London Calling

Now is the winter of our discontent!
Winter has been kind to London. Relatively mild and with lots of sunshine, the final months of the old year and then January have seen few freezing temperatures and significantly less rain than is usual. Spring flowers began to bloom, with snowdrops and daffodils resplendent in the parks, and whilst Londoners apparently worry more than most about global warming, secretly many of us have been thinking perhaps there is something of a silver lining to that ominous cloud.

There is also a feeling of optimism in the air. The UK economy seems to be recovering fast and Covid-19 is slowly disappearing from view. Most people still wear masks on public transport, but confidence is returning. West End shows are busier, and the street performers are back.

The City remains quiet as hybrid working grows in popularity with bosses and staff, and shops are still behind where they want to be. There is evidence though that the individual boutique-type shops, which proliferate in areas like Seven Dials near Covent Garden, are doing well. Foreign tourists are missing but, with travel restrictions into the UK disappearing fast, this looks set to change.

All sounds so positive until, that is, your columnist started writing this month’s London Calling! With the rain and cold wind lashing against the windows of a hilltop Cotswold Inn, thoughts quickly turned to the almond blossom and blue skies of February in the Algarve, where winter is, as usual, a breeze!

Crazy like a fox
Foxes are an emotive subject in London. People love them and people hate them. In Wimbledon, a plea went out over a neighbourhood site to ‘leave any leftover turkey from Christmas out for hungry foxes’. The result was World War III in SW19!

Well known for ripping open rubbish bags and turning over wheelie bins, these furry canines have now taken to cars and vans for their favourite tipple.

In south London, ‘cable chewing’ in cars and vans has become the pastime for Basil Brush and his friends.

Residents have taken to building makeshift cages around the bottom of their vehicles to stop sly old Mr Fox chewing through anything from electronic sensor cables to braking controls and other critical wiring.

Jean Brodie and her husband Andrew from New Malden have spent more than £600 (€715) on repairs to the family car after fox-related damage to the couple’s Dacia Duster. “We’ve been attacked five times since June last year. We’ve had four attacks in January alone. It’s a nightmare,” said Mr Brodie, adding “we didn’t know what to do, so we had to take drastic measures and build these wooden defences. We put in log roll and other stuff around it and realised because of the high wheel arches, we might have to protect that too.”

The Brodies also talk of a local resident who crashed her car after a fox chewed through her brake cable.

Facebook in the local area is ablaze with stories of fox damage to vehicles and where rodent spray has failed, odd-looking fencing round cars and vans seems to work.

According to the Natural History Museum of London, urban foxes have developed strong stomachs and immune systems, but the reason for the attack on vehicle cables, other than sheer mischievousness, remains a mystery. There are an estimated 10,000 foxes in London but, as the population of the metropolis approaches 10 million, this may be something we need to simply tolerate.

Going underground
The Tube is the amazing, underground rapid transport system running beneath the streets of London. It has its roots in the ‘Metropolitan Railway’, the world’s first underground transport system.

Some 272 stations are linked by a mostly underground 250-mile (402km) rail network that generally works quickly and efficiently, getting people to where they want to be, relatively cheaply and on time.

Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has this month announced the highest increase in tube and bus fares in 10 years as passenger numbers continue to decline with the impact of the pandemic and increased home and hybrid working. But down in south London, plans are afoot to restore a part of the network that has almost been forgotten.

The suburb of Crystal Palace in southeast London took its name from the great glass greenhouse that was painstakingly dismantled from its position as the showpiece of the 1851 Great Exhibition in Hyde Park and then erected in Sydenham.

It was a huge tourist attraction, people flocked to see this amazing display of everything that was great about Britain at the time. So much so that not just one but two new tube stations were deemed necessary – and people headed to southeast London to see funfairs, firework displays, exhibitions and balloon rides.
Over the years though, the Victorian Disneyland dwindled in its appeal and then, in 1936, a devastating fire destroyed the wooden framed ‘Crystal Palace’. A fire remembered vividly by the grandmother of your columnist, a local resident at the time.

To complement the amazing exhibition, an equally stunning underground station was built with grand architecture and wide ambition. The station survived the fire and remained in service until 1954 when the last train departed. Since then, it has been available for open days, private visits and hire even as the setting to music videos and advertisements.

£2.8 million (€3.34 million) has now been received in grants to restore and develop the old station, using architectural specialists Thomas Ford, as a space that can be properly utilised and enjoyed. A new glass roof is planned, and it is hoped that all work will be completed by 2023.

Sky pool – just too expensive
Chilly London winters have caused residents of an exclusive residential block to think again about their amazing Sky swimming pool. Regular readers will recall a previous London Calling column about this residents-only swimming pool suspended in clear acrylic between two residential blocks in Battersea, southwest London.

A local Facebook group claimed heating costs were high – and not getting the water to a temperature level acceptable to residents of homes that cost up to £4.5 million (€5.37 million). So few people were using it that it was estimated each swim cost £90 (€107) according to one local couple!

However, the freeholders are standing firm, insisting that the pool is kept at a constant 30 degrees Celsius and befits the range of luxury amenities available to residents of Embassy Gardens. The pool is truly a wonder to behold and hopefully will not become a victim of the dwindling pandemic.

By Richard Lamberth