London, August 1999

After Farewell to Siena

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Monday, August 23, 1999 (Feast of St. Bartholomew)

[the International Herald Tribune]
1949: Reform Camps

BUCHAREST - Tramps, beggars, prostitutes and perverts are to receive one year's compulsory education in Romania, an official decree issued here said. At their own request, or at the request of the militia, the prosecutor's office or social organizations, they can be sent to special re-education centers, where they will spend one year. They will receive professional instruction to enable them to take up normal employment.

"Borscht and Enchiladas." Anywhere else it would have been a peculiar menu item; but, it seemed perfectly at home in the offering pages of London's only Polish-Mexican restaurant.
Admittedly the enchiladas were not floating in the beet soup; that would have been too bizarre even for niche restaurateurs hard pressed to entice any jaded palates.

But all of that was at the end of the day.

This morning we walked over to the Green Park tube station where I wanted to give Linda her first taste of LONDON WALKS; with something that had a local flavor: "MAYFAIR - The Best Address in London".

Click here: London Walks - Guided walks and tours of London.

If you don't want to "click," here is the official course description:

Now here's a champagne cocktail of a walk. It's a marriage made in heaven: "the best address in London" and a bon vivant of a guide - a boulevardier and a place where Old Masters and old money, Rolls Royces and glamour, titles and butlers are par of the course. It's hob-nobbing with knobs on it - because Mayfair's been home to Admiral Nelson (and his mistress Lady Emma Hamilton), Clive of India, Disraeli, Handel, Florence Nightingale, Peter Sellers, Jimi Hendrix, Dodi Fayed, and the Earl Mountbatten, to name but a few. Last but certainly not least, it boasts London's best village within a village - Shepherd Market, a charming little nest of alleys that hasn't lost a jot of its 18th-century scale and village atmosphere, let alone its raffishness.

After a crispy duck lunch at Chungs we explored another LONDON WALKS item: "GHOSTS OF THE WEST END". The management description:

We begin as London began - with the Thames, on the Thames. Silvery lifeline, main highway, chief processional route, the Thames is, quite simply, London's Grand Canal. Tower Bridge, where we embark, and Westminster Bridge, where we go ashore, bracket London and to take ship on this stretch of water is to glissade down the centuries. Here kings and queens were borne in painted and gilt state barges; on the one shore, Wren's St.Paul's Cathedral engraved the sublime against the London sky; on the other, Shakespeare wrought his magic, "not of an age, but for all time!" The Thames knew great men and women in death, too: these waters bore Elizabeth I's funeral and Nelson's and Churchill's. And hand in glove with the history...the most famous of all London views, as throat-catching today as it was to Wordsworth 200 years ago: Earth has not anything to show more fair. Ashore, we take in the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, St. James's Park, Whitehall, Buckingham and St. James's Palaces, the Mall and Trafalgar Square. As ever, the sights behind the sights is our watchword. In short, this is the walk that most memorably captures London's inimitable mixture of idiosyncratic detail and grand, powerful statement.

Back to the Mexican-Polish meal: we both passed on the Tequila-Vodka after dinner liqueurs.

Tuesday, August 24, 1999 (Feast of St. Louis)

[The International Herald Tribune]
1899: India Plagued.

BOMBAY - Owing to the alarming increase of plague at Poona, the Government suggests that a portion of that city should be vacated in order to inaugurate a scheme of general improvement. Plague has reappeared at Hyderbad, and in the Scinde province, causing an exodus of the population toward Karachi, which is practically free from the scourge.

Every time that I go there it seems that I am the only person looking at the menu. The Light of India is in the Montana Hotel. The Montana Hotel is located on the Gloucester Road. Maybe that has something to do with it. It is a restaurant that nobody knows. So, it was the perfect place to have lunch after finishing a walk in a part of London that nobody knows.

LONDON WALKS (Click here: London Walks) accurately calls it "The London Nobody Knows":

"I love a little bit of secret history", said Dr. Johnson. He would have been well served on this walk through his old neighbourhood. Its concealed courts and alleys are keyholes into London's past, harbouring everything from traces of Roman London to a forgotten Norman crypt; and from the musty cells of an ancient prison to a beautiful but virtually hidden 300-year-old courtyard and hall. Let alone some fine old churches and a venerable inn or two. And betwixt and between Hilary conjures up - out of the bend of a road, the shape of a doorway, an old badge on a wall, a place-name, a custom or ritual, even out of a turn of phrase - a millennium and more of London's history.

Dear Reader, today is a slow journal day. I was sort of banking on Tuesday's Trib INTERMARKET to bolster my flagging pen; and usually I can rely on these marriage market classifieds to feed my paragraphs when my day has been uneventful. Unfortunately, my Munich and Zurich lady brokers have little meat on their carts this week. Even the ESCORTS AND GUIDES corner of the Trib doesn't offer up a lot of voltage today. Sure, Heidy is still running "high society" girls out of Dusseldorf and Vienna ... and "Top Ten" has a never ending shuffle of escorts in Frankfurt ... Jan Bik's Holland connection hasn't stopped advertising services for "he and she" ... but the London end of the stick appears a bit loose. Aside from the standard assortment of willing air hostesses there is little on the UK shelf. Though a lone "genuine native American Indian" remains a curious import.

Tomorrow should be much more interesting than today. We have booked a compartment on the mid-morning Paddington to Bristol All Steam Express for the 75 minute journey to the Cameron Hot Air Balloon Works. I lie. Well, it was only a little lie. But, we do plan to take the train to Bristol sometime tomorrow. Anyway, the exciting bits will come when we see the new balloon tumble off the sewing machine table.

Just wait.

Wednesday, August 25, 1999

[the International Herald Tribune]
1924: Hangman Woes

LONDON - John Ellis of Rochdale, one of England's famous hangmen, was lying in the Rochdale infirmary with a fractured jaw caused by a bullet wound. Ellis complained of being unable to sleep and at 1:30 this morning [Aug.25] his family was startled by a loud report. He had lately been nervous and depressed after having hanged many famous figures, including Mrs. Thompson. Ellis resigned his job last March. He said that he had never been the same man since he hanged the woman.

Oh, Dearest Reader, I know that all of you have been waiting for this precious bit of news. Yes, Corkscrew-Balloon #3 is now, God be thanked, well under construction in the vast birthing hangers of west England. As I type out this bulletin ... a bulletin destined for no less than world wide distribution ... this mighty lighter-than-air-ship lies limply on the huge cutting and stitching floors at the Cameron factory at St. John Street, Bedminster, Bristol BS3 4NH, England. Ah, but that is today. Long before autumn arrives on this Sacred Isle the sound of great puffs of hot air will herald to all mankind that yet another flying thing is about to join the screwy fleet of Alf the Nut.

Is that too much? You think?

OK, now before I start dragging in the Archbishop of Canterbury to bless the canvas and sprinkle holy water on the burners I need to rein in a bit.

This morning Linda and I took the 10:15 from London-Paddington to Bristol Temple Mead: a rail terminus on the Welsh border. The Great Western operates this train (engine and rolling stock) over tracks owned by what was once British Rail.

The Cameron factory is a brick structure that once housed something Victorian. Today its occupants piece together the finest balloons in the world. It's track record includes a covey of "special shapes" built for the house of Malcolm Forbes?not to mention the round-the-world ships that darted in and out of CNN attention for much of 1998 and 1999. The Cameron engineers, artists and pilots work in a factory that resembles something more like a family picnic spot than a production floor. And, furthermore ...

Am I losing your attention?

Look, until I get my film developed there is no way that I can hold your interest about this place and this stupid little balloon. Right?

[Update: after returning to Florida, the film was processed!]

Thursday, August 26, 1999

[the International Herald Tribune]
1899: Divine Form

MARIENBAD - The fattest man who came to Marienbad this year weighs, in nature's garb, 199 kilogrammes or 438 lbs! Just think of it! And he came from Cairo. He was a wonderful specimen of fatty exaggeration when he appeared, as he did daily, in the Turkish bath. The adipose stuck out upon him in great lumps and whatever shape which we are accustomed to associate with the human form divine had been entirely lost. Don't let it be supposed for an instant that these men who appear as mountains of flesh and fat are the least bit sorry for themselves. Not a bit of it. As they sit around in the hot room, in chairs of special breadth to suit their proportions, they joke, talk, and tell good stories without end. They burst out now and again in roars of laughter and their great sides shake like fine jellies.

1924: Playing Klan

BERWICK, Pa. - Little Jean Fenlice, four years old, was burned to death here today [Aug. 25] when she fell against a burning cross, lighted by boys who were playing Ku Klux Klan.

1949: Warsaw Miracle

WARSAW - One of the two Russian Orthodox churches in Warsaw was closed following reports that a new miracle had occurred. Some reports said that a statue of the Virgin Mary had begun weeping, others said that it was a picture of the Virgin. According to a militia officer in charge of police detachments estimated to total 200, the church was closed on grounds that the building was in dangerous condition as a result of war damage. A crown totaling 3,000 knelt praying in the church grounds.

"A four penny knee trembler."

That's what the customers received from East End London prostitutes in the late 1880's when they could only afford to pay for a minimum service. That's how our LONDON WALKS guide, Phoebe, described it. But, Linda and I were not sure if this colorful description of the transaction meant a "wall fuck" or a 'blow job." You see, back then four pennies didn't get a bed or a board to go with the purchase ... it was "take-out", so to speak. In any case, at least one seriously unhappy customer was so displeased with his own dealings with the "ladies of the night" that he took five of them to task. Or, as the drafters of this walk (JACK THE RIPPER HAUNTS: London Walks) penned it:

He came silently out of the midnight shadows of August 31, 1888. Striking terror at the hearts - and cold steel at the throats - of raddled, drink-sodden East End prostitutes. Leaving a trail of blood that led ... nowhere. Jack the Ripper! We evoke that autumn of gaslight and fog, of menacing shadows and stealthy footsteps as we inspect the murder sites, sift through the evidence - in all its gory detail - and get to grips, so to speak, with the main suspects. Enroute we'll steady our nerves in "The Ten Bells," the pub where the victims - perhaps under the steely gaze of the Ripper himself - tried to forget the waking nightmare.

Dear Reader, tomorrow is supposed to be our last full day in London. Though Linda and I are scheduled to fly from London to Miami on Saturday, there is a chance that our departure might be delayed due to one or more of those hurricanes that are now lurking in the Caribbean area. If so, we'll be able to fit in at least another interesting niche walk before we leave London. We are rather keen to do the HAUNTED LONDON one. But, I should have a better idea of our plans by tomorrow afternoon. You'll be the first to know.

Friday, August 27, 1999

[The International Herald Tribune]
1899: Philippine War

NEW YORK - The "World" sneers at President McKinley's statement that he would protect life and property in the Philippines and says: "Has he not within six months killed more natives and destroyed more of their property than Spain has in twenty years? President McKinley's generalities to not glitter." The Philadelphia "Ledger" says: "We do not think that the advocates of "strenuous life" will contend that the ruthless extermination of these Filipinos is necessary to the uplifting of American manhood."

1924: Hairy Business

PRAGUE - Because of the prevalence of bobbed hair in the United States, 1,500 girls producing artificial flowers in Bohemia have been thrown out of work. Artificial flowers, which formerly decked out women's hats, have gone into the discard with the bobbed-hair craze, and the United States, which was the best market for these flowers, has ceased to buy.

1949: Atomic Might

STRASBOURG - An Italian delegate told the European Consultative Assembly that Europe's coming "problem of life or death" is to learn the secrets of atomic energy. He said that unless Europe could learn the industrial application of atomic energy, Europe will become a "permanent dependent of an extra-European power." Referring to American possession of the atomic bomb, Enzo Giacchero said: "It is to the scientific organization of a great extra-European nation to which we express our gratitude, that we owe the security and peace which allows us to be today in this free and democratic assembly."

"Where do you keep the tea cozies?" ... Linda

"I don't know if we have them. I'll ring up my supervisor, but he'll probably laugh at me." ... shop assistant

"Aren't those the things that you have to knit yourself?" ... other shop assistant

After six consecutive room service breakfasts in the Four Seasons Hotel, Linda was terribly keen to buy a tea cozy for her own pot ... the one that she keeps at home for her own Earl Gray's tea. And Selfridges seemed to be the proper place to buy one. Well, as you can see from the dialogue above, tea cozies are not things that are falling off store shelves. Her innocent enquiry brought both a smile and an unhelpful suggestion.

"I feel silly asking for this thing; is it REALLY called a tea cozy?" ... Linda to Alf

"Maybe you should just swipe one from the hotel." ... Alf to Linda

Saturday, August 28, 1999

Presumably Linda and I returned to Fort Lauderdale.

Next: The Philadelphia Story


Casebook: Jack the Ripper

RedBlue Victorian Crime Club - Who Is Jack the Ripper? Cases 1-3

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