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From 123 To 321

15 Jun

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Following a recent tour of the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, the cradle of modern time and chronicler of our galaxy and beyond, I retired to the back for a coffee in their excellent cafe and was greeted by a striking statue of what resembled an astronaut of some kind.

Within seconds, I’d guessed it was of Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space, not only by its figurative style but a lucky guess at the character repetition in the Russian spelling of his name. Indeed, Yuri almost has that heroic poise once seen on statues of Lenin or depictions of the forward march of the proletariat.

 

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This encounter brought back childhood memories of watching the space race progress on TV and my question was this—was my generation the first to countdown backwards in the language of play as a result of watching a steady flow of rocket launches on TV? We’d gone from 1-2-3 Go! to counting down from ten to zero in an accelerating crescendo.

Furthermore, would Manfred Mann have had a hit with the Mod classic 5-4-3-2-1 that went on to be the musical score of the opening credits to the unmissable Ready Steady Go every Friday night?

The weekend started here, it said on the screen, and the Menn (sic) counted us down before the backing rhythm dropped in and my generation took possession of the weekend from our elders once more.

However, my nostalgic dream was broken by the end of parking symbolised by a row of zeros on my iPhone, a distant offspring of the space race.

London Sight Lines

14 Jun

As London’s skyline slowly rises, planning laws now govern and protect any existing sight lines of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Such a ruling enabled this view of Wren’s masterpiece from Newgate Street and through the present Paternoster Square.

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London at an angle

14 Jun

The jagged edges of the Barbican bite like teeth into the blue sky, a contrast to the many domes and spires of the City of London.

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LONDON IN THREE COLOURS: Red

24 Dec

DECK THE HALLS, PAINT THE TOWN RED

I’ve more or less covered Londres Bleu in previous blogs Midnight Blue and Bluefriars and so I’m moving on to red in time for Christmas, the time for festive colours to dapple this great city: green, gold but it’s mostly red that dominates or at least stands out.

Red WordPress 007

The shops bombard us from about September on, but and it’s hard to get excited so early. But when one sees the class of such shops as Cartier in New Bond Street it’s hard not to feel festive. Understated really, evenly covered in tiny red lights and just a deluxe bow across the frontage. Class, not bling.

The Conran shop, Sloane Avenue. Terence Conran established Habitat in 1964 and from then on influenced our tastes in home decor and design. In an area which smacks of style, Santa brings a smile to even the most self-conscious fashion victim.

The Conran shop, Sloane Avenue. Terence Conran established Habitat in 1964 and from then on influenced our tastes in home decor and design. In an area which smacks of style, Santa brings a smile to even the most self-conscious fashion victim.

Each day, we pass architectural jewels that make our city great. Some are spectacular and skyline-defining, others colour our journey through everyday life. Last year, sixteen of Leslie Green’s red tile clad Underground stations were given Grade II listing, protecting their glorious exteriors from alteration or demolition. Mostly of art deco design, they have stood the test of time against pollution and escaped the Luftwaffe.

Chalk Farm statio hugs the bending junction of Haverstock Hill and Adelaide Road.

Chalk Farm station hugs the bending junction of Haverstock Hill and Adelaide Road.

In 1935 King George V celebrated his Silver Jubilee and to commemorate this the GPO commissioned Sir Giles Gilbert Scott to design a new telephone booth. Fortunately the GPO left the design considerations to Scott who topped them with a dome styled on Sir John Soane’s mausoleums at St Pancras Old Churchyard and the Dulwich Picture Gallery in south London. Everywhere we look today, there will be people on their mobile phones. How did we function before this? Back in the Seventies, there was a phone box at the corner of Queen’s Gate and Cromwell Road, SW7. We taxi drivers could never work out why there was a constant queue to use this particular one until I picked up a couple in Earls Court who asked to be taken there. It was then that I learned that this box was faulty. For ten pence, you could call anywhere in the world without a time limit. No wonder it was flooded with youngsters from the Antipodes!

With the growth of mobile phone usage, it's unlikely to ever see a queue for the phone any more.

With the growth of mobile phone usage, it’s unlikely to ever see a queue for the phone any more.

The demise of the Fairway taxi is well documented now. Due to the December cutoff last year, those Fairways passed at the end of last year or brought forward for passing have disappeared at an alarming rate. Between the summer of this year and now, over 600 of them have gone off our streets.

A beautiful blood-red Fairway. Other popular colours of this model were grren, white and charcoal grey. So where did the media get the lazy phrase of "black cab" from? It's a taxi.

A beautiful blood-red Fairway. Other popular colours of this model were green, white and charcoal grey. So where did the media get the lazy phrase of “black cab” from? It’s a taxi.

 

New England in the USA is famous for its autumnal colours and so it's always good to get an idea of how the Maples and others may bring fire to the local foliage. This in King's Road is about as close as we get to it.

New England in the USA is famous for its autumnal colours and so it’s always good to get an idea of how the Maples and others may bring fire to the local foliage. This in King’s Road is about as close as we get to it.

 

Nothing more is necessary to compliment the beautiful simplicity of this Chelsea Georgian house than a red door.

Nothing more is necessary to compliment the beautiful simplicity of this Chelsea Georgian house than a red door.

Bluefriars

28 Sep

From Putney Bridge right up to Tower Bridge, blue lights illuminate the passage of water in and out of the North Sea with each tide twice a day. The lights’ continued spread still appears to be an unconscious policy, but they continue to expand presently with the nearly completed rebuilding of Blackfriars station, reconstructing the Victorian rail bridge to make way for longer trains on First Capital Connect’s Thameslink route and creating new entrances north and south of the river.

Between 1886 and 1937, it was known as St Paul’s Station and the London, Chatham and Dover Railway boasted the power to transport Londoners as far as Brindisi, Marseilles and Sr Petersburg. The new station has moved around the bend from Queen Victoria Street to New Bridge Street beside Blackfriars Bridge and incorporates the Underground with improved public access.

The new railway bridge will also be Europe’s largest solar panelled bridge, holding 4,400 panels which will generate half of the station’s electricity.

We night drivers will be relieved when the regular closure of Blackfriars Underpass ceases and we can bomb along–at 30mph–between East and West London once more.

Hero Worship

15 Sep

I picked up a family in my taxi the other day whose young child had a physical disability, namely, severely restricted use of his malformed arms and my immediate reaction was not that of usual and correct compassion but rather I pondered on what sporting event would he be most capable of? I happily realised in shock that the Paralympic Games had altered my perception of those with disabilities, hopefully for ever.

Channel Four Television, Horseferry Rd SW!. As ever, current and topical with their use of location and their 4 superstructure.

If the preceding Games were not enough, these Paralympic Games have gone one step further in terms of success and public outreach. Record crowds and television audiences have witnessed astounding courage and examples to us all that the human spirit is never short of surprises in what it can overcome. We arrived at our destination and I waited patiently for the young boy to control his involuntary muscle spasms in order to pass the money through the ludicrously small aperture in the partition glass in order to pay me. Whoever you are, I thank you for reminding me how lucky I am to be able-bodied and to take all tasks for granted, maybe I’ll see you in twelve years’ time on a rostrum somewhere in the world.

In the week following when the sporting press debate if an overpaid footballer will shake hands with that of another and flags are burned in London, when the first football club’s crest will be punched by a goal scorer, let’s remember who the real heroes of this summer have been.

A Generator Regenerated?

6 Sep

The flue has lost its blue hue, Chelsea FC lost its bid to resettle here and while perhaps an angry CFC fan may have doctored the hitherto blue lighting, I for one rest easy to know that back at Stamford Bridge, penalties in front of The Shed wil continue to be taken above the buried ashes of the mercurial Peter Osgood.

The lighting is fittingly reduced to more standard spots on the day it’s announced that now a Malaysian consortium pledge to oversee this art deco beauty’s renovation. Some twenty odd years before, Thatcher had stood with hard hat hiding her horns to proclaim the first of many promised efforts, even ordering her sycophantic press to be back in one year for its relaunch as her casino economy reached maximum centrifugal force.

More ownerships down the road and the site has looked continually neglected. I’d picked up inside the site many a time on Radio Taxis for the owners Parkview in an atmosphere worthy of the East German Stasi at the worst and plain control freaks at the best, told to park just there, not to get out of the cab, no nameboards. Alarm bells rang for me.

Twenty eight years after its decommissioning–even Pink Floyd had returned last November to float a huge pig for a relaunch of their famous album–the decaying chimneys will be rebuilt and Reuters report that the homes will have to be sold at twice the current London market rate in order for costs to be recouped. Watch this very empty space. Peace.

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Mis Viajes

29 Aug

It’s August, therefore I’m back in my beloved Spain once more. Sant Agusti just outside Palma de Mallorca to be exact. Just around the headland from our apartment stands the King of Spain’s summer palace, Marivent.

 

Juan Carlos woz ere. And the King of Norway. And Michelle Obama………….

 

I’ve been coming to the same place for 22 years now and nothing much changes. But this is the first fish duel with my daughter’s main squeeze. His eager looks quickly change to those of resignation and contentment and I win by two mussels and a razor clam. Life is sweet. Peace.

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London Moments

19 Aug

Most cities, not least London, can appear hostile at first,  merely places of exchange where goods and services are traded. As in London since the Roman establishment of AD42, people are thrown together into tangles of population. Certainly, cities can be impersonal and the visitor can be forgiven for thinking that they’re unfriendly, noisy, dirty, etc. But it’s best to slow down, get almost lost walking and just take a longer look at things.

I did just that the other day in my beloved Soho. I get my lunch there a few times a week at Pizza Malletti in Noel Street, run by Antonio from Napoli who serves pizza al taglio in the Roman style—thin pizza cut up into rectangles for quite an interesting clientele, given that north Soho is dominated by the music and film industry, I even used to see an emaciated but beautiful Amy Winehouse at the corner. However, most of the patrons are in a rush and take away back to their offices after having queued up for up to fifteen minutes to be served. I always eat inside at the counter built onto the opposite wall to the food and brush up my Italian by listening to the staff conversing and putting the world, or at least English football, to right.

Having parked to walk up to Malletti, I wandered up through Berwick Street market, showing out to the few guys still working there whom I’ve known since when I used to work in neighbouring Rupert Street market every Saturday to supplement my apprentice’s wages from 1968 to 1973. Rupert Street market is alas no more and Berwick is a shadow of its noisy past. Few shout out their wares these days, they look a bit demoralised by the harder times precipitated by the arrival of Marks and Spencer’s food department up at the Pantheon branch in Oxford Street. Years ago, it was dominated by fruit, vegetables, flowers, fabrics and clothing. Up at the top, outside the Chinese-run fish and chip shop was a London Jewish guy who sold ladies’ underwear and looked like a white Sammy Davis Junior replete with a broken nose and black leather trilby. Most Saturdays I went to the fish and chip shop to buy our lunch to take back to the fruit stall and it’s there that I discovered my favourite fish, skate.

One Saturday, a woman was stood at the underwear stall browsing and unsure of what to buy. The dilemma was solved by the stall holder asking her, “What size are your Bristols, sweetheart?” (Bristols: London rhyming slang for Women’s breasts—Bristol City {mediocre football club}, you get the rest?). Unsure, the woman lifted her arms and was measured by him and another sale was registered. I quickly passed on back to Rupert Street, at the age of sixteen envying London’s Sammy Davis and his job.

These days I walk through Berwick Street, looking for the ghosts of the old faces, imagining I can hear them shouting and of course pause briefly by where London’s Sammy stood. I even still try to nail the exact spot where the photo was taken for the front cover of the Oasis album, (What’s The Story) Morning Glory.  I passed by the Blue Posts pub which takes its name from the blue posts that marked out the boundaries when Soho was a hunting ground—Soho was a hunting call.

And then I saw him.

“Style is an expression of individualism mixed with charisma. Fashion is something that comes after style”
John Fairchild

Not Sammy, but a cool guy and artist I see around a lot called George Skeggs, I’m informed by my good friend Colin Staplehurst of Passport To Pimlico Radio Show fame, in his seventies but he’s a cool dude, still got it in the style stakes. There he was, decked in a black flat topped wide brimmed hat, grey overcoat with blue button-holed flower, and black and white correspondent’s shoes briefly fashionable in the early 1970s. Most people failed to notice him out of the tumult, but his shoes and hat caught my eye. To my surprise, he’d focused on my 1960s Tootal yellow  paisley scarf, and for that moment we checked each other out, a sartorial signing-in. There was a knowing look to say “we understand each other”. And just as quickly, the moment was gone as we both passed by and on to another Soho scene yet to be staged. But that day, that instant was a London moment. And that’s why I love all cities but London most of all.

Midnight Blue

18 Aug

Since the Millenium around 2001, the River Thames has acquired a plethora of blue lights along its waterfronts north and south. It doesn’t seem to have been an orchestrated exercise, which makes its growth even more interesting.

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I popped down to the Southbank around 0200 the other evening and caught these babies. Peace.

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County Hall, once the home of London democracy, now boasting galleries, hotels and an aquarium.

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The Shell Centre, a prime example of the Modernist architecture that sprang up along here at the same time as the Royal Festival Hall in the early 1950s.

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