Ravens of the Tower of London Photo by: Colin/Wikimedia Commons

London Calling

He’s behind you
As the new Spitting Image calls him on their re-launched puppet satire, we all hoped ‘Coroney’ was indeed behind us. But as London and the UK braces itself for a second wave of Government Lockdown measures, it seems he may be around for a little longer.

However, some brave shows are re-opening and the early signs are that ticket sales are good. The Play that Goes Wrong, The Mousetrap and Six are amongst the first out of the blocks, but lots of people are hoping that the Christmas and New Year extravaganza of pantomime will not be killed off by the virus.

The National Lottery has stepped in to support some pantomimes, including a star-studded show planned at the London Palladium. Pantoland will open at the Palladium on December 12 and run until January 3. Stars including Julian Clary, Nigel Havers and Beverley Knight are on the bill alongside Ashley Banjo and his dance group, Diversity.

A total of 250,000 tickets will be available and the National Lottery will buy seats left vacant through social distancing measures.

“Christmas 2020 needs a pantomime, and this one has never meant so much to our industry,” said owner of the Palladium, Andrew Lloyd Webber. From a government that specialises in making a catchphrase out of a crisis, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said “Operation Sleeping Beauty” would help “get some panto back on this Christmas” in the face of a “very challenging backdrop”.

Still on the Christmas theme, churches in central London are making plans to ensure that the most important festival in the Christian calendar does not fall victim to the Covid-19 crisis.

Reverend Sam Wells, vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square said: “Christmas is definitely still on. We are now planning to have three carol services on Christmas Eve. Everything is online too. People aren’t allowed to sing in the services, but choirs are allowed to sing beautifully and so we will have carol services.”

However, their usual capacity of 825 is reduced to a mere 125 and so, in many ways, it does seem that this new manifestation of the Grinch is doing its best to steal Christmas fun!

History corner
Fleet Street is one of the most famous thoroughfares in London, connecting the City with the West End. The river Fleet runs beneath the road into the Thames and, at one time, the street was famous as the office base for most national newspapers. Journalists filled the wine bars at lunchtime to exchange stories and one of these, El Vino, still thrives, but these days on the custom of lawyers and barristers from the nearby Temple Chambers.

There are two very interesting banks on Fleet Street. One, Hoare’s Bank at number 37, is most noticeable by the liveried doorman still standing outside. This is the last remaining private bank in London and was founded in 1672 by Sir Richard Hoare. The building is the oldest purpose-built banking hall in the UK and the business is still run today by the eleventh generation of Sir Richard’s direct descendants. A still-observed tradition is that one of the partners has to sleep in the bank overnight!

A few doors away is Child’s Bank. This is Britain’s oldest bank but is now owned by the Royal Bank of Scotland Group. It featured in the book A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens as ‘Tellson’s Bank’.

As with so much of London, legendary tales abound in Fleet Street. Perhaps the most famous is Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber. As portrayed in the film and stage musical, this monstrous criminal dispatched his bearded clients with a cutthroat razor and a trap door beneath the barber’s chair to Margery Lovett.
She made them into pies and sold them from her shop next door. There is no evidence that any of this is true though a possible link to a brutal murder in 1785 of a young man seen previously talking to a barber could be behind the story.

Raven mad!
The Tower of London has been one of the major tourist attractions in London for a long time. The Norman Tower and the Crown Jewels have been drawing visitors from across the globe for decades. Of course, it was closed during Lockdown and, even now it has reopened, visitor numbers are much lower, with admissions restricted.

It seems the famous feathered residents of the Tower have become slightly odd in the absence of visitors! The huge black birds which were once common throughout the UK largely retreated to the castle where they were protected from the reign of King Charles II in the 17th century. Legend has it that if they leave the Tower, the monarchy will fall.

It seems they are not going anywhere soon, but they did become a little hungry during the dark days of Lockdown. Without the joyous scraps of food left by visitors and overflowing bins to rummage through, the birds were starting to stray outside the castle grounds in the search for food.

Fearing that the Crown itself is in jeopardy, Commander Debra Whittingham, in charge at the Tower, said: “The ravens went a bit feral after a while because no one was around. They didn’t have bins to empty and couldn’t get treats from visitors. They were busy looking for what they could steal from us. We’ve reopened now and would encourage visitors to return. We, and I include the ravens, need them.”

After what would appear to be a perfectly correct use of the Royal ‘We’, clearly it is up to each of us to do our bit, visit the Tower and save the Queen!

Down to earth
The Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea opened its Start Art Fair this month and, for those with very deep pockets, a chance to own a little piece of outer space beckons!

Nat Bowen, an artist from Notting Hill, West London has created ‘Black Diamond’, a quite extraordinary abstract canvas using meteorite dust and black diamonds.

The former model and fashion designer used Lockdown to create the ‘Back To Light’ pieces for the show and claims the collection allowed her to express her range of emotions throughout the pandemic.

There are other pieces on display from artists and galleries all over the world and if you wish to purchase ‘Black Diamond’, be prepared to write a cheque for £100,000 (€110,500).

By RICHARD LAMBERTH

Richard leads parallel lives with homes and business interests in London and Portugal. He provides consultancy services to leading businesses in insurance and financial services, property and media sectors. He has four sons, two dogs and enjoys a busy family life. He likes swimming, keeping fit and an outdoor life.
LondonCalling@algarveresident.com