The Clerkenwell "Outrage"
To St James's Clerkenwell this morning, an elegant late eighteenth century church - and inside the memorial to those killed in the Clerkenwell "Outrage" of 1867. Fenians, Irish Republicans, blew up the wall of the local prison in an unsuccessful attempt to spring two of their number, who should have been in the exercise yard at the time.
The authoritites had been forewarned. The Republican prisoners were confined to their cells - which probably saved their lives. The explosion was hugely too powerful, and brought down not just the prison walls but most of the row of houses opposite the jail, killing at least twelve people.
Some of the outside wall of the jail still stands - along with the chief warder's home, on a street corner and remarkable for having no windows overlooking the street.
Clerkenwell Green just yards away was in the Victorian era a venue for outdoor political meetings, including some held in the aftermath of the explosion by sympathisers with the Fenians - notably a local radical, James Finlen. That created a further public outrage, and Finlen became a figure of notoriety, and eventually was forced to leave London by the hounding of the popular press.
What's brewing in Tufnell Park?
Lawdy, lawdy! Costa comes to Tufnell Park. It opened on December 18th - and although it feels a touch antiseptic, the store seems to be doing good business.
When we came to this area (alright, it is fifteen years ago), TP was a bit of a wasteland. No mini-supermarket, no cashpoint, no decent coffee ... It did even then have some pluses: Lalibela, the Ethiopian restaurant, was already there; Rustique, the rather curious self-styled 'literary cafe' opened about that time; and the Spaghetti House has been around for ages, though it took us ages to discover it (and to try out the very good Chinese takeaway).
Now there's a small Sainsbury's, with cashpoint ... a Sardinian restaurant ... a homemade ice cream store ... a letterpress printers ... the Junction has become a rather good gastro pub ... there's a shop that gives away books (honest! - though it's generosity is constrained by its very limited opening hours) ... and as chocolate sprinkles on top of all that, there's now Costa.
So dear old TP, for so many years the backside of Kentish Town, which is in turn the backside of Camden Town, which is in turn ... TP, which doesn't even have a postcode to call its own ... TP is slowly, slowly, getting there.
Not that I've yet been in the Boston Arms which I've walked past several thousand times. But if anyone dares me, I'll do it!
'Vote like an Egyptian'
A really nice Christmas present - a trio of badges from Cairo, all supporting (or from groups supporting) the successful 'yes' side in the recent constitutional referendum. "An Islamist deluxe collection", in the words of an Egyptian friend.
The green badge displays the Muslim Brotherhood's emblem of two swords, and a short verse from the Qu'ran which translates as: "be prepared". On the top right is a badge of the Salafi 'Nour' party. And the one with President Morsi's image reads: "yes to the constitution".
Nice to know that the very American device of the political campaign button is flourishing in Muslim Brotherhood-run Egypt.
A big thank you to Brian for the badges, and to Shaimaa for the context and translation.
It is remarkable how Kashmir continues to have such a grip on the British imagination - even though hardly any Brits have visited the valley for the past twenty years or more.
Popping in at a North Yorkshire tea shop over Christmas, I came across a line of locally made chutneys and preserves - incuding this 'spiced but mild' Kashmir Chutney.
There is no obvious link to Kashmir beyond the hint of the exotic, oriental, enticing ... but how that word 'Kashmir' stills bears a sense of wonder!
The BBC's "Gluepot"
I'd never come across "The Gluepot" until I read Tony Murray's account of Anthony Cronin's comic novel The Life of Riley. And it turns out I work barely a hundred yards from the place.
It's the colloquial name for one of the BBC pubs which encircle (not strictly true - they are all on the Fitzrovia side) Broadcasting House. This particular one is 'The George', a decent old boozer on the junction of Great Portland Street and Mortimer Street. I can say this with some first hand knowledge as I popped in there this lunchtime for - a great rarity for me - a quick half.
In the lobby as you enter from the Mortimer Street side is an account of how The George got its BBC nickname. I've taken a photo, but it's not a model specimen so I'll also transcribe its account.
'This house is known in the area and especially to the older BBC people as "The Gluepot".
'It was christened thus by Henry Wood, the conductor, who used to rehearse his orchestras and give concerts in the Queen's Hall which was at the rear of this building, on the site where the St. George's Hotel now stands. During breaks in rehearsals and concerts, his musicians, being thirsty people, made their way to this house to slake their thirsts. Many times several of them drank too deeply rather than wisely and were late in returning to their musical duties, where they were severely reprimanded by The Maestro and accused of staying too long "in that bloody Gluepot".
'We dedicate this Gluepot to the memory of the great Sir Henry Wood.'
Waterlow Park, captivating in the bright winter sun. What a lot of bright autumnal Sundays we have had this year. You can just make out the turquoise green of St Joseph's through the trees. The most wondrous sights are often close at hand!
One of my more expensive buys from Oxfam (£4.99) - but then it is a curious period piece, with period photos to match. Rosita Forbes was a remarkable woman explorer and travel writer - there's a biographical note on the web with the appropriate title Appointments in the Sun.
This title was published by the Right Book Club - a counterblast to the hugely more successful Left Book Club - in 1939. Not always to approving reviews. A review tipped in to this copy concludes of Miss Forbes: 'It is a great mistake on her part (and in the very worst of taste) to write about the private lives of some of those in authority in these [princely] States. Never have we been in greater need of their support and understanding than to-day, and such remarks as Miss Forbes makes can do no good, but might well do irreparable harm.'
I bought the book because it has a chapter on Kashmir's royal family, where again the author writes 'in the very worst of taste'. She recycles some of the more vicious colonial era stereotypes and prejudices about Kashmiris. I apologise for any offence caused by repeating her words - but they are instructive of the attitude of the colonial elite as late as the 1930s:
'Throughout history the Kashmiri has been a victim. From his own character and the position of his country on the high road of invasion he was predestined to be conquered. Foreign rule, continuously changing, has made of him a rogue. His villainies are insignficiant and habitual. They do not detract from his charm. The Kashmiri proper will always run rather than fight. He has a genius for the misrepresentation of the smallest and least important fact. Lamentably untrustworthy and undoubtedly attractive, he invites oppression, and a succession of conquerors have made habitual his natural inclination towards slavery. A hopeless people, but with a ready wit and imagination that makes them the first of story-tellers, they love and live on rumour. ... They may not be courageous, noble or virile, they may not have the fighting qualities of the Rajput and the Dogra, but they are excellent cultivators, capable of developing their rich land, and their endless lies are often a form of courtesy, or a habit. Straight speech to so quick-witted a people is dull as cold boiled mutton. They offer prevarication as a spiced dish.'
Later in the chapter, Rosita Forbes returns to this theme, remarking: 'The Kashmiris have known too many grievances under a succession of conquerors to be happy without one.'
It is alarming to think that these ossified and ill-informed sentiments were once common currency among at least some of the English in imperial India and its princely states.
Badge Makers to the King
I spent yesterday evening at the Notting Hill headquarters of the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain - and came away with this marvellous gift (thanks Vlod!), the association's badge still mounted in card, as supplied from the makers. And the makers were the very illustrious J.R. Gaunt & Son, medallists and badge makers to H.M. the King - which means that the badge must be more than sixty years old.
J.R. Gaunt seems to have specialised in making military badges and buttons - and is still in business, no longer off Regent Street, but in Birmingham.
The occasion yesterday was a public viewing of the work of a distinguished Ukrainian artist, Dmytro Dobrovolsky. And particularly, a display of his 'Cycling to Bush House' - a wonderful icon of what is now is starting to feel a distant era in the BBC's history. The BBC handed back the keys to Bush House on the last day of last month. Over!
Nairobi National Park, more than 100 square miles of it, is only five miles from the city centre. It's quite possible to be there as the park opens at 6am, have a drive round and spot some memorable wildlife, and be back in the city for the start of the working day.
I didn't see any lions or rhinos, but got incredibly close to this elegant giraffe grazing by the trackside. We later spotted a small herd of giraffe, and larger groups of antelope and buck - probably four or five different species - as well as buffalo, ostrich and a rich mix of bird life, from vultures to delicate birds with long trailing tails.
The park landscape has an elegance to it, and sometimes on the skyline you can see high rise Nairobi not all that far away. Coffee table Africa and the new Africa in the same vista.
The only down side was the mud. There had been a lot of rain over the previous few days, and although the guidebook says almost all tracks in the park are accessible by ordinary car, that not so when it's muddy.
Our car got stuck in the mud. 'Everybody get out and push'-type stuck. Gloopy mud which sticks to you and weighs you down. So yes, I got to my first morning appointment on time - but I just hope they didn't notice my shoes.
The Corruption Reporting Office
Just back from a 72-hour work trip to Nairobi - and spotted this sign within the grounds of the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation. At least it's a statement of intent.
KBC is situated in a beautiful corner of the city - lots of space and trees - and just opposite is the Norfolk, the most colonial of Nairobi's top hotels, which trades off the 'White Mischief' reputation of Kee-nyah between the wars. I had a banana smoothie (well, it was too early for a GnT) on the Norfolk's "Lord Delamere Terrace" - which, as far as vices go, comes, I would contend, fairly low down the list (#48 gullible sentimentality for the least palatable aspects of colonialism).
What I liked most about Harry Thuku Road - home to the country's main university as well as the KBC and the Norfolk - was the storks. Commanding birds with a massive wingspan, who preside over the area from their perches on trees and rooftops. It was awe inspiring to see these magnificent birds right in the centre of one of Africa's busiest capitals. (The traffic was also awesome - I've never quite encountered such gridlock. The airport isn't far out of town, but it took two-and-a-half hours to drive there - and that was in mid-evening).
As the sun started to set, the storks would come to roost on the tree tops, offering a really sensational silhouette. These photos are taken on a iPhone, so not the highest quality, but you can get a sense I hope of why I took to the place.
I didn't see anything of the city apart from the centre - and a glance from a main road of Kibera, reputed to be Africa's biggest shanty town - but I liked what I saw: a confident, modern, friendly city which feels like it's going places.
This was my first visit to Nairobi, and I really want to go back and see more.
Andrew Whitehead's blog
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