My Tower Poppy

Like many I watched the red sea of poppies slowly fill the Tower’s moat and on one cold night in October when the installation was about half completed I joined many others watching as a full moon rose above the battlements of this iconic military building.

It was this remarkable juxtaposition – the cold hard walls of war dwarfing thousands of red spots each representing a lost life, with a pure white moon illuminating the scene.

[I]t was that experience that persuaded me to buy a small reminder of this representation England’s past. Having duly ordered my Poppy I almost forgot about when a text message alerted me to the impending arrival of my little piece of history. Upon opening the box a whole wave of emotions hit me. Outside it looks like any other white parcel, but when you lift the lid you are given a glimpse of the Tower with its cascading poppies printed on the underside of the lid.


The ceramic poppy is surprisingly large, just fitting into the palm of your hand, about the size of a human heart, which of course is exactly what it represents.

Another analogy could be drawn from the soil still left sticking to the fixing washers enclosed. Could that be likened to the mire of the Somme trenches?

A small booklet is enclosed which gives a history of the artwork entitled Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red and gives details of the charities that will benefit from the sale of the poppies. For me, one story stood out above all the others and relates to a remarkable coincidence.

Arthur James Fisher was one of the million men wounded or killed during the First World War at the battle of the Somme. Shot in the right arm on 31st July 1916, Arthur survived but struggled with his injuries for the rest of his life.

Exactly 96 years later, on 31 July 2012, his great-grandson Flight Lieutenant Lance Levin was shot in his right arm while piloting a helicopter rescue mission in Afghanistan.

Lance is still serving, but required several operations and has been supported by Help for Heroes. Being injured on the same day as his great-grandfather is nothing more than an extraordinary coincidence but, as he says: “If it can happen to my great-grandfather and to me, it will happen to many more generations to come who will need our support.”

Originally I was going to plant my poppy in the garden, but now I think what it represents with its imperfect form and striking bright red colour this symbol demands a more considered resting place. But where?

A Laundry List of Things To Do

The great Samuel Johnson once said that when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life. So, why is it Londoners spend so much time on boring things like laundry when they could be out enjoying the capital?

This Guest Post by Dian Liu suggests ways nowadays there’s so many ways to get rid of your chores that there’s no excuse. Why spend ages ironing or hanging your clothes on the radiator when you could use a mobile laundry service like Laundrapp and spend your time relaxing instead?

[D]ownload Laundrapp on iPhone or Android and you can have your dirty clothes collected whenever you want, cleaned professionally and delivered to your door for free. That means you’re free to spend time doing more fun things, such as . . .

Borough Market
One of the country’s oldest food markets and one that neither locals nor tourists seem to get bored of. It’s free to browse, but with the smell of tempting cookies in the air you’ll definitely want to spoil yourself. Plus, with the Southbank so close, this a fantastic way to share a morning with someone special!

Rooftop Film Club
Watching a movie may not sound like anything special, but it takes on a different meaning when you’re on top of the city. The Rooftop Film Club provides the movie, the comfy chairs and the food – but London provides the dazzling view. It can get a bit chilly, so get your coat dry cleaned and be sure to bundle up warm.

Monthly Festivals
If you live in London then there’s no shortage of festivals throughout the year, so rather than choosing a single one to visit why not visit them all? There’s the Reggae Festival in February, the Seaside Rock Fest in March, Extreme Sports Festival in April . . . every month has something to keep you busy.

The Last Tuesday Society
Every Londoner has been the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum, but have you ever seen a two-head lamb or the eggs of the (now extinct) Elephant Bird? These are the sorts of things you can only find at The Last Tuesday Society – and that alone makes it worth a visit.

Soho Comedy Club
The only thing better than a giggle is good luck, which is why we love the Soho Comedy Club. Monday nights always feature special comedy guests and the casino gives you a chance to win big. Want to dress up before your night on the town? Download Laundrapp and get your suit dry cleaned now!

This is only scratching the surface of things to do in London, obviously – and the best things to do are those you discover for yourself. That’s just one more reason to avoid doing the laundry and create your own laundry list of things to do in London!

Central-WashIf you really want a way down Memory Lane the Central Wash in Queensway which was Britain’s first self-service coin-operated launderette, opening on 9th May 1949 still survives today. Photo: Lucy Fisher (CC BY 2.0)

Bomb Sights

In my house in suburban North London we had a joke about my Father’s war wound. Thankfully his war service concluded without injury, his garden fence on the other hand did not survive unscathed.

Returning from a day working in what is now
the MI5’s headquarters, my Mother was
confronted with the back door hanging
off its hinges, a bomb had fallen some way away.

[I]t was, apparently the result of a stray German bomber’s attempt at hitting the nearby railway siding, missing its intended target, the resulting shrapnel decapitated Dad’s fence. Thankfully, I believe no injuries were sustained; others where bombs fell were, of course, not so lucky.

I was reminded of this when reading of a huge project which aims at mapping the location of every bomb dropped during World War II. The reasoning, apart from the obvious danger of unexploded ordinance, is that bombs contaminate the surrounding land with copper, zinc, lead and mercury as they corrode.

It is estimated that one in ten bombs dropped by the German Luftwaffe failed to explode; this was in part due to sabotage. Unlike bombs assembled by the allies much of the German ordinance was produced by slave labour who took every opportunity to thwart Germany’s ambitions. Some failed to explode on impact, others with delayed timers have jammed, and their clockwork mechanisms could still explode if disturbed.

In all 21,000 locations where bombs have fallen are logged on the website Bomb Sight. The culprit for my garden fence I found was a high explosive bomb, falling between 7th October 1940 and 6th June 1941. Present-day address: Norfolk Close, Cockfosters, London Borough of Enfield, EN4 0BX, London. Source: Aggregate Night Time Bomb Census.

Because of these unlocated bombs construction in London tends to be higher as provision for locating buried bombs has to be written into any costings. During the construction of the Olympic Park work had to be halted when a 1,000kg device was found. Estimates at the time put at 200 the number of unidentified bombs within the Olympic site.

Now experts have studied aerial photographs taken by the RAF after the war and maps created by insurance companies to assess the extent of the bombing damage which hopefully will minimise injury and reduce construction costs.

Shakespeare in Love

It is not often that a cabbie gets to play a seminal role in a play, but this happens in one of the scenes from Shakespeare in Love written by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard, with a little help from the Bard.

Knowing this scene I just had to see the stage version based on the original film, the only surprising thing is that it has taken so long to transfer from the big screen to the Noel Coward Theatre in London’s West End.

[T]his romantic comedy is set in Bankside towards the end of the 16th century where a young Shakespeare has writing block. The script liberally sprinkled with quotes from his later works, many I’m sure unnoticed by me, has all the ingredients of Elizabethan theatre: mistaken identities, cross dressing, satire and huge egos that have to be managed.

This is a play, within a play as we watch the play unfold. Shakespeare superbly played by Tom Bateman is writing Romeo and Ethel, daughter of the Pirate King. Contemporary playwrite Christopher Marlowe (Edward Franklin) compounds Shakespeare’s his writer’s block by having all the ideas, the money men assert their power and menace, while managers feel they can construct a better plot than the writer.

The stage design is of the galleried shape of an Elizabethan theatre, this by clever transformation becomes: back-of-stage; the visible stage; Viola de Lesseps’ house, the focus of Shakespeare amour; simple street scenes; and even the boat scene when a river boatman, the predecessor of today’ cabbie, inadvertently tells the love struck Shakespeare that promising actor Thomas Kent and Viola de Lesseps (Lucy Briggs-Owen) the love of his life are one of the same:

Thomas Kent/Viola: Boatman. Down river. De Lesseps Hall, please. On the double.
The boat is about to pull away when Will comes running.
Will: Thomas!
He catches the boat up and leaps on board.
Boatman: Steady on guvnor.
Thomas Kent/Viola: Will!
Will: I have to speak to you.
Boatman: Hang on a minute. I know your face. You’re an actor. I saw you in something.
Will: Very possibly.
Boatman: What was it? The one with a king.
Thomas Kent/Viola: Please, I’m in a hurry.
Boatman: I had that Christopher Marlowe in the back of my boat once.
Will and Thomas Kent then engage in earnest conversion about the love of Wills life – Viola de Lesseps.
On arrival at De Lesseps Hall Thomas Kent runs off throwing money at the boatman.
Boatman: Thanks M’Lady.
Will: Lady?
Boatman: Viola de Lesseps. Knew her since she was this high. Always a bit of a tomboy. But the facial hair is a big surprise.
Will is in shock.
Boatman: Strangely enough I’m a bit of a writer myself.
The Boatman produces a brick-sized manuscript.
It wouldn’t take you long to read it. ‘Spect you know all the booksellers . . .

It all goes to show that London, the West End and cabbies have hardly changed these past 400 years.

When I saw the play the events in Paris had just culminated in their tragic end, and the irony of the Lord Chamberlain of Elizabethan England trying to censor art by closing the theatre because a woman had appeared on stage was rather telling.

And the play? If you love the theatre and London – highly recommended.

The London Grill: Kieran Meeke

We challenge our contributor to reply to ten devilishly probing questions about their London and we don’t take “Sorry Gov” for an answer. Everyone sitting in the hot seat will face the same questions that range from their favourite way to spend a day out in the capital to their most hated building on London’s skyline to find out just what Londoners really think about their city. The questions might be the same but the answers vary wildly.

Kieran-Meeke[O]riginally from Northern Ireland, I’ve been to more than 100 countries, and lived in eight, but have now been in London for more than 15 years – my longest in one place. I was Features Editor of Metro for 10 years and am now editor-in-chief of TRVL, voted best iPad magazine in 2012 and the highest-rated on iTunes. Before Metro, I worked on the Camden New Journal and was a restaurant critic for the Daily Mirror. I started Secret London about 10 years ago and am alternately fascinated and frustrated by how much there is to discover in London.

What’s your secret London tip?
Walk around the City on Sundays. You will have much of it to yourself and discover a world of new things. Be bold when you see something interesting – people are usually helpful if you are genuinely curious.

What’s your secret London place?
Well, I have a website full of them. Let’s say it’s the Red Room off Park Lane, Henry VIII’s former hunting lodge overlooking Hyde Park, but my really secret place stays secret.

What’s your biggest gripe about London?
People who charge out of shop doorways and are surprised to find that other people are walking along the pavement. In a city of 7million people?

What’s your favourite building?
Notre Dame de France, a hidden oasis of calm off Leicester Square, right next to the Prince Charles cinema. Some lovely artwork inside and you might be lucky enough to catch a West African wedding or an incense-rich Latin mass.

What’s your most hated building?
Canary Wharf has no soul and its private army of security guards, while individually pleasant enough, can combine to make you feel very unwelcome.

What’s the best view in London?
Coming back down the Thames from Greenwich to Westminster at night. I once drove a powerboat at 55knots from Tower Bridge to the Thames Barrier – that was magnificent.

What’s your personal London landmark?
I am fascinated by postboxes, each one is different with royal cyphers dating back to Queen Victoria and each has a unique key, meaning older ones have deep grooves scored by decades of being opened by postmen with large bunches of keys. I’m afraid I bore my friends about them. Have you ever seen an Edward VIII one? I only know of two in London.

What’s London’s best film, book or documentary?
It’s starting to date but I like Withnail and I, if only because I have a Swaziland connection with Richard E Grant, as does Matthew Paris.

What’s your favourite bar, pub or restaurant?
It has to be Soho’s Secret Tea Room, which is the room above the bar in Norman’s Coach & Horses, used by Private Eye for its famous lunches. I love the retro feel, right down to the old gramophone and lament how bad coffee shops have replaced a proper afternoon tea. Not a bad pub, either.

How would you spend your ideal day off in London?
Breakfast in a proper East End café, then exploring and photographing a part of London I haven’t yet discovered, with bangers & mash in a good pub for lunch. Then an evening of martinis from Antonio at the Egerton, followed by dinner at Richard Corrigan’s.

This ‘Grill’ was first posted on the Radio Taxis blog.