Cock-up or Conspiracy

All right I know we have been here before, but I’m back to the old chestnut, road works.

The road works and the planning, or lack of planning, has now in London reached epic proportions.

It is only when you have been stuck in the gridlock that the West End has become of late you start to question the Westminster Council’s ineptitude.

[O]r is it part of a conspiracy by a group of sandal-wearing, tree hugging, muesli munching ‘environmental anarchists’ that have managed to infiltrate councils across London with an agenda to force motorists off the road?

Are they gradually bringing London to a standstill in the hope that people will give up their cars? Why else have they slowed down all traffic lights? Why have they built bus bays that stick out into the road forcing all the other traffic to stop at every bus stop? Why are there speed humps on almost every road, including cul-de-sacs? And why has the one-way system at Aldgate been turned back to its 1960 configuration?

Goodbye Hippodrome

London Hippodrome After over 100 years of providing theatrical entertainment, which has seen some top acts of the day, one of the capital’s most historic theatres closes its doors tomorrow.

The London Hippodrome, to the east of Leicester Square and built in 1900 by Frank Matcham as a hippodrome for circus and variety performances, it gave its first circus show on 15 January 1900.

With a spectacle unheard of in London at the time, you would enter the theatre via a replica of a ship’s saloon with a performance space featuring both a proscenium stage and an arena that sank into a 230ft, 100,000 gallon water tank for aquatic spectacles.

[T]he auditorium could also be flooded, and used for the entry of boats. Shows included equestrian acts, elephants and polar bears, and acrobats who would dive from a minstrel gallery above a sliding roof, in the centre of the proscenium arch. The auditorium featured cantilevered galleries, removing the columns that often obstructed views in London theatres; the whole was covered by a painted glass retractable roof that could be illuminated at night.

In 1909, it was reconstructed by Matcham as a music-hall and variety theatre with 1,340 seats in stalls, mezzanine, gallery, and upper gallery levels. It was here that Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake received its English première by the Russian Ballet in 1910 and Harry Houdini among others appeared.

In 1958 in an act of vandalism the original interior was demolished and the London Hippodrome was converted into the cabaret restaurant, “Talk of the Town”, featuring many of the popular artists of the time, including appearances by Judy Garland, Eartha Kitt, Shirley Bassey, the Temptations and the Seekers’ final concert was recorded for the album “The Seekers: Live at The Talk of the Town” in 1968.

The Hippodrome is to undergo an extensive restoration programme taking it back to Matcham’s original 1909 design but unfortunately it will not reopen as a theatre but as a casino. It will also have yet another Gordon Ramsay restaurant, his 15th in London.

Just why do we need yet another casino in London, we are not Monte Carlo? London is the world’s hub for live theatre with over 100 major venues and numerous fringe theatres, so many in fact that you could go to a different production every night of the year.

If you want more information on the history of theatre go to The Music Hall and Theatre Site dedicated to Arthur Lloyd 1839-1904.

Picture Credit: Jacqueline Banerjee at Victorian Web.

The Big Issue

The Big IssueThe genesis of this post comes from my cyber colleague rjc’s The Cabbies Capital. Inhabiting a parallel world to ours, some 15,000 people live, mostly invisible to London’s populace as we hurry about on our busy lives. The nearest most Londoners come to meeting these people are the enterprising Big Issue vendors who try to sell their papers with a smile of desperation. I will try to avoid a Ralph McTell, Streets of London crèche here, but as a London cabbie I really could take you to ‘places that will make you change your mind’.

[G]o to Lincoln Inn Fields in the early evening and in the North West corner you will find a large group of men, mainly Poles waiting for the soup kitchen, yes that’s right, in 2009 and in the capital of the World’s fourth largest economy, there are still charitable groups handing out food. The BBC has recently made what some might describe as a reality programme, where various celebrities have been put on the streets to cope as best they can. You can watch Famous, Rich and Homeless tomorrow and Thursday at 9.00 pm, or read Annabel Croft’s excellent account of the making of the documentary.

These homeless people are often mentally challenged, but of course all the facilities for their care were closed by the previous Conservative Government. Some of these people simply do not exist, no National Insurance Number, no education, an abusive home life that they have run away from.

And one final thought, look at their little dog on the end of a tatty lead, I bet in most cases it’s the best fed and cared for of the pair and often their dogs look happier than many owned by wealthier owners.

Happy Birthday, Gordon

On Monday 15th March Selfridges Department Store at the Marble Arch end of Oxford Street celebrated its centenary having opening in 1909.

Here is the story of its founder taken from CabbieBlog’s Hidden London.

Gordon Selfridge the American department store magnet was an interesting fellow who provides a salutary moral lesson for us all.

[G]ordon devoted his productive years to building Selfridges into Europe’s finest shopping emporium. During that time he led a life of stern rectitude, early bedtimes and tireless work. But in 1918 his wife died and the sudden release from marital bounds rather went to his head.

He took up with a pair of Hungarian-American cuties known in music-hall circles as the Dolly Sisters, and he fell into rakish ways. With a Dolly on each arm he dined out every night, invested foolish sums on racehorses, cars, the casinos and even bought a castle in Dorset. In ten years he had spent $8 million, lost control of his department store, his racehorses, Rolls Royces and his castle. He ended up living in a small flat in Putney and travelling everywhere by bus. He died penniless and forgotten in 1947, with a smile on his face thinking of the time he had shagged the twin sisters.

Want to buy a bus, going cheap?

Bendy bus sale Arthur Daily would have managed to move them. But it seems that the London mayor’s first attempt to sell off the capital’s bendy buses has not met with success. A batch of thirty-one of these 58ft-long monsters from Mercedes Benz advertised in a trade magazine has failed to attract a buyer after six weeks.

Those with the £80,000 spare can buy one of the 350 which ultimately will be sold.

But buyers may have been put off by their chequered history. Introduced by then mayor of London Ken Livingstone in 2001, bendy buses were temporarily taken out of service in 2005 when three suddenly caught fire.

[A] year later, evidence presented to the London Assembly showed that they are more likely to be involved in an accident than other buses in the fleet. Critics also said fare-dodgers were sneaking on the buses using the back doors, instead of the front ones next to the driver.

Go on, give a bus a home it would look great on the drive.