Things You Could Once Do In London That You Can’t Do Now
…Like go to the London Zoo and ride a fair selection of animals. You could see Lubetkin’s beautiful penguin pool actually filled with penguins. Or how about the chimps’ tea party, where cakes were thrown by monkeys in frocks. Anthropomorphism, I know, but I recall the chimps loving it as much as the children. However…
At the Christmas Circus at Holborn you could see a man put his head in a lion’s mouth, and wild jungle beasts tamed with a chair. And er, a whip. When you’re seven you can’t tell a noble creature from a ragged, terrified animal with no dignity left.
Before the IRA attacks of the 1970s, London was an open city where you could walk into every building without needing a swipecard on a lanyard. At cinemas we used to walk in backwards as people were coming out to get free seats. Asking theatre managers if we could sit in on rehearsals, we were often allowed to do so if we kept quiet. Art galleries and museums were frequently deserted. No-one took photographs except in Trafalgar Square – then still full of pigeons – and outside Buckingham Palace.
Of course it was impossible to buy so much as a cup of tea on the Thames Embankment, or indeed anything at all on Sundays. We now experience the opposite extreme of being offered refreshment opportunities every ten feet or so, and open-air concert goers turning up with trucks of food, as if they can’t concentrate on some music for two hours without stuffing their faces.
On Sundays most cinemas showed double features. We’d see two movies and sit around to catch the beginning of the bit we missed when we arrived, because it was common to come in halfway through and not think it strange that we were seeing the story in the wrong order.
Newsreel cinemas had rolling one-hour shows of news and cartoons, perfect for filling in time if you were waiting for a train or a lonely bachelor. The last one I remember appears in ‘An American Werewolf In London’.
Everyone listened to and watching the same thing. Housewives’ Choice in the morning, Two Way Family Favourites while you were washing the car on a Sunday morning. Britain’s first indie radio station Radio Caroline in the evening when your parents weren’t around because they disapproved. As the car was king, public transport offered deals to children to fill up their underused transport. I used Red Rovers, cheap one-day passes, to get around London as a kid.
Actually, thinking back about it, I think I prefer London as it is now – if only it was less expensive and overcrowded.