Monday, 30 November 2009

Burns, Baby! Burns!

Happy St Andrew's Day. Happy St Andrew's day? A contradiction in terms?

(Above: Robert Burns, like me, in exile in London. Delighted to be so, too. I mean me. Don't know about Burns. You'd have to ask him. Although when he wrote "My heart is in the Highlands" I don't think he meant Totteridge & Whetstone. Though I might be wrong. There's a first time for everything.)

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Ghost Train

When I was a young Old Fart, this is what trains looked like on the tube. Only they were in black and white, of course. This one has been colourised using what The Authorities refer to as The Latest Technology. As an old Old Fart, I am against The Latest Technology. But I find myself liking old trains more and more.

Just shoot me now.

(Find the London Transport Museum HERE.)

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Going Underground


depth in feet of the Greenwich Foot Tunnel (southern stairwell, looking like something by M.C Escher, above)


the approximate number of tiles in the Greenwich Foot Tunnel.


the number of cyclists who actually dismount and push their bikes through the pedestrian tunnel

Friday, 27 November 2009

Sign of the Times II

And I should jolly well think so, too.

“My philosophy is as simple as ever. I love smoking, drinking, moderate sexual intercourse on a diminishing scale, reading and writing (not arithmetic). I have a selfless absorption in the well-being and achievements of Noel Coward.”
Noel Coward

(Found the sign at the door of the Phoenix Artist Club. Was reminded of the quote at a great blog called I’ve Been Reading Lately)

And before the Gasper Squad swing into action and bust the joint, the terrace they refer to is the common street outside the building.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

A Sweet Shop Counter at Waterloo (after Manet)

Konditor and Cook at Waterloo. A sweet-toothed take on Édouard Manet’s Bar-at-the-Folies-Bergere (1882) (below)

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

All The World's a Stage…

…And all the men and women merely players,
They have their exits and entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
Then, the whining schoolboy with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier…
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden, and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice
In fair round belly, with good capon lin'd,
With eyes severe, and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws, and modern instances,
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose, and pouch on side,
His youthful hose well sav'd, a world too wide,
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again towards childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth,
sans eyes,
sans taste…

(Pics: Richard Kindersley’s Seven Ages of Man sculpture near Blackfriars)

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Sundown London

Rained on-and-off all day in London yesterday. Then just as dusk approached, this light in the west: sunset over St Pancras and the BT Tower…

"…that's all the London news today. And now, the weather for the next few days:

Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks!
You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Strike flat the thick rotundity o' the world!
Crack nature's molds, all germens spill at once
That make ingrateful man!"

Monday, 23 November 2009

Support Your Local Pub…

(Pictured) Death Near Deptford: the corpse of The Victoria rotting in full view down Woolwich way

"Brick Lane, in east London, once had no fewer than 20 pubs. The names – The Frying Pan, The Duke's Motto, The Jolly Butchers – are redolent of a former era, but apart from the derelict Seven Stars next to a mosque, all have found a new use. Three are Asian restaurants, two are cafés, one is a hairdresser, there's a clothes shop, and one hosts a money transfer facility. In keeping with this trend, the restaurant chain Nando's has converted seven London pubs and two in the provinces into food outlets."

The Independent, July 2009

(Tips on how to mobilise the troops if your local is threatened with closure can be found at

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Soho Dawn

Brewer Street (looking to Wardour Street) just after dawn on a Sunday morning. Up really early? Or just coming home? Not telling.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Rolling in to the Night

“Dirty old river… I am in paradise.”

Ray Davies, Waterloo Sunset

Friday, 20 November 2009

West II

View from the Royal Exchange looking west after dusk on a late autumn Sunday evening.

In the 17th Century stockbrokers were barred from the Royal Exchange due to their bad manners.

Barring ill-mannered City types from public places. Hmm. What did we forget between now and the 17th Century?

Thursday, 19 November 2009


“Drugs are bad, mmkay?”
Mr Mackey, South Park

Having said that…

“It has always been my rule never to smoke when asleep, and never to refrain when awake.”
Mark Twain.

“I'm glad to hear you smoke. A man should always have an occupation of some kind. There are far too many idle men in London as it is.”
Oscar Wilde.

Shop illustrated G.Smith & Sons 74 Charing Cross Road. Even if you’re not going to buy a smoke, check out their elaborate snuff handkerchiefs, the finest pocket hankies in town.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Postman's Park

"The material prosperity of a nation is not an abiding possession; the deeds of its people are."
George Frederic Watts 1887

Postman's Park & the Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice in The City.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

North & South

So how serious is the North/South divide in London? Well as you can see (Woolwich, above) the South is tooled up and has its weapons trained on the North.

Monday, 16 November 2009

A Local Shop for Local People

Alternative names from the shortlist drawn up before finally deciding on "Trashy Lingerie":

Pants R Us
Briefs Encounter
The Basque of the Houndervilles
I Write the Thongs that Make The Whole World Thing

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Sign of the Times

Down in ol' Soho where you drink champagne and it tastes just like cherry cola.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Heavy Metal

The Tate Modern is…

• Situated on a 3.43 hectare (8.48 acre) site on the south side of the River Thames opposite St Paul's Cathedral
• A structure with a frontage over 200m (650 ft) long
• Blessed with a chimney 99m (325 ft) in height, specifically built to be lower than the dome of St Paul's Cathedral at 114m (375 ft)
• Composed of approximately 4.2 million bricks
• Made in Scotland From Girders (see pic above)

(The first four facts in this list appear on the Tate Modern’s website)

(The fifth is just a fact)

Friday, 13 November 2009

Death & Taxes

A view of our fiscal capital from Camberwell cemetery.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Domed. We're all Domed.

The Dome (the largest single-roofed structure in the world) basks in a shard of celestial light as the wicked Brigadoon of “Canary Wharf” emerges from the mist behind.

(The Dome – under the name The North Greenwich Arena 1, thanks to IOC regulations forbidding the mobile phone company that currently sponsors the structure from peddling their wares at the Olympics – will play home to the basketball finals at the 2012 Olympic Games. In 1948, the make-do-and-mend Games, basketball was staged at the Harringay arena on Green Lanes.)

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Planet of the Apes, Crystal Palace SE26

Taylor (Charlton Heston, topless) and his mate Nova (Linda Harrison, in three bits of old chamois leather each no bigger than Barbie’s hankie) having escaped Ape City, are riding on horseback through The Forbidden Zone. The soundtrack offers tentative notes of hope.

Suddenly Taylor sees a horrifying sight. Dismounting, he drops to his knees and wails:

“We finally really did it. You maniacs! You blew it up! Damn you!”

Cut to a shot of an overgrown ruin of a Sphynx, once the symbol of a great and mighty Palace at the height of a great and mighty Empire (see above).

“God damn you!” cries Taylor. “God damn you all to hell.”


Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Support Your Local Bookshop

This is my local bookshop in N2, which often adds a much-needed flash of counter-cultural ribaldry through its window displays in otherwise sleepy suburbia. It is a much-loved resource on the High Road.

This is Simon Callow in The Guardian (as I read it yesterday in the window of Any Amount of Books, Charing Cross Road WC2).

“The bibliocide in the Charing Cross Road continues its depressing course apparently unchecked. The one gleam of light is the reinvention of Foyles, which has now become a very enterprising outfit, its stock, and indeed its general layout, informed by discernible individual taste. But a block further down the road, beyond Cambridge Circus, in what was once the heart of the book village, glumness is everywhere, the most recent losses being Murder Inc and Shipley's three excellent art book shops. Two Zwemmer's shops are long gone. In their places spring up Chinese herbalists, poster shops and coffee houses, all of which no doubt cater to pressing needs; meanwhile the character of the area is being fundamentally undermined. Soon, like the block it faces, it will be just another outpost of Oxford Street. The excellent Henry Pordes and Any Amount of Books hold up gallantly, with Quinto on the corner, but their backs are against the wall. The bitter irony of all this is that the block is owned by a charity, the Soho Housing Association, whose charter demands that it raise the most money it possibly can: it is by definition committed to trashing the area.

Further down Charing Cross Road, all traces of the bookselling trade have been eliminated, except for one astonishing enclave, Cecil Court, where, as if in a time machine, the book trade flourishes as it once did. There are several very good shops in it that don't sell books - an original poster shop; an excellent shop selling prints; Tim Bryars's antique map shop; Mark Sullivan's wonderful emporium of bibelots. But for the rest, there is richness to gladden any bibliophile's heart: Pleasures of Past Times, David Drummond's incomparable theatre bookshop; Nigel Williams's rare books; modern first editions specialists Tindley & Chapman; Marchpane, an Aladdin's cave of a children's bookshop; a very snazzy Italian bookshop; Watkins's esoteric bookshop (a little more new age than it was, but stocked to the rafters with genuine arcana), to name only a few. It stands as a model of what a commercial district can be: it celebrates what it sells; it is an entertainment in itself; every shop is run by an individual whose tastes are absolutely personal and identifiable; the love of the trade is palpable. Nobody here is making a fortune; to survive respectably is all anyone asks.

So naturally it is under threat. Though the government has backed off from raising the business rate by a full 5% this year, a 2% rise, to be followed by a further 3% in the next two years, will wipe out the tiny profit margin that keeps businesses of this sort alive. What these shops need is more meaningful business-rate relief. Write, urgently, to the local MP Mark Field, who is masterminding a campaign to save one of the capital's last oases of real bookselling.”

Write to Mark Field HERE.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Get Ahead. Get…

“It was astonishing how fashionable it was to be unfaithful. He often wondered if it was anything to do with going without a hat. No sooner had the homburgs and and the bowlers disappeared from The City than everyone grew their hair longer, and after that nothing was sacred.”

Beryl Bainbridge, Injury Time (1977)

“He's bought a hat like Anthony Eden's
Because it makes him feel like a Lord
But he can't afford a Rolls or a Bentley
He has to buy a secondhand Ford
He tries to feed his wife and his family
And buy them clothes and shoes they can wear
But he's bought a hat like Anthony Eden's
So he don't care”

Ray Davies, She Bought a Hat Like Princess Marina (1969)

Pic shot in the finest gentlemen’s outfitter in London: Hornet’s of Kensington

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Guarding the City

The dragon traditionally guards the boundaries of The City of London – helped in this picture by one of London's 10,000 CCTV cameras.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Remember, Remember…

This Bonfire Night view of London from 400 feet above sea level, looking southeast from Hampstead, sees The City and Canary Wharf obliterated, shrouded in gunpowder smoke and rain. Only the City of Westminster emerges from the mist, Brigadoon-like, thanks to the beacon of the Post Office Tower.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Turned Out Nice Again…

“That’s the news, my liege. And now the weather: hail, Caesar!”
(An old gag from a mock production of Julius Caesar in the old BBC radio show Round the Horne)

“When two Englishmen meet, their first talk is of the weather.”
Samuel Johnson

“Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!”
King Lear

Rain all weekend in London. Get yourself down to the best gamp shop in town, James Smith & Son.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Fleet Street

Look up high in Fleet Street. You can still see the London smog clinging to the stones. Look closely at the old Daily Telegraph HQ (at no.135, it's the building that looks like it is auditioning for a starring role in Batman's Gotham City). You can just about read the newspaper's masthead spelled out in silhouette by the grime of the years. Fading with every passing year, but still there.

Fleet Street is London's most rewarding street in which to lift your head above the traffic and homogenous shops. It's all in the detail.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009


"Whither, O splendid ship, thy white sails crowding,
Leaning across the bosom of the urgent West, 
That fearest nor sea rising, nor sky clouding, 
Whither away, fair rover, and what thy quest?" Robert Bridges

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Cakes & Ale

"Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?"

Sir Toby Belch, Twelfth Night, William Shakespeare (c.1600/01)

(Cakes courtesy of Maison Bertaux. Ale: The Coach & Horses, both Greek Street W1)

Monday, 2 November 2009


A Christopher Wren spire from 1687, all that remains of Christ Church Greyfriars, destroyed on the night of the 29th December 1940. Four other Wren churches burned that night. Shot from what was once the nave of the church, the bombed-out shell is now a public garden. (Taken: 21:45 Tuesday 27th October 2009)

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Painted Lady of Spitalfields

Spittalfields is London's best Sunday market by a mile.