What’re the chances? Twice in a week, I’ve had a job right out to Richmond. Went to the same expensive road both times, they lived 6 doors away from each other.
The English are known for ignoring eccentricity, or at least humouring those who don’t conform, and London has more than its fair share. I posted about the Mole Man of Hackney and I once had Turner prize-winning potter Grayson Perry, dressed as Little Bo Peep in the back of the cab.
Some self-proclaimed eccentrics even attend the Eccentric Club, formed in the 1780s although there are some earlier references to its conception in London in the 1760s and largely representing that very British tradition of the eccentric aristocrat.
Anyone who listened to London’s late-night radio stations at the turn of the century would have heard the distinctive voice of Rainbow George Weiss, a serial caller of radio chat shows, who squatted so long in a Hampstead house he became the owner, only to sell the property for £710,000 then spending part of his windfall standing in 13 constituencies in the 2005 General Election and then giving away much of the remaining proceeds.
We all like to complain and if really aggrieved, protest to make our point, but for having eccentric protesters with the greatest tenacity, London would appear to lead the way.
We have of course our regular Saturday weekend protesters, who spend their week in comfortable City jobs or living off the State, who then like to spend their weekends selling copies of the Socialist Worker or walking around London with a banner, the latter becoming the leader of a major political party.
Taking those aside, an entrepreneurial spirit has at times been commendable with some individuals, for example, Stanley Green who upon retirement from the civil service decided against taking up golf but chose to spend 25 years warning of the dangers of protein. ‘Less Lust From Less Protein’ his leaflets printed in his front room: Eight Passion Proteins with Care went through 84 editions and sold 87,000 copies over 20 years.
The 14 pages warned that an excess of protein was responsible for uncontrollable passions and recommended that you reduce your consumption of fish, bird, meat, cheese, egg, peas, beans, nuts and well err . . . sitting, and the world would be a happier place.
Phil Howard, a scruffy, beaming Scouser who hung around from around 2000 bellowing through a megaphone at shoppers and office workers. His catchphrase, ‘be a winner, not a sinner’, would extol the benefits of Christianity at Oxford Circus greatly improving the ambience of the area until he had an anti-social behaviour order served by Westminster Council, forcing him to relocate to Piccadilly Circus. Then every evening illuminated by the neon signs revellers could hear him chastising them, telling people they were going to hell because they dyed their hair until that is a second ASBO was served to prevent him from loudly proclaiming his faith. He then relocated out of the West End popping up at other London landmarks as well as major sporting events across the capital.
Gold Lamé Man
A third lone individual could still be found, after over 15 years outside White’s Club in St. James’ Street resplendent dressed in a gold jacket and gold shoes. He divided his time between a certain Lord of the Realm’s club, who he claimed had ruined his business. He blamed Her Majesty for not supporting his one-man crusade but boasted proudly to me that once he saw the Queen watching him from behind her net curtains as he stood outside Buckingham Palace regaling he for not supporting him.
For a far more spiritual demo, go to Portland Place, there opposite the Chinese Embassy since June 2002, protesting against an oppressive regime, sympathisers of Falun Gong practise Tai Chi, 24 hours a day, commendable but utterly fruitless since China hardly feels threatened by the slow movements of the protesters. But of course, if you want free Tai Chi lessons CabbieBlog recommends the pavement outside RIBA.
Make Love Not War
But my all-time favourite for endurance and cocking a snoop at authority has to be Brian Haw, who on 2 June 2001 decided to begin camping in Parliament Square in a one-man political protest against war and foreign policy. Unfortunately for Brian, the second Iraq war overtook events making him a cause célèbre and preventing him from ever giving up his one-man protest against the forces of the State. Westminster City Council then failed in their prosecution against Brian for obstructing the pavement, later his continuous use of a megaphone led to objections by Members of Parliament. Then in a glorious twist, a House of Commons Procedure Committee recommended that the law be changed to prohibit his protest as his camp could provide an opportunity for terrorists to disguise explosive devices. The Government then passed a provision to the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act banning all unlicensed protests, permanent or otherwise, however, because Brian’s protest was on-going and residing on Parliament Square before the enactment of the Act, it was unclear whether the Act applied to him. He died in Berlin of lung cancer in 2011, no doubt still regaling the authorities.
In this city 300 languages are spoken and the people that speak them live side by side in harmony. This city typifies what I believe is the future of the human race and a future where we grow together and we share and we learn from each other.
Ken Livingston (b.1945), press conference, 8th July, 2005
On 18 October 1910 Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen’s trial commenced, for the murder of his wife Cora. Lasting only 5 days, the jury took just hours to reach a verdict of guilty. He was executed at Pentonville Prison on 23 November. His notoriety stems from being the first suspect apprehended with the aid of wireless telegraphy as he made his escape to Canada. Cora’s body was found under the basement floor of 39 Hilldrop Crescent.
On 18 November 1660, a proclamation forbidding Hackney carriages to ply for hire was enacted. Pepys records in his diary picking up on the following day
In 1894 Martial Bourdin accidently blew himself up – his funeral sparked riots by 15,000 near the Autonomie Anarchist Club, 6 Windmill Street
The Tower of London once contained a royal residence, barracks, armoury, prison, mint, a menagerie and an observatory
It took Dr John Snow years to persuade the establishment that cholera is the water-borne disease that he proved it to be in Soho in 1854
During the Cold War the statue of St Francis of Asissi at Brompton Oratory was used as a ‘dead letter’ drop for Russian KGB agents
Fassett Square in Dalston was the model for Eastenders’ Albert Square but no pub and the garden is for residents only
Tooting Bec Lido holds 1 million gallons, taking a week to fill, at 300ft x 100ft a maximum of 1,400 swimmers can enter the water at a time
Edgar Kail scored over 400 goals for Dulwich Hamlet FC won 3 England caps and refused to turn professional, Hamlet fans still chant his name
The first deep-level tube trains had no windows, guards called out the station names to advise your location
In the early days of the London and Birmingham Railway conductors travelled outside the train, leaning in through the open windows to check tickets
It would take 7,408 Hula Hoops to reach the height of Big Ben, it’s a claim made by the manufacturers of – well Hula Hoops
Kensington Park Road
The Kensington Park Road shelter which started life here in 1877 is an anomaly. Today this is upwardly mobile Notting Hill Gate frequented by film-makers.
Three decades before the arrival of the shelter, an 1849 report described most houses as ‘merely hovels in a ruinous condition’ and ‘filthy in the extreme’. A medical officer reported that it was ‘one of the most deplorable spots, not only in Kensington but in the whole metropolis’. Life expectancy was just 11 years 7 months compared with the London average of 37.
Just after the last war, the area was still one of the most deprived in the capital as related by Alan Johnson in his memoir This Boy.
Another curiosity is the road’s name – Kensington Park Road – as far as I’m aware, the nearest Kensington Park is in Romford, so this thoroughfare doesn’t take you there or provide a means of leaving the park.
Notting Hill is the sort of place where an orange Fiat 500 is in a shop window displaying pizzas, or sewing machines are stacked floor to ceiling in a frock shop window.
I’m feeling comfortable in some parts around here, but travel north and it’s a different matter.
One of my first bilkers ran away without paying in Portland Road, which has a barrier half-way up the road, acting as a demarcation boundary marking the start of a no-go area.
This shelter is located on a road that actually takes you to where it promises.
Conveniently situated by some conveniences, it is almost opposite the Albert Hall near to the site of the Great Exhibition of 1850, cabbies call it the ‘All Nations’ referring to the diversity of visitors attending the famous Victorian spectacle.
Striding off towards Scotch Corner I pass the now restored Albert Memorial. Next on my right is, or what was once the Iranian Embassy. On 5 May 1980, Britain realised it had an elite force when the SAS successfully stormed the terrorist-held embassy in Princes Gate after one of the hostages was killed and his body thrown out of the embassy. The soldiers later faced accusations of unnecessarily killing two of the five terrorists, but an inquest into the deaths eventually cleared the SAS of any blame. When I first started driving a cab around London, this building was still a burnt-out shell.
Further down the hill the road now changes its name – to Knightsbridge, thereby giving the lie that Harrods is in Knightsbridge, it’s actually in the more prosaically named Brompton Road, which does go to Brompton.