Quite often I see familiar faces on my tours; people who have booked me before and then come back for more, and people who join the public tours I do for London Walks.
And then there are the people who work at the places where I guide; the lovely marshalls at Westminster Abbey, the watermen whose knowledge of the river is encyclopaedic who captain the boats for City Cruises, the Visitor Assistants at the place of Westminster, the helpful Big Issue seller at St Paul’s tube station. You get the picture.
Last autumn, the British Museum decided that groups must henceforth enter via the back door on Montague Place. I regretted the change in meeting point this necessitated. We used to meet outside Holborn tube, and if early I would nip round to the Rosewood Hotel to admire their displays, and if lucky, see Pearl, the resident dog.
Nowadays we meet outside Russell Square tube station.
Russell Square tube station
Last week, everyone who wanted to join me for a tour of the BM offered me a twenty pound note. My change ran out in an instant. I walked over to the stall opposite the tube station entrance and asked the proprietor if he could give me some change.
“Of course,” he said. Then he added, “I know you from somewhere, but I don’t know where.” He didn’t look familiar, and my guess was he had seen me successive weeks meeting a group. “No,” he said, “I’ve seen you before.”
I was doubtful, but we began that narrowing of places and neighbourhoods where our paths might have crossed. Then he mentioned Walworth.
“I live there,” I said. His eyes widened and he explained that his family had run stalls on nearby East Lane market for years. The penny dropped. He was Barry, who I first knew when he was a teenager. I bought my fruit from the stall his brother and father ran, my cheese and eggs from his mother Josie and his sister-in-law Pauline. The fruit was the best on East Lane. Long before Borough Market became a foodie Mecca, Josie was supplying us with all sorts of delights, including Cornish Yarg, perfect Red Leicester and a wonderful soft blue cheese whose name I forget.
Now here was Barry again. Grown up, with his own stall selling fruit and fruit based drinks in a new location.
Naturally we swapped news, and I got up to speed with what has happened to the various members of his family.
So if you happen to be passing Russell Square tube and want a drink or just a piece of fruit, check out Barry’s stall. And if you remember, say I sent you.