Tag Archives: london souvenirs

The Mugs of London

In these straitened times, my cabbie colleagues cannot rely solely on their traditional income. One who has several strings to his bow is Robert Lordan. Not only has he a degree in English, passed The Knowledge, is a qualified tour guide, and an author, he also is an amateur artist (see featured image). Putting the last to use he has produced several London themed mugs.

These four mugs are available from Robs London.

Trellick Tower


James Bond’s nemesis Goldfinger was named after architect Ernõ Goldfinger who was synonymous with designing Brutalist London tower blocks. Three have been given Grade II listing: Alexander Fleming House at the Elephant and Castle renamed Metro Central; Balfron Tower near the northern entrance to the Blackwall Tunnel; and Trellick Tower in north Kensington.

Although many residents of his soulless post-war developments might have cause to dislike the man; or a disgruntled employee, some of which could not tolerate his flamboyant bullying nature – he had been known for sacking his assistant if they were inappropriately jocular; or even the odd miffed client who was frog-marched out of his office after disagreeing with his proposals; of all people, it was Ian Fleming the author of James Bond who clashed with him after writing his latest blockbuster novel.

You can bet Fleming never lived in a high-rise flat designed by Goldfinger, nor was he an employee. The encounter was to be more prosaic.

In the 1950s, Ian Fleming’s regular golfing partner was a businessman called John Blackwell. One day, at the St George’s Golf Club in Sandwich, Blackwell mentioned that his cousin’s husband was the architect Ernö Goldfinger. Fleming liked the name ‘Goldfinger’ and thought he might be able to use it: he was always on the look-out for new or unusual names and had given several of his previous characters the names of real people and in fact, in the final text of Goldfinger he used John Blackwell’s name (he was related to the Cross & Blackwell family) for a minor character.

Ian Fleming had also been an objector to Ernõ Goldfinger’s proposal to build a home at 2 Willow Road and probably delighted in creating Auric Goldfinger a 5ft imperious megalomaniac. When Ernõ Goldfinger’s business associate Jacob Blacker was asked for his opinion on the similarity between the fictional Goldfinger and his partner, he could only find one substantial difference “You’ve called Ernõ and he’s called Auric”.

Goldfinger threatened to sue, Fleming in a clash of egos was livid. He asked Cape, the publishers to insert an erratum slip in the first edition changing the character’s name to ‘Goldprick’. Lucky for Shirley Bassey – who sang the title song in the film – Cape demurred.

Common sense prevailed and Cape agreed to call the villain Auric Goldfinger throughout the book and insert the standard disclaimer at the front stating that all characters were fictional. They also paid all Ernõ Goldfinger’s legal costs.

However, Ian Fleming was to have the last laugh. When the film was released starring Sean Connery wags would ring 2 Willow Road singing the title song or worst would intone in a Scottish accent: “Goldfinger? Thish ish Dobble Oh Sheven”.

Charles Dickens


On 2 April 1884 Marshalsea Prison the last of the London debtor’s prisons closed. A parliamentary committee reported in 1729 that 300 inmates had starved to death within three months. The prison became known around the world through the writings of Charles Dickens, whose father was sent there in 1824 for a debt to a baker. Dickens was forced to leave school at the age of twelve for a job in a blacking factory to help keep his family at the Marshalsea.

Dublin Castle


The men who constructed the rail network radiating out of London were called navvies from the ‘navigators’ who built the first navigation canals.

Tramping from job to job, navvies lived without adequate housing or sanitation and worked in appalling conditions.

After a difficult and dangerous day, if they had avoided injury, cholera or typhoid their evening were spent together boozing and gambling with the inevitable fist-fight, which on some occasions necessitated the army being sent in the break-up the combatants.

An urban myth, which alas has been proved to be incorrect, has it that bitterly divided along nationalistic and sectarian lines navvy interlopers in a pub would be summarily dealt with. As the London-Birmingham railway line was being constructed in the north of the capital, ever anxious to attract customers while keeping trouble at bay four pubs located in today’s Camden Town, were named after castles located in each part of Britain. The Edinboro’ Castle, The Pembroke Castle, The Windsor Castle and The Dublin Castle, each worker would, therefore, know he was welcome and could drink with his fellow countrymen. As the pubs were built at different times and the navvies had a plethora of boozers in Camden to slake their thirst, they probably mingled with each other with the inevitable results.

Green Shelters


Green Cab Shelters have been providing shelter and sustenance to cabbies for over 140 years.

Apart from banning political discussion, the rules governing the use of shelters were once as follows:

  1. This Shelter is the property of the Fund and is for the use of CABDRIVERS only.
  2. The Drivers of the FIRST TWO CABS on the rank are reminded that by law they have to be with their cabs.
  3. Card playing, betting or gambling is STRICTLY FORBIDDEN.
  4. No notices are to be placed in this Shelter without the permission of the Committee.
  5. A Tariff of the price is to be regularly exhibited in the Shelter.
  6. The Shelter is to be kept open for service during the hours set out in the Notice displayed in the Shelter.
  7. The Attendant is responsible for seeing that the above regulations are strictly carried out.

Wish you were here

If you go on holiday to London don’t, I repeat, don’t buy me a souvenir as a memento of your visit. The poor tourists who come to these shores face a bewildering array of souvenir crap to purchase. But it doesn’t end with the legitimate shops which proliferate on our capital, walk across Westminster Bridge and you are confronted by the delights of figures made from bent wire, a busker playing the bagpipes or whistles to imitate birdsong.

[D]o you want a T-shirt with the worn joke on the front ‘my Dad went to London and all I got was this lousy “T” shirt’? Well, if you received that, thank your lucky stars. You could receive a cardboard policeman’s helmet, or how about a Union Jack umbrella. If you really want to stand out in the crowd try wearing a fur top hat in red, white and blue.

If this is not to your taste, go upmarket to the Buckingham Palace gift shop there are expensive reproductions of the Queen’s china, just like she uses at 4.00 every day for afternoon tea. There is something to be said for receiving a tea towel, naff, but useful, if only to mop up after the cat, and admittedly some Buckingham Palace gifts are tasteful, even if of dubious practicable value. They at least have the virtue of giving one a warm Regal glow, when partaking of one’s afternoon tea.

But who would treasure a gift of this rubbish. Forget receiving a postcard of Big Ben; send them a 20 year old picture of a spotty punk rocker.

These shops are so revered by the middle classes; they even had a competition instigated by The Institute of Architects to design a replacement souvenir shop when Hungerford Bridge was being improved.

But London isn’t the worst, not by a long shot, I recently went to Italy, and coaches have to pay over €200 just to park for a few hours in these tourist traps. At Pisa (of leaning tower fame) you run the gauntlet of dozens, and I mean dozens, of Africans selling fake designer goods, and the authorities had the temerity to put up a sign that read ‘it is illegal to purchase fake goods; offenders are subject to a €1,000 fine’. Maybe London isn’t so bad after all, anyone want a die cast model of a taxi, going cheap?