Falling Back In Love With London Part Three
November was the UK’s dullest month since 1962, which is why everyone looked so depressed on the tube every day. Yesterday morning dawned in such a blaze of heat and light – yes, heat; the confused trees in my street are blossoming – that I decided to do some hands-on research, and headed to The Green Park (did you know it was called that? I didn’t) for a wander down to Westminster. This was the unretouched scene from my terrace. (Click on the shots to enlarge)
This walk means, of course, that one passes sights no real Londoner has ever stopped beside or bothered to photograph before, ie Buckingham Palace and Horse Guard’s Parade. There was hardly anyone in the park – which never shuts – and then the palace appeared, white and heavy, low and rectangular, like a great block of ice.
The monumental fountain known as the Victoria Memorial in front of the palace is guarded by great lions. In summer it’s surrounded by geraniums to reflect the colour of guardsmen’s uniforms. Frank Manheim’s wonderful book ‘Lion Hunting In London’ features every great beast to be found in the capital, although as the volume was published in the 1970s I imagine most of them have since been turned into one-bed apartments. The ones at the British Museum look Egyptian and have hipster haircuts. There’s a sleepy one on Nelson’s tomb, and one bug-eyed creature at the Bank of England that looks as if it’s just received an enema. The four grand beasts on the Victoria Memorial are hardly featured in the book, probably because they’re too obvious.
Walking through St James’s Park – the oldest royal park – is like being in an open-air zoo, with fat, cheeky squizzers racing about, 15 varieties of wildfowl, and pelicans, which have been there since 1664, although James I used to keep crocodiles in the lake. The park is smallish but full of peaceful nooks, and is a great place to come and sit if you’re feeling a bit icky dick and just want to chill out by yourself for a while. The domes and turrets of Whitehall gleam in the distance like some civil servants’ Xanadu. It’s hard to believe you’re in the centre of a teeming metropolis.
The park keeper’s lodge looks like Hansel and Gretel might stumble across it. On the other side of Horse Guards’ Parade there’s Whitehall and traffic, but hardly anyone ever bothers to cut through the park because you’d wind up in Victoria, and who wants to go there?
Walking to Horse Guards Parade early without any tourists around is strange – you feel as if you’re in some Balkan outpost off the Easyjet map. It’s very quiet and the only people you see are police – that’s when you suddenly remember the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. I took a panoramic shot on my iPhone 6 that’s so wide I had to upload it in two halves and still couldn’t get it all in. The great space is a little agoraphobia-inducing.
Horse Guards Parade was formerly the site of the Palace of Whitehall’s tiltyard. Here jousting tournaments were held in the time of Henry VIII, and you can imagine the speed with which the horses approached one another. The Parade is also the scene of annual celebrations of the birthday of our Great and Good QEII. It’s been used for all kinds of reviews, parades and ceremonies since the 17th century. From here I decided to visit the Cabinet War Rooms, opened in 1993, and found myself in for a surprise (next).