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Southbound Again

Time has passed so quickly.

It is now over six weeks since my daughter Eve had her brain surgery at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London.

She has been seizure free since then.

Tomorrow we make the 850 mile round trip to London and back for a fifteen minute appointment for the surgeon Mr Harkness to assess Eve’s progress.

See youse on Tuesday then……..

Retronaut

I wasn’t aware of this site but my regular correspondent John O’Hare sent me the link.

This stuff is right up my street. Here is a cross section of what I have found there.

First a letter from Mick Jagger to Andy Warhol about the cover for ‘Sticky Fingers’

How about this high resolution photo of London in 1949? If you click here you’ll see other photos and you can enlarge to full screen.

And what about this postcard of a hotel from 1969?

I found that by clicking a link on this page which took me here

Then there’s a whole page of 60s and 70s Soviet car ads

But really there is just a whole treasure trove of stuff.

Expect to read more about it!

A gift from the past.

With my mum’s funeral tomorrow there’s been a bit of arranging to do. I’ve also been clearing out some of her possessions which is interesting and painful in equal measure.

I found lots of letters addressed to her from my late father, decided they were none of my business, and disposed of them. However on discovering another bundle and with some having London and Sussex postmarks, I decided to have a look.

I resolved that if there was the merest hint of anything that a son should not be reading about his mum and dad, I’d dispose of the letters immediately.

As it turned out, they were a treasure trove. My dad died when I’d just turned sixteen and reading the language, the wit and the wonder in his writing as a young man was a revelation to me today. For instance in a letter from June 1956 he writes to his then fiancée from the Bailey’s Hotel in South Kensington:

Bailey's Hotel. It probably looked pretty much like this in 1956!

“After a pleasant flight, I arrived here in London at 7:40  pm. From leaving Glasgow, in no time we were over the Solway Firth. The striking factor was that it was so peaceful away up there with a giant table-cloth of cloud beneath us. It was akin to an Arctic expedition. Travelling south gave me the opportunity to brush up on my geography.

As the weather cleared, I began to look for Morecambe Bay, The Tower, Manchester Ship Canal and, proceeding southwards, Stratford upon Avon. Needless to say my imagination was well served as I spotted the lot with the exception of Blackpool Tower which doesn’t fit largely in geographical interest. I was greeted on arrival at London Airport with a perfect day and my thoughts turned to my return when I would be honoured by my lady in waiting at Renfrew.*

The airport is the last word and what an experience when you hear “The plane now approaching is flight so and so from Tokyo -this plane is returning to N Africa in 2 hours time”. I was met at Waterloo air terminal by my pal Ian, complete with car. He then proceeded to break the news to me that my bed and breakfast was to cost £2 at Bailey’s Hotel. As I climbed the star-studded stairway, I watched poor old Ian look at me rather askance with the expression “Should I have done it? £2!” Upon arrival at room 107 I put his mind at ease complimenting him on a fine job. In fact I said “Ian next time make it a £3 room – this sort of thing just isn’t good enough” We succumbed to uproarious laughter”

There were many letters from 1956, written when my dad was 29. They were an absolute joy to read, with tales of seminars in Sussex and Trade Union conferences in Blackpool. All written in a different age, another world even.

If he’d been around today, he’d have been a blogger and that’s a fact!

*Renfrew was at that time the location of Glasgow Airport

Seventy Years Ago

The Blitz began on September 7, 1940 and lasted until May 10, 1941 and saw Britain sustain prolonged periods of heavy bombing by the Nazi Germany air forces in several phases of intensity.

A series of photos published in today’s Telegraph blend scenes from 2010 with the same location in 1940.

The Bank of England, London

Park Street Bristol

Selling Snow to Eskimos

It is over thirty years since I ventured to London – just as Maggie Thatcher came to power in fact. I was reminded of this listening to a radio show yesterday where young Scots were talking about moving south in the search for work.

When I went as a nineteen year old, I couldn’t believe the jobs I was offered in the space of a week just popping into employment agencies. I was offered a good job by Michael Heseltine’s Haymarket Publishing, Avco Finance, Citicorp and various jobs selling office equipment.

I took one of these with Olympia Business Machines (how dated does that sound?) selling state of the art typewriters, photocopiers and a new fangled thing called a fax machine.

There was a good basic and commission a bonus scheme and most importantly, a company car (Firstly a Chevette Estate and then after a few months, a brand new Ford Cortina.)

I was Jack the Lad. The job I’d left in Scotland paid less than half of my basic wage in London and I was struggling to run an ancient Renault 12.

Reality hit when I was sent out into my area with a bunch of leaflets and business cards. Go forth and sell! was the cry. My ‘area’ was a square mile of London W1 bordered by Edgware Rd and Tottenham Court Rd East to West and Euston Rd and Oxford Street north to south. Whilst my area included Broadcasting House and many prestigious companies, the hope of selling to these organisations was remote at best.

Much of the area was occupied by the ‘rag trade’. Often owned by Jewish proprietors with one or maybe two, sometimes more, machinists making clothes. I would cold call buildings which could contain eight such businesses in places like Great Portland Street.

Some of the ‘patter’ of the owners of these operations was brilliant. I knocked on the door of one of them one day (Goldstein and Blood or something) and smiling, did my speil. At the end of it the trilby wearing cigar chewing proprietor said  “Typewriter? typewriter? what do I need with a typewriter Scottie? I got a pencil! No! I don’t need no calculator – too slow for me you see! now time’s money son – good luck but I got work to do!”

I cold called the rest of the building and was leaving rather dejectedly when I heard the Yiddish tones of Mr Goldstein of Goldstein, blood out of a stone incorporated.

“Oi!!! Olivetti! Come here!”

“Olympia!” I said.

“Olympia Sholympia – whatever”

“Listen Jock my pencil’s broke! I’m gonna talk to you about discount on yer machines!”

It turned out he had had a thought of buying a typewriter for his daughter’s birthday. He ordered one of the better manual portable ones at about £100. I told him it’d be delivered next day by our van. “No no! Scottie! you deliver it in person and show me how to work the bloody thing!”

I did just that. The guy had secured the top discount but after me showing him all the features of the machine, he said “Thanks Scottie – nah ‘ere’s a drink for yer bovver” and handed me a tenner!

During my time in London on an almost daily basis I would pass rock stars in the street, I once sold a calculator to Chas Chandler (the Animals/Jimi Hendrix mentor) and helped a colleague deliver a photocopier to Alan Whicker.

Perhaps the most satisfying thing though was selling that typewriter to Mr Goldstein AND getting a tip!

The older reps in the office couldn’t believe it. They concluded that it had something to do with Scots being meaner than Jews! (their words not mine!)

I just thought if I could sell a typewriter in rag trade land I could sell snow to eskimos!

London Photos

Whilst having a search through my photos I found these taken on our visit to London last summer. These were taken on our visit to the Houses of Parliament.

Also, remembering that one can never get enough of Loch Lomond and the Ben, I took this one just south of Inverbeg a couple of weeks ago.

Ben Lomond February 2009

Ben Lomond February 2009

Readers’ Help Required!

Anyone care to explain how this thoroughfare in London SW1 got its name? I googled and found there is a Gloucestershire village of the same name but not much other info. I thought perhaps “Little France” (as of course there is a Little Venice in London) but surely that would be “Petit France”?

(why do I feel an answer from Fern Cake coming on here?)

London Conversation (2)

It is quite difficult to know where to begin, as we packed so many things in to our four days in the capital. A family could easily spend a fortnight in London and only scratch the surface of what the city has to offer in the way of interest and fascination. For me it was almost a pilgrimage to a place where I had spent time when I was young. I lived and worked in London for a time selling typewriters (remember them?) photcopiers and calculators. My sales area at that time (1979-80) was the north half of London W1 from Euston Rd to Oxford Street north to south and Edgware Rd to Tottenham Court Rd west to east. I had accommodation then in Leytonstone east London at a time toddler David Beckham was probably already honing his skills in a nearby street and Jonathan Ross was already catching a tube up to the west end to leave his rather unglamorous home locale at night. In the 28 intervening years I hadn’t been back to London and this was a brief refresher course on the capital.

One thing which I was reminded of right away was the London sense of humour. It is quite different from the Scots/Glasgow genre as it is less dry and more literal. Our tour guides for the open topped bus tour and the Thames cruise possessed this humour in spades along with the inherent conservatism that many indigenous Londoners are well known for (Our riverboat guide’s parting shot at the cruise end was “God Save the Queen!”. Thankfully he stopped short of a tug on the forelock and a wistful sideways glance whilst uttering “Gawd bless ‘er” but one feels it was a close thing)

On sailing past on our riverboat, he pointed out this building:

London City Hall

This is in fact Boris Johnson’s HQ as mayor and where London is run from. Our guide informed us that locals refer to it as the “leaning tower of pizza” and who can blame them? The photo really does nothing to convey the sheer ugliness of the building. The old GLC HQ county hall is still there and looks like this:


County Hall

County Hall is diagonally opposite the Houses of Parliament on the other side (in both respects) of Westminster Bridge and now houses a McDonalds amongst other things. Anyway back to the wit and wisdom of our riverboat guide. “The building on your right is the Tate Modern art gallery. If you want to see an unmade bed, a pile of bricks and some paint casually and carelessly brushed upon a wall, then I’ll take you round to my house and show you for free”.

On Tuesday we visited parliament and were shown round by prior arrangement by our local MP Alan Reid. Alan was a most interesting host and very courteous and patient with my kids as we toured round Westminster Hall, the lobbies and had a peek in both chambers (the Commons and the Lords). We couldn’t actually get in to the chambers at this stage as there were security sweeps going on. During our tour we met and spoke to (Lord) George Foulkes, Lord, MSP, former chairman of Hearts FC etc. He took some time out to talk to us. George I’m sure will not be losing any sleep over his pension plan!

I took some photos which I’ll thumbnail here. Click on any photo to view. From left they are 1) The spot where William Wallace was tried (Westminster Hall is over 900 years old) 2) A view of Big Ben tower from within parliament 3) The remarkable stained glass window in Westminster Hall and 4) A plaque recording the condemning to death of Sir Thomas More.

By arrangement with another MP, John McFall we had secured tickets for the strangers gallery and proceeded to witness Lord Chancellor’s (Jack Straw) questions in the House of Commons. The Lord Chancellor used to be the speaker of the House of Lords but now sits in the commons. Although there were not many of the top ranking politicians at this session it was nonetheless a very interesting afternoon.

Still to come, our visit to the London Eye, Walthamstow revisited etc.

London Conversation

I was going to have a complete break from blogging whilst away but it’s 4:45 am in a hotel in London and insomnia has struck. I lived in London during most of 1979-80 and have not been back in all that time. Whilst there is great change evident in parts of the city of London (i.e. the EC postcodes and the south bank thereof), the west end and SW1 remain virtually unchanged from what I remember.

We have had a superb time on the open topped bus tour, Thames cruise and tour of BBC Television Centre and today we meet up with our local MP for a tour of parliament and a visit to the strangers gallery at the House of Commons. Tomorrow will see a ‘flight’ in the London Eye.

Aren’t tour guides a wonderful source of things you didn’t know?. For example as we sailed past the Globe Theatre (the reproduction of Shakespeare’s Theatre) yesterday, the guide remarked that in Shakespeare’s time, all admission money would be collected in boxes. Once all the money was gathered all the boxes would then be taken to an office at the top of the building for counting – hence the expression ‘box office’. Also as we passed docklands, the tale was told of how Dutch ships kept London supplied with food and provisions during the great plague. Some of the Dutch sailors would be nervous about sailing to the source of the plague and would fortify themselves with wine and beer beforehand – hence the expression Dutch courage.

The trip to the BBC was fascinating and the kids saw various celebs  (I had no clue who they were). We saw part of the recording of the quiz show Eggheads and were sitting in a room off the news studio as the news went out. Did you know that Huw Edwards works a 12 hour shift putting the evening news together? I had thought that perhaps all the journalism would be done by minions and Huw would turn up for his stint and depart, but apparently not. He takes a very active part in the whole process.

Interesting to hear the ‘riders’ demanded by various stars. Jeniffer Lopez for example required her changing room to be painted white and have white fresh flowers there (microphone had to be white etc. etc.), with a car to take her the 50 yards to the (outside) stage. Her stay in the changing room was less than 20 minutes. Iggy Pop demanded a Bob Hope impersonator and five dwarves. Madonna asked for a life size cardboard cut out of the pope.

However the reassuring thing is that the stars have to pay for behaving like spoilt weans as they foot the bill.

The photos seem to take a while to upload here so here is just one holiday snap of the north tower of Tower Bridge. More from London tomorrow (insomnia permitting)

Travel Advice Required

We’ve decided to take a short break in London. Can any of you experienced travellers tell me the pros and cons of Easyjet? (Glasgow/London) Is it worth the extra to go to Gatwick? if not, is Luton or Stansted the better option? It LOOKS like a no brainer as Luton is so much nearer Central London. Any advice gratefully received.

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