Category Archives: London

Dear, damn’d distracting town, farewell!

Early Georgian town gossip and scandal!

Opening stanza of Alexander Pope’s Farewell to London:

Dear, damn’d distracting town, farewell!
Thy fools no more I’ll tease:
This year in peace, ye critics, dwell,
Ye harlots, sleep at ease!

What gets lost there is the annex to the title, In the Year 1715. As Bonamy Dobrée‘s appendix VI:Individual Authors (see p664) adds (not published till 1775).

In that previous post I used Dunbar for two main reasons:

  • to avoid the most obvious, Wordsworth — because the image was way down river from Westminster Bridge, and that would be so obvious a reference;
  • I like Dunbar, and feel he deserves a run in the sun.

Pope’s little ditty is more of a problem: it is stuffed with references. Some of the edits are easier than others. Take the second stanza:

Soft B– and rough C[ragg]s adieu,
Earl Warwick made your moan,
The lively H[inchenbrook] and you
May knock up whores alone.

OK, I’ve got James Craggs, who has an entry in wikipedia. Lord Warwick was Edward Rich, 7th Earl of Warwick, who seems to have been a bit of a lad. The Viscount Hinchenbrooke was Edward Montague, heir to the Sandwich title. But B__ defeats me: presumably a pun to go with ‘soft’, and contrast with ‘rough crag’. It would be nice were that a misprint for H__, which would lead us to Trevor Hill, member both of parliament (for Hillsborough, and — yes — same place as that in County Down) and of the notorious Duke of Wharton’s Club.

The fifth stanza amused me:

Lintot, farewell! thy bard must go;
Farewell, unhappy Tonson!
Heaven gives thee for thy loss of Rowe,
Lean Philips, and fat Johnson.

Bernard Lintot and Jacob Tonson were rival London printers, both of whom published Pope. Nicholas Rowe had a prodigious output of plays, and was an early editor of Shakespeare: by the time of Pope’s verse, he was very much a courtier, and therefore distracted from providing material to the printers. The poet John Philips had died in 1709, and his works published posthumously in 1712, or — more likely — that could be Ambrose Philips, who was closely associated with Tonson, but was a butt of Pope’s mockery. But ‘fat Johnson’ isn’t the obvious: Samuel (born 1709) was barely breached at the time of Pope writing. Yet, in that stanza we have a neat echo of Alan Bennett’s Mrs Dorothy Lintott, as in The History Boys, and her gems such as:

History is a commentary on the various and continuing incapabilities of men. What is history? History is women following behind with the bucket.

Is Pope’s Farewell a fitting tribute to literary London? There are more heroic, but it works for me.

Adieu to all but Gay alone,
Whose soul sincere and free,
Loves all mankind, but flatters none,
And so may starve with me.

John Gay was a follower of Pope, and at this moment was losing his royal patronage (solicited by Jonathan Swift) on the death of Queen Anne. He survived on his wits — his work was admired by James Craggs (see above), for example, who presented him with South Sea stock, and encouraged Gay to invest heavily, just as the whole South Sea Bubble burst, leaving Gay destitute. Out of which would come The Beggar’s Opera.

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Filed under Alan Bennett, History, human waste, Literature, London, Theatre

London, thou art the flour of Cities all

The National Police Air Service put up a tweet last evening:

Good evening all. Saw this earlier and it made me smile. I hope it provides someone with the same warm feeling in these uneasy times. Thank you to all those key workers, friends and family for all you do.

This was the image (and you may well never see the air so clear over Bugsby’s Reach):

I came late to the Scots makars. Those who come late to love, fall hardest.

In 1501 William Dunbar came to London, in the train of Bishop Andrew Forman. Forman was a very political prelate, and his mission was to solicit the marriage of Henry VII’s daughter, Margaret, with James IV of Scotland. That must have been a ticklish business: the Scottish court had entertained Perkin Warbeck in 1495-1497, and Henry Tudor recognised a pretext for war when he saw one — James IV was a moderniser, and had been busy equipping his army and building a navy. In fact, the predictable war came to nothing more than a conventional border raid.

Anyway, Dunbar was required to sing for his supper, and smooch his hosts:

London, thou art of townes A per se.
  Soveraign of cities, seemliest in sight,
Of high renoun, riches and royaltie;
  Of lordis, barons, and many a goodly knyght;
  Of most delectable lusty ladies bright;
Of famous prelatis, in habitis clericall;
  Of merchauntis full of substaunce and of myght:
London, thou art the flour of Cities all.

And six further stanzas in the same vein.

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Filed under air travel., History, Literature, London, Scotland

Lighting-up time

Today the weather changed.

We’ve had days of bright, blue skies — none too warm, but tempting many to break the social distancing and venture out.  Tuesday has been solid overcast and gloom. This evening, for the first time in a while, York had a dampening drizzle. Tomorrow, we are assured, it will be more insistent rain.

Meanwhile, there some kind of escapism in the reading coming my way. The daily LRB ‘Diverted traffic’ — a pick from the archives — was Katherine Rundell on ‘Night climbing’:

A while ago I climbed up the side of Battersea Power Station, up the great smoke stacks, to look at the world as it lay below. It’s the largest brick building in Europe, and I wanted to see it before it disappeared.

Rather you than me, love: my acrophobia sets in atop a small kitchen ladder. But each one to her, or his bent. Still, good to know that:

Giles Gilbert Scott believed in thoroughgoing industrial beauty. We found as we explored that the insides of the four great smoke stacks are lined with green-grey iridescent ceramic tiles. I’ve seen few things as beautiful; you could build a wall in them and outdo a king. Scott must have known that almost nobody would ever see them, but their presence is a bold and lovely fact. There are, too, flourishes built onto the walls, constellations of bricks like the work on the side of a cathedral, up near the top and too high to be seen from the ground. It’s this, the hidden life of buildings, that makes climbing seem a reasonable wager, to bet your safety against the promise of beauty.


There’s a different type of escapism, another ‘high’, in the On London blog: Jack Brown does a piece, I want to be lit up in London again.

Don’t we all?

Brown starts very much better than he develops, but in that beginning is its very purpose:

I’ve got a new favourite song. It’s called I’m Gonna Get Lit Up When The Lights Go Up In London, and it dates from 1940. It’s about the London-wide street party that the song’s writer, the illustrious Hubert Gregg, was anticipating at the end of the Second World War and his intention to celebrate by getting so “lit up”, so “pickled”, so “canned” and so “stinking” that he would barely remember a thing.

GibbonsThe version that I recall, originally from a well-scratched 78rpm on a wind-up player, was Carrol Gibbons.

I’m not sure Jack Brown has the complete story.

The impeccable Hubert Gregg

Hubert Gregg had an early career as a radio announcer. That, and his enunciation, went with regular work as a straight thesp, including The Old Vic. In 1937, though, he was on Broadway, with in Terence Rattigan’s French Without Tears.

Unlike some, come the Second Unpleasantness, he was back ‘to do his bit’, as a private in the Lincolnshires. The Army needed to exploit his talents: he was plucked from the ranks, given the swift wipe-over War-time Officer Training, and commissioned in  the 60th Rifles — an odd regiment, originally recruited in British North America as the Royal American Regiment. But Gregg wasn’t long for that: next stop the Political Warfare Executive and broadcasting to Germany.

Some how in all that, he turned to song-writing:

His first published song, I’m Going To Get Lit Up When The Lights Go Up In London, written in 1940, and initially performed by Gregg in an army concert, was incorporated into the 1943 George Black show Strike A New Note, and sung by his first wife, Zoe Gail. To begin with, it aroused considerable criticism, not least in the Commons. Churchill replied characteristically that “we shall celebrate in a manner befitting”; the tune came to be broadcast in 1944 as a radio signal to the resistance that D-Day was imminent.

The song may even have been banned in Australia. Where ‘getting lit up’ isn’t just a problem for large areas of the bush.

Gregg, post-War, was a regular feature in supporting roles in film (he was Disney’s Prince John against Richard Todd’s Robin Hood in 1952), TV and — above all else, Friday night on the BBC Light Programme. That last ran up to his death in 2004.

Can’t but muse: that song looks fit to have a new relevance, a surprise renaissance.



Filed under History, London, Music, Uncategorized, World War 2

Good golly, Miss Molly!

Little Richard, and this must be when music videos went OTT:

This short (I hope) post is about recognition. And, I’d guess, while three generations would instantly recognise “Little Richard”, the recognition factor for Richard Wayne Penniman would be closer to zilch.

The mouth of first resort

On a number of occasions over the years I’ve wondered how “famous” sayings are invariably — and erroneously — attached to a very small number of individuals. WS Churchill being too often a prime suspect.

Sure enough, post #167 of a thread, we were given:

A famous man once said that wogs begin at Calais.

The “famous man” would be — but, of course — Churchill. I keep coming across assertions that Churchill made the remark, or — more credibly

The phrase originated when a Member of Parliament in 1945 stood up and accused Winston Churchill of believing that “Wogs start in Calais” i.e. of being europhobic and isolationist.

So far, the nearest precise citation I can find is George Wigg (later Harold Wilson’s wingman, and one of the prime movers in getting the Profumo scandal on the record) in a Commons Debate, 29th July 1949.

Here he is putting the unreconstructed David Gammans, the unreconstructed Tory MP for Hornsey, back into his box:

I recently had the opportunity of talking to some Burmese gentlemen, and one of the things they said was that they never realised until they came here and met ordinary people, what the British people were like. They thought they were all haughty and arrogant. The hon. Gentleman and his Friends think they are all “wogs.” Indeed, the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) thinks that the “wogs” start at Calais. If one views people like the hon. Gentleman from the angle of a private soldier, one realises that to them there are black “wogs” and white “wogs.” The attitude of hon. Members opposite to the black chap is not much different from the attitude of some of them towards the private soldier, and that is why the Forces have a great sympathy with the native peoples.

Further proof, should one need it, never to take a book by its cover.

Now to decode:

Tutti frutti, aw rutti
Awop bop a loo mop atop bom bom.

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Filed under Harold Wilson, History, London, Music, Muswell Hill, nationalism,, Quotations

Friday, 15th September, 2017

And so to the processes of catching up ….

Business of the day:

From edgy Crouch End to Euston, via the Victoria Line out of Finsbury Park.

Locate a ticket machine, and cough for two fares to infamous Luton Airport, via East Midland trains. Note that the expression “Luton Airport” is as abusive as it gets (compare “Belgium” in H2G2), and must be uttered in the diction of Lorraine Chase:

Arrive with about half-an-hour in hand at the airport. Miraculously, a fast check-in through Security. Then easyJet, barely late by their usual standards, to Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg Airport (which must qualify as the most wordy title going).

By all appearances, the bloke in the row before us has bought all three seats. And needs them. Kids kicking back of my seat all the way from Spain last trip, and now this?

At destination (why are continentals generally so much much efficient at passport-control than the Brits? — no, don’t answer that!), a rapid departure by the proper Swiss exit to the #50 bus, having conquered the multi-language ticket machine for two-zone pre-paid tickets.

That strange road, the Route Douanière, which is “Swiss”, going though France, until it arrives at an anonymous mini-roundabout, morphs itself into Flughafenstrasse, to percolate through the northern suburbs to Basel SBB, the French-Swiss railway terminal (of which more in later posts, perchance).

A #11 tram (and I adore trams) in tasteful mustard to Johanniterbrücke. This would not be any great distance, were it not for a major re-routing to relay tracks. Hence an exploration of the other side of the Rhine and crossing two bridges.

And so we are arrived.

Dining experience of the day

All that meant we had gone from sparrow’s morning fart to late afternoon without eating, sustained only by the last Guardian for some days.

Those same tram tickets allowed us to retreat to the centre of an unknown town. At this stage we had hardly come to terms with Swiss francs (though all the credit-card transactions came in around “Swissie” — note how I adapted to ex-pat usages —  1:30 to the £, which was better than expected).

So to Bierstube zum Stadtkeller on Marktgasse, for a decent snaffle and (frighteningly-costly) bottle of something red.

And so to bed

In a bedroom overlooking the Rhine, with four grandchildren and two hairy dogs ruffling around the joint, and with the river cruisers moored just downstream.

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Filed under advertising., Guardian, leisure travel, London

Sunday, 10th September, 2017

Business of the day:

Home, James! And don’t spare the InterCity 125!

But first, breakfast at Monkeynuts. Because that’s what we do on such occasions. The breakfast plate (not the veggie option, thank you!) and two mugs of latte.

Then the 91 down to King’s Cross. Since it’s Sunday morning, that’s a whizz all the way.

Hang around for Virgin East Coast to flag up the platform number. A scamble through to platform 3. It’s the Inverness train, so it’s a diesel 125, not the electric jobs. On the other hand, it’s first stop York, and nominally a shade off two hours. Plus those refurbished Mark 3 coaches are still as good as it comes (the Mark 4s seem to have more cramped seating and less leg-room).

There’s a bit of hanging around in the north midlands, but else it’s Warp Speed, and we arrive almost on time — and that’s not the norm for a weekend service.

The York Citaro bendy-bus from the station to the top of our road: barely a hundred yards and we’re in the house.

And that’s it.

Carte du jour:

As above for Monkeynuts.

Tea from our own pot. The daughter and grand-sons paid an overnight visit and left milk in the fridge. But also, we find, clothes in the washing-machine.

The lightest of evening meals.

Beers of the day:

Give it a rest! Tea and Adam’s Ale (with orange cordial).

Quotes of the day:

Almost anything from Andrew Rawnsley’s Observer column, but his last bit seems portentous:

It is one of the paradoxes of minority governments that they can be both acutely vulnerable and remarkably durable. They are easy to wound, but much harder to kill. This could be a long fight.

Those of us who lived thought the examples Rawnsley cites (Callaghan’s long years’ journeys into the Thatcherite night, and the dark extended tea-time of John Major’s soul-less trek) would recognise that. This time, though, it could be even worse.

Rawnsley must be read alongside the opposite, editorial page. The two go together like stewed rhubarb and custard:

Britain has a Tory problem and, as the clock ticks, it is growing critical. The irresponsible behaviour of many Conservatives at this fraught juncture in the country’s affairs is nothing less than a national disgrace. How can May and her senior colleagues hope to negotiate an orderly exit from the EU when, leaking and briefing against each other, they cannot agree on handling even the most basic issues? How dare David Davis, the Brexit minister, repeatedly try to mislead parliament and the public with his patronising, faux-cheery accounts of the Brussels negotiations, claiming falsely that useful progress is being made? Such breathtaking disingenuousness echoes last year’s mendacious Leave campaign. It is equally objectionable.

By what twisted reasoning do Liam Fox, Jacob Rees-Mogg and fellow hard-Brexit Tories claim a mandate for foisting their extremist minority views on the majority of voters? Whether or not they backed Brexit 15 months ago, most people rightly fear a 2019 cliff-edge meltdown damaging livelihoods, incomes and their children’s and grand-children’s futures. Fox, minister for trade deals sans trade deals, embarrassed Britain, his hosts and himself during a recent visit to Japan by accusing the EU commission of blackmail. It was an ill-judged jibe that said more about the chaos characterising the government’s ineffectual stance than it did about Brussels.

Grief! We live in benighted, squalid, little country!

Ear-worm of the day:

In the RV1 bus last evening, coming back over Waterloo Bridge, with a bright sun lowering up the river. Trum-twiddle-trum-twiddle-trum-trum:

What else?


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Filed under Andrew Rawnsley, Kinks, London, Observer, politics, travel

Saturday, 9th September, 2017

Business of the day:

To the National Theatre for Follies.

We bought tickets at the announcement, just as the pre-production hype was building, mainly on the assumption that:

  • when the National do a musical,
  • when the cast is so stellar,
  • when it’s Sondheim —

— this one is going off the scale. And, counting the star-ratings given by the critics, it’s doing just that.

So, it’s the w7 to Muswell Hill, and the 43 down (in theory) to London Bridge, with a gentle amble along Thames-side, a light lunch somewhere, and arrive at the Olivier in good time. The best laid schemes …

All was going well until we hit a major snarl-up at Bank. Like that opening voice-over in Casablanca, “the others wait… and wait… and wait… and wait”. It stayed that way until the bus-driver relented, and allowed semi-legal escape by creeping along the wrong side of the pedestrian barrier. We are only at the bottom end of Moorgate. There are several options to get to the South Bank site, but here’s an opportunity to do something I’ve probably done at most a couple of times in living in London for over forty years: take the City Drain. Come to think of it, I’d reckon the last trip must have been on the 1940 rolling stock.

The Drain is something of an anomaly. It exists simply to bring the commuters from south-west London, off the Waterloo trains, across the river to the City, a distance of less than 1½ miles —something like four minutes end-to-end on a shuttle service. No intermediate stops. No possible extensions north, south, east or west. It simply exists.

So that’s the way we went.

The South Bank is redolent with snackeries, but we ended up inside the National: lattes and sandwiches. Haute cuisine, this is not.

Then to the wonder of real live theatre. Over two hours of it: no interval. And Follies enthrals. The context is a final meeting, in 1971, of the individuals who had inhabited this theatre and Weismann’s Follies between the First and Second Wars, for the theatre is to be demolished. The plot (as far as there is one), in essence, is a four-hander: two mis-matched couples retracing their lives and loves over thirty years. Lots of angst. And, at the end, the resolution is the same as before: the two couples continue to their previous lives, presumably a bit more aware of who and what they are. The twist is that Sondheim has each of them followed by a shadow of who they had been in 1941 (this production adds a shadow to each one of the cast).

Indeed this leads us to the great conundrum of the National’s revival of Follies:

Tracie Bennett, Janie Dee and Imelda Staunton play the magnificent Follies in this dazzling new production. Featuring a cast of 37 and an orchestra of 21, it’s directed by Dominic Cooke …

Extravagant staging. Big budget stuff. Yet the show is scheduled for barely eight dozen performances in total. On the other hand, there will be one of those National Theatre Live broadcasts.

If getting to the National had been fraught, getting back to Norf Bleeding’ Lunnun was as difficult.

We grabbed the RV1 hydrogen bus from the National to Covent Garden. So far, so very good. Then came the worst idea going: switch to a 4 to Archway. This route has to be one of London’s more circuitous. Saturday afternoon and Arsenal Stadium make it very heavy going. The result was the better part of two hours gone from my life forever.

Having arrived at Highgate Hill, it might seem logical to take a 210 up to Highgate Village …

Carte du jour:

There are many nosheries in the Village. So we eliminated the pub steak-houses (two previous nights’ running was enough of that). The best pizza-and-pasta joint could provide for us, but only if we were in-and-out in the hour. So we ended up in the Café Rouge, which was amazingly empty. Presumably because all the other trough-eterias were heaving.

Beers of the day:

Café Rouge supplied an adequate Merlot, then back (down the Hill and the W5 back to the Maynard) for another taste of that ELB Jubilee. I must have been getting an addiction.

Quotes of the day:

The show-stopper of Follies:

Imelda Staunton (as Sally) winding herself up:

The sun comes up,
I think about you.
The coffee cup,
I think about you.
I want you so,
It’s like I’m losing my mind.

What amounts to the punch-line of Follies (and this seems an addition to the play-script):

Philip Quast (as Ben Stone): You’re really something else!
Janie Dee (as Phyllis Stone): Bet your ass!

Readings of the day:

Somehow, I never got into the fat Saturday papers.

My reading of the day was the programme for Follies. Yes, I bought the play-script, but have done little more than dip into it.

Ear-worm of the day:

Part paradox, part because these “behind-the-scenes” musicals have a degree of parallelism:

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Filed under London, Theatre, travel