Sex and the Olympic City

CaptureWhen the London 2012 Olympic organisers announced that the Games would bring local jobs to the community it’s probably not what they had in mind. Major sporting events always tend to precipitate a boom in the sex industry, with thousands of visitors – site workers, spectators and athletes – flooding an area and London is not any different.

Prostitution and the Olympics go back to the Games inception. In fact for the early Olympiads, competing in 776 BC, the winners were invited to take their pick of prostitutes from the Temple of Aphrodite.

In an attempt to make London 2012 not only the greenest but the cleanest Olympics ever, over the past year, more than 80 brothels near the Olympic site have been closed down and prostitutes have complained they are being driven from the streets by imposing curfews and giving Asbos to stop them touting for business.

[A]pparently hordes of sex-hungry sports fans are expected to fuel a spectacular boom in the sex industry. And that’s just for starters health experts have added their voice to warn that this surge in demand for sex could “increase the spread of sexually transmitted infections”.

A campaigning group warns of the potential threat to the sexual health of Londoners and promises to distribute 500,000 free condoms in what it, rather imprudently, characterises as “hot spots” for sexual activity.

With blatant disregard to the Olympic brand online ‘escort agencies’ are renaming themselves, Olympic Escorts and others offering ‘gold medal services – come to win a gold medal with this Olympic London Escort’.

With the Olympic site locked down and the only realistic transport links starting from Stratford, I for one, cannot see how the visitors are going to be able to meet the escort of their choice if the destination is in the Stratford area, or do these ‘services’ have nothing to do with Olympian spirit apart from the scale of their charges?

The Castles of Camden

We Londoners like to think of ourselves as working hard and playing hard, but our idea of these activities pale in comparison with the 19th century Navvy. The term navvies came from the ‘navigators’ who built the first ‘navigation canals’ several decades before building the railways. By 1850 a quarter of a million workers – a force bigger than the Army and Royal Navy combined – had laid down 3,000 miles of railway line across Britain.

[T]ramping from job to job, navvies lived without adequate housing or sanitation and worked in appalling conditions. In the 1840s there was no compensation for death or injury, this culminated in the Woodhead Tunnel scandal where the death rate among the navvies building the tunnel between 1839 and 1852 was higher than that of the soldiers who fought at the battle of Waterloo.

The harsh conditions and communal living meant that navvies evolved a lifestyle, culture and even a language of their own. They built a reputation for toiling hard, fighting, hard living and hard drinking. ‘’Respectable’ Victorians view them as degenerate and a threat to social order.

Despite cruel exploitation and extreme deprivation the navvies achieved amazing feats of engineering, equipped with little more than gunpowder, picks and shovels in 1863 the Underground Metropolitan Railway from King’s Cross to Smithfield was completed, the first underground railway in the world. Huge cuttings had to be dug and lined with brickwork which was then roofed over and the streets above rebuilt, when in operation gas-lit wooden carriages were hauled by steam locomotives.

After a difficult and dangerous day, if they had avoided injury, cholera or typhoid their evening were spent together boozing and gambling with the inevitable fist-fight, which on some occasions necessitated the army being sent in the break up the combatants.

Bitterly divided along nationalistic and sectarian lines interlopers in the pub would be summarily dealt with. As the London-Birmingham railway line was being constructed in the north of the capital, ever anxious to attract customers while keeping trouble at bay four pubs were named after castles located in each part of Britain. Each worker would therefore know he was welcome and could drink with his fellow countrymen.

The Edinboro’ Castle

Bottom left Location: Mornington Terrace

With its large beer garden overlooking the rail tracks this, as you might have guessed, was for Scottish navvies. It is now a gastro pub.

The Pembroke Castle

Top right Location: Gloucester Avenue

Again this backs onto the very rail track built by its early patrons. The Welsh rail workers have given it over to the Hampstead Comedy Club.

The Dublin Castle

Top left Location: Parkway

Once home to Irish itinerant workers this is the most famous. A legendary music venue where Madness made their video for My Girl.

The Warwick Castle

Bottom right Location: Parkway

Home of the English to sink a pint or three of ale with their colleagues, it was renamed the NW1 Bar but now is a Cote Restaurant.

How times have changed in Camden.

Pictures and some background information from Cabbie Rob.


Those were the days

Stan decided to start The Knowledge in the 1950s. Here is his story . . .

It was the first week of January 1957 and I had decided to do ‘The Knowledge’. I had found myself a partner who knew absolutely everything there was to know, or so I thought. He had all the runs copied out (by someone else) and a list of every point asked since 1645 AD.

[I] turned up at his parents flat in Downs Court, a block of flats overlooking the Pembury Circle. It was 7.30 am and I was riding my Rudge Whitworth bicycle that my Dad had bought me in 1949 in Club Row for a fiver.

His mother, answering the door told me that he was still in bed. From under the bedclothes he mumbled that it was too cold to get up. In disgust I took off on my own.

My knowledge of London was far less than nil. I had no idea that there was a Euston Station, a Marylebone or Cannon Street Stations, let alone Blackfriars, Charing Cross or London Bridge. Who could possibly want all those stations?

I cannot remember what sort of ‘run’ I was doing, but I found myself in Wilton Crescent leaning back on my bike and looking up at the church spire. It suddenly took on a wobbly shape and everything went black.

When I came too I realized that I had been ‘out’ for at least 30 minutes. and I was lying on top of my bike in the middle of the road. No one had come to my assistance.

With great difficulty I got to my feet and leaning on my bike (it was very difficult to walk), I trudged around up to Hyde Park Corner, and down into the subterranean toilets (they are probably not there now). The attendant there must have taken pity on me. I gave him the 3 pence (just over 1p today) for a standard wash and he gave me the de luxe treatment. Two wonderfully soft white towels, all the hot water I wanted, a face cloth and a bar of soap. That was the sixpence treatment.

After I had recovered somewhat I staggered across Knightsbridge (no underpass in those days and into ‘J. Lyons’ tea shop. I had a steaming hot cup of tea and a large sugar covered Chelsea Bun, it was delicious. So I had another and another.

I rode my bike home and the next day went out and got myself a job as a ‘top machiner’ in a sweat shop.

I restarted The Knowledge at the end of February – and yes passed, eventually.

Life on Mars

NASA has recently successfully landed the Mars Rover Opportunity on the planet’s surface and this brilliant piece of engineering has already started sending back high definition pictures of the Red Plant.

But if Lord Young had managed to get his South Bank project off the ground it could have been on the banks of the Thames and not Houston that was leading the way in Martian space exploration.

[M]ichael Young proposed to build a simulated Martian colony on the site of the decommissioned Bankside Power Station. The Argo Venture had some serious advocates; Young had already started the Open University and The Consumers Association and his Martian adventure gained the support of distinguished scientists James Lovelock (one of the first to research global warming) and Martin Rees (who is now President of the Royal Society).

He had persuaded the Chairman of the Central Electricity Generating Board to donate the power station and Southwark Council to allow planning permission for a property tycoon to develop the surrounding land in return for building the ‘Martian colony’.

It was in effect a Big Brother 15 years before Channel 4 came up with the idea. Putting a group of individuals in an enclosed environment to see how they would react to having to live in such close proximity to each other over an extended period of time. This would be made into a BBC documentary, which in addition to the scientific benefits was expected to kick start international support for the actual colonisation of Mars.

He also planned to establish a British Space Museum and set up a National Space Agency. Having persuaded the BBC to film a documentary of the experiment the project foundered when Margaret Thatcher’s government decided to privatise the Central Electricity Generating Board preventing Bankside Power Station being given over to the enterprise.

NASA might have won the space race to Mars but London has gained an internationally famous gallery of modern art, and Lord Young’s vision of a British Space Museum has subsequently been established in Leicester.

Armadillo swallows London Stone

When learning The Knowledge some days remain etched in your memory forever. One such day for me was when I went to find a ‘point’ – London Stone – note it is not a definite article, even though it patiently is.

I searched Cannon Street looking to find a clue to the elusive stone, up the sides of buildings, perched high up on a roof, inside the station, until I tracked down my quarry.

[T]here behind a hideous grill attached to a scruffy 1960’s office was one of London’s oldest landmarks, known to have been in the City since 1198.

It is an unprepossessing piece of Clipston limestone or oolite. With its round-shouldered top and twin grooves, measuring about 18 inches across, if found in a field, one would ignore it. Legend says that this small stone is linked to the destiny of our capital city, hence its Grade II listing.

Minerva the company who are developing the site now wish to move this rare artefact. The name of the company is taken from the Roman goddess of wisdom, but in this instance concerning a rare Roman piece of history not a lot of wisdom is being demonstrated, it’s just convenient for Minerva as they want to move the artefact a few doors down the street to the Walbrook Building.

The Walbrook Building, one of the City’s newer office blocks designed by Foster and Partners’, looks like a metal armadillo, a very modern building but with few heritage nods at ground level. Two of the metal struts planted firmly into Cannon Street incorporate small black plaques that once marked former ward boundaries. They look a bit incongruous, to be frank, but at least they’re still on site rather than scrapped and dumped elsewhere.

The plan is to relocate London Stone to the front elevation of the Walbrook Building and a special display case will be built to contain the legendary. One of the existing grey panels will be replaced by a laminated glass wall, and the stone placed inside on an etched mild steel plinth. And the grille will come too, given a less prominent position beneath, plus the metal plaque that currently sits on top of them all.

The Stone has had a chequered history. It was referenced in Shakespeare’s Henry VI Part 2, but by the 18th Century it was known more as a traffic hazard. The Stone was moved back and forth across Cannon Street, and eventually ended up in St. Swithin’s Church, until the building was bombed in World War II. Since the early 1960s, the Stone has been housed at street level in an office building, opposite Cannon Street Station, so it certainly has led a life a travel.

Old enough to remember the original Olympics in Rome, should this piece of stone be now relocated behind glass, as if it was a museum exhibit, in one of the most modern buildings of London, divorced from the everyday fabric of the city?