Follow by Email

Wednesday, 29 July 2015


July 27th held a nostalgic frisson for many BBTGs. Three years ago Danny Boyle’s diorama of all things British upped the ante for Olympic Opening Ceremonies. Rio, on the other side of the equator, now has one year to go.

At this time of year the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is looking its best, with the gardens timed to bloom for the end of July/early August to coincide with the 27/7/12.  The Park itself is a success, the major venues busy with both elite and local sport, and homes, offices and retail covering the last of the spaces once reserved for corporate pavilions. The arrival of Olympicopolis with Sadlers Wells, the V&A and the Smythsonian on the old Water Polo site will further boost footfall and cultural cred. Mind as well as body, as it says on the Olympic label. The only underachiever seems to be the Orbit, so expect to see entrances fees come hurdy-gurding down – and the addition to the structure of a physical slide.

For all this we BBTGs can take a bow, as our presence with walks and coach tours from 2008 helped solidify pre-Games interest.

Surrounding the Park, the seven Olympic boroughs are now four years into a 20 year programme to harmonise with the rest of London in terms of giving ‘life chances’ to residents. Newham at the heart of it all has long been notorious for importing poverty and exporting wealth; as soon as locals get on, they get out. But recent surveys are indicating that this may be slowing down; (Manor Park and Forest Hill to the north of the borough have the highest house price inflation in London). Is the slow down just due to more affluent people moving into the borough, or to long standing locals enjoying improved living conditions? The figures are inconclusive.

Will it be worth flying down to Rio? Rio’s core Olympic area, Barra da Tijuca, is under a forest of swinging cranes. The rowing lake at Rodrigo de Freitas is now getting its spectator seating.  The Opening Ceremony will be 5/8/16. Rio will have 45,000 volunteers, 15,000 athletes and Mayor Eduardo Paes is using the 31st Olympiad to supercharge Rio’s development.  Unlike the World Cup stadia, many Olympic venues are being built by private businesses which will sell and operate the venues after the Games. This may help explain the budget of £7.9bn, slightly lower than London’s £9.3bn.

Local residents are ambivalent. In the Vila Autodromo many have taken compensation and the offer of re-housing and departed, but cynics say developers will use this area adjacent to the Barra for high value private residences post Games. Golf is back at the Olympics, and a new course is being built – rather than use one of the city’s two existing courses. The environmentally sensitive Marapendi reserve, home to rare butterflies and pines found nowhere else in the world, is being reshaped. The developers claim they are only using land already degraded by illegal sand mining.

The city is expecting 500,000 extra visitors during the Games and extra police drafted in, having been given English and Spanish lessons. Former middle distance Olympian Abberto Guimaraes, Rio’s Seb Coe, says Brazil doesn’t have the formality of the UK or the culture and history of China, so ROCOG plans to add fun and spectacle during breaks in competitions. Infrastructure projects, the redevelopment of the port area and the boost in property prices are all a turning point for Rio. Without the Games, says Abberto, it would have taken 30 years.

Sunday, 12 April 2015


There’s a Turkish saying that one disaster is better than 1,000 pieces of advice. Whatever myths created about it in the last 100 years, Gallipoli was a disaster. The Turks won. Gallipoli was the British Empire and France trying to knock Germany’s ally Turkey out of World War One, thereby reducing the pressure on the Allies’ eastern front. As the historians say, “Gallipoli was launched almost casually, into a void, and was doomed to fail.”

There was little planning and the troops used were inexperienced. Part of the soldiers’ training was ‘how to recognize when a Turkish soldier surrenders.’ The initial assault was timed to take place between the setting of the brilliant moon at 2.56am and the arrival of sunrise – i.e. a window of just one and a half hours to get thousands ashore, but it took a full 40 minutes just to get the heavily laden soldiers into the rowboats.  The Allies thought they would be facing heavy odds, and the first troops ashore reported encountering ferocious gunfire, but often the gunfire was Allied. The sparse numbers of Turkish defenders had to hold out for 24 hours before reinforcements could arrive. And although the Aussies and Kiwis remember Gallipoli with a special reverence, we shouldn’t forget that of the half a million British Empire forces involved, the vast majority were British/Irish with significant contributions from the Indian Army, and the Gurkhas who in one deadly night attack drove the Turkish frontline back 500 yards. Nor should we overlook the 79,000 French.

Yet the significance for the ANZACs is undeniable. The eight months of brutal fighting gave the ANZAC forces a powerful sense of comradeship, a growing sense of military competence and ultimately their first real sense of nationhood. By the end of the Great War, the ‘colonials’ were appreciated as battle-hardened shock troops.

Without the lessons of Gallipoli there would have been no D-Day. D-Day saw two hundred thousand troops put ashore, in the right place, in the right formations, unlike Gallipoli, with immediate artillery support. Unlike Gallipoli D-Day quickly created a formidable beachhead with plenty of force to create an effective new Front. So yes, Gallipoli helped save the planet.

Wearing of sprigs of rosemary is part of Gallipoli remembrance; rosemary is the traditional symbol of remembrance and grows wild on the Gallipoli cliffs.

8th August 1915 saw the bitterest Australian fighting at Gallipoli for the Lone Pine ridge with seven Aussie VCs being awarded. 8th August 1918 saw the Australians triumph on the western Front at the battle of Amiens.

Kebabs originated as skewers of lamb barbecued on the bayonets of Turkish soldiers.

ATTEND the march-past at the Cenotaph at 11.00 Saturday 25th April.
SEE The Russell Crowe action melodrama The Water Diviner
WATCH The Gurkhas march down the Mall 30th April at 2.30
VISIT Imperial War Museum for their Gallipoli collection
JOIN a guided Gallipoli 100 walking tour – visiting the central London the war memorials. Led by Blue Badge tour guide (kiwi) Simon Rodway 25th April - meet 2.00 Green Park tube park-side exit.

Lest We Forget

Friday, 26 September 2014

The killing machine

The inventor and his baby
Hiram S. Maxim arrived in Britain from Maine in the 1880s to run the London office of the US Electric Lighting Company. He eventually became a naturalized British citizen, being knighted by his chum King Edward VII. He was an inveterate inventor – claiming responsibility for the light-bulb – but also amusement rides, hair curlers and even a mousetrap. He remembered as a child being knocked over by the recoil of a rifle. Later in life he encountered an old friend in Vienna who advised him if he really wanted to make big money he should invent something that enabled Europeans to cut each other’s throats with greater facility. His Maxim gun, invented in a workshop in Hatton Garden, was the first rapid fire weapon to operate on the energy of its own recoil. Rapid fire weapons had hitherto used a crank system. Maxim also worked on his gun in the garden of his home in West Norwood, South London, where he would thoughtfully run newspaper advertisements warning his neighbours whenever he intended to trial the weapon. He went into business with Edward Vickers a Sheffield steel magnate and his weapon became the basis for the successful armaments company Vickers Limited.
Hiram at rest in West Norwood Cemetery

In the 1890s the Maxim gun was used to lethal effectiveness by the British Army in numerable colonial wars where native forces were encouraged to mount conventional mass attacks to be knocked down in their thousands by Hiram’s nifty invention, memorably at the Battle of Omdurman in 1898 when Kitchener conquered the Sudan. As the poet Hilaire Belloc observed, ‘Whatever happens, we have got/ 
The Maxim gun, and they have not. ‘

Winston, the young warlord in training at Omdurman

Other European powers were attracted to the weapon and it eventually in various adaptions – the pom-pom gun and the Vickers machine gun – was deployed by the imperial powers against each other on the battlefields of WWI.

The Machine Gun Corps memorial at Hyde Park Corner, features two actual Vickers/Maxim guns, bronzed.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

London's W14 - a Land of Hope And Glory?

The theme to Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March No 1 became Britain's unofficial national anthem during World War One, especially on Armistice Day in 1918 when the crowds in Trafalgar Square heartily embraced it. An Eton schoolmaster A C Benson had written the words to the tune, after Cecil Rhodes' will had requested an anthem be created for the British Empire. Edward Elgar lived in West London during an exciting but trying time in his career. Edward was in his early thirties and struggling to gain recognition as a self-taught classical composer. He had recently married a former piano pupil Alice Roberts, eight years his senior. Alice’s family had disinherited her, considering she had married beneath her, Edward being the son of a provincial sheet music seller from Worcester while Alice’s family were upper class Indian Army. Alice, therefore set her life’s work as proving her family wrong. She became Edward’s publicist, manager and copyist. Avonmore Road is where their only child, daughter Cerise was born. Edward had to wait well into his forties before recognition came with his Enigma Variations. He was knighted by King Edward VII and appointed OM (Order of Merit) by King George V. So Alice eventually became LADY Elgar! Today Land of Hope and Glory marks the end of Last Night of The Proms.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Stars of the South

I'm new to South London and the other day took my first trip south on the 432 bus to Anerley from Tulse Hill, through Gipsy Hill - where REAL gipsies hung out in the 18th century - to Crystal Palace Park. The reconstructed Crystal Palace from 1854 was destroyed in a fire in 1936 but the massive terraces and the equally massive rail station survive, testifying to the huge draw of the place in the late Victorian period. Surviving also are the dinosaurs, as the world's first dinosaur models, unveiled in 1854 and representing the latest thinking of dinosaur expert Sir Richard Owen in regard to shape and colour.
Later discoveries may have rendered Owen's theories extinct in their turn, but they have survived the neglect and the weeds and have been restored as Grade I listed monuments and now wait to take their place in the planned reconstruction of Paxton's original park and palace. True stars of the South.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

A private Guard Change, anyone?

A Blue Badge colleague was leading a private tour for a family, and included the morning's Guard Change. Aghast at the crowds the mum asked, "Do we really have to stand with all those people over there?" "Yes, " replied the Guide, "I'm afraid so." The mum answered, "So we paid for a private tour and have to stand with everyone else!" What do you think the cost of putting on a private Guard Change might be? Blocking off the traffic + mounted police + flying the Royal Standard + Guards = a million quid?

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.