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The secrets of London by postcode: SW (South West)



Ferrets at Buckingham Palace, swearing at Wimbledon and the real-life incident that inspired Del Boy’s fall through the bar – it can only mean that our trivia tour of London’s postcode areas has reached SW…

The Clermont was the first hotel in London to have lifts. The ‘ascending rooms’ (as they were known when the hotel opened in 1862) were powered by water pressure. Back then the five-storey building, next to Victoria station, was known as the Grosvenor and was a favourite of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. So much so, in fact, that he included it in ‘The Final Problem’, the short story with which he first tried to kill off Sherlock Holmes. The detective and his sidekick Watson stay at a Swiss hotel whose owner speaks ‘excellent English, having served for three years as waiter at the Grosvenor hotel in London’. Rooms from £202;

The lifts at the Clermont

During the 1992 men’s singles final at Wimbledon, Goran Ivanisevic was warned for swearing – but only after a TV viewer rang in to complain. The Croatian was blaspheming in his native language, which the umpire didn’t understand. Ivanisevic told the umpire that the complainant was ‘probably some Serb’.

Quiz question: the men’s singles trophy is inscribed ‘the All England Lawn Tennis Club ****** ****** Championship of the World’ – what are the two missing words? They were included to specify a particular type of play, as not playing that way used to be seen as unsporting. (Answer below.)

Some of the TV cables at Buckingham Palace for the wedding of Charles and Diana were installed by a ferret. The cables had to be fed through a very narrow underground duct, and conventional methods had failed. So the ferret was fitted with a harness and placed at one end of the duct, while a piece of bacon was placed at the other. Lured by the smell, the animal scuttled through, dragging some light but very strong wire that was attached to the harness. This was then used in turn to pull the cables through.

Buckingham Palace [Alamy]

Still at the palace, when Frederick Chiluba, president of Zambia during the 1990s, visited Britain, he was granted the honour of a state banquet. Chiluba realised as he sat down next to the Queen that his wife Vera, who was from humble origins, would be baffled by the extensive array of cutlery in her place setting. Thinking quickly, Chiluba asked the Queen if he might be permitted to say grace in Bemba, the language of his people. Of course, replied the monarch. So while everyone assumed he was saying ‘For what we are about to receive…’, Chiluba actually said: ‘Listen, Vera – the round spoon is for the soup, the funny-shaped knife is for the fish, and the spoon at the top is for the pudding.’

SW is the only London postcode area to span the Thames.

Putney Bridge [Alamy]

In 1909 the Royal Albert Hall staged an indoor marathon. The Italian runner Dorando Pietri competed against Britain’s C.W. Gardiner on a circular track covered in coconut matting. Its 90-yard circumference meant they had to complete 524 laps (clockwise, since you ask). Unfortunately Pietri’s new running shoes gave him blisters and he had to retire on lap 482.

Indian restaurant the Cinnamon Club sometimes receives books in the post. The restaurant occupies the old Westminster Library – its walls are still lined with books, and card-holders (or more probably their relatives) occasionally return volumes that are, shall we say, somewhat overdue. The restaurant (so popular that they once had to turn away Mick Jagger because they were full) graciously waives the fines.

The Cinnamon Club

When Charles I was executed outside the Banqueting House on Whitehall, he deliberately wore two shirts. Knowing that the January air would be cold, he didn’t want the crowd to mistake his shivering for fear.

John Sullivan, the writer of Only Fools and Horses, based Del Boy’s legendary fall through the bar on a real-life incident he’d witnessed in a Balham pub. At the George (now the Avalon), a man leaning on the bar stood up to get a light for his cigarette, but before he leaned back down the barman came out and left the flap up. Sullivan had wanted to use the idea for years, but had to wait until the episode in a trendy wine bar – it couldn’t happen in Del Boy’s local the Nag’s Head because ‘he knew every inch of that place’.

James I used St James’s Park to house leopards, crocodiles and elephants – the latter allowed a gallon of wine a day each to get through the English winter.

St James’s Park [Alamy]

Gavin Williamson can’t even resign properly. His letter telling Rishi Sunak he was quitting as minister without portfolio got 10 Downing Street’s postcode wrong. Williamson wrote SW1A 0AA, but that’s actually parliament’s postcode – the PM’s home is SW1A 2AA.

At Ronnie Barker’s memorial service in 2006, the Westminster Abbey vergers paid tribute to the comedian’s most famous sketch by carrying four candles.

Quiz question answer: the missing words are ‘Single Handed’ – two-handed play was seen as unsporting.

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Graduate Organist vacancy in London and Home Counties – Church Times




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The dwindling case for living in London




The recent debate around ‘levelling up’ may be missing something. I would argue that there is another way to consider geographical inequality – and, by this alternative measure, a levelling has been under way for more than 20 years.

I’ve spent three decades working in advertising, so it’s unsurprising that I tend to view economic life through the lens of consumption. By contrast, mainstream economists tend to view disparities through the medium of earnings or wealth. To me, measures of wealth should include not only the quantity of money you have but the breadth of worthwhile options available in choosing how to spend it.

Let’s put it another way. If you live in a boring village, and suddenly a great pub or café opens on the high street, then by my measure you have become richer; by the economist’s measure you have not.

Things that would once have been available in London decades before the provinces now appear everywhereat once 

There was undoubtedly a time when you were richer in London in two ways. You had more money, but you also had a far more exciting range of ways to spend it. Now not so much.

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London is a great city but, in terms of consumption quality, it has not improved markedly in the past 20 years. Over the same period, many smaller cities and even towns have advanced rapidly, significantly narrowing the gap. The kind of things that would once have been available in the capital decades before making it to the provinces – like sushi – now appear everywhere at once. Consider Turkish barbers, who seem to have taken over the country in only five years. (I can remember a time when it was enough just to get a haircut without having burning methylated spirits flicked in my ears. Back then I just didn’t know any better.)

This levelling is especially true of anything in the digital world: Amazon gadgets, Netflix films, Asos fashions and PlayStation games hit Aberystwyth the same day they hit Islington. But it also applies to the physical environment, as anyone over 50 can attest. I went to Manchester and Sheffield for the first time in 1989. Compared with London, they were then, let’s be honest, utterly rubbish. Now, when I visit those same cities, I experience mild ‘northern envy’. There are interesting places open everywhere. Northerners have better cars, because they have more money left over after paying for housing. And they are much better-looking, because they can nip home to get changed before going out.

Relatively speaking, London has improved far less dramatically than these provincial cities have. (New York, many aficionados argue, has got worse.) OK, the Tube is better than it used to be. Uber is a handy addition. But some things are awful – the last pleasure of driving in London ended when they put speed cameras on the Westway. Accommodation costs for the young wipe out any salary gains.

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By my measure, high property prices won’t just hit Londoners once – they’ll hit them twice. Not only do high rents wipe out what you earn, they also put at risk London’s once unassailable advantage as a great place to spend what money you have left. Creative businesses of any kind require space at a price which allows them to take risks. For a time, London found this space by moving its heartland from west to east. But suppose the people supporting what Douglas McWilliams calls ‘the flat white economy’ flee altogether? In my own experience, Kent suddenly seems weirdly full of fascinating restaurants founded by London exiles. If more of these people leave, the case for staying weakens further.

Londoners always say things like ‘Yes but there’s the theatre’. Let’s face it though – even Shakespeare left London for Stratford in his mid-forties. As he no doubt found, the theatre is all very well, but it’s nothing like being able to park outside your house.

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