good photographer. Got a great eye. So maybe it doesn’t come as a surprise that he’s also a gifted amateur cartoonist. Me, I’d like to be really good at just one thing. You need more than the fingers on one hand to count the things Adam excels at. 

So, yes, I’ve walked you back round to the matter of Adam and cartoons – his being an expert on them. In fact, he’s done what I wouldn’t have thought was possible – he’s created a London Walk – and a parallel virtual tour – on the subject of London and its cartoons and cartoonists.

Anyway, Adam maintains that not since Rowlandson and Gillray and Hogarth – savagely brilliant cartoonists, all of them – has London rejoiced in such a crop of deadly assassins as today’s cartoonists.

And the 007 of them all – the one with the License to kill – is The Guardian’s Steve Bell.

Take a look at his stuff, you’ll see what I mean. Steve Bell’s genius is to see something in any given politician that is both penetrating and preposterous – truthful and savagely funny – and just riff on that look, again and again. So, for example, he always depicted David Cameron as wearing a condom over his head. I suppose it was that high, shiny forehead and Cameron’s Teflon manner that led him to that characterisation. Mrs. Thatcher – with that steely, slightly demented eye of hers – he always served up as looking like a rooster on amphetamines. John Major was always shown with his knickers outside his trousers.

Well, you can probably guess what’s grabbed him about Boris Johnson. He’s given him an arse for a face – an arse topped to the north with an unruly mop of blonde hair. No eyes, no nose, no ears – just an arse under that out of control mop of blonde hair. What does that say about what Steve Bell sees in – and thinks of – the man who’s currently occupying the highest office in the land? Well, our Head of State is of course the queen. But – as Steve Bell puts it – the Head of Government in the United Kingdom is an arse. A plump arse – both from the neck down and the neck up. A plump arse with blonde hair.

Anyway, this morning Steve Bell piled it on. He popped a William Tell hat on the messy blonde bouffant on the arse. Let that sink in: in the eyes of the greatest living British cartoonist, the current occupant of Number 10 Downing Street is An arse with a blonde mop wearing a William Tell hat.

Why the William Tell hat? Well, Steve Bell’s fitted out our plump prime minister with another accouterment. He’s got him wielding, aiming and firing a longbow. But instead of an arrow it’s a syringe that he’s about to loose in the direction of – well, who knows? Brussels? The Eu? His political opponents? Joe Biden. All to do of course with the hoopla about the Covid vaccine. Turns out though that the PM misfires.. Because in the second frame Johnson is shown with the syringe sticking out of his shoe. He’s shot himself in the foot. 

And for a coup de grace Steve Bell shows the world the prime minister’s singularly unattractive, very pudgy thighs. In short, Steve Bell’s done what the rest of us – to a man and a woman – would rather not do  – see Boris Johnson with his trousers round his ankles. Yes, something’s gone wrong. It’s classic British farce. The arse has shot himself in the foot and his trousers are round his ankles.

It’s savage, it’s merciless, it’s genius. Once seen, never forgotten. 

What else? Because this is a London miscellany. Well, The Long Story in this morning’s Guardian was by John Hodgman, a colleague of mine in the WTN newsroom, back in the days when I was a television News Editor. It’s a coming up to the 50-year anniversary piece about the 1971 Ibrox disaster in Glasgow. A crush among the crowd at an Old Firm football game that led to 66 deaths and more than 200 injuries. It’s a harrowing account. A first-hand account. John was there. I also learned from it – none of us knew this in the newsroom – that he’d been born a protestant but was brought up, as a protestant, by Catholic parents. In a catholic neighbourhood in Glasgow. In those days. Let that sink in for a minute.

Moving on…I learn from this morning’s papers that Germany has, on a per capita basis, five times as many critical care beds as the UK. And that London – privileged London – has more critical care beds, on a per capita basis, than any other area in the country. Which, surely, is one of the reasons the London mortality rate has been comparatively low. 

More miscellany.  Let’s turn to the other paper, the Ham & High Express. Its Headline: Creperie Rivalry on High Street. And the other front-page story is titled: “Heath bosses sorry for reprimanding girl, 10, over jam fundraiser.”

Creperie rivalry first. La Creperie de Hampstead is a Hampstead institution. It’s a stand tucked in right next to the King William IV pub on the High Street. A stand selling and serving, yes, crepe – those thin and delicious French pancakes. Always has a great long queue, patiently waiting for a serving of crepe. La Creperie de Hampstead can name drop like crazy. Judy Dench has stood in that queue. Ditto Pierce Brosnan, Ditto Harry Styles, etc.

Now, because of Lockdown the King William IV, the pub that’s right there, hard by the creperie, has of course been closed for the last month. The creperie, operating out of a stand, did not have to close. As the struggling and resentful publican says, “they’ve had the benefit of being open and having no competition.” So, lo and behold, the pub has set up its own creperie, not 10 feet away. It’s operating out of a “pop up shop” – a tent, really – right beside Le Creperie de Hampstead. A pop-up shop selling – bears repeating – crepe.

You can imagine the resentment, friction, the fireworks. More seriously, it’s a measure of how straitened times are for shops and pubs and their like.

Our final item in this London miscellany might well be our blue ribbon winner. It’s about 10-year-old Olivia. Turns out Olivia’s been picking blackberries on Hampstead Heath and making jam out of them. She calls her product Wildwooders’ homemade blackberry jam. Comes in two sizes – a £10 jar and a £6 jar. In recycled jars, one hastens to add.

The jam’s gone down a treat. Olivia’s raked in nearly a £1,000. Turns out it’s a fundraising gig. Olivia calls it Pick for Parks. Because she passes the money on to the parks – with an entail that the dosh needs to be put toward improving the park’s children’s play area.

So far, so good. But here comes the villain of the piece. The City of London. The Hampstead Heath bosses. Yes, the City of London is in charge of Hampstead Heath. They run the show. 

Love the email the City authorities sent to Olivia when they got wind of Wildwooders’ Homemade Blackberry Jam.

Yes, make sure you read between the lines – it’s so carefully worded – they were well aware that they were on a hiding to nothing.

Here’s what the email to 10-year-old Olivia said:

“While we are sure your jam is very delicious there are a few issues with foraging that we need you to be aware of. Foraging berries can be damaging to biodiversity – wild animals and birds rely on the berries as a source of food. It is also in breach of our bylaws which say you should not forage anything from the Heath. While we are relaxed about people picking a small amount of berries we would not want to encourage anything more. We are very grateful that you want to help improve and conserve the Heath – it is inspiring 

that at a young age you are already thinking about helping others.”

Olivia burst into tears when she opened the email. 

And then she went public. Or perhaps one of her advisers went public. 

The result: a quick climbdown from the Heath bosses – from the mighty City of London. 

What the British call a reverse ferret. 

As the Ham & High headlined it: “Heath bosses apologise to girl, 10, after reprimanding her over jam fundraiser.”

Pulling their syringe out of their shoe, they “apologised for any upset.”

Good on the Ham & High, I say. As Chicago Evening Post journalist Finley Dunne put it, 127 years ago, “the job of a newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

Bursting into tears a distant memory… Comforted, even emboldened – Olivia, gets the last word, “I don’t want to pick a fight, but I’m going to keep going.”

Well, maybe not the last word. This is my podcast – this London Walks guide’s podcast – so I’m going to round this one off by saying, I love this story, and yes, good for you, Olivia. But also a big yes to the thought – hope there’s enough to go around, hope the birds and the wild animals get enough to eat.

That’s all for tonight. From London. From “never a dull moment” in London. 

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