The BBC World Service is today celebrating its eightieth birthday. Marquees in the Bush House car park - a day of special programmes - even the morning editorial meeting broadcast live to an unsuspecting global audience.
The exact birthday isn't until later in the year, but within a month the World Service starts to decant to the fantastic new broadcast centre at New Broadcasting House on Portland Place. By the time the Olympics start, all World Service broadcasters and journalists (I'm one of them) will have left Bush House. So this is both early birthday and a public farewell to Bush House.
As well as listening avidly to today's programmes, my attention was drawn by my onetime boss Bill Rogers (he of the Trading as WDR blog, a sort of Guido Fawkes for the BBC - happily he describes today's programmes as 'much funkier that you would expect from an 80 year old's birthday party') to a wonderfully detailed account of the BBC career of perhaps the most famous World Service alumnus, George Orwell.
Orwell described his time at the BBC as 'two wasted years' - though the article by Peter Davison on the Orwell Society site makes clear they were professionally hugely productive. Orwell was also working with some emerging big figures in writing and culture, including Mulk Raj Anand, Balraj Sahni and Una Marson.
And if you have ever wondered where the real Room 101 was, here's the answer.
To the wonderful Courtauld Gallery at Somerset House in central London. It's just three minutes from where I work - but this summer we're moving. Only to Portland Place, so it's a long way short of purgatory. But I'll miss the Courtauld. And today I spent £6 - what a bargain - and popped in.
I was working on The Strand for many years before I cottoned on to the Courtauld. It doesn't shout about itself. But it is, to quote from its (on this occasion entirely justified) publicity leaflet, 'one of the finest small museums in the world'.
A marvellous collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings - Manet, Monet, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Seurat, Renoir. And at the moment the considerable bonus of a joint exhibition of the paintings of Mondrian and Ben Nicholson.
Afterwards, a treat of tea and cake in the excellent basement cafe - this afternoon in the courtyard, not bad for mid-February.
I can never walk past Blustons in Kentish Town High Street without having a peek into their commodious window displays. It is simply window shopping. At the moment, it can't be much else. The shop - a wonderful throwback to the inter-war years which I have blogged about before - is currently closed for its annual holidays. I haven't decided whether shutting down in mid-February for your hols is inspired or the opposite.
Walking past this weekend with my camera - which in technical and graphic calibre, is a good match for the photographer - I took a couple of shots which I rather like. Setting Blustons' very keenly priced 'classic ladies' clothing' against the reflections of the high street. See what you think.
There is something quite bewitching when a shop renovation disinters a decades old signboard. This one has just come to light on Junction Road - and by the time you read this, it will probably be covered up again, for many decades to come.
'S.E. Devenish - Tobacconist, Confectioner'. Neatly done - perhaps a store with some style. It seems - from this website reference - that the business survived into the 1960s, and among other things printed historic postcards. It may have moved at about this time to nearby Tavistock Terrace, off Holloway Road. I would hazard a guess that this signboard dates back a fair bit earlier.
There's more about this and the Kentish Town 'E. Mono' shop signboard here, on History Workshop Online.
It's the part of central Delhi that time forgot. I lived in the city for a total of seven years. But it was a brief visit back at the beginning of the month that gave me my first real opportunity to explore the outer circle of once grand Connaught Circus, Indira Chowk I think it's now called.
It's a wonderful amalgam of small leather shops, a (remarkably well stocked but tiny) Communist bookstore, dusty offices, sparkling car showrooms - and stores which feel as if they haven't changed since independence. The likes of Harison's 'high class furniture', and next to it my favourite, Marques & Co's music shop.
The window is emblazoned with the 'by appointment' coats of arms of the Raj's great and the good, and some not-so-good. There's not many commercial establishments which would want to boast a connection with the Earl of Willingdon, Imperial Viceroy of India for five years in the 1930s. He was noted for taking a distinctly hard line against the increasingly assertive Indian nationalist movement.
His wife created Lodhi Gardens - which is much to her credit, until you realise that several urban villages were razed to clear the area round the gumbads and Lodhi-era tombs.
The shop front has survived unscathed since, well, anyone's guess. And there are nice touches now largely hidden from view. So above the splendid 1950s-style name board there's a slightly hip design built around music notation - now, frustratingly, hidden by a staunch metal shutter. The overall effect is charming - I'm so glad it's survived.
The business was established by Franz Marques in 1918, about whom I have been able to find out very little - and it has a website with its own distinct charm, including an endorsement from 1927 by Field Marshal Sir William Birdwood, Bart. And the firm's onetime locations - 'Bombay, Delhi, Simla' - are a distinct throwback to the Raj.
I have to confess I didn't go into the store - just took photos of its wonderful exterior (including the almost self-portrait to the right).
I did wonder how it keeps in business. Though I see on the internet some very warm and admiring comments about Marques. And indeed when I mentioned at home about my time travel in outer CP, my wife chirped up: "Marques - that's where we bought Samira's saxophone."
So, I am happy to say, the Whitehead family has played some very modest part in patronising one of Delhi's most evocative stores.
When a few years ago I wrote a book about Kashmir in 1947, I harboured the hope that it would be translated into Hindi and Urdu, and so gain a wider readership in south Asia. I wondered whether it might perhaps appear in French, Italian (the book opens with my account of a meeting with Sister Emilia, an aged, inspiring Italian nun serving in Kashmir) and other European languages.
It hasn't happened - yet. But A Mission in Kashmir has now, much to my pleasure, been published in Tamil. It's been translated by B.R. Mahadevan and published by New Horizon Media.
The cover is excellent - I trust the translation is every bit as good. Do let me know!
Courtesy of the publishers, I have rather more copies of my book in Tamil than the one, 'trophy' copy I require. So if you are in the UK, read Tamil, and would like a copy of this book, get in touch, and I'll send you one.
'Don't judge a book by its covers', they say. Which I would adapt to: 'Don't buy a book for its cover'. But rules are made for breaking. And today I bought a book simply for its dust jacket.
Absolute Beginners is probably my all time favourite novel. I read it again a few months ago, and was still taken by its energy, the exhilaration - the moment, the place, the mood.
It's about the first stirrings of teenage culture - and, more sinisterly, of organised racism against Caribbean migrants.
I picked this up for a pittance in a charity shop. A 1959 first edition - though a fifth impression, so not exactly valuable. The cover photo - by Roger Mayne - is wonderfully evocative. I wonder who the couple were - the stand-ins for the novel's central characters, the Teenager and his girlfriend Crepe Suzette. The location was around Southam Street in Notting Dale - well within the Teenager's manor - which was a focus for Mayne's work. There's more about this cover here.
The model for Colin MacInnes's Teenager, I discover, was Terry Taylor. And he wrote his own novel of teenage emancipation - Soho clubs, sex (in modest measure), dope (a lot) and jazz (big time).
It's called Baron's Court, All Change - first published in 1961 and just republished by Five Leaves.
And the really good news is it's a really good novel. With much of the feel of Absolute Beginners, and about the same scene at the same time, though from a different vantage point. So if you like Colin MacInnes's Teenager tale, you ought to read this too.
A very convivial lunch today at a friend's place - he's recently started renting a flat in Stepney Green. Dunstan Houses, to be precise. Top floor. In fact, the exact same flat where Rudolf Rocker - the leader of the influential Yiddish-speaking anarchist movement in the East End before the First World War - lived a century ago.
'Yes, this was the Rocker residence', he declared, with a distinct and entirely justifiable sense of pride. 'There used to be a portrait of Malatesta on that wall, and of Bakunin on that wall.'
Hang on a moment - entirely credible but how does he know? Well, because Rudolf Rocker's son, the artist Fermin Rocker, wrote a wonderful memoir of growing up in Dunstan Houses - graced by his own drawing of the building.
The family moved in in about 1910. 'Dunstan Houses', Fermin recalled, 'though hardly an abode for the affluent, nevertheless had its own class distinctions and offered a scale of accommodations for the poor, the poorer, and the poorest. ... No. 33 was in what might be termed the luxury wing of the building. We had such conveniences as a private kitchen and a private lavatory ...'
Fermin writes that he looked upon his father 'as a god' - a sentiment not entirely in spirit with the movement. Then again you could say that Rudolf Rocker's undoubted leadership of the Jewish anarchist movement (though he was himself a 'goy', a gentile) was also not entirely in step with the libertarian, 'no master, high or low', ethos.
Rocker's own memoir, The London Years, has a drawing of him by his son on its cover.
Heading back from Stepney Green, we drove along Jubilee Street - the site of the anarchist club, which thrived from 1906 for almost a decade and was the beating heart of the movement. Nice to have a sense of proximity to a culture, a movement, which has now so utterly gone.
Delhi's middle class doesn't go to the zoo, never mind the tourists. They don't know what they are missing!
Delhi Zoo is magnificent. It's overlooked by the commanding walls of Purana Qila, the Old Fort, with kites massing overhead. It's green, spacious - and has the most marvellous bird life. Not in cages, but all around.
I was there last week - to discover that the painted storks (entirely wild as far as I can make out) are still roosting in the 'hidden' lake, hardly visited at all, at the centre of the zoo. There was a group of pelicans too - I suspect they may have clipped wings. It is quite magical.
Of the sounds I associate with Delhi, and indeed India, one of the most evocative is the shrill cry of the pariah kite, a scavenger bird so common it's regarded with disdain by Delhi-ites.
The kites wheel and soar over rubbish tips - around Lodhi Gardens - and seem particularly attracted to the ancient monuments in the heart of the city, Humayun's Tomb and Purana Qila.
Maybe, like the ravens at the Tower of London, they are guardians of the city's past. They certainly deserve a little bit more respect from the city than they get.
But the still greater delight of Delhi Zoo is the birdlife you chance across amid the glades and parcels of grass. I love the hoopoe. Few things give me more delight than watching this shy, graceful, slender bird of great beauty pecking at the ground with its long curved beak and tugging up a grub. As a child, I used to stare at the painting of a hoopoe in my parents' big bird book. It is just wonderful to see it for real.
The photo here I took last week with a very ordinary camera. You can see the crown on the hoopoe's head, the probing beak, and the black-and-white chevrons on its back which become more marked in flight.
Towards the back of the zoo, there was a colony of wild peacocks - looking for a place to roost in the adjoining shrub. Then as I was leaving the zoo, with the light fading, I spotted this lovely kingfisher hopping around one of the drainage ditches. I went away happy.
There are few more wonderful places in this world than Lodhi Gardens - as I was able to remind myself last week. They are beautiful - teeming with antiquity - even more alive with bird life (and bats as dusk falls) - and when the light is right, the atmosphere is magical. Wherever my ashes are scattered, some must rest here.
Of the monuments, my particular favourite is the Sheesh Gumbad, featured above and right. The last remannts of what must once have been vivid peacock blue tiling are visible high up on the frontage.
Below is the nearby Bara Gumbad, the first building you encounter as you enter from Lodhi Road. There is something particularly enchanting about the colours of the stonework - subdued, almost pastel shades. If you have never been, go!
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