Just Desserts in London

Maids of Honour
A personal favourite of mine. Just opposite Kew Gardens is a rather quaint tea room selling these puff-pastry cakes containing a rich melange of almonds, cinnamon, butter and brandy named after a famous terrace in Richmond. This was built for the ladies-in-waiting to a former Princess of Wales, Caroline of Anspach, who lived at nearby Richmond Palace.

Those resourceful Romans are said to have stuck meat between two slices of bread to make a convenient way of eating on the move, presumably when conquering their European neighbours.

But the name sandwich is attributed to John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich. His family insist that he invented its creation to allow him to work on Admiralty papers, but those less charitable suggest that it was more likely he was rather bust at White’s gaming tables.

The current Earl of Sandwich has resurrected his ancestor’s invention and given his name to a chain of upmarket sandwich shops.

Don’t mention this to our Gallic cousins but in 1662 Christopher Merrett having moved from Oxford to London demonstrated at The Royal Society how to make champagne, a full 30 years before Dom Perignon started his famed tipple.

Peach Melba
The Savoy’s famous chef Auguste Escoffier was credited as creating this dessert for opera diva Dame Nellie Melba. The combination of peaches, raspberries, redcurrant jelly and vanilla ice-cream were combined to protect her precious vocal chords prior to her appearances at Covent Garden.

Chelsea Bun
On the corner of Pimlico Road and Lower Sloane Street, before the antique dealers arrived selling Georgian furniture, there stood a famous bun house royally patronised by Georges II, III and IV. Note the genuine light fluffy article containing raisins is always square.

A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 29th March 2013

Exploding the legend of Guy Fawkes

Ask most children in England what happens on the 5th November and they would tell you that it is Guy Fawkes night. It is a night we commemorate when in 1605 some Catholics in England expecting the new Stuart King – James to be more tolerant of them had decided to kill him. Their hopes were dashed when he had proved to be the opposite and had ordered all Catholic priests to leave England.

This so angered some Catholics that they decided to remove James and put his daughter Elizabeth on the throne ensuring that she was a Catholic.

This led to a plot to assassinate the king of England, but as we shall see it would devastate a sizeable area of Westminster and also kill everyone sitting in the Houses of Parliament at the same time as the James opened Parliament on 5th November 1605.

Guy Fawkes and his fellow conspirators had rented out a house next to the Houses of Parliament and managed to get 36 barrels of gunpowder into a cellar under the House of Lords.

For an unexplained reason, it was decided this year to search the cellars prior to the opening of Parliament and Guy Fawkes was caught red-handed.

In celebration of his survival, James ordered that the people of England should have a great bonfire on the night on 5th November. This fire was traditionally topped off with an effigy of the Pope rather than Guy Fawkes. His place at the top of the fire came in later as did fireworks. The East Sussex county town of Lewes still has the pope alongside Guy Fawkes when it comes to the effigies being burned.

Many conspiracy theories surround the 5th November plot but the use of gunpowder is an intriguing one.

The government had a monopoly on gunpowder in this country and it was stored in places like the Tower of London. How did the conspirators get hold of 36 barrels of gunpowder without drawing attention to themselves?

How was the gunpowder moved across London from the Tower of London to Westminster (at least two miles distant) without anyone seeing it? The River Thames would not have been used as it could have lead to the gunpowder becoming damp and useless. Thirty-six barrels would have been a sizeable quantity, estimated to be 2,500 kilograms, being moved without causing suspicion.

Experts from the Centre for Explosion Studies, at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth have estimated the Westminster Abbey would have been destroyed and the blast zone would have stretched as far as modern-day Downing Street.

They found that within a radius of about 40 metres, everything would have been razed to the ground. Within 110 metres, buildings would have been at least partially destroyed. And some windows would have been blown out even as far as 900 metres away.

In the 2005 ITV programme The Gunpowder Plot: Exploding The Legend, a full-size replica of the House of Lords was built and destroyed with barrels of gunpowder. The experiment demonstrated that the explosion if the gunpowder was in good order – and there is no reason to believe otherwise as Guy Fawkes was an explosives expert – would have killed all those in the building. The power of the explosion in the experiment was such that the 7-foot deep concrete walls (replicating how archives suggest the walls of the old House of Lords were constructed) were reduced to rubble. Measuring devices placed in the chamber to calculate the force of the blast were themselves destroyed by the explosion; the skull of the dummy representing King James, which had been placed on a throne inside the chamber surrounded by courtiers, peers and bishops, was found a considerable distance from the site. According to the findings of the programme, no one within 330 feet of the blast could have survived. The explosion would have been seen from miles away, and heard from further away still. Even if only half of the gunpowder had gone off, everyone in the House of Lords and its environs would have been killed instantly.

The programme also disproved claims that some deterioration in the quality of the gunpowder would have prevented the explosion. A portion of deliberately deteriorated gunpowder, of such low quality as to make it unusable in firearms, when placed in a heap and ignited, still managed to create a large explosion. The impact of even deteriorated gunpowder would have been magnified by its containment in wooden barrels, compensating for the quality of the contents. The compression would have created a cannon effect, with the powder first blowing up from the top of the barrel before, a millisecond later, blowing out. Calculations showed that Fawkes, who was skilled in the use of gunpowder, had deployed double the amount needed.

As a curious footnote, some of the gunpowder guarded by Fawkes may have survived until recently. In March 2002 workers cataloguing archives of diarist John Evelyn at the British Library found a box containing a number of gunpowder samples, including a compressed bar with a note in Evelyn’s handwriting stating that it had belonged to Guy Fawkes. A further note, written in the 19th century, confirmed this provenance, but in 1952 the document acquired a new comment: “but there was none left”.

A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 5th November 2012

London Trivia: BBC buys temporary studios

On 3 November 1949, the BBC purchased Lime Grove Studios owned by the Gaumont Film Company. The acquisition was ‘a temporary measure’ used to tide them over as the Television Centre was being built. It would be nearly 45 years before it became obsolete. By the end, the building was in such a poor state of repair that the remaining BBC staff nicknamed it “Slime Grove”. It was redeveloped into a housing estate.

On 3 November 1783 highwayman John Austin, convicted of ‘robbery with violence’ became the last man hanged at the Tyburn Tree

Lady Elizabeth Hatton leaving a ball was found in a yard blood still pumping from her torn body Bleeding Heart Yard commemorates her murder

When an architect was told he must leave a gap in his office block to allow access to St Peter’s in Cornhill he decorated it with devils

Ben Johnson was too poor to afford the normal grave space in Westminster Abbey and so his friends paid to have him buried standing up

During the American Civil War London cabbies unadvisedly flew the Confederate flag in support from their Hansom cabs

Named after London’s famous comic, Joseph Grimaldi Park in Islington plays host to an annual ceremony populated by clowns

Twining Teas opened 1707 on the Strand selling tea to Queen Anne, it’s the oldest business in Britain operating from their original premises

The red rose, an emblem for England’s rugby team was chosen before the first international in 1871 and is copied from Rugby School’s crest

The world’s longest continuous railway tunnel is the Northern Line: Morden to East Finchley totalling 17.3 miles, 24 stations and 3 junctions

When escalators were first installed at Earls Court Bumper Harris a one-legged man was employed to demonstrate their safety and ease of use

Her Majesty The Queen cannot enter The City of London without first asking permission from The Lord Mayor a ceremony performed at Temple Bar

CabbieBlog-cab.gifTrivial Matter: London in 140 characters is taken from the daily Twitter feed @cabbieblog.
A guide to the symbols used here and source material can be found on the Trivial Matter page.

Regrets, I have a few

The more observant amongst my readers might have noticed that CabbieBlog looks different.

During the run-up to the London Olympics in a rare display of enthusiasm, I moved from the basic ‘free’ blog to a ‘self-hosted’ site.

Indulge me if I relate the difference between these two quite different ways to publish your thoughts.

With self-hosting, you get thousands of designs to display, and a plethora of add-ons called widgets, in which to give the site more variety, with a means to monetize your project.

But this comes at a cost

Hosting for all those keystrokes and pictures; a domain name to find your work on the internet, and the purchase of back-ups should the site become corrupted. I also indulged in a speed optimization plugin, a selection of typefaces; and Patreon as a means for any fans to support the work.

Other add-ons necessary are the yearly purchase of an SSL certificate to give the domain name an https prefix required by Google in its rankings and updating PHP, the programming language used to maintain WordPress for the second time in a year.

Protection from hacking, viruses, and malware. This entailed the removal of someone’s nasties inserted within my missives last year, an expensive and a problem which, believe it or not, got CabbieBlog banned from the internet.

Now, excuse me, but with all that protection the site should have been as sound as the Bank of England. Not so! More malware has been inserted by the back door into CabbieBlog.

Some of my favourite blogs, Beetleypete and Diamond Geezer would seem to have kept with the basic system and are none the worst for it, which proves that content triumphs over appearance.

So I have reverted to CabbieBlog’s second incarnation (the first was a defunct platform now no longer lamented), which will be similar, but different.

So please comment with your opinion, both good and otherwise.

Sorry for not posting any new material these last few weeks, normal service should commence next week.

Back to Black for Cabs

It now has been 24 years since I started pushing a cab around London looking for fares and in that time I’ve probably driven most post-war taxis. Even before I had qualified going to a trade exhibition at Islington’s Business Design Centre got me a test drive in one of those boxy Metros. They always had trouble shifting those utilitarian boring beasts.

When I was first let loose on the streets of London my baptism of fire was an old – no very old – FX4. Registered in 1982 at a time when air conditioning was something an East Ender massaged into their hair, and without power steering, your arms would ache negotiating its two tonnes of steel around London with a penchant for swinging left unannounced when squeezing between tight gaps.

When the old girl gasped its last (well the drive to the meter broke) it was saying just let me die in peace, I’ve taken my last paying passenger.

A succession of Fairways followed some you couldn’t lock the doors, others that the only means of exiting the driver’s compartment was via the window and opening the door from the outside. One vehicle accumulated rainwater beneath the for-hire sign to ensure the driver had a shower whenever he had occasion to brake heavily.

I’ve owned a more modern TX1, its shape unfairly likened to a blancmange, as with most of its siblings it had the ability to track down top-secret transmissions. Perplexedly at certain ‘hot spots’ (outside the Langham Hotel is one of them), the central locking on the fob key would fail to work, occasioning a complicated procedure punching in PIN numbers to get the vehicle started again.

I should have headed this post ‘Tickled Pink’ but some enterprising cabbie has beaten me to that for recently I’ve been driving what must be the most photographed cab in London.

A neighbour, also a cabbie, declared that it matched my eyes, while I’ve received opprobrium from Aussies standing outside a local hostelry, “strewth mate!” I think was the refrain at the time.

My postman just had to knock to deliver a parcel which clearly fitted the letterbox, so he could voice his mirth at seeing ‘Pinky’ parked outside.

Ladies would choose my distinctive livery over my more conservative colleagues while many will strike up a conversation, rather a novelty for decades the fair sex have ignored my presence.

Henry Ford might have generated the quip ‘any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it’s black’ after he realized that drying paint took the longest of any step in the assembly line and had his factory switch to the fastest drying paint they could find, which, of course, was black. But I think old HF would be speachless at the sight of Pinky.

A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 9th August 2013

Taxi talk without tipping

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