Hitting the Jackpot on Mrs Dalloway’s London Walk

London calling.

London Walks connecting.

London Walks here with our 953rd London fix.

Story time. History time.

Yes, you heard right. We’ve pumped out nearly a thousand podcasts about London. Approximately 440 of them in the 423 consecutive days between December 26th, 2021 and February 21st, 2023. Why 440 instead of 423 over a 423-day period? Eezy peezy – as my kids were wont to say when they were little – eezy peezy, there were a few days along the way on that stretch when we had fraternal twins, put out two podcasts in one day. 

Anyway, that last one – it aired on February 21st – was titled Electrocuted. And amongst other things it electrocuted the hitting streak. We went three weeks without a podcast. Until today.

So what’s it going to be today?

Well, yes, storytime. London storytime. I’ve got a tale to tell about a walk I guided yesterday. And then I think we’ll segue a little bit about the customising that walk’s going to get.

But, first of all, yesterday’s goings-on. I’m trying to think of a baseball metaphor that speaks to what happened yesterday. Something very very rare. An unassisted triple play is the metaphor that springs to mind. It’s the rarest of defensive plays. There have only been fifteen of them in the 152 years Major League Baseball has been in existence. So you get an unassisted triple about once every ten years. That’s about once every 25,000 Big League games. Premiership games to translate it into soccer parlance. 

And for you baseball innocents, an unassisted triple play occurs when a defensive player makes all three outs by himself – or herself –in one continuous play, without their teammates making any assists. 

Doesn’t hold up very long, though, the metaphor – because there were all kinds of assists on yesterday’s triple play. Thousands of them. Royal assists and medical assists and parliamentary assists.

Ok, that’s enough foreplay. What was the so-called unassisted triple play – the triple play that was plentifully assisted. 

Well, first of all the students saw King Charles and Camilla the Queen Consort. Their limousine rolled right by. A couple of the quick-on-the-draw kids – it was a student group I was guiding – got good video coverage of the royals’ drive-by.

Secondly, London laid on for my Ohio University students a big, colourful, high-energy demonstration. Junior doctors downed stethoscopes and started a 72-hour walkout on the 13th, the day of our walk. So we were on a walking tour. The doctors – and their supporters – were on a walkout and a walk to parliament Square and 10 Downing Street. It was all civilised but the passion fairly rent the air. Plenty of signs to get the message across. Like the one announcing that the doctors’ hourly rate is less than that of pret a manger workers – or the even more acid and trenchant one: The Only Good Tory is a Suppository – got the message across. So that was a taste of political London, a taste of the increasingly storm-tossed waters this country has steered itself into. Pretty much an eye-opener for American students not much younger than a lot of those medics, American students on their first trip to London and who in fact were only halfway through their first full day in the United Kingdom. And then for good measure – the third out of the triple play – the House of Commons taxi lamp suddenly came to life. Started doing what it was put there to do – flashing, pulsing on and off, on and off. That also is a rare sight. The thousands of times I’ve been in Parliament Square I’ve only seen it that lamp in action – doing its thing – three or four times. So that was more good video. A whole lot of extra toppings for the sundae of that already very rich walking tour.

And here’s the clincher. The walk was Mrs Dalloway’s London. A walk based on Virginia Woolf’s masterpiece. And if you know the novel, you know the monarchy has an important cameo role in the story. People wait expectantly to see a crowned head – to see, as Virginia Woolf puts it, a face of the very greatest importance. And that happens in the book. It’s a key moment. Mrs Dalloway is at Mulberry’s the florists on Bond Street, buying flowers for her party. And suddenly there’s a very loud noise, it’s like a pistol shot in the street outside. 

As the novel puts it, “the violent explosion which made Mrs Dalloway jump and Miss Pym go to the window and apologise came from a motor car which had drawn to the side of the pavement precisely opposite Mulberry’s shop window. Passersby who, of course, stopped and stared had just time to see a face of the very greatest importance against the dove-grey upholstery, before a male hand drew the blind and there was nothing to be seen except a square of dove-grey.

Yet rumours were at once in circulation from the middle of Bond Street to Oxford Street on one side, to Atkinson’s scent shop on the other, passing invisibly, inaudibly, like a cloud, swift, veil-like upon hills, falling indeed with something of a cloud’s sudden sobriety and stillness upon faces which a second before had been utterly disorderly. But now mystery had brushed them with her wing; they had heard the voice of authority; the spirit of religion was abroad with her eyes bandaged tight and her lips gaping wide. But nobody knew whose face had been seen. Was is the Prince of Wales’s, the Queen’s, the Prime Minister’s? Whose face was it? Nobody knew.” 

And as for the demonstration – all those doctors – well, needless to say, doctors – Dr Holmes a general practitioner and the renowned specialist Sir William Bradshaw – play a very important role in the novel.

And finally, the House of Commons taxi lamp – well, it almost goes without saying that Mrs Dalloway’s husband Richard is an MP, and they in London’s most exclusive political quarter.

So our three happy accidents – our greatly assisted unassisted triple play couldn’t have been more perfect for our walk. 

London has a way of coming through for us, as guides, again and again. Maybe not quite so spectacularly and bountifully as what it served up to those Ohio University students, but again and again it will deliver far more than the order we place. 

Well, there you go. That was Monday’s walk. I’ll be returning to the Mrs Dalloway’s London Walk probably on at least two more podcasts. I’ve decided I’m going to do it as a Special – a public walk – on the 100th anniversary – right down to the minute – of Mrs Dalloway’s walk to Mulberry’s the florist. What a lark! What a plunge!

Frankly, I’m in the grip of the novel.  Which means for the walk I’ll be cutting it like a jeweller cuts a gemstone. There’ll be connections made that go way beyond what happens on a normal literary London Walk. And I’ll be showing my walkers things that there is no chance they would see otherwise.  Historic old photographs and 1923 newspaper clippings that aren’t readily to hand and that mainline us straight into that world.

Watch this space. No, let’s rephrase that. Keep your ear on the ground of this space.

You’ve been listening to 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: barristers, doctors, geologists, museum curators, archaeologists, historians, criminal defence lawyers, Royal Shakespeare Company actors, a bevy of MVPs, Oscar winners (people who’ve won 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. See ya soon.

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