London Walks connecting.
This… is London.
Story time. History time.
And this evening is going to make two in 72 hours.
The two being personal favourites of mine – walks I mean – that I haven’t guided for several years the opportunity has presented itself and I’ve jumped at it.
Friday night I did for the first time in about eight years the Along the Thames Pub Walk – the great classic London Pub Walk as it’s been described.
And this evening – Monday evening – I’ll be doing Old Westminster by Gaslight. It’s an evening version of our Old Westminster Walk but with three big differences. First of all, unlike the Old Westminster daytime Walk Old Westminster by Gaslight goes over Westminster Bridge and walks along the river path to Lambeth Bridge, where it crosses back over and splices itself back onto the route of the Old Westminster Walk. We go over the water on the Monday evening walk so we can get the most famous night-time view in Europe, the view across the Thames to the riverscape of the Palace of
All towers and spikes and serried windows and bathed in golden light. And Big Ben like a sentinel, booming out the hour. And garlands of Victorian lamps along the Embankment. And dark patches that suggest the old and mighty consequence of the place, well, you get the idea.
That’s the first difference. The second difference is on the Old Westminster by Gaslight walk we get to see the most amazing door in London. I’m telling you, that stop, that door, all by itself, is worth the price of admission. And thirdly, we run that walk on Monday evening because Monday’s the late night sitting. The House often sits until 10.30 pm or even later. And most people don’t know about the late night sitting. So you can always sail straight into the Public Gallery – the Strangers Gallery as it used to be known. You try to get in there during the day the wait can sometimes be an hour or more. Talk about killing time – standing there waiting outside in the elements – shuffling along in a queue that moves at a snail’s pace – that’s grievous body and soul harm. You don’t have to run that gauntlet on Monday night. You just sail right in. And that’s what a lot of the walkers will be doing tonight. The digestif – if you want to see the evening as a full, seven course French meal – the digestif will be a visit to the historic Strangers Gallery at walk’s end to watch the mother of parliaments in action.
What’s not to like.
Oh and there is one other little bonus. After the walk I send out to everybody who goes on it a PDF of the Secret Westminster chapter – which I wrote – in the London Walks book. It’s a good fit with the walk, complements it. And frankly it really is a freebie that’s worth something. The only other way of getting it is to buy the book, so, as I say to my walkers, if nothing else it’ll save you forking out a tenner to buy the book.
Ok, let’s turn the page.
It’s Monday morning so I’m going to do a quick run-through of this week’s “specials.”
This Saturday, November 11th, is the last of the summer wine, so to speak. The swan song of the Summer 2023 out-of-town trips. A day of sheer magic: yes, Simon’s trip to the Cotswolds. Four villages, thatched roofs, burbling streams, honey-coloured cottages, dry stone walls, the most beautiful countryside on god’s green earth… Bliss. Heaven it is. What’s not to like. So, yes, grab all the exquisite gusto you can. Grab it while you can. This Saturday’s the last call, the last go-round.
Then this Sunday – November 12th – a feast of Specials.
Sunday morning Ann’s doing her Brook Green – the Secret Side of Hammersmith walk.
Also Sunday morning, Dr Barry will be doing his Monarchs and Maladies Walk.
And Kevin, the distinguished former Museum of London archaeologist, will be doing his Chaucer’s Mediaeval London tour.
And then in the afternoon and early evening, we really turn on the afterburners: five London Walks specials on Sunday afternoon and Sunday evening, November 12th.
London in the Swinging 60s, guided by Adam.
Jane Austen’s London, guided by Kevin.
The Lost World of the River Fleet guided by Sue.
Fables, Fashions and Feasts guided by Philip.
And finally, at 7 pm, Charles Dickens’ London: Lost and Found – A Virtual Tour. Guided by Richard IV. So, yes, the London Walks cup overfloweth, you’re well and truly spoiled for choice this weekend.
Ok, let’s turn another page.
Anybody for a new wrinkle for this podcast?
I’m not sure what to call it. Tailings comes to mind. But also snippets. Or gleanings. Or even diary entries.
Or savings and shavings. Or a few Commonplace Book jottings. Tailings will be the only word you might not be familiar with. It’s an old mining term. It means the residue of something.
So to close this out, a few tailings. Or diary entries. Things that I read or came across these past few days that jumped out at me and that I’d like to save from oblivion. So I’m being unashamedly selfish here. What follows is for me. And if any of it is of any interest to anybody who’s listening, well, that’s a bonus.
A few of these tailings build on or take a bit further a couple of recent podcasts. The one on the weather, for example. Adam – the ever quotable Adam – the only person I know who talks like a well written magazine article – mentioned to me an hour ago that today’ s his fifth anniversary of being unchained from a lunatic. By that he means he hasn’t listened to, read or watched a weather forecast since November 6th, 2018. He says, “you may as well check your horoscope as listen to a weather forecast.”
In that same London weather podcast I said the Brits talking about the weather – it’s like dogs sniffing one another. It’s a nice safe subject that enables them to hear each other’s accent and get their interlocutor placed on the social scale. Well, to add to that, I’ve since learned that about two percent of the population speak that upper class patois, wield those plummy vowels.
The general richness of the language – and the way the natives can play it – is a source of endless delight and enjoyment to this transplanted Yank. I’m thinking of course of Cockney rhyming slang. Let’s do a little mini course in cockney rhyming slang. As long as we’re on this weather number, let me introduce Andy Cain. Cockney rhyming slang for rain. Or how about April showers – cockney rhyming slang for flowers. Or potatoes in the mould. You might hear, Coo, Taters! ain’t it. Potatoes in the mould is cockney rhyming slang for cold. Or days-a-dawning – it’s cockney rhyming slang for morning.
My Kensington Walk begins outside High Street Kensington Station. The building there is Derry & Toms. Derry & Toms is cockney rhyming slang for bombs. That one’s decidedly uncomfortable right now, what with what’s going in the Middle East. I start that walk by showing people an 1865 photograph of the High Street. In the photograph you can see five or six crossing sweeps. And that leads right into my quantification of how much excrement a healthy horse produces in a day. About 20 kilograms of manure and urine. You want to get an idea of how much 20 kilograms is – well, the next time you pick up an 11-year-old child, 20 kilograms is about what that youngster will weigh. Anyway, the next time you see a mounted policeman I suppose you could inform your friend, “his horse will Andy Cain a bucket full of urine on the streets of London today.” Or if you wanted to get really fancy, you could say that horse will Andy Cain a bucket full of snake’s hiss on High Street Kensington today. Snake’s hiss is of course cockney rhyming slang for piss. And finally, how about Westminster Abbey, which Mary guided this morning. Cockney rhyming slang for Westminster Abbey is shabby. Because of the great antiquity of so many of those ensigns of mortality.
And it’s not just cockney rhyming slang. I’m also really partial to British armed forces slang. For example, “gyro failure.” A nice way of describing the effect of too many wets. Wets of course is booze. Building on that, if the individual in question is unable to stand up, his gyros have toppled. Surely preferable, though, to flash the hash. Forces slang for vomit.
He’s really incorrigible, the British soldier. Hard and blind is forces slang for in a state of extreme sexual excitement.
And since these tailings are mostly about language,
I hope there’s a place in my permanent memory bank for Riz, the young Apple employee who answered a couple of questions I had the other day.
He couldn’t have been more English but his ancestry was from the Indian sub-continent. Riz said at home they speak both English and Urdu and that when his mum his speaking Urdu steer clear of her because she’s really angry. When she’s speaking English she’s happy as can be. Urdu it’s gale force 9 anger – don’t go anywhere near her.
And then there was the announcement a GB News sock puppet parroted. Then announcement that the disgraced former prime minister will be joining the broadcast team at GB News, the far right’s attempt to plant a British version of Fox News on these shores. The nonentity in question said, “Boris got Brexit done. GB News has got Boris done.
To which some British wit responded, “Good idea to get him done, too many children already.”
And now we get serious. Deeply serious.
This past year I’ve spent a lot of time in 1923. Because of Virginia Woolf. Her novel Mrs Dalloway.
I’ve do a walk called Mrs Dalloway’s London. In which we walk in her footsteps and explore her London. And 1923 because Mrs Dalloway went for her walk on a Wednesday in the middle of June in 1923.
So that’s why I’ve spent quite a bit of time in 1923. I wanted to find out what was going on that year. The tight focus being Mrs. Dalloway’s London in 1923. But with a pullback, too. A wider focus.
And so yesterday, reading a 100-year-old back issue of Punch Magazine I come across this horrifying statistic. Horrible in its own right but also notable as an instance of the sensibility of the time and in particular a certain vein of mordant British wit.
Here’s the passage in question. “63 persons were lynched in the U.S. last year the comparative insignificance of the figures shows how largely this old fashioned method has been superseded by the motorcar.”
When I’m guiding that walk I make the point that Virginia Woolf’s London – those times, that culture – was shot through with what Germans call “the mother of all catastrophes.” Namely The Great War, World War I. And I’m at pains to explain to my walkers that terrible as World War I was, its sequel, World War II, was five times as deadly. Five times as many deaths, five times as much destruction. You can do the maths. If ten to 16 million people lost their lives in World War I… well, I’ll leave it to you to run the figures.
But in relation to those two great catastrophes, I’ve been reading Milton Shulman’s Defeat in the West, his riveting account of the German collapse in World War II.
He ends his Preface with these two sentences. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything more chilling than these two sentences:
“And if there are any who are still in doubt as to what defeat in the twentieth century really means, the rubble of German cities and the plight of the German people should provide a vivid object-lesson. That lesson would be more impressive still if it could but be appreciated that the pain and destruction suffered by the Third Reich in the Second World War is but a fraction of the pain and destruction that awaits both those who win and those who lose a third world war.”
You’ve been listening to This… is London, the London Walks podcast. Emanating from www.walks.com –
home of London Walks,
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.
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
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 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, archaeologists, historians,
criminal defence lawyers,
Royal Shakespeare Company 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.