Wednesday, 9 February 2011

You have more freedom than you know

What a brilliant picture! "You have more freedom than you know" in neon by Dan Attoe. I looked him up and he's a real artist, so why is this work glowing at passers-by from a window on Leather Lane?
I don't know, but it's been there for a while now. Each evening as I walk down to the tube the pink glow catches my eye and I smile.

Of course all art has a message, and that message is different for each viewer because of what we bring with us. Myself, after an initial smile, I found I was taking the caption of the work quite literally to heart. Like many people I read the newspapers and probably grumble if I see something about a freedom which seems to be curtailed in some way. Negative. So what is the positive? What am I not doing that I'm free to do? Plenty, the more I think about it the more I think I should get out and do stuff! Things I've always wanted to do but thought I couldn't. Actually there is nobody but me stopping me doing pretty much anything I want. Yeah!

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Sir Keith Park, Defender of London

sir keith park statue raf band and guard of honour
statue of sir keith park 1

Today is 15th September, Battle of Britain Day, and sees the unveiling of a new statue in London. It’s a memorial to Air Chief Marshall Sir Keith Park. In 1940, Park was the commander of No. 11 Group RAF which was responsible for the fighter defence of London and the South East of England. Although a senior commander he had a great “hands on” understanding of the tactics and issues faced by his Spitfire and Hurricane pilots. He kept in close touch with the front line aircrew by flying in to visit them at their airfields in his own personal Hurricane. His leadership and tactics were crucial in winning the Battle of Britain and he earned the nickname “Defender of London.”

Later, in 1942 he again played a crucial role in North Africa and the Mediterranean, including the air defence of Malta. From Malta his squadrons were able to take part in operations such as the invasion of Sicily.

Sir Keith Park was already a veteran of the First World War. A New Zealander, he joined the artillery on the outbreak of war and fought in the landings and trench warfare at Gallipoli, transferring to the British Army in 1915. He then fought at the Battle of the Somme in 1916 and having been wounded by a German shell he was certified unfit for military service. By the end of 1916 however he had recovered enough to join the Royal Flying Corps, going to France as a pilot in 1917 where over the next year or so he won the Military Cross (twice), Distinguished Flying Cross and Croix de Guerre. After the Armistice he stayed in the Royal Air Force (as the RFC had become in April 1918) and steadily rose to the position which saw him defending London in 1940.

The unveiling of his statue in London’s Waterloo Place today was attended by surviving NZ Battle of Britain pilots, many military and civilian officials. The whole show kicked off with a fly past by a Spitfire swooping low over Waterloo Place. A stirring site, and a fitting salute for this great man to whom we Londoners owe so much.statue of sir keith park distinguished guests

Next to me in the crowd stood a guy holding a New Zealand flag high above his head. He held it up all through the ceremony, and I thought that this was also a salute the great man would have appreciated.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

What goes around...

What a pleasure the London Underground strike is! Why? Because it gave me a nudge to get my folding bike out of the shed and lug it up to Town on the train. So many little London back streets I have discovered or rediscovered this week, little corners of London that largely go unnoticed unless you happen to work there. Somewhere at home I have a London cycle map which came with love and kisses from the Mayor, Ken not Boris so I suppose I need to send off for a new one now. After all bike-friendly Boris has just launched all those new cycle routes and of course the hire bikes which have had lots of use today. Spurred on by the lack of tube trains there have been more bikes on London’s roads than I have ever seen before, and while I would admit to a bit of saddle-sore, I am enjoying being a part of it all. I often feel though that I am the slowest cyclist on the road. People on bikes with large wheels go the fastest of course, and next to whiz past me are the folk with the expensive folding bikes such as Bromptons. These have little wheels just like mine but must have better gears because they leave me standing. A “friend” suggested it might just be my lack of fitness but I feel this is a trifle harsh. Anyway I don’t mind. I’m cycling at an easy pace which means it’s relaxing, I see more of London, and I don’t have to arrive at the office all sweaty and red in the face. I recently got a very clever clamp for mounting my video camera on the handlebars so will be able to start posting a rather different view of London on here. I’m enjoying the London cycling experience so much that I think I will keep it up even when the tube strike is over. So far I have been lucky with the weather, but any day now I will doubtless get caught in a good old London downpour and soggy cycling is a pretty miserable experience so I suppose then I’ll be back on the Tube until the rainy season has passed.

Friday, 3 September 2010

London Shopping at Selfridges

A wet Wednesday in the West End of London. Now I am not one of those people for whom shopping is a pleasure or a leisure activity. However, there was a good heavy downpour of London rain that day and I had to shop simply because there was stuff I needed urgently. Under the circumstances I decided to head for Selfridges. They have never let me down yet when I have dashed in there for a last minute present for somebody, or even an impulsive luxury for myself. It is probably the one department store in London where even a reluctant shopper like me can enjoy the retail experience. And it wasn’t raining inside.

Selfridges was opened in 1909 by an American, Henry Gordon Selfridge, who brought amazing innovations to London shopping after having done the same in Chicago (but there he was working for somebody else). He said that Selfridges would sell anything “from an aeroplane to a cigar” and who knows, that may still be true. I only went in for some Turkish delight. There is a superb confectionary department just next to the food hall.

London’s weather permitting, the outside of the Selfridges is as delightful as the inside. Look out for the lovely Art Deco clock and statue affair on the front of the building over the main entrance.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Leather Lane Market

London, like any city throughout history anywhere in the world, was once full of busy bustling markets. While the bigger “trade” markets such as Covent Garden (fruits and vegetables) and Billingsgate (fish) have moved out of their traditional city locations, you can still find some traditional street traders in quieter back street markets. Perhaps London’s finest surviving example of such a market is to be found in Leather Lane. It is strangely comforting to find such a market in the heart of London. Markets like this are so immediate, so “in the moment” and yet they are also quite timeless.

Leather Lane market has a long history, stretching back 300 years or more. Here, intermingled with the diamond merchants of Hatton Garden, you can find London at it’s traditional and historic best; a throng of market stalls selling everything from fruit to mobile phones, clothing, shoes, hats and hardware. Here at one of London’s last surviving traditional markets it is the food above all else that really assaults your senses. A multi-cultural fusion of delicious smells; Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, tea shops, cafes, all day breakfast, wafts all day from the market stalls and the restaurants behind them. A walk on Leather Lane is bound to make your mouth water. For the more conservative diner there is also a Greggs bakery near the top of Leather Lane and a Pret a Manger at the bottom (Chancery Lane) end. So be sure to take your appetite to London's Leather Lane!
Go on a fine day though, because when it starts to rain it can be less fun and some of the traders very sensibly pack up and go home.

PS Last week I walked down Leather Lane and a youth in Subway uniform was handing out vouchers. Strangely these sandwich offers were over a year out of date. Let's hope the sandwiches are a bit fresher...

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Lots of history at theTower of London

Like history? Like London? Where better to explore the history of London than at the Tower of London. The whole place just oozes history from the moment you step out of Tower Hill underground station and come face to face with a statue of the Roman Emperor Trajan, then walk down the steps surrounded by sections of the original Roman wall. When you get to the bottom of the steps you are confronted by the Tower of London itself. A great big fortress right in the middle of London. The original Norman keep, the White Tower, is surrounded by layers of castle that have been added over many centuries.

When I went to the Tower of London on a school trip many years ago (yes I am a piece of living history now) we joked about breaking back in to steal the Crown Jewels which are kept here. Nowadays the value of jewels is negligible compared to the cost of a ticket to get in! In fairness the entry cost is not too bad if you buy a family ticket, or better still if you are a family who like history enough to go to other Historic Royal Palaces, like Hampton Court, within the year then the Family Membership becomes a sensible option. This gives you family entry to several Historic Royal Palaces for a year though you do need 6 kids to get full value out of it! Best to book or buy online in advance, so here is a link to Historic Royal Palaces website.

I won't spoil it by telling you all about the ghosts, the princes and famous characters who have lived and died in the Tower of London over the centuries. Discover it for yourself. All I'll say is that it's fabulous, and if it's a nice day you might enjoy your picnic by the River Thames which runs alongside, while feasting your eyes on two of London's other famous and historic views; HMS Belfast is a World War II battleship which is "parked" just across the river, and Tower Bridge, which tourists from around the world think is London Bridge because it's in London. Both of these are also open for the pleasure of those at leisure in London.