London in Quotations: Henry James

It is difficult to speak adequately or justly of London. It is not a pleasant place; it is not agreeable, or cheerful, or easy, or exempt from reproach. It is only magnificent.

Henry James (1843-1916), The Notebooks of Henry James

London Trivia: Yes we have some bananas

On 11 April 1633 Thomas Johnson is known as ‘the father of British field botany’ after his 2,0000-page tome listing plants, put on sale at his apothecary business a strange fruit, a banana. The first consignment came from Bermuda and Johnson described it thus: . . . ‘Each of the fruits was not ripe, being green, each of them the bignesse of a large beane, some five inches long . . . the stalk is short and like one’s little finger.’

On 11 April 1855 the first six pillar postboxes appeared in London and they were green, not red and were rectangular in shape

Mansion House, home to the City’s chief magistrate, contains a number of prison cells, one notable person interned was Emmeline Pankhurst

Two columns from the original 19th century Waterloo Bridge can be seen below its modern replacement on Victoria Embankment

On 11 April 1890 Joseph Carey (John) Merrick (aka The Elephant Man) died at the London Hospital. Modern diagnosis is Proteus Syndrome

In the 1930s Liverpool Street Station was where the Kindertransport arrived a rescue effort that saved many Jewish children from the Nazis

On Poultry is a statue of a boy huggy ‘Old Tom’, a goose who escaped slaughter at nearby Leadenhall Market and was adopted by the traders, living until 37 years old

The Elephant Man was put on show and lived at 123 Whitechapel Road (now renumbered 259) the premises are now UKAY International Saree Centre

In 1314 Nicholas de Farndone London’s mayor acting for Edward II banned football “which many evils perchance may arise which may God forbid”

Underground stations named after taverns: Swiss Cottage; Angel; Elephant and Castle; Manor House; Royal Oak

On 11 April 1882 Thomas Edison opened the world’s first public power station at 57 Holborn Viaduct its steam-driven generators called Jumbos

“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance; It is the illusion of knowledge.”,Stephen Hawking 1943-2018 theoretical physicist

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.

Watching wildlife

One compensation for these lockdowns has been the increase in spotting wildlife. Living on London’s north-eastern extremity, a country park is but a short walk away, with less human activity or more time to observe, the increase in wildlife is noticeable.

At night we now have a chorus of toads trying to hook-up, at the last count five were sitting, and mating, on my lawn.

Foxes ever-present, have managed to destroy my watering system whilst playing one night, then last weekend, one of the parents dropped a dead cub on my neighbour’s (artificial) lawn.

We now have a flock of about 50 sparrows nesting in my neighbour’s pyracantha bush, I know the number as these were counted during the RSPB’s weekend bird count audit.

A bird box at the foot of our garden, not 5 foot from my neighbour’s flank wall, has seen six fledgeling blue tits leaving their nest last May. This year looks promising with a pair busily checking the bird box out.

Whilst writing this post, a flock of 12 Canadian geese have just flown past going south, presumably to alight on our local park to cover it with their defecations.

We have parakeets squawking as they fly overhead, now they have migrated out from the warmth and salubrious west London, to join their down-market cousins in east London.

But the most amazing siting (and the reason for this post), are the red kites now being regularly observed high up in the sky yards from our house. The other day two were apparently courting, or fighting, while a third looked on.

Lazy Days

This has just been the longest March I can ever remember. It just went on … and on …

Perhaps like me, you’ve sorted out photographs, lists, cupboards, drawers etc, while sorting out the computer was a bit like the wardrobe – deciding what to delete from years gone by and now forgotten like bell-bottom jeans and kipper ties … they all come back given time, but not thousands of old emails and long unsupported programs.

While I was there I’ve also updated the blog’s sidebars, and sent off a few book proposals, and received some more don’t call us, we’ll call you replies.

This England requested a piece for next year’s annual, marking 125 years of the black cab. I obliged, noting they also publish Beano and Dandy magazines, which seems to sum up the extent of my fine prose.

All this makes for a rather laid back approach to life these days. This lethargy also manifests in writing, you know how it is, one day ideas are popping out of your ears, then you relax and … nothing.

So I’ve been thinking about a nickname for the new skyscraper nearing completion at 22 Bishopsgate, a gargantuan office building that will utterly dwarf all that has gone before, trumping every property developer’s wildest fantasy. Other huge erections have been given monikers: the Cheesegrater, the Walkie-Talkie and my favourite considering it is the home of the London Assembly – The Testicle.

Now with a combined bulk of all those three combined comes 22 Bishopsgate containing 32 acres of floor space heaped in a 250-yard-wide hulk, rising to just below the height of the Shard and built after consuming the 7-storey lift shaft stump of the abandoned Helter Skelter.

With the City deserted its streets only populated by the occasional Deliveroo driver and empty cab, it seems a strange time to be completing the largest office building the capital has ever seen.

A large lump, having swallowed up the previous development with steam rising from its air-conditioning and glistening glazing panels, surplus to our needs, there can be only one moniker – I give you The Turd.

Featured image: 22 Bishopsgate from Whittington Avenue looking northeast by © Robert Lamb (CC BY-SA 2.0).

London in Quotations: Kevin Crossley-Holland

London’s like a monster with one hundred arms … as wide as it’s long. It’s noisy. It’s dirty. It’s everything. You’ll see.

Kevin Crossley-Holland (b.1941), Crossing to Paradise, 2006

Taxi talk without tipping