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Sunday, 24 July 2011

Herod Plays Rugger

The joys of touring Twickenham. Once a year, as they have done so since 1946, the Jehovah's Witnesses turn up at the stadium for their annual rally, and yesterday was their dress rehearsal. Part of the show are re-enactments of Bible stories and playlets on the moral dilemmas of modern relationships. Anyway, here's Herod at Twickenham stadium. Our tour came out of the England changing rooms smack into Moses with shepherdesses sitting in the Sin Bins. On another note, it's good to see that rugby is returning to the Olympics. Twickenham in 2012 may host the London leg of the HSBC Sevens World Series, put back to August to coincide with the Games at Stratford. Britain as host nation has the privilege of nominating new sports for the Games. We've asked for rugby to be an Olympic Sport, for the first time since 1924 when a bad tempered match in Paris between France and the USA ended with a pitch invasion by irate Frenchmen, causing the IOC to boot the game into touch for the next 92 years.  So rugby is back on the agenda for Rio in 2016, as Sevens and for men and women. In many real ways rugby fits the Olympic ideal better than many sports - citius, altius, fortius - 'faster, higher, stronger'. So here's a good pub quizz question - Q: Who are the current holders of the Olympic Gold medal for Rugby? A: the States. TeamUSA hammered France 17 - 3.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Hue and Cry. Trafalgar Square. 17th February 2011

I was involved in a 'Hue and Cry' this Thursday afternoon at Trafalgar Square. (A Hue and Cry is a mob in hot pursuit of an individual.)

My Sherlock Holmes walking tour had ended at the Sherlock Holmes pub below Trafalgar Square where I left my student group, then I headed home up Northumberland Street for the No 9 bus. 

Tearing down the street towards me comes this terrified young guy with blood streaming out of his nose and after him at least two dozen other young guys. The pursuers are laughing.

I put my best defensive rugby right shoulder to the fore and hunker in against the trunk of a street tree in a street which is suddenly full of violent young men who aren't interested in me or any other pedestrian, but only in each other.

Bringing up the rear are three red-faced MET Community police with radios to the fore and already you can hear the sirens approaching.

Once the tsunami has passed I head up the street to Trafalgar Square where there are crocodiles of amiable German football fans wandering along. 

So random. So London.

Later, at home the tutor of my student group calls me to say that no sooner had they got into the Sherlock Holmes pub than there was a stabbing outside and one of the bar staff had his bicycle stolen. The students thought this was a suitably dramatic end to a walking tour about Sherlock Holmes.

There were 19 arrests and three stab victims. No one was killed.

Now it seems the fighters were teenage gangs of London Kosovans squaring up to each other on Facebook, and choosing Trafalgar Square as their battle zone probably because it's high profile. Afterwards they would boast about it on FB.

The thing about Facebook is it's here to stay, it's good and it's bad and we have to find a way to live with it.

Sunday, 13 February 2011


It's fair to say we BBTGs have a unique position in regard to the Games. Not only are we party to the latest info and analysis, but we also earn a living explaining the world's largest sporting jamboree to every type of person. This includes telling British school kids about the Olympics, as on the whole they don't seem that well informed, and getting kids into sport is one of the key reasons London won the Games in the first place.

In 2010 Blue Badge Tourist Guides led 220 visits from colleges and schools to the 2012 Games site and nearby Olympic venues. During summer we guided, we reckon, over 1000 visitors and tourists A DAY around East London’s 2012 sites.

Here's a jolly photo of yours truly and a very well informed Surrey Hills School, in Marshgate Lane Stratford, getting well into the Olympic spirit.

530 days to go!

Research engine dies?

Ouch! The Council in Hammersmith are shutting down - correction, 'slightly mothballing' - our borough archives. Jane and Anne our two archivists are being made redundant. Our borough is odd because our archives are located not in a central borough library but in a dedicated building which was a 'planning gain' when genius Scandi-Brit architect Ralph Erskine designed the iconic Ark in the 1990s as European headquarters for Seagrams. If the Archives stay open it will only be on demand and a fee payable.

Councillor Greg Smith Member for Resident Services sees the archives as a luxury used by too few to justify its continued existence:
What I would say, however, is that this is not a closure – it is a different way of providing access in the short term until a permanent and affordable solution can be found (likely to be a service provided across the three boroughs of Westminster City, Kensington & Chelsea and Hammersmith & Fulham).
Those three are some of London's smallest boroughs with Hammersmith & Fulham measuring one mile wide and five miles from the Grand Union Canal to the Thames. Councillor Smith envisages a small fee payable for someone to come in and open up. But I for one don't know where everything is and you can't just have anyone blundering around the strong room, which contains such treasures as the facsimile World War II bomb maps - the above showing bomb damage in the Brook Green area, the lighter the colour the lighter the damage - yellow indicating broken windows and loosened roof tiles, all the way up to black for obliteration. Note the two 1944 V1 rocket strikes on Blythe Road, just behind the Post Office Savings Bank building west of Olympia.

Losing Jane and Anne will mean goodbye to years of local expertise. The two of them have helped heighten the local knowledge of residents. In my experience giving residents unrestricted access to local records and treasures from the history of their localities, enriches their appreciation of their neighbourhoods, and helps maintain everything from consumer confidence in local economies to neighbourliness and enjoyment of life.

Greg Smith says an effort will be made to put some of the Borough's collection on display at Fulham Palace and Fulham Library.

So, we have until the month's end to make the most of Jane Kimber and Anne Wheeldon's encyclopaedic knowledge of a fascinating corner of West London. Get on down there everyone!

Friday, 3 September 2010

iPhone 4-How crap is this?

I used to work loads for a London chauffeur company.  Until 2008 that is, when the credit crunch made all those lovely American tourists fade away. The company dropped out of touring and went back to ferrying execs between the City and the airport. The very last job I did for them, I wasn't even that convinced the driver they gave me knew what Westminster Abbey was! 

So the seasons pass and I get the latest iPhone - for the emails, you understand! And there I am today in my basement room working through the final draft on a book about the 2012 Olympics, with my fellow co-author, Stan. I keep checking the iPhone and since 2.00pm 'No Service'. That's not just a pathetic signal, typical in this part of London where we are overshadowed by the bulk of the Olympia Exhibition Hall - I am suffering serious service shut-out! Anyway, we work on and then Stan's phone rings. Would you believe it, it's my chauffeur company calling Stan looking for a guide for an American family to go up to a Cambridgeshire US war grave. Stan of course takes the job. I'm thinking, why they call Stan? Stan's never heard of them. Why not me? 

Then, after he's left I take a good look at my phone's settings and it comes back to life. Guess what, troops, there is a voicemail from the chauffeur company asking me to call back urgently for the Cambridgeshire war grave job.

So this new phone has now officially lost me a day's work. I'd be majorly aggrieved had not the whole thing been so hilarious. The guy they call instead of me, is sitting in the room with me.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Two years to go to London 2012

Where has the time gone? It is two years to the 2012 London Games. I am PR Officer for the Blue Badge 2012 Committee - the Olympics committee for Britain's professional tourist guides. We set this up four years ago to help ensure we got a slice of the 2012 action. I'm not knocking volunteers, but if you want the big picture, you call in the pros! We have now taken thousands of visitors out to the Olympic Park and given them the past, present and future of what they're looking at. When you consider what was physically there on that site just four years ago, the difference is staggering.

Cara and Miles had a 2006 London A to Z street finder. I found myself one evening staring at it for hours. Wow, so much has gone! Out in hitherto unheard of East London - no! no! not 'Eastenders', wash your mouth out! - a new piece of London is being created, a parkland city crisscrossed by 19th century canals dotted about with iconic sports facilities. In 2006 it was still derelict shunting yards and hundreds of businesses from plastics to gas merchants, to smoked salmon to car parts. Then the compulsory purchase cheque book started doing the rounds. Everyone had to take a hike. Including a nuclear reactor that had been powering up fuel rods for the radiotherapy departments of local hospitals.

Everything has now been smashed up and recycled and now you are looking at the biggest construction site in Europe, a brown field hard-hat site that is now rapidly going green as the landscaping gets a grip. The test events start next summer. It all has to work. We can't afford another Heathrow Terminal 5.

London 2012 is a huge experiment. It has to prove to the world that the modern Olympics are affordable to stage anywhere on the planet, and that they inspire the little guy into a life of joy of effort made through sport. (Hey, I've joined a boot camp - but then I wasn't so little no more - arf arf).

And you know what? After everything I've learned about the modern Olympics, I keep coming back to the same question. Why has the modern Olympic movement never won the Nobel Peace Prize?

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Engineering rules!

Underground is where the dead people are so London’s subterranean railway has more than its fairshare of folk tales and urban myths.

I visited the London Transport Museum Depot last Friday, with other Blue Badge tourist guides. This visit helped debunk many urban myths about the tube.

No, there isn’t an automatic slow switch just outside Mansion House station, so trains have to brake reverentially for the Lord Mayor of London.

No, the reason they stopped guided visits to the abandoned Down Street station isn't because of the Down Street station ghost. It's because the last tour they organised, everyone duly signed the Health and Safety doc regarding physical ability to descend and climb dozens of stairs. At the last minute someone got themselves squeezed onto the list, who didn't sign, and who couldn't climb the stairs back to the surface; a passing tube train had to be hailed for ambulance duties.

No, the elegant Bethnal Green art deco platform clock won't be removed to the Museum, unless it gets vandalised – the preference is always to leave equipment ‘out there on the system’ wherever possible.

And no, there aren’t enough engineers coming through education these days – so there’s an initiative called TfLInspire, to encourage more kids to get out of media studies and into heavy engineering.

What more inspirational than the tantalising fragments of a 'spiral escalator', possibly from the 1920s - no-one knows! - found at the bottom of a lift-shaft at Holloway Road station.

The Museum Depot is the reserve collection for the Covent Garden Transport Museum. It is opposite Acton Town tube and is bookable for specialist guided tours. It is open weekly to school groups and has 2 – 3 Open Days a year. Check the website if you would like to ride one of the vintage tube trains which are occasionally sent out onto the system as a treat for the cognoscenti.

Some of whom must be the Volunteers - retired ticket masters, switch engineers and system designers, who just won’t let go, and donate their free time to restoration projects.

The Depot is packed with treats . Check out station paraphernalia from destinations you use every day in the modern city – how about the Victorian wrought iron entrance to High Street Kensington station. Where was that exactly?

As you approach the main entrance to the Museum, on the right of the drive way is cradled in a wooden frame a stretch of intricate wrought iron gates and railings, bearing City of London livery: how elegant London must have been in the 1930s!

It’s not all about tubes – buses and trams are well represented. One reason London trams died in 1956 was because they used the centre of the street – people got killed crossing the road to catch the tram.

By the way, the famous tube roundel wasn’t designed as such but rather evolved over the years, growing out of a bullseye device designed to draw the eye to the name of the station. Recently an Arsenal station tin sign sold for £10k at auction – the value is enhanced if the sign has actually been on the station.

If London has a corporate look, then here it is in Acton in the 1930s work of Frank Pick. The 2012 Games will of course sparkle up London’s attractiveness, but this city is increasingly being seen as a ‘mature destination’ – meaning London will need to work harder to sell itself in the years ahead, and a valuable part of the marketing should be the re-instatement across London of the Frank Pick ‘look’.

I had to leave early, leaving the tour of question-firing Blue Badge guides. So I was thwarted of my chance to have my favourite tube-myth debunked. That weird S bend you detect when travelling between South Ken and Knightsbridge. It doesn't feature on any of the Museum's maps of the true tube routes printed prior to 1933 when Harry Beck's famous systematic version arrived - I looked! Is it (as I was told as a gullible new comer to London in 1975), because of the need to avoid a Medieval plague pit?

So (peaked) hats off to Richard Bench, Depot Manager ‘I’m not a curator!’). The poor man must have been knackered sharing the afternoon with a troop of anecdote laden London Blue Badge tourist guides.

What a London treasure house the Museum Depot is!