Tag Archives: London life

Blue is the new green

I have been driving down the Embankment watching as the soft incandescent lights strung between lampposts slowly died of age, and no one bothered to replace them. Then the wet desolated pavement alongside the Thames was reminiscent of a late ’50s scene for a cigarette advert as lone man, stopping under a light, its gentle glow illuminating him as he lit up, to the familiar catchphrase ‘You’re never alone with a Strand’.

CaptureAs the last of the old bulbs have spluttered and died a brave new lit world has replaced them – with that stark intense blue of the halogen bulb – and the string of lights between lampposts isn’t the only harsh light now to be found alongside the Thames.

Green was once the de facto colour of environmentalism when political parties adopted it into their name or their logo, but now blue has the right credentials. Green is about trees and plants whereas blue is about oceans, rivers, lakes and the sky, ensuring adequate clean supplies of essential resources — air and water, it is also the colour of our planet seen from space.

Eco-Blue cars

[O]ne of the world’s biggest polluters – carmakers are now using blue as a colour and a word to express cleanness and efficiency – even for vehicles with petrol and diesel engines. Volkswagen puts a ‘Blue Motion’ badge on its most efficient cars; Mercedes-Benz adds a ‘Blue efficiency’ emblem to its environmentally friendly (and easiest to recycle) models. New Holland, part of Italy’s Fiat group, even uses the name ‘eco Blue’ on its low-emissions range of blue tractors.

Blue is more acceptable

For sure, blue is more acceptable to right-of-centre political interests than the term green since that colour was appropriated by the left-of-centre parties in Europe. So the ‘boys’ of City Hall have embraced those beautiful eco-blue lights. “You see”, they would say “lighting up the Thames hasn’t harmed a single polar bear using our blue energy efficient bulbs”.

It started with the long-overdue construction of the Hungerford footbridge with its blue lights surmounting the pillars, once before Coco-Cola took over, the London Eye adopted it and now almost every bridge spanning the Thames is bathed in a blue glow. My cabbie colleague in his the capital letters blog has dubbed the new Blackfriars Station, which spans the Thames and is illuminated with the ubiquitous blue lights as – Bluefriars.

Tower Bridge taken by David Anstiss

A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 13th November 2012

Demographic analysis

[L]ondon’s first French-language terrestrial radio station broadcasts to the capital’s 400,000 native French speakers as a reminder of their own culture, but why are so many French institutions based around South Kensington?

It’s a subject that has perplexed me for years, if not decades and here I feel I might need some help.

London is often said to be a conglomeration of villages each with its own identity, but also within our City – as with its villages – are islands of immigrant settlements each with their own economic, social and cultural identities.

But here’s the question I would like answered: What attracts ethnic, religious or cultural groups to live in particular areas?

For instance why have the Chinese moved into Chinatown; why are a few streets at the north of Stamford Hill the home to Europe’s largest Hasidic and Adeni Jewish communities. The Greeks frequent Green Lanes and why would you find Little Lebanon, with its large Arabic population along the southern stretch of Edgware Road.

When I first started working in London my company was located in Clerkenwell known then as Little Italy, there was to be found an Italian delicatessen, restaurants serving pasta and pizza, an Italian church, it even had (and still does) an Italian driving school, presumably to teach you Italian driving skills.

Earls Court is known as Kangaroo Court due to a large number of antipodeans students in digs there.

The Irish once populated Kilburn while the Whitechapel Road supports an almost exclusive population of Muslims.

For while I can understand later arrivals setting up home near people of their own ethnic mix for language, security or cultural reasons but what makes the first settlers adopt a particular area?

For the large Afro-Caribbean community in Brixton David Long in his book The London Underground suggests:

During the war a series of deep level air raid shelters were built designed in such a fashion they could eventually be linked up to form a super underground railway, but lack of money after the war meant this scheme was abandoned. So in 1948, the Clapham Common Deep Level Shelter became briefly home to several hundred Commonwealth citizens who arrived on the SS Empire Windrush, laying the foundations for nearby Brixton’s Afro-Caribbean community.

So why have different divergent communities decided at random to live in different areas of London, any theories are to be welcomed.

I am indebted to Lucy Inglis for her map of London, her site Georgian London was voted History Website of 2009, on it will find more information than seems possible to amass on what London was like to live in during the 18th Century.

A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 10th October 2015

It’s like Florence with rain

Each month American Express Essentials present a selection of the most original travel and lifestyle trends with ideas from around the world.

I was recently asked by them to contribute for their travel section some suggestions about London prompting me with a series of questions. For no particular reason here are my answers.

What is your best-kept secret find in London, and why? (could be anything: a restaurant, a shop, bar, museum, park, landmark, etc.)

It’s like Florence with rain


Photo: Rooftop view in London ©Emma Feath

[A]djacent to St Paul’s Cathedral is shopping centre One New Change, ignore the plethora of shops and restaurants, and take the glass-walled lift to the top. A platform there gives unparalleled views of Londoners’ favourite historic building, one of the few places left to view the iconic dome, much like Florence’s Santa Maria del Fiore. The novelist Guy de Maupassant ate daily at the Eiffel Tower’s restaurant so he didn’t have to look at the structure which he hated, and from this vantage point above the shopping centre you can’t see the murky goldfish bowl beneath you.

Where do you go for a great iconic ‘London’ experience, without the tourists?

Gain some Knowledge


Photo: A beginner’s guide to taking cabs ©Ady Gupta

[Y]ou could waste your money and time by joining the queue to gape at a room full of wax effigies, but I’m suggesting a better use of your vacation, by taking a tour. See all the sights without joining the crowds. A number of cabbies offer tours: Harry Potter; Princess Diana; or historic London, you choose. No overcrowded tour bus, confusing use of public transport, the guy doing the driving knows London and with up to six passengers it’s not as expensive as you might think.

The colder months will be here soon: what’s your favourite thing to do or place to go when the weather gets chilly?

A shelter from the elements


Photo: Temple Place Shelter ©David Styles

[D]otted around London are 13 remaining Cabbie Green Shelters offering sustenance to all, but only those with ‘The Knowledge’ get a seat inside. Built by philanthropic contributors to ensure Victorian cabbies had a warm dry place to eat, the alternative had been the local boozer. The size of a garden shed, only 13 are left of the original 61 built which at that time provided donated books and newspapers to read while eating; while alcohol and political discussion was forbidden, as today the latter was probably ignored. Seating twelve with a working kitchen, one even has its own Twitter feed @RussellSqCabHut.

If you can’t visit during Open House Weekend (19-20 September) when last year three opened their doors to the public, go there to buy an authentic London breakfast, you never know the shelter’s proprietor might let you have a look inside.

A Festival of Plague

This year marks the 350th anniversary of the last great plague to arrive in London. By the year’s end nearly 100,000 people were dead most from infection while many ‘natural’ deaths were probably unreported plague victims. As the pestilence spread houses of victims were sealed for 40 days (biblical overtones?), with those surviving occupants entombed relying on neighbours charity in supplying food from a respectful distance.

[T]here were plenty of quack cures: a pint of garlic infused milk, doctors wore frightening masts infused with herbs to keep away the miasmas; tobacco was another method employed to ward off the aromas, even children were made to light up a pipe, students of Eton college were ordered to light up or be whipped; money was immersed in a bowl of vinegar during shop transactions in an attempt to stop the spread.

Lucky charms were the order of the day to ward off the contagion; a certain Dr. George Thomson wore a dead toad around his neck; plague water from powdered unicorn horn and frogs legs; tail feathers from live chickens administered to the victims buboes were thought to draw out the poison; or as an alternative the application of a recently killed pigeon.

By the time the pandemic had run its course 68,000 Londoners had officially died from the virus. Those rich enough having obtained health certificates mainly meant the rich like Dr. Alston, President of the College of Physicians could leave London while the poor remained to await their fate. It is estimated that 100,000 died in London, incredibly one-quarter of the city’s population perished.

To mark the anniversary the Guildhall Library has on display various documents recording this momentous event. Records of medical advice given, municipal accounts, recording the fatalities spreadsheets of the dead, Bills of Mortality. The exhibition is open Monday to Friday until 11th September – admission free.


If you have contracted a desire to learn more the excellent Tales of Plague tour guides are mounting ‘A Pestilential Festival’. From Friday 4th September until Sunday 6th September music, drama, walks, talks, exhibitions, workshops and one climatic ‘Pepys Party’ celebrating London’s unconquerable spirit.

Billed as the most infectious event in the capital for 350 years it will kick off from Tower Hill on Friday 4th September with a ‘dead cart procession’. Assembling from
9.30 am for a 10.00 am start at the Tower Hill. The procession of peasants, plague doctors, wenches and rogues will weave their way up to St. Botolph’s Church, Aldgate. For the full programme of events visit: www.talesofplague.co.uk/festival

Pictures: Nell Gwyn, Samuel Pepys and a Plague Doctor. Credit: ©Annie-Marie Sanderson.

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)