London Walks connecting.
This… is London.
Story time. History time.
Yes, London Walks.
AKA Streets Ahead.
It’s January 24th, 2024.
And, yes, can you hear it? Those are waves upon waves you’re hearing in the background. The surf of the Indian Ocean flapping away.
Anyway, once again it’s PRO time.
PRO. P for Pin. R for Random. O for Ongoing.
The news story pinned to the front end of today’s podcast has to be the foul mouthed parrots up in Lincolnshire. What naughty boys and girls Billy, Eric, Tyson, Jade and Elsie are. They joined the Lincolnshire Wildlife Park’s colony of 200 grey parrots in August.
The five of them were extremely potty-mouthed from the get-go. They came in and started teaching their swear words to the 200 established residents, who had Sunday School vocabularies until the roughs arrived. One keeper said, “it just went ballistic; they were all swearing.” They swore at visitors as well as staff. Steve Nichols, the CEO of the wildlife park, said, “I get called ‘a fat twat’ every time I walk past.” Mr Nichols said, “when a parrot tells you to fuck off it amuses people very highly but we’ve had to separate them from the other birds because they’re such a bad influence.”
Now as for a Random. As a lot of you know, the former Editor of ITN, Stewart Purvis, now guides for London Walks. Stewart’s a big deal, The Guardian describes him as one of the architects of modern television news. Anyway, when he retired Stewart wrote an important book on Guy Burgess, the British diplomat and Soviet double agent. Once a month Stewart guides a Spies of Hampstead – the KGB in NW3 walk for us. Now in the event, we’re currently working on a poster for Stewart.
And in consequence, I’ve been thinking about his book, thinking about Guy Burgess. And in the way of these things one submerged memory broke free from its anchor and floated to the surface, The one about the death of Guy Burgess’s father. The future turncoat’s father, Commander Malcolm Burgess, was a naval officer who felt that his promise was never quite fulfilled. The highest ranks remained out of reach, that sort of thing. Stewart speculates that maybe some of the Commander’s resentment was passed on to his son. Be that as it may, Guy Burgess’s father died of a heart attack while making love to his wife. His thirteen-year-old son claimed to have found his mother pinned down under the commander’s body just after the cardiac event happened.
I suppose you could say that biographical detail is pinned to one’s mind once you open the door on it.
Ok, here’s our Ongoing.
I’m going to do one of the statues in Trafalgar Square.
George Washington. It’s in front of the eastern end of the National Gallery. And I think this might be the first of two calls we’ll make on that statue. It was a gift to this country by the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1921. That was a time when, suddenly, London was sprouting statues of American presidents. The one of Lincoln in Parliament Square had pitched up just months before. Why then? What was going on then? My every instinct tells me that’s a happenstance that’s worth drilling down into. So that might mean London Calling will come calling on George Washington at some future date. After all, this is a man who gave his name to the capital city of the United States, and to one of the 50 states, and to 31 counties, and many towns, neighbourhoods, natural features and institutions. And that’s without getting into the really arresting stuff: Washington’s being a slave owner, the double importance of July 4th to the Washington story, etc. Well, consider that a trailer.
For here, now, today, I’d just like to see the Washington statue with my eyes, with a guide’s eyes.
To start with, if you’re an American and you’re feeling homesick you can get some relief by going and standing next to the Washington statue. George I – as I sometimes call him – was not best pleased with this country. Despite his thoroughgoing English ancestry. He vowed that he’d never set foot in England again. When the Commonwealth of Virginia presented the statue to this country in 1921 they remembered that vow. They didn’t just send the statue along. They also sent along a load of Virginia soil, so Washington could stand on American dirt.
And the other thing you must do is take a close look at his right arm. It’s resting on a sheave of staves. They’re fasces. It’s a Latin word, a Roman word. When the Romans conquered a place they’d hold a parade. At the front of the parade there’d be a Roman legionnaire carrying a portable flogging and beheading kit. The flogging kit was a bunch of staves. You misbehaved – committed a minor crime – you’d be flogged with one of those staves. In the middle of that bunch of staves was an axe. You committed a capital crime you’d have your head chopped off with that axe. It was a naked, concise crystallisation of power. It showed the people the Romans had conquered who was boss and what would happen to them if they didn’t toe the line.
And of course from that Latin word for those staves – fasces – we get the modern word fascism. Mussolini realised that if he could create a state that combined three elements: namely the government, the big corporate interests and the populace (that third element was the trickiest to get on board – a successful fascist state has to find a leader who can get the hoi polloi, the lower orders, behind him, get them doing his bidding). Anyway realised that if he could create a state that wove together those three powerful elements it would be a force, a state, to be reckoned with. And the most interesting thing about the fasces – the staves – that Washington cradling in the arch of his right arm – is their number. There are thirteen of them. There, has the light bulb gone on. Thought so. That’s right. There were 13 colonies. And each of those colonies was, by itself, pathetically weak and infirm. When I’m guiding the statue, if I’ve got one of my walking sticks with me, I hold it up and say, it would be easy for me to snap this walking stick in half across my leg. But if I have thirteen of them together that would be impossible. Well, the same goes for those 13 colonies. Each of them by itself was weak – especially in a face-off against the Superpower of the day, Great Britain. But thirteen of them together could be strong. So there you go, look for those staves – those fasces – the next time you’re face to face with the man in Trafalgar Square who was a general, a president, and, in those capacities, the most important founder of his nation. The only person in Trafalgar Square – unless you’re toe to toe with him – who’s standing on American soil.
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 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, archaeologists, historians,
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.