London is lovely in autumn. There are just too many people in summer and the pavements are sweaty and the Tube is suffocating, but when the leaves start to fall there’s a kind of quietness, even in the busy parts. And standing at the crossing outside Euston there was a clean laundry smell from the people around me, and I was feeling pretty content, and then I saw the No 10 sailing past, while I was stuck in the middle of the road with the pedestrian lights on red.
Plus ca bloody change, as they say in Walthamstow.
And then the lights changed, and the bus pulled in at the stop up the road, and I ran for it, and some doddery old couple were holding it up wanting to know if it went to Kamchatka or wherever and I made it. And I went upstairs and somebody smoked and I fell into a dream, aahhhh….no, that was John Lennon. And nobody is allowed to smoke upstairs now on a bus. So I just stared out of the window and we turned into Gower Street and there was a girl sitting on a trunk in the middle of the pavement, and an old guy with a big box, walking along as though it weighed nothing, and a young lad, obviously his son, carrying the same kind of box, and hurrying along trying to keep up, and I realised that it’s that time of year, when university is starting again, and then out of the other window I saw a blue plaque saying that this was the place where anaesthetic was used for the very first time. And I realised I was short on ideas for a blog post, so I got my phone out, and started clicking away like a demented tourist.
This is Gower Street. Fascinating, huh?
It’s part of Bloomsbury and, in the past, famous for its intellectuals. Its full of university buildings, and the British Museum is really close. But if you’re going to Kensington, like me, you stay on the bus and at the top, you hang a right past the amazing umbrella shop, which I couldn’t take a picture of, on account of somebody’s head being in the way, and you’re on New Oxford Street, coming up to the junction with the Tottenham Court Road, and the whole place is being torn down and rebuilt and it’s a mess. Makes you think what it might have looked like in the Blitz. But without the bodies.
And then you’re on Oxford Street, and there’s not much to say about it, really. If you manage to look down Argyll Street (unlike me, because the bus was too fast) where the tube station is, you’ll see Liberty’s, which used to be an utterly brilliant department store, where ladies up from the counties came for lunch and to wander about the wondrous fabric department. The carpet section was fantastic. A man there once showed me hand-made rugs from Afghanistan decorated with Kalashnikovs all round the border. Now it’s all been updated, (although the actual building is still worth a look); the carpets are in a cupboard somewhere, the cafe’s gone downhill, and there’s only three things for sale at a million pounds each.
Still, there’s Selfridges right at the bottom. The guy who founded it, Harry Gordon Selfridge, lavished the fortune he made from it on showgirls and ended up destitute but, hey, at least he had a good time, and the shop is thriving.
At the bottom of Oxford Street you turn left on to Park Lane, with its swanky hotels on the left, and Hyde Park on the right. After a while you go past the Hilton, which doesn’t look too swanky at all. And is chiefly memorable to me, for the time a mate of mine went out to report on some twit who had attempted to parachute from one of the balconies and landed rather messily. She found one of his hands on the pavement.
Then you turn right round the bottom end of the park, with the back garden of Buckingham Palace on your left, and get ready to turn on to Knightsbridge.
You go past Knightsbridge barracks on the right, but I didn’t bother taking a picture because it’s just a brick wall really. This is where the guards keep their horses; they exercise them in park early every morning. Years ago, I used to go riding in the park, and I’ll never forget one winter morning a whole troop of soldiers just riding out of the mist by the Serpentine. Spooky.
Nearly there. Glance down to your left as we go past the Brompton Road and you’ll get a glimpse of Harrods, the building with the domed roof, which I like mostly because of its Egyptian themed escalator. Really, it’s like being in the pyramids. Only you can get tea and buns afterwards. And their Food Hall is sublime. But go there only in February, when the tourists are hibernating and Christmas is a dirty word.
After that, you go past Princes Gate, below, where 25 people were taken hostage at the Iranian Embassy (that’s No 16) in 1980. When the attackers killed a man and threw his body out of the embassy the SAS were sent in and they rescued all but one of the remaining hostages, and killed five of the six terrorists. The sixth spent 27 years in jail. The embassy itself was a wreck for years, and didn’t reopen until 1993.
Then it’s the Albert Hall, which the bus just jerked past, so not one of my best.
Anyway, here’s a picture of a green hut in front of Kensington Gardens. You see these huts all over London, and they always look as if they’re trying to pretend they’re not there. They are there. They are private cafes for London’s cab drivers. I’ve often thought Dr Who ought to have one of those instead of a police telephone box. People who try knocking on the doors to ask for a cup of tea, spare change or a lift to Kings Cross, are never seen again.
On to Kensington High Street, and out at the station, which is one of the prettiest stations in London. Piccadilly is the most elegant (it has art deco lamps) but the entrance to Ken High Street is full of light and smells of flowers.
And er, that’s it. Eat your heart out, Henri Cartier Bresson.