Happy 2018! Travel Safely, Visit Well

A New Year. A fresh start. A new opportunity. So what will you do? Have you made your resolutions?

I’m going to continue my 2017 pattern of day trips to places in the UK. They have been fabulous. Without a doubt Coventry was the highlight. I went there twice, and I urge any of you who have not been to add it to your list pronto.

I’d love to take people around that amazing city, so if you want an enthusiastic guide get in touch. Sheffield is on the list for 2018, and I’d like to visit Lincoln and Nottingham, but I’m not sure they are achievable in a day trip from London.

One destination on my list that is definitely not achievable in a day is New Zealand. I have quite a few clients from New Zealand and I was supposed to be a New Zealander but my parents decided not to emigrate. Visiting other countries helps join the dots, make sense of our connections and shared history as well as our differences. Continue reading

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C is for Christmas and Coventry!!

I have been away and it was while I was away that the news came through that Coventry has been awarded City of Culture 2021, weyhey!! And yes I did do a jig round the room.

2017 is when I fell in love with Coventry. In 2016 I read The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss which immediately became my book of the year. In the novel one of the protagonists, Adam, is researching the history of the cathedral. Like most people I know that Coventry cathedral was bombed in the blitz, that the new cathedral was designed by Basil Spence, and was controversial.

It was that novel that sent me to Coventry. Twice. I loved it. Coventry is a wonderful city. It is vibrant, friendly, make that very friendly, diverse, the new cathedral is astounding – reading The Tidal Zone is a great way to prepare for the building – there are depictions of elephants all over the shop, every corner you turn reveals something of interest and wonder.

George Eliot moved to Coventry and her novel Middlemarch – a must read in any language – is set in a fictional town based on Coventry.

Then there’s Lady Godiva, endless people connected with the industrial revolution, Angela Brazil, John Hewitt and Philip Larkin, but if you are still unconvinced, watch Nativity directed by the very wonderful Debbie Isitt

Let me know if you want a tour.

Well done Coventry, you deserve it.

Keeping It Local:

Some businesses and even some private homes have already been decked with fairy lights, trees and tinsel, but next weekend, the first in December marks the kick-off for festive fun and retail.

If, like me, your idea of hell is a crowded shopping centre or overheated department store there are artists’ studios in both Camberwell, SE5, and Walworth, SE17, open next weekend. And I’m sorry to tell you you’ve missed it, but today there was a sale of locally produced honey at Lettsom Gardens with the best lucky dip ever – everyone was a winner.

Back to next weekend. On Saturday I’m leading a guided walk around Walworth, my home patch.

The walk begins outside Kennington tube at 10.45, and ends outside opposite the Open Studios outside a café where dogs are welcome. It costs just £10pp and there’s no need to book in advance. Continue reading

The Borough Group

Think of groups of artists linked to neighbourhoods. Give yourself a minute or two.

OK, what have you come up with?

The Rive Gauche, maybe; Montmartre, perhaps; Bloomsbury, quite likely; the Elephant and Castle, almost certainly not. Yet in the mid C20 the Borough Group was a collective of artists in the Elephant and Castle area. So why Borough Group, not Elephant Group you may be wondering. Well, I can’t be one hundred percent sure, but an educated guess would be that it was because they were centred at the Borough Road Polytechnic, now London South Bank University, and there was also a gang of violent hoodlums who modelled themselves closely on Chicago mobsters know as the Elephant Gang. You would not want to get the two confused. It could be nasty. Continue reading

Cutting It

Tomorrow morning is due to be sunny; the heavens be praised.

I shall be leading a walk around The Cut starting at 10.45 outside Southwark tube.

The Cut is pretty couth these days, but George Sala, a nineteenth century journalist saw it differently. He said the gin shops, leviathan, ghastly in their newness, richness of decoration were the only things new. Everything else was secondhand. The women were slovenly, you could hear the howling of beaten children and kicked dogs; the tenements were vile and rotten. There was a smell of escaped gas, deceased cats, ancient fish, unwashed soddened, unkempt, feckless humanity.
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A Day Trip to Ipswich

One of the great things about being in London is how easily you can visit other parts of the country for the day. The train for Ipswich leaves from Liverpool Street station and the journey time is around an hour and a half.

It’s one of those places I have driven through but never stopped at. Famous for being the birthplace of Thomas Wolsey,the butcher’s son who rose to be one of the richest most powerful men in the land before he fell from grace when he could not procure a divorce for Henry VIII from his wife Catherine of Aragon.

The city is full of references to him, cardinal this and that, Wolsey this and that. A fine statue near the site of the house where he was born.

Wolsey Room in the Town Hall

The Most Famous Son

The Art Gallery

A Humble Man

Sculpture with cat

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Roll Up! Roll Up! for Elefest 2017 Tomorrow, 2nd September

What

I am delighted to announce that I shall be leading my guided tour, Walking the Elephant, around the Elephant and Castle tomorrow afternoon as part of this year’s Elefest. After a two year gap, Elefest is back with a whoop and the promise of good weather. Rob has dusted off the logos, printed the flyers and recruited musicians, storytellers, dancers and disc spinners to celebrate the Elephant.

Where

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Why Walk?

I have been contacted by an Urban Studies student called George who has asked my opinion and thoughts on a number of issues around walking.

Now as a Blue Badge Guide, I guide on foot, on a coach, I lead tours of galleries and heritage sites, and walks all over London.

I enjoy all of it, but walking tours have a special place n my heart, and it was partly due to my long established habit of walking around London’s neighbourhoods that I trained as a guide in the first place.

George is particularly interested to know my thoughts in relation to one particular walk that I have developed: the Elephant and Castle.

As it happens, I shall be leading this walk on Saturday 2nd September at 2pm as part of this year’s Elefest.

The Elephant has changed enormously since since I first started to explore it nearly four decades ago when I moved into a flat nearby, just down the road in Walworth. I remember the feeling of surprise and shock to find prefab homes in the shadow of what must have been London’s most uninviting hotel, the London Park. Much later when I read of that building’s history I learned to respect it and even felt sorry when it was pulled down.

You see far more on two wheels than you do on four, but walking puts you in touch with your environment in a much more immediate way. Partly it’s to do with the speed. You notice the plants in people’s gardens, the style of curtains affected by people in different neighbourhoods, the potholes in the roads, the litter on the pavements; the new front door. You acquire a more intimate understanding than your wheeled peers.

The more you walk the same streets the more you learn their nuances. You see the subtle changes that come with the year’s seasons; the telltale signs of new investment; the pubs that have been turned into flats; the new market stall holders; the graffiti; the corner shops that close; the bars that open; the elderly person who suddenly is no longer about; the young boys doing wheelies on their bikes as they transition to adolescence. You are a witness. Continue reading