Category Archives: London learnings

Stuff about London that I discover customarily by rummaging around on the internet rather than by actually exploring the city.

The evolution of an election campaign

Wednesday 7 June 2017, 21.45
There. It’s over. Apart from the actual voting part. But as far as campaigning for the 2017 general election goes, that’s about it. The last leaflet fell through our letterbox just an hour ago. Like the majority of other campaign comms, it was from the Liberal Democrats. The fact that I have a giant, unmissable LibDem diamond-shaped signboard nailed to a tree at the entrance to our house hasn’t deterred canvassers from thinking that maybe I might change my mind, or that I’m not that committed. Neither has the fact that I volunteered to help with their campaign. I’m ‘known’ to the local party, so one would have thought my property would be spared. But no. Nothing has stopped the deluge of letters, leaflets and newspapers from arriving almost every day.

In the beginning there was Brexit

A bit of background: New Malden is mostly within the Richmond Park constituency, which Sarah Olney (Liberal Democrat) snatched back from Zac Goldsmith in December 2016 when he resigned from the Tories on a matter of principle (he promised to go if the Tories backed a 3rd runway at Heathrow, which they did). He stood as an Indy and duly lost, but it was close. So it’s understandable that the Lib Dems want to hold on to their only London seat.

But the argument has moved on, at least as far as the Lib Dems’ early campaign literature is concerned. It’s all about Brexit now, and their initial door-drops talk about ‘stopping the hard Brexit’. Voters are urged to ‘change the direction of your country’ in the forthcoming ‘Brexit Election’. A few leaflets later and there’s a subtle change in the wording. The Lib Dems are now ‘challenging the hard Brexit’. (Does that definite article annoy you? It does me.) The next leaflet asks ‘What kind of future do you want for your country? That’s the choice facing people across the country on June 8th.’ That’s not a choice, it’s a question. The newspaper-style format gives them room to talk about ‘the’ hard Brexit as well as reprising the third runway issue and concerns about health and education.

Enter the SS

About this time in mid May, the first leaflet from the Conservatives appears, with its Union Flag border and multiple uses of SS (strong and stable). Vote for the Tories and Britain, it is claimed, will be the strongest country in Europe, although it doesn’t say by what measure.

Their next leaflet is from Zac, who’s standing again, back as a Tory this time, despite the Tories sticking resolutely to their 3rd runway policy. How does that work? A picture shows May and Goldsmith wandering about in a wood somewhere, Theresa hanging on his every word. His next leaflet features a quote from the prime minister, delivered outside No. 10. “On June 8th, every single vote for Zac Goldsmith is a vote for SS leadership in the national interest.” There’s no evidence she has actually said these words, and certainly didn’t deliver them in Downing Street.

Letters from leftfield

Back with the Lib Dems, all manner of election comms continues to pour through the letterbox. Some from Tim Farron, most from Sarah Olney, and a few from Mike, Clare and Edward. Who? Well, Mike Smithson runs a political betting website, and he doesn’t want to tell us who to vote for. “I’m not here to tell you who to vote for,” he says. But if Labour voters lend their vote to the LibDems, they could stop the Conservatives from winning locally. “Just saying,” he doesn’t say. Clare is Dr Clare Gereda, a local GP (and ex-Chair of the Royal College of GPs), who isn’t as squeamish as Mike about where we should put our Xs: “A vote for the LibDems is a vote of confidence in our NHS”. Then Edward’s letter arrives. His double-barrelled surname and title (‘Conservative Member of European Parliament 1984-2010’) make me think he’s been drafted in to help the Tories, but further reading reveals that he jumped ship in 2010 and joined the Liberal Democrats. “Like many pro-Europeans, I’m horrified with the direction Theresa May has been taking the country.”

Vote for one of us!

More stuff from the Tories. The copy is indistinguishable from something Ukip might say, and in fact did. A succession of leaflets asks us to ‘Vote Theresa May’, then to ‘Vote for Zac’, and then to ‘Vote Theresa May’ again. The whole presidential-style approach that the Tories have adopted for this election might come unstuck when stupid people – and there ARE stupid people – get to the polling booth and look in vain for Theresa May’s name.

Like the Lib Dems, the Tories don’t settle on a winning format for their canvassing. We get postcards, letters, roll-fold leaflets, pretend magazines, A3 newspapers, mailpacks delivered by Royal Mail, letters from Zac and another one from the Prime Minister. This one ditches the SS references in favour of ‘standing up’. It mentions ‘standing up’ for Britain no fewer than 18 times, a rate of repetition that would prompt a forest of tracked changes if presented by a copywriter to any normal client.

We also get a leaflet from Zac Goldsmith in which he attempts to explain and excuse his flip-flop, flimflam, weaselly and shamelessly opportunistic approach to local democracy. Hopefully it won’t fool anyone.

Brexit takes a back seat

Meanwhile, the Lib Dems continue their onslaught. ‘Changing the future of Britain’ somehow becomes changing the ‘future direction of Britain’. What other direction could we hope to affect? Hard Brexit gains a capital H, like Grassy Knoll did eventually, but overall the focus is gradually switched from Europe to education and the NHS. For the first time, campaign literature mentions an extra penny on income tax to pay for increased investment in the NHS, but the leaflets choose to portray this with a picture of a HUGE penny, rather than showing a tiny penny in someone’s palm.

Speaking of which, a Lib Dem leaflet turns up with something like an idea in it. Albeit an idea of the kind had by a child or by a particularly literal client. It carries the headline ‘It’s in your hands’ and shows an image of…and I think you know what’s coming…a pair of hands. Inside, there’s no mention at all of Brexit, and nobody thought to put anything on the back. 25% of the leaflet is wasted space.

Token missives from the rank outsiders

At some point during the campaign we get the one and only effort from the no-hope Labour candidate. His name is Laurie South, and he sound like a decent sort of chap, although we learn nothing of his lavatorial habits, unlike his predecessor. A leaflet from the local Ukip candidate turns up, showing a stern-looking bearded bloke who’s anti-human rights and who was, in an statement that will draw knowing nods from kids who were locked up for littering or loitering or looking a bit wrong, a serving magistrate. Neither of these guys has a snowball’s chance in hell of even coming second around here.

And still they come

More leaflets arrive. None appears to be printed on recycled paper or claims to come from sustainable sources, so we can only assume that trees are being sacrificed in the name of local democracy. The Tories’ final postcard states that the loss of just six seats would be enough to wrest power from them. The intention is clearly to prick complacent conservatives into voting, but could have a similar effect on Labour or Lib Dem voters who had been resigned to a Tory victory, but now felt stirred into action.

Door-drops from Lib Dems are now going hell for leather over the ‘heartless Tories” Dementia Tax. The last one I retrieve from the doormat plays the familiar two-horse-race angle, but while it shows a picture of Sarah Olney, Zac Goldsmith’s profile is greyed out. The Lib Dems clearly know how much his supposed good looks appeals to certain voters. (The ones we could do without, really.)

The final tally

In the closely-fought constituency of Richmond Park, the results of the 2017 general election junk mail campaign are as follows:

Labour: 1
Ukip: 1
Conservatives: 13
Liberal Democrats: 36
Total weight: Exactly 500g
Minds changed: Probably zero.

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Filed under London learnings, New Malden, Politics, Stuff

Party Girls of Piccadilly

Some years ago I was wandering around the Vintage Magazine store in London’s Brewer Street, looking for inspiration for an ad campaign I was working on. I came across an old magazine that, while being no use at all for the job in hand, was absolutely amazing for loads of other reasons.

Male magazine front cover

Now that’s what you call shelf appeal

Male was probably irresistible to certain male browsers back in June 1955, just as it proved to me some 35 years later. I must have drawn some strange looks on the tube as I started reading it on the way home.

The leading article about an intrepid American hunter bravely slaughtering a Komodo dragon was appallingly exhilarating, as were the pieces entitled ‘I Alone Survived’, ‘My Legs Began To Rot’ and ‘We Flew Down Eagles’, a how-could-he story about a Texan farmer who rigged up a gun mount on his Piper Cub aircraft so that he could shoot soaring golden eagles more easily than from the ground.

I’m a sucker for old-school direct response ads, too, and the ones in Male are masters of the form. There’s the obligatory full-page ad for Charles Atlas (‘simply utilize the DORMANT muscle-power in your own God-given body!’), ads for book clubs, hunting knives and uranium detectors, ads for dodgy-looking correspondence courses (including one on mastering correspondence), a riff on the famous John Caples ‘They Laughed When I Sat Down To Play The Piano’ ad, and a few ads aimed at helping men become better men through mending things: ‘FIX ANY PART OF ANY CAR IN A JIFFY!’, ‘Learn To Fix Appliances’ and ‘I Will Train You At Home for Good Paying Jobs in Radio And Television’ (Again, he means fixing them rather than becoming the next Jack Benny).

But the article in Male that I’ve recreated here (aka laboriously typed out) is Party Girls Of Piccadilly, a searing exposé of the vice scene in post-war London. Given the passage of time and the sensationalist style of reporting that Male demanded from its contributors, it’s difficult to say how much of what follows is an accurate snapshot of 1950’s London. Alfred Kinsey’s testimony to the 1954 Woldfenden Inquiry (to which this article alludes) asserted that London was second only to Havana in the proliferation of its prostitutes, but even so, the authors of this piece seemed to bump into a hooker every few steps.

See what you think. The subheads are mine, by the way. They’re just there to break up the copy. It’s a bit of a long read.

At eleven o’clock every night the streets of London erupt in a rush hour of prostitution. The bars close; thousands of men down their last beers and hit the sidewalks for home – with girls propositioning them every step of the way. Soliciting is bold and uninhibited.

From the lowest Soho back alleys to the sidewalks outside Mayfair’s swankest lounges, London streetwalkers ply their trade with a frankness hardly equalled anywhere in the world. There are thousands of these women.

Last year 9,000 were arrested in the metropolitan section of London alone – arrested not for prostitution but because their health cards indicated they had skipped the semi-monthly medical examination.

The indifference to this form of vice surprised us. Until we saw it for ourselves, we couldn’t believe that so many women were making a living from kerbstone solicitations.

Britain’s rugged history

In quest of an explanation we visited C division of the Metropolitan Police, which has the unhappy task of overseeing most of the sidewalk activity. There we were told that the increase in commercial vice is simply a by-product of the rugged history of Britain’s most recent 15 years.

A lieutenant told us “During the war, there was the usual let-down in morality. But matters continue to deteriorate even afterwards. For the country on the winning side of, World War Two we are certainly pay a loser’s price. Post-war shortages put us on a depression economy. Rationing deprived us of a full measure of basic necessities. Dim-outs saved vital electric power, but cut down our social life.

Women turned to prostitution because they needed the money. Men turned to prostitutes because of tension and insecurity and, I suppose, because there was often nothing else to do.”

From our observations, the supply of women far exceeds the demand. In Piccadilly, the Times Square of London, we saw groups of eight and ten girls strolling around like schoolgirls on a gay visit to the big city.

The difference was that they accosted every man they saw, offering him a choice of any girl in the group – or the entire group, if he wished. London streetwalkers stand out in a crowd, like cabbages among apples. Even at high noon they make themselves obvious and prevalent.

Hip swing

Streetwalkers in mink and streetwalkers in rags, whether in London or Paris or New York, all use the same trademark: the slow walk, the enticing hip swing, the dangling purse, the prolonged meeting of eyes.

Because of peculiar police regulations which legitimise streetwalking and stamp out all other forms of the ancient profession, London prostitutes differ from each other mainly in price.

As might be expected, the more attractive, well-groomed and intelligent ones are able to charges as much as upper-crust courtesans in recently-exposed New York call girl rackets. The tariff sometimes runs to more than 100 pounds for an evening. (A British pound is worth $2.80.)

The majority fall into the 10 to 30-shilling ($1.40 – $4.20) range, though we were told it is possible to find some who place even less value on their work. The 10 to 30-shilling types are neither homelier nor more attractive than run-of-the-mill harlots elsewhere. Good posture and clear eyes are rare, although the blooming complexion of rural England is sometimes seen.

Eight harlots per minute

The girls in the middle price brackets, and even some who ask a lot more, mingle with each other on the same street corners and cruise the same blocks. On an afternoon walk from Piccadilly along Coventry Street, down the Haymarket to Trafalgar Square, we counted 40 at work. That night, taking the same 25-minute stroll, we spotted almost 200.

Subsequent excursions along the same route enlightened us to the fact that the girls work favourite ‘beats’. We always saw the same girls, just as we later saw familiar faces operating in specific sections elsewhere in the city.

Usually, the girls are as friendly to each other as neighbors who meet in a supermarket on the Saturday shopping expedition. We saw them stop and chat and trade cigarettes. One night we heard a man ask for a particular girl, and her colleagues happily pointed her out in the shadows of a shop entrance.

But on slow evenings and at late hours, friendship goes down the drain. Late on chilly night in Shepherd Market we saw three young girls fighting over an American sailor.

In an alley off Trafalgar Square we saw two older women almost rip a man in half as they tried to pull him in opposite directions.

And outside a crummy bar in Glass House Street, where many prostitutes live, we saw women battling for position in a line formed outside the door. As each man made his exit from the pub, the girls would shriek at him, often plucking at his sleeve to get his undivided attention and, hopefully, his trade.

If the man is willing, he walks with the woman of his choice to her ‘digs’, usually an ill-lighted, shabbily furnished room which may service for living quarters also. Only the most successful can afford to pay double rent. Some take their customers to one of the lesser hotels, though this risky for everybody.

Sorry, this is from another article

Sorry, this is from another article

Lucrative business

Despite their moderate fees, even the 10 and 15-shilling prostitutes claim to average 20 pounds a week – about $50. In view of the low tab, this indicates considerable activity. We talked to two sorry-looking sisters, 19 and 21 years old, who said they had managed to save $2,500 in six months of flesh peddling.

They told us they were from Ireland, which brought to light the fact that many of the middle class girls are imports. With many Irish girls the pattern is common: husbands and jobs are hard to find at home, so they leave their impoverished families to work in London as hotel maids or waitresses.

Girls come to London from all over the Empire. Many merely want to escape the drabness of economically unstable homes in remote colonies. Others seek movie or stage careers or just ‘any old job’.

Many know in advance that they are going into prostitution and arrive in London with the idea that they are invading the world’s best market. Whatever the cause of their choosing prostitution as a career, the girls land on the streets.

The pickings are apparently easiest for those who charge the highest fees. Although they are technically streetwalkers, these elite tarts seldom fate forth more than once a night and often work only once or twice a week. Some of them are actresses, models or showgirls who are either temporarily out of work or have become used to extra income.

£25,000 a week!

These are the girls who most closely resemble American call girls in that, after they have established themselves, they do not have to prowl the streets. The customers often become regular clients who make appointments by phone. One woman told us she earned £980 – $2,744 – in one week. (Me: that’s about £25,000 in 2017 prices!)

Unlike the quickie artists of Soho (London’s run-down equivalent of Greenwich Village), the ritzy prostitutes expect dinner and a few drinks from their clients, even if the transaction originates on a sidewalk.

Later, the woman takes John Customer to her elegant apartment, usually in the Mayfair or Sloane Square regions. The man knows he is expected to spend the night, stay for breakfast and deposit the girl’s ‘gift’ with the maid as he leaves.

Payments vary from $50 to $350. Men who can afford it visit the same girls regularly, thus assuring her of a decent income and keeping her available.

Because of their aristocratic appearance, some of the more luxurious women are permitted to sit in the lounges of good hotels and sip drinks while waiting for a pickup. However, an overt gesture of solicitation by even the most elegant prostitute would be enough to put her out on the curb. All the top-notch pros try to work London’s best night spots, but an alert management is generally able to keep them out.

Strangely enough, the girls also follow social custom and have divided themselves into sharply demarcated social classes. We didn’t meet one who aspired to higher prices or resented the plush lives of her more successful sisters. A ten-shilling girl told us “I know my place. I know the kind of men I can get, and I know the kind who wouldn’t touch me. I do all right.”

For this sort of girl, ‘doing all right’ means earning a mere living and enjoying no luxuries. She lives in a small flat, sometimes alone, but surprisingly often with another prostitute who is her intimate friend.

Britain’s growing problem

We were astonished at the number of these women who not only display the prostitute’s traditional dislike for men, but are able to generate romantic feelings only for other women. As scientists have stressed in recent years, homosexuality is a growing problem in Britain.

Another rather unfamiliar aspect of London prostitution is the absence of the male scrounger, or procurer. Streetwalkers do not saddle themselves with ghastly boyfriends who can be found lurking around American tarts.

The British woman does her own soliciting and, if she has a lover, he is seldom associated with her business. Possibly the only men who make money from London prostitutes are the comparative handful who are paid to protect women who are in violent competitive feuds with others.

Also, in some of the worst sections, she may employ a man to act as lookout and warn of approaching police, but that’s the extent of their business dealings with men.

London bobbies stay on the same beat for years and get to know local prostitutes by their first names. The bobby has two jobs in this connection: to keep the competition from getting too violent, and check health cards. All London prostitutes carry the cards, issued by the city and checked regularly at St Thomas Hospital.

If a policeman finds that a girl has missed her check-up or is operating with a card that labels her as diseased, he runs her in. For this offense, as well as for street fighting, the court fine is 40 shillings. The girls are by now so accustomed to the fines that the call them ‘our income taxes’.

Outside London

We wondered about the ‘taxes’ elsewhere in England, and a tour of the country revealed that the provinces are jolly well holding their own. In Manchester, an industrial centre of 700,000, we were told of an official study which disclosed that 400 streetwalkers worked the town and that many hotels were hospitable to their trade.

In Newcastle, a seaport, prostitution flourished so disastrously after the war that an enlarged police force was given orders to patrol all streets every 20 minutes and arrest all women who appeared to be loitering.

Cardiff, once the roughest town in Great Britain, had so many police on the streets that we thought the town had been invaded. Prostitutes were not to be found.

Right, back to the capital

Evidently, the pressure in the provinces has served to heighten the concentration in London. There, in the world’s largest city, they all have room to maneuver. In Park Lane, where expensive hotels overlook Hyde Park, we saw one woman accost 30 men in less than an hour. Rebuffed but undiscouraged, she tramped on, until the last we saw of her she was strutting across the street and into the park.

In Soho we saw two British soldiers approached four times by elderly women who greeted them with ‘Got the time, dearie?’

In the Bayswater Road area, we noticed a large number of car pickups. The cars took off to the rows of apartment buildings near Paddington Station.

Tenants of those apartment houses have complained bitterly that the night traffic in the neighbourhood resembles a parade. Resultant raids occasionally net a few girls who are charged with disturbing the peace, but the clean-ups are so ineffective that they are conducted half-heartedly.

Floating crap

Another police headache are the groups of girls who try to set up parlour houses. They take short leases on apartments and small houses and take turns outdoors, drumming up business for each other. For the police, locating the establishments is somewhat like trying to track down a floating crap game.

In Leicester Square, we got an invitation to visit such an establishment, described to us by a sallow teenage girl as ‘the club’. She assured us that there was no admission fee and that the selection was varied. Asked for a rain check until the following week, the girl said ‘who knows where we’ll be next week?’

Present headquarters, she said, was over a pub and, though the owner enjoyed collecting the high rent, he feared that police would spot the traffic. Being caught would mean his license.

Many such youngsters, we learned, actually live with their families, spending what time they can soliciting customers. They are the most youthful of daytime streetwalkers and usually return to their homes in the late evening, when the old-timers hit the sidewalks.

Trollops

Though London has always had its share of commercialised vice, the problem, according to police, has never been as great as it is now. At one time, a high percentage of the trollops were foreign, coming over from Paris and berlin when travel was easier and prices higher. The war finished London for the Germans, and the French who arrive now are in the elegant higher brackets.

It was the war, say authorities who should know, that brought on the current vice epidemic. Remnants of defeated European armies moved to England. The US sent over hundreds of thousands of men for the European campaign.

Thus London became a huge garrison playground. Operating prostitutes made fortunes, and gossip of their profits attracted newcomers. A sad but true fact was that Americans contributed largely to the decline.

Few English women had met any Americans before the war. Suddenly the country was jammed with thousands of fast-talking, fun-seeking, easy-spending Yanks who treated the women with a lavishness and intensity such as they had never known before. To Englishwomen, Americans were the greatest import since tobacco.

The girls went wild. Thousands left home in order to make themselves more available. Many hoped to marry Americans eventually, and some did. But the majority were left on the wharf, some, unfortunately, with illegitimate children to support. For hundreds, there was no recourse but to make their bodies public property.

Harlots

Post-war controls greatly restricted British life. Spending a night at beer and darts in his favourite pub was the only way an Englishman could spend his money – if he had any money to spend. Knowing this, the desperate girls learned to haunt the dark streets at night, hoping to find a man who would want them. As the years passed, prostitution increased, until today the British themselves admit that London has the largest population of harlots on the Western world.

Older members of this profession, unable to make out any longer, become charity cases. The outcasts often resort to robbery and mugging when other business is slow.

In an effort to improve this disgraceful state of affairs, a committee of fifteen eminent men and women was recently organized* and began casting about for solutions. The police told them, in effect: ‘Increased arrests will only cause a new problem. We don’t have enough room in our jails to accommodate that mob.’

But the picture is not completely barren of solution. Social workers point out, for example, that the British economy is becoming more robust. In some trades, jobs are going begging.

Honest

The London committee, believing that most of the streetwalkers would not have chosen their present calling had they have been able to find honest, fair-paying employment, hopes to organise a salvage operation. The girls will be encouraged to take jobs – if employers can be persuaded to overlook the past.

Should this campaign prove successful, and should the sidewalks become less congested, many Londoners will consider the time ripe to take the next step: fill up the jails, not with the girls, but with their customers. These observers are sure that once it becomes a public offense to patronise a prostitute, vice will approach the vanishing point.

The average Britishers are not losing any sleep waiting for this moral millennium, however. Being very practical people, they know that women will be wearing streetwalkers’ shoes for some time to come and derive comfort from the knowledge that as long as this must be, at least they’ll be wearing them in good health.

*This led to the Wolfenden Report.

 

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Dead funny: a stroll around Highgate Cemetery

All the Graves in one grave

All the Graves in one grave

Awkward.

Awkward. Henry edges it in the popularity stakes

For one terrible moment I read this as Arnold LinkedIn

For one terrible moment I read this as Arnold LinkedIn

Well, he SAID he was a poet

Bernard was a ‘poet’

A man of men! Who did not yield! Grrrr! Middle name Marion

A man of men! Who did not yield! Grrrr! Middle name Marion

‘Wake up!’

‘The name’s Green, Green Green.’

The master copywriter. I left him a pen. Sorry, typo: I lent him a pen

The master storyteller. Found a nice Edding 55 in the little box

A life in words. Makes a change from ‘RIP’

*snigger*

No mournful euphemisms for Patrick Caulfield. He dead.

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‘It’s all right, I’m not going to beat you up’

Lately I’ve been commuting to a station in Islington called Essex Road.  The trains that pass through it don’t go anywhere near Essex. They run from Moorgate in central London to places like Letchworth and Stevenage. It’s called Essex Road Station because it’s situated near Essex Road.

Essex Road doesn’t lead you anywhere closer to Essex, either. The whole Essex thing is a bit of red herring.

So that’s one thing you already know about Essex Road Station.

The other is that it is the only deep-level underground station in London that doesn’t see any Underground trains. The trains that stop here are all operated by First Capital Connect, part of the above-ground rail network. (Confusingly, Essex Road used to be part of the Underground, then in 1975 it suddenly went all high and mighty and switched to being overground.)

Anyway, it’s also one of those stations that’s served by lifts rather than escalators. Summon a lift and it effortlessly transports you down to platform level. Except that it doesn’t. It takes you beyond platform level. For reasons I cannot fathom, when you exit the lift you then have to take about 20 steps back up to where the trains are.

Flashback to 1904:

“OK boss, we’ve reached the platforms, can we stop digging now?”

“No, keep going!  Another twenty feet should do it.”

“But this is perfect, boss! We’re exactly in line with the trains.”

“I told you to keep digging, dammit!”

Under the heading ‘Disabled Access’, one website says of Essex Road Station: ‘Partial’. I suppose this means disabled people can ‘partially’ board a train or ‘very nearly’ leave the station.

I mentioned this to the man who didn’t beat me up.

We’d both been at street level awaiting one of the lifts. He with his tracksuit, his golden, jangly adornments and the various piercings about his person; me with the bag that I was suddenly aware contained my whole livelihood. He had the darting eye movements and the rapid, jittery body motions of someone who’s totally wired on something other than café cortado. The lift doors opened and we both walked in. After a moment the doors closed.

“Umeddmimmasmaffkintren,” he said. I pulled off my headphones.

“Sorry?”

“You made me miss my fucking train.” Oh, great. I was in a lift with someone using the past tense to describe something that couldn’t have happened even in the future.

“How did I manage that, then?”

“You held me up. Getting in the lift.”

This was bollocks, of course. “Going somewhere good, are you?” Change the subject. Get him talking about him.

“Yeah,” he said, without elaborating. Then: “I could have beaten you up. But it’s all right, I’m not going to do that.” The lift completed its descent and the doors opened. There was no one else about. He glanced at me as if he was about to reconsider.

“Weird about the stairs, isn’t it?” I said.

“Eh?” I talked about the madness of the lifts taking you to a point way below platform level. He said he’d never noticed that before.

It  has since occurred to me that imparting London trivia might be an effective way of disarming would-be attackers.

“Wait! We’re in the only ‘road’ in the City! Everything else is a lane, street, way or square!”

“Don’t hit me! See the Monument over there? Do you know more people have died falling from it than in the Great Fire it was built to commemorate?”

Or even

“Guys! Guys! We’re in the only Tube station that doesn’t contain any letters from the word ‘mackerel!”

Think I might be on to something?

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Things you don’t see in Canary Wharf: an A-Z

Abandoned shops
Ad agencies (but only if you’re reading this after 2015, when Ogilvy & Mather upped sticks and moved back to London)
Apple store. The Wharf’s a prime location, you’d have thought. But if an office worker around here wants to look at the alternative to a PC, he has to go to Waitrose (see ‘John Lewis’)
A parking ticket on this car. Ever

Jaguar, alright for some

The Jag that never gets a ticket

Beggars
Big Issue vendors
Buskers who aren’t officially auditioned and licensed and whose repertoire doesn’t include songs by Coldplay
Charity shops, chuggers, children who aren’t on a school trip
Circus posters pushed through the letterboxes of abandoned shops (qv)
Civil engineering projects undertaken by any company whose name isn’t ‘Canary Wharf Contractors’.

Coincidentally, C also stands for ‘competitive tendering’

 Civil disobedience. At the time of Occupy London, Canary Wharf Management got jittery that something similar may occur on their patch. It was never likely, but the authorities took the precaution of cable-tying ‘Restrictions of Assembly’ rules to lamp-posts on all the approaches to Canary Wharf. The half-inch-thick document lists all the dos and don’ts – mainly don’ts – that visitors to Canary Wharf are subject to. I’d like to read it one day, but one of the don’ts is almost certainly ‘Don’t remove this document’. #catch22
Diversity
Dawdling people. Everyone’s in a hurry, all of the time. Not New York hurry, but a lot faster than New Malden hurry
Eccentrics
Etiquette, specifically as it pertains to holding doors open for other people. However, see ‘Unseemly free-for-all’
Extra Mints. I love these little fellers, despite a lifelong and completely inexplicable dislike of everything Wrigley. But no one here sells them. Update: Boots do.

These mints. Rarer than unobtainium

Feminists. I’ve no proof that they don’t exist in Canary Wharf, merely find the prospect unlikely
Flags. Can’t think of a single office that sports a gaily fluttering flag, nor a single reason why one should do so
Google Street View cars. They’re not allowed in. For security reasons. I can’t say more
Graffiti, greengrocers, greasy spoons
Happy and contented maintenance staff. I once saw a jacket hanging from the arm of this statue in West India Avenue. Its owner, a gardener, was toiling nearby. The scene looked quite amusing, so I asked the gardener if he minded me taking a photo.
He did. He told me that maintenance staff employed at the Wharf could be ‘let go’ for the most trivial reasons, and if someone from Canary Wharf Management were to see my photo on Instagram or wherever, he would most likely be tracked down and given his P45.
Ice cream vans
Independent shops
Jams, traffic
John Lewis. There’s a Waitrose that looks like a John Lewis and sells John Lewis-type merchandise, but it’s called Waitrose. Nobody knows why
Just passing through’. No one does this. Canary Wharf isn’t on the way to anywhere
Kebab shops
Knocking shops. Not that I’ve seen, anyway. Not that I’ve been looking. Or know what one looks like. If they look like office receptions I may have to revisit this entry
Learner drivers
Listed buildings
Litter
Long grass. Like long hair, it’s redolent of anarchy and will not be tolerated. There are little parks and gardens in Canary Wharf but they are enthusiastically maintained, with all the plants laid out in regimented rows and patterns
Marks & Spencer. OK, there is one that does a roaring trade in food. But one where you can buy some socks? Forget it
Men in suits. Joking!
Old people. Older than me people, definitely
Patience at pelican crossings. This particular phenomenon isn’t restricted to Canary Wharf but its effect is more pronounced here due to the lack of heavy traffic. What happens is that a pedestrian will hit the pelican crossing button before looking to see if any traffic’s coming or not. It’s generally not, so he’ll stride straight out into a deserted road. Then, when a car finally does show up, the lights will suddenly turn red for no reason. This makes me angry as a driver and a pedestrian, and if I were a pelican I’d be furious
Pelicans
Petrol stations
Pigeons. Today I was wondering why you didn’t see that many pigeons in Canary Wharf when I came face to face with one of the reasons. Lemmy is a Harris Hawk who, his handler explained, is employed to persuade pigeons and gulls that they would lead more fruitful lives in other London boroughs. ‘But there aren’t many pigeons around here!’ I said. ‘I know,’ replied Lemmy’s boss. ‘He’s good, isn’t he?’

lemmy, hawk

That’s Lemmy on the right

Police. Proper police. The ones at Canary Wharf may look like your regular plod, but in fact they’re a private force. You see them every hundred metres or so, standing around or walking along with varying degrees of purposefulness. They look well tooled up but they’re mostly packing torches, walkie-talkies and energy bars. Truth is, there’s not much for them to do around here and in any case they have very limited powers. Most of the crime at Canary Wharf occurs behind glass doors*, and it’s unlikely these uniformed plastics have the authority to barge in and say ‘Right, you’re all nicked!’ ‘What’s the charge, copper?’ ‘We’ll think of something, sunshine. How about complicity in acts of financial malpractice likely to engender global recession? And that’s just for starters!’
Poundland, Primark, public libraries, pubs with dartboards
Quitters. There’s no place in Canary Wharf for people who aren’t in it to win it. You snooze, you lose. It’s our way or the dual carriageway
Quizzes, pub
Ram-raiders. The office blocks around the wharf are protected by tank-proof obstructions, often disguised as flower boxes. With its all-pervasive air of paranoia, Canary Wharf is the Porton Down of the business world. Mind you, the IRA did plant a massive bomb here back in 1996, so the fear isn’t completely unfounded
Scruffy people. If you do happen to see a girl in ripped jeans, they’ll have been skilfully hand-ripped by a professional jean ripper
Skateboarders, although you do see the occasional spirit-crushing sight of a middle-aged office worker on a scooter
Tattoo parlours. Are you kidding?
To Let’ signs on empty offices. Sends out the wrong signal
Toy shops
Tripods, Photographers with. Hat tip to Rob Borgars for this observation. Basically, using a tripod is discouraged in the Wharf. The reasons? You could be a terrorist (no, I can’t see the connection either). You might cause someone to trip, resulting in legal action. Or you might be someone aiming to take a photograph for commercial gain. Tripod = professional, you see.
Undertakers
Urban foxes. I’ve never seen a squirrel here, either
Unseemly free-for-all to get on the Tube at the end of the day. Instead, Canary Wharfers (as nobody calls them) queue in an orderly fashion. It’s a sight to behold
Vandalism
WH Smith. Oddly, there isn’t a single branch of Britain’s favourite newsagent. Something called ‘News on the Wharf’ takes care of all the sweets ‘n’ papers stuff
Xylophones. No one I’ve spoken to has ever seen one in Canary Wharf. Nor have there been any sightings of marimbas, glockenspiels, vibraphones or thongophones. Things might be different if there was a music shop here
Yobbos. Yodellers. Yellow-crowned night herons. I’m struggling with Y
Zombies. None of the office grunts or ‘retail sales advisers’ are flesh-eating zombies. I’m pretty certain about this.

*Probably

Anything I’ve missed?  Do let me know. Also if the local M&S has started selling socks yet. (Update: they always have.)

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The hairdressers of New Malden

You’re looking for a book that isn’t by James Patterson or Maeve Binchy.

You’re under 30 and you fancy a new shirt or a pair of trainers.

You like browsing around antique stores or record shops, or enjoy buying your meat from a butcher and your fish from a fishmonger.

If any of these apply to you, you can safely give New Malden High Street a miss. Try Wimbledon or Kingston instead. But if you want a haircut, then our high street is definitely THE place to come.

At the last count there were no fewer than 11 hairdressers on this half-mile strip of road. (That’s excluding the slightly dodgy-looking ones located up narrow staircases, behind single doorways at the side of shops.) In New Malden, only estate agents and food outlets are thicker on the ground.

Right next to the station, this is probably New Malden’s busiest barbershop.
No one who works here is called Sam.

Inside Sam’s.

Judy isn’t clear about whether to include an apostrophe, so covers her bases.
Judy is also as real as Sam.

Inside Judy’s. Or Judys. Note the modern, understated furniture.

Located just doors away from Judy’s. #koreanhairfight

Inside The Hair Salon. You don’t get that kind of wallpaper at John Lewis.

The long-established Headmasters.

Headmasters was one of just three shops that wouldn’t let me take a shot inside. “We have a marketing department, and they’re very strict on that sort of thing.” Surprisingly, it is also the only local hairdresser to have a hair-based pun in its name.

New Malden’s newest hairdressers*

* Actually, it’s difficult to tell with this site. Hairdresser shops tend to come and go here, sometimes starting off as one neat single store, then growing to become double-fronted before being trimmed back to a single shop. The staff can vary in sex, number and ethnicity, while the name of the shop changes with the frequency of Lady Gaga’s hairstyle.

Only an hour before this picture was taken, ‘BARBERS SHOP’ occupied the left hand side while the food takeaway ‘Baguette, Set, Go’ enjoyed its all-too-brief existence on the right.

Inside Sam & Sunny’s. No idea who’s who.

“J-j-j-ust a haircut please”

Inside Sopranos.

Dee biarsee? Die Bias? No idea.

Apparently there’s been a DiBiase salon in New Malden since 1914. I hope they’ll be playing lots of Haircut 100 next year.

No interior shots, I’m afraid. I know you’re massively disappointed.

Apparently, essensuals is ‘the diffusion group of Toni and Guy’, although it looked like a ‘hairdressers’ to me.

Inside essensuals.

The strangest retail pairing in history.

From the outside, Carrington Wood looks (and sounds) like an estate agents. Then you notice those posters in the window  advertising eyebrow threading and waxing. So what exactly is it? Well, it’s perhaps Surrey’s first hybrid estate agent/beauty parlour/hairdresser/lettings agent. Inside, the front of the shop has a few office desks and filing cabinets in the typical (though slightly down at heel) estate-agent style, while the back is given over to the hair and beauty side of the business. They wouldn’t let me photograph inside the shop, evidently thinking it a bit of an odd request. They know all about odd at Carrington Wood.

“Hi! I’m looking for a Victorian semi, three beds, about £350,000?”
“Sorry mate, the best we can offer is a modern semi for £395,000.”
“Oh. Shame. How about a number two on top and a one on the side?”

Just as some of the best New York shows are found off-Broadway…

Here’s George. Unlike Sam or Judy or Sunni or the other Sam, I’m pretty sure George is his real name. He’s cut hair in New Malden since the 1970s and I don’t think he’s ever going to expand into eyebrow threading, diffusion products or real estate.

£9 to you, squire.

PS – thanks to New Maldenite Matt Lord (@ThatChapLordy on twitter), we now have a pic of the hairdressers that catered for the very, very old of New Malden. Bebe was demolished in 2006 to make way for a vacant area of rubble.

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Streetview weirdness

I noticed this little oddity the other day.

You should be looking at Cafe Bianco and MD Electronics, two shops in Kingston-upon-Thames. Mouse over the shop on the right and a rectangle appears, sometimes with the magnifying glass icon and sometimes without. When the rectangle is showing WITHOUT the glass, click. Then see what happens to the shop on the left.

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