Falling Back In Love With London Part Three

London

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)

IMG_5930

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.

IMG_5875

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.

IMG_5876

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.

IMG_5878

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?

IMG_5886

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.

IMG_5885 copy

IMG_5885

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).

7 comments on “Falling Back In Love With London Part Three”

  1. Jo W says:

    “When you’re feeling a bit icky dick” Was this a general or a personal comment,Chris? Hope you are feeling more ‘chilled ‘ now. Great photographs,especially the one from your terrace. Made me think of “wiv a ladder and some glasses you could see to ‘ackney marshes!” 🙂

  2. Helen Martin says:

    Loved the pictures. I saw the keeper’s house and chatted with two women photographing a pair of large dark birds that were sitting on the fence. If that was the size of Henry’s tiltyard, then yes I can imagine the speed of the horses and the mass of those moving objects. The impact must have shaken the ground for miles around.

  3. David Ronaldson says:

    I used to work at the FCO and varied my journey in to work (less for recommended security reasons than out of boredom). The parks and buildings look so much better first thing in the morning when not swamped by tourists, while at other times, even the ‘orrible Victoria has some backstreet gems; I’m thinking pubs such as the Cask and Glass, a tiny Shepherd Neame gem.

  4. dave says:

    wonderful pics … thanks for sharing

  5. Alan says:

    The Regent’s Park is beautiful too (did you know it was called that?).

  6. Helen Martin says:

    Postman’s Park with the Watts Memorial? I’m reading Elizabeth George and Sgt. Havers is meeting a reporter there. It sounds familiar but I can’t place it. Yes, I will look it up, but I’d like you to know that there is a great deal of cross fertilization going on out here.

  7. Helen Martin says:

    Ah, looked it up (and donated to Wikimedia because what would we do without it?) (go to the library and look through books, of course) and yes I think you have mentioned it, or the park at least. A child who saved his sister’s life by ripping away her burning clothes but whose clothes caught fire and he died of burns and shock. A crewmember who gave her life belt to a passenger and went down with the ship. Quite a number of children who tried to save someone from drowning but died in the attempt. Felt sad after reading the plaques.

Comments are closed.