“I’ve put a tracker on Boris Johnson”

David on London Walks generally, the podcasts specifically, and what’s coming up. Some of what’s coming up.


London Calling. David here. 

Short one tonight.

Where we’ve got to. Both with London Walks generally. And with the podcasts in particular.

Podcasts first. 

A couple of weeks ago we’d loaded up the trusty old Hawker Hurricane with the next day’s podcast… and it was chocks away. We were trundling down the runway. Pulled back on the stick to get lift-off.  And lift-off didn’t happen. Couldn’t get airborne. A technical gremlin. Grounded. No podcast. No podcast for 48 hours or so.

So, an enforced absence. Myself and the rest of the London Walks team could write ‘em and record ‘em. But we couldn’t get them off the ground. 

Wrenched out of the routine that way provided me with, amongst other things, a chance to review, take survey, look ahead.

What I was reviewing was 15 months of putting out a daily podcast. Something like 420 of them. 420 podcasts was the output. The input – to get them written, recorded and airborne – was a couple of hours a day. Sometimes more than a couple of hours. Every day.

Well, you’ll know whither this is tending. I realised – as much as I enjoy whipping them up – that’s a big block of time. And that some of that time should really be given over to other London Walks needs and deeds.

The upshot? Yes, going to up stakes on the one every day schedule. Cut back. To 1 PLUS a week. I think the set time – the time you can count on – will be Thursday evening/Friday morning our time, London time. The plus ones – the bonus ones – will come along as and when. We’ll flag them up, all of them, in the Latest News section on the home page. 

Other than getting out of the yoke of that one-every-day schedule, nothing else will change. Content-wise it’ll be the same mix, the same rich and varied smorgasbord. Guide interviews, Londoner interviews, scraps from walks, tasty London history tidbits, choice helpings of London today, etc.

And London Walks generally?

Well, I think I understand at last how those Portuguese mariners felt when they rounded Cape Verde hundreds of years ago. Suddenly they were sailing east. Thought they were clear and free. On their way out of the Atlantic. On their way to India. Thought in fact they’d just sailed round the Cape of Good Hope as it came to be known.

They hadn’t of course. Cape Verde is an archipelago in the Atlantic, only about a fourth of the way down the western side of Africa. They had a long way to go.

And the analogy? Well, the good weather coming. The Lockdown being eased off. Maybe we were on our way at last. 

Alas, no such luck. Just as those Portuguese mariners were to discover after they’d sailed god knows how many more knots, we’re discovering here, the Cape of Good Hope is a long long way away. We haven’t turned the corner. 

And I guess that’s by way of saying, we’re pretty much resigned now to writing off 2021. 

Hand on heart here, in some ways where we are now is harder to take than our situation last winter. Really good weather and we’re getting none or one or two or three or four people on a walk. Six or seven if we’re lucky. 

Not complaining, just telling it like it is. And hastening to add, we’re soldiering on. Good old dogged determination. Goes a long way.

Any bright spots? Yeah, sure. The main one is the fantastic response we’re getting from our walkers, few in number though they are. 

And looking further afield. Well, Mary had a Zoom a few days ago with the American travel guru Rick Steves. Same story from Rick Steves-land. They’re also writing off 2021. But – and this is very good news – they’ve already got more bookings for 2022 than they chalked up in all of 2019. 

So it’s not all gloom and doom. 

Anything else? Anything else good? 

Yeah, my London Walks colleagues. They’re right there. They’ve got our back. Just as I hope they know we’ve got their back. 

And if I may – if I may put it this way – they’ve got your back as well. They just keep coming through. For our walkers today. And they’re going to be there for the rest of you when it’s we will meet again time. 

And believe me, they’re not just phoning it in. They’re digging, researching, exploring, trying out – their walks, which were already spun gold, are getting better. I’ll do a whole piece on that in a future podcast.

But just to mention a few of them. Charlie’s got a new walk debuting later today – Friday, June 18th. It’s his second ‘horses and London’ walk. It’s called Horses Past, Horses Present – Horse Power in London Society. You can hear all about it – well, a little bit about it – in yesterday’s podcast. It’s a little preview of the walk Charlie whipped up for us. And you’ll be hearing all about Charlie in an upcoming interview. 

And two more interviews in the pipeline. Superstar Anna Targett. That’s going to be fun, getting the Anna story. Be lots of the sunny south in that interview because Anna’s the ace London Blue Badge Guide who’s got “a double life” – she knows Italy as well as she knows London. Has been taking groups there for 25 years.

Now I can’t bang away about 88 London Walks guides in this podcast, so I’m just going to mention one more. Or depending on how you’re counting, two more. Richard Walker. Richard’s also lined up for the interview treatment. And what’s Richard been doing – apart from long country walks and that piece of perfection, his Jack the Ripper virtual tour – Richard’s turned his gem of a book, Who Cares?, into an audiobook. With Richard narrating it of course. All those thoroughbreds – voice-wise – in the Audible stable, as wonderful as they are you wouldn’t pick any of them over Richard to narrate that book. That’s some gift he’s got – he writes beautifully and narrates as powerfully and movingly as he writes. Anyway, that’ll be talked about in his interview.

I hinted at a fourth guide. That’s me, David.

And what have I been up to?

Let me put it this way, I put a tracker on Boris Johnson. Started with his sojourn as Foreign Secretary. His office in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, looking out over St. James’ Park. I’ve got a thing about that office. A thing because of that remark his predecessor as Foreign Secretary made, standing at those big windows, on that evening in August 1914. Edward Grey, 1st Viscount Grey of Fallodon.  The British government had just issued its ultimatum to Germany. Turn around and get out of Belgium. If you don’t we’re going to be at war from 11 o’clock tonight. And it was clear that Germany wasn’t going to back down. War was coming. Grey knows that. He’s looking out of those tall windows across at the park. It’s dusk. A lamplighter is moving along in the park, lighting the lamps. Grey says, “the lights are going out all of Europe. We won’t see them lit again in our lifetime.” Haunting remark. More to say about Grey and that moment in a future podcast. 

But anyway, my Boris Johnson tracker. When he resigned as Foreign Secretary he of course had to give up that magnificent office. He was just another backbencher. Relegated to one of Westminster’s most unpleasant offices for MPs. Johnson was convinced Theresa May’s was the invisible hand behind his being consigned to that outer purdah office.  It’s going to be fun showing it to my Old Westminster Walkers.

And then, when he finally made his move, a fellow MP with a brilliant office – in the corner of Portcullis House – so it looks out over the Thames and across the way at Big Ben – may be the best-positioned MPs office going – anyway, the MP in that beaut of an office, with an eye to the main chance, invited Johnson to set up shop there and he would go to Johnson’s outer purdah, dirtbag office. It’s a rich, rich episode. Shows how petty they can be. Theresa May putting the boot into Johnson even in the matter of making sure that he gets a crummy office. How petty – well, how human.

And then, later on in that walk, we’ll get over to the Tory rat run, as it’s been called. We’ll look at the house right at the epicentre of the three-ring circus of political salons. It’s a house owned by a peer – like Johnson an old Etonian. It was, if you will, the nerve centre of Boris Johnson’s government in exile. In other words, it was the headquarters, the war room out of which Johnson and his supporters masterminded his going over the top to become prime minister. And what do you know, the house served in the same capacity for Iain Duncan Smith’s successful run at becoming the leader of the Tory party. And more what do you know, it was Iain Duncan Smith who was a main mover and shaker in the matter of getting his fellow Brexiteers on the Johnson bandwagon. So does it come as any surprise that it was Iain Duncan Smith who did the horse swapping to get his host – who so graciously lent his house to him – his peerage. You scratch my back I’ll scratch yours. And sure enough said peer is a heavyweight Brexiteer. A company he ran made a huge donation to the official Vote Leave campaign. Thousands of pounds handed over, his house handed over – no expectation of anything in return of course.

Oh and my British walkers will be very interested to know that said peer was thick as thieves with Enoch Powell. 

Anyway, that’s where the tracker’s led me of late. And where I’ll be leading my walkers on my Old Westminster walk. Well, in all those addresses will take up all of five minutes on that walk, but it’s always enlightening to drill down into power. Take some core samples of it. See it for what it is. And where it is. And how it does its thing. Gets its way. 

C’est tout. 

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