John is homeless (this podcast is dedicated to the memory of Alice)

London calling.

London Walks connecting.

This… is London.

This is London Walks.

Streets ahead.

Story time. History time.


It’s February 21st, 2024. Today’s pin – the news story that gets the show on the road – it’s pinned to the top of London Calling podcast – is a lift from The Metro. It’s headlined “Teachers get new powers to restrict pupils’ phone use.” It’s one of those take-the-ball-and-run stories. Where I ran with it, given my predilections, my brooding over words as it says in my capsule bio on the Guides’ page of, where I ran with it was to screw in my linguistic jeweller’s eyepiece and take a good look at that gem of a word, mobile. Turns out we get the word mob from the word mobile. Mob is a shortening of mobile. The derivation goes back 350 years when mobile meant, the common people, the populace, the rabble. Mobile itself was a shortening of the Latin phrase mobile vulgus, meaning the fickle common people. And it’s thought that there was a conscious play on the word noble. A can’t miss echo: nobility…mobility. In no time at all, the 1680s, mobile meant a disorderly part of the population, the rabble, the common mass, the multitude, especially when rude or disorderly; a riotous assemblage. In short, short being the mot juste, a mob. The Oxford English Dictionary helpfully adds that the word was chiefly contemptuous. And that it’s now obsolete. We say mob.

But language is like London, multifarious and the tiniest details signify. So mobiles today – cellphones – which are a daily headache for teachers trying to take a class through a lesson – well, we all know they’re the weapon of the mob. Hundreds of years ago the common people didn’t have swords and armour. They grabbed whatever was to hand to use as a weapon. Often times it was a big stick. Sometimes they’d set fire to one end. From that we get the word, firebrand, a club burning at end. In time that word signifies one who creates unrest or strife. The influencers of a mobile. So to speak. But you can imagine how frightening that must have been to the badly outnumbered nobility – even though they had swords – a really angry, huge crowd – the rabble – brandishing crude wooden clubs that were burning at one end.

Social media mobs are the modern, contemporary version of that. And of course many of the individual components of that mob are using mobiles. Putting that into historic-linguistic terms, they’re mobiles using mobiles. Another way of seeing it – and that way of putting it, seeing it, gets it exactly – another way of seeing it is online mobs act like flocks of birds. Scientists call it collective behaviour. And it can be not just frightening but very harmful, as anyone who’s been flash mobbed online will attest.

But fled is that din – can’t really say fled is that music, not when you’re talking about modern mob brandishing its firebrands – mobiles – but fled is that din, let’s not go with them, let’s peel off.

Peel off and get to grips with today’s Random.

One of the really satisfying things about London Calling – I often think of it as the London Walks version of hoop and stick – also known as hoop rolling – that now bygone child’s game in which a large hoop would be rolled along the ground by a boy – they were usually boys – wielding a stick. Oops, there we go, another stick. Everything’s sticky today. Everything’s hanging together. Anyway, I’m the boy wielding the stick, and the hoop I’m rolling on its merry way is the London Walks podcast. And one of the really satisfying things about the podcast is the feedback we get.

I just love – visualise that as a burst of red hearts released up into the sky – I just love the most recent bit of feedback. It came in this morning. It was from a chap named Andy Hooper. Yes, Hooper. See how everything’s hanging together.

Andy wrote in about the V for Victory and Jumbo the Dog podcast that we did last July. It was a story that ran in the July 20th, 1941 edition of a London newspaper. The story was headlined The Dog on the Corner. The dog on the corner was Jumbo. It’s a really moving tale. A moving tale about a tail that wasn’t moving. It’s worth recapping. This is what Andy Hooper spotted and was responding to.

“Every evening a dog sits on the pavement at the corner of Tabard Street, Southwark, London…It’s Jumbo waiting for his boss, Fred Hooper, to come home. Jumbo waits for hours and then he walks slowly back with his tail between his legs – alone. Young Fred, 14, got his dog when it was a puppy. They grew up together. And it was one of Jumbo’s habits always to sleep in his master’s bedroom at their home in a block of flats in South London. But on the night of London’s last blitz, Jumbo wouldn’t go into Fred’s bedroom. He tried to stop Fred by gripping his trouser leg and tugging with his teeth. When Fred took him inside and shut the door Jumbo whined to get out and for the first time the dog went to sleep downstairs with Mr Hooper. In the middle of the night Jumbo woke him up by licking his face. A few minutes later the floor caved in, the walls collapsed. Mr Hooper saved his life by clutching a dangling pipe. Jumbo stood on his shoulders. As they hung forty feet in mid-air the rescue squad climbed to save them. Mr Hooper was rushed to hospital. Jumbo went and nosed in the ruins. He was looking for Fred. That is why anyone can see Jumbo sitting and waiting at the street corner each evening down in Southwark. He thinks Fred will come that way from work, from his first job. Jumbo doesn’t know that when the rescue squad went to look for Fred’s bedroom they couldn’t find it for debris. Fred ignored Jumbo’s warning. Fred isn’t coming home…”

That was the story we ran. Andy Hooper responded to it because Fred, Jumbo’s owner, was his, Andy’s grandfather’s brother. The story had been told many times to the surviving brother, Andy’s grandfather. It was family history, became part of the family lore. Andy’s grandfather told his children, one of whom was Andy’s Dad. Who told the story to Andy. And I’m sure Andy will tell it to his youngsters. Andy said the newspaper, the Sunday Pictorial, had awarded a medal to Jumbo. The family’s still got the medal. They were looking at it the other day. And wondered if they could verify the story that had been told to his, Andy’s dad. And one thing led to another. London Walks had found the Sunday Pictorial tale. Put it into that day’s podcast. And Andy found the podcast and wrote to us. And – splendidly, wonderfully, thoughtfully, movingly – sent us photographs of both sides of Jumbo’s medal,  which is of course a family heirloom. Thanks so much, Andy.

As Lloyd the New Yorker said in yesterday’s podcast, like everything in life there’s good and bad. I gave mobiles a knock earlier in this podcast for making teachers’ lives difficult and for being 21st-century firebrands, but they also do lots of good. And this is an Olympic standard instance of same. I’m going to use my mobile to share, on social media, what Andy’s shared with me: that family heirloom, Jumbo’s medal. Thanks Andy.

Ok, on we go. Here’s today’s Ongoing. Our ongoing engagement with London. In today’s Ongoing you’re going to hear from another Londoner. John. John’s homeless. He’s been homeless for over two years.

Meet John…

[Interview with John follows]


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

home of London Walks,

London’s signature

walking tour company.m

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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