All posts by Gibson Square

A Licensed Black London Cab Driver I share my London with you . . . The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Only in England

At the time of writing this post there have been 528 people standing on The Plinth in Antony Gormley’s One & Other. We have had among others Lord Lucan, Elvis Presley, a gorilla and a pigeon. Then there was a guy who just improved his golf swing.

So far they have braved thunderstorms, torrential rain, unseasonably cold weather and heckling from patrons of nearby hostelries.

[I]n total 2,400 Plinthers (they now have a name) will stand 23ft above Trafalgar Square protected by safety netting or is the netting to stop the public climbing up to stop them? Four security guards and a cherry picker crane helping them to the summit, carrying what props they need for their ’15 minutes of fame’.

When Sir Charles Barry designed Trafalgar Square in the 1840s he included four plinths. One carries a statue of George IV while two others have statues of the generals Sir Charles James Napier and Sir Henry Havelock.

The fourth plinth, in the north-west corner, was intended to hold a statue of King William IV on horseback but the money ran out. To this day no agreement has been reached on who should be celebrated there.

True to British propensity to compromise, in the mid-Nineties the Fourth Plinth Commissioning Group was set up to fill the gap with a series of temporary art commissions, the most controversial being Marc Quinn’s sculpture, Alison Lapper Pregnant. One & Other is the site’s most ambitious project to date, and will run until October 14.

Antony Gormley who’s art always seems to depict the human body has struck a blow for the ingenuity and the eccentricity of the British, with One & Other it is a glorious celebration of all things we love. More tea vicar?

David v Goliath

[T]he English will always cheer an underdog – no matter if they are English, Scottish or even French – in the interests of fair play, another ideal the English hold in equally high esteem. The English have always loved the underdog: ‘Eddie the Eagle’ Britain’s first (and only) Olympic Ski jumper was ranked 55th in the world at Calgary’s winter Olympics in 1988 and Eddie had all of England cheering for him.

We are a small nation who have taken on giants giving us a David versus Goliath mentality. As a fellow “David” let me relate to you a story while trying hard to conceal a smirk.

wickhamsold The old Wickhams department store on Mile End Road, completed 1927, is a masterpiece of thwarted desire. Although called the “Harrods of the East”, its architectural model was Selfridges, its facade; a confident parade of giant iconic columns in imitation of the Oxford Street version. It even goes one better by having a tower in the centre: Gordon Selfridge planned one for his store but never achieved it.

All would have been perfect had it not been for the Spiegelhalters, a family of jewellers who owned a two-storey building near the middle of the site. They were descendants of the first Mr Spiegelhalter who had set up shop in Whitechapel in 1828 after coming to Britain from Germany.

wickhamsnow The business had moved to 81 Mile End Road in 1880. The Spiegelhalters refused every inducement to sell up, causing an exceptional case of colonnadus interruptus, their little structure causing the march of columns to stop and start again. It also meant the tower was built slightly off-centre. The original idea for Selfridges — a completed colonnade plus a tower — was fated to be achieved in neither Oxford Street nor Mile End Road.

Spiegelhalter What we have instead is more interesting, a graphic demonstration how competing ambitions and sheer obstinacy shape a city. As it turned out the Spiegelhalters lasted longer. Wickhams closed in the Sixties.
Is there a lesson to be learnt here?

Max Miller says goodbye

[I]t is hard to believe now but once, and I’m afraid you will have to take my word for this, once Leicester Square was a rather splendid public space. But in 1936 town planners decided to steal a march on Hitler and start destroying London first.

The old Alhambra Theatre in Leicester Square was a prime site for ‘redevelopment’. Max Miller who at the time was probably the most famous entertainer in England, heard it was being demolished and went along for a last look at the theatre he’d performed at on many occasions.

When he arrived at lunchtime on hearing that the famous stage was about to be taken down he climbed on the boards and gave the workmen a hilarious one hour performance. Ten minutes after he’d finished, the stage was gone for ever.

Near the end of his life he confessed that his proudest professional moment was; as he put it “closing the old Alhambra”.

With the prospect of strikes by public service workers imminent I will leave you with a picture of Leicester Square the last time there was industrial action by dustmen.

Leicester Square

A Brave New World

Apollo 11 launch Take note of the time and date of this post, for it was exactly 40 years ago that three men lifted off on top of the most powerful rocket ever constructed.

After 12 years work by the Americans, that cost $25 billion ($250 billion at today’s prices), amounting to 5 per cent of America’s gross domestic product, and it must be said a few lives, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins headed for the moon.

Scarcely believable now, but five days later 600 million people, an incredible one-fifth of the global population at the time, watched the subsequent moon walk on television.

[I]t would not be unreasonable to question why this is featured on CabbieBlog. Well, I tell you this, in 1969 with a contentious major war in Asia slowly being lost by America, Apollo 11 gave the world hope in the human spirit of endeavour, and for once, just once, humanity rose above the petty squabbles seemingly to have beset us all. It’s just a pity we didn’t have a new uniting spirit.

I will finish this post with a quote from Bill Anders, astronaut on Apollo 8:

“We came all this way to explore the moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth.”




The Burghers of Trumpton

windymiller Patrick Moore must know if there is a parallel universe in London.

For most of us who use London’s roads encounter inappropriate speeding, overtaking on the nearside, rude and careless drivers, and a complete disregard of pedestrians and cyclists.

But it would appear that The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s roads department don’t populate the world that I live in (or most accurately the world that I drive in).

Their world is akin to Camberwick Green when everybody is aware of other road users, greeting them with a cheery riposte, and continuing on their journey unimpeded. They help little old ladies cross the road and slow down for children.

[F]or what the good Burghers of Kensington and Trumpton are proposing is to convert Exhibition Road by removing the kerbs and to semi pedestrianise the road. Already the RNIB have objected to this lack of delineation between the road and pavement, going as far when on 17 June 150 blind and partially sighted people campaigned outside the London Assembly.

This is an extract from Trumpton’s website explaining the proposed changes:

The most recognisable characteristic of shared space is the absence of street clutter, such as conventional traffic signals, barriers, signs and road markings. This encourages motorists to slow down, engage with their surroundings and make eye contact with pedestrians – resulting in a higher quality and more usable street area, with enhanced road safety.

So next year look out for Police Constable McGarry, Mickey Murphy the baker, Dr Mopp, Mrs Honeyman and Windy Miller.

Pugh Pugh Barney McGrew Cuthbert Dibble and Grubb!