Saturday 20 September 2014

London notes 3


Above is a wonderful Miro print that I saw and loved in a shop in Cecil Court, off the Charing Cross Road, when I was in London recently.

A very intelligent Jewish American friend I dined with said two very interesting things about the Arab Israeli conflict. He said that Netanyahu doesn't want to make peace. He has everything he wants as things are - with settlers steadily encroaching on the West Bank. This, I saw as he spoke, is true. And he added
There's a strong case to be made by the Israelis and by the Arabs. Which you side with ultimately comes down to which you find more congenial.
I think there is a lot of truth in this too. 

I wonder which I find more congenial. I feel I love both. 

I saw a friend from college, now a frightfully well-paid City solicitor, who said to me that once you reach fifty you stop thinking that one day you'll do such and such and realise suddenly that this is it. Yes.

A charming Catholic priest told me from the depths of his armchair in his club that
When I was twenty all I wanted to do was find a way of spending my life drinking champagne every day and now I do.
How can he afford it? 
Simple. I don't have a car.
What a wise man. I rejoice that I don't have one. If one does not marry and does not drive life can be sweet.

Dinner at Buck's with two young fogeys one of whom did his Finals at Cambridge wearing white tie - something which everyone does at Oxford but long ago fell into desuetude at Cambridge. His friend who is twenty years his junior works in Turnbull and Asser but will start university. He could almost have been forty but is really twenty. They seemed the same age - for young fogeys are ageless. The younger man reminded me of Claud Hulbert. He seems to have always had a psychological urge to be a figure from the 1930s. He says members of the working class who meet him on buses and at stations treat him with kindness and politeness and understand what he is about, that he is a figure from another age.

As always my abiding impression of England is of how much nicer and more polite people are than in the 1980s. London does not seem any more cosmopolitan than it did then but that's because I stay in the very centre - Trafalgar Sq. and Piccadilly Circus always were full of tourists and St James's is the last redoubt of Edwardian England. But Jermyn St. no longer feels as exclusive as it did, which is sad. Jermyn St. shirt shops in the 1980s were all about snobbery but now are not at all except for the last four real ones. Exclusivity is perhaps something which has become democratised. The clubs of St. James's have women in the libraries which is where one feels their presence as most intrusive and young men tieless and in jeans at the weekends. What would Monsignor Gilbey have thought? 

Only the Charing Cross Road's second hand bookshops and the Brompton Oratory seem eternal and changeless.


  1. I am not convinced that Arabs are less modern than Jews, it really depends where you are, but I completely agree about single life and not driving, having liberated myself into both through divorce and recently selling my car. An interesting read. Bring on the champagne!

  2. Hey there Paul. A new reader from Canada here. Nice blog. I was also in London last year the first time I had been there since 1993 which I remember well because the IRA bomb occurred during my stay. The central area was in many ways more interesting than before. The London Eye was really worth going on, even if quite expensive, at some £30 per rider. The merchants do definitely seem more friendly and customer centric than last time. Transport seemed extortionate though. When I got into taxi it went up by 10 pence per minute! The Tube's map is even more of a spaghetti nightmare than last time and depending on what routes you are taking some maps have them as one colour and others as another. I'm a terrible cartophobe (and slightly colour blind) so It took me about 20 minutes to find my way around on the map.

    1. 10 pence a minute! Black cab meters usually go up 10 pence every ten seconds. Black cabs are extortionate. Disraeli called them - or rather their hansom predecessors - the gondolas of London but like gondolas they are only used by tourists

  3. The fares were ridiculously confusing as well as expensive with different fares, based on where you are coming from and to where you are headed. There was this special frequent travellers card, which is broken down to peak rides and off peak rides, (there was something even called super-off peak on the national rail network but I digress) So, we had one train station, change lines and four more stations. Cost per adult? Two pounds! Wasn't till about the fourth day, when I was buying tickets, the cashier explained I could get a one week all-you-can-ride pass, for £35 each adult. Some things did seem the same. I also went back to the Brompton oratory which seemed much the same as last time. An old rite mass with a homily delivered by a very aristocratic sounding priest called Fr Ronald Crayton Jobe.

  4. I went to Mass said by him on my thirtieth birthday.