London Calling

Star attraction

There is a very interesting building just off Trafalgar Square with some truly stellar connections. Oceanic House is behind the Canadian High Commission and stares out along Pall Mall. Most recently, this place was styled by the ‘Lone Star State’ as the Texas Embassy promoting tourism there and also housing a rather good Tex-Mex restaurant – a particular favourite with my children.

For some time, Oceanic House has been boarded up and is now being converted into – yes, you’ve guessed it – luxury apartments.

Looking back a little further though, at the turn of the last century, this building was the headquarters of the White Star Line who most famously commissioned and built the ill-fated ship RMS Titanic.

There are many cities with Titanic links. She was built in Belfast, registered in Liverpool and of course sailed from Southampton on her maiden voyage to New York City – a voyage which was to end in disaster with the loss of over 1,500 lives. But it was in the fine wood-panelled boardroom at Oceanic House that White Star Line’s Chairman Bruce Ismay made the fatal decision to cut the number of lifeboats from 28 to 20.

This same boardroom will form part of one of the six very top-end apartments and the developers, Oceanic Developments, intend to capture other elements of Edwardian splendour in their lavish refurbishment and conversion of the Grade II listed, neoclassical building. There will also be a meticulous scale reproduction of Titanic in the atrium.

London property never fails to astonish with the price tag – apartments at Oceanic House will range from around £5.25 million to £25 million (€6.1 million to €29 million)!

Stretch your imagination

During World War II, many of the railings around London homes and churchyards were cut down to be used in the desperate rush to build bombs, bullets, tanks and planes. It helped to instil a feeling of the nation pulling together but, sadly, a lot of the railings were useless as the metal was not of a suitable grade. There were even tales of bombers dropping the railings themselves onto enemy positions at times! Still today, you can see sawn off stumps of railings in the walls around public parks and churches.

However, on a few estates in east and south-east London there is a fascinating and lesser-known twist to this tale. In the run up to war, the government anticipated mass casualties from gas attacks in the capital and ordered thousands of cast iron stretchers to be made. These needed to be relatively light and were designed with tubular bars and a sort of mesh in the middle to support the casualty.

After the war, thousands of these stretchers remained and someone had the bright idea to use them as railings. There was a desperate need, of course, for homes at that time and building materials were in short supply, so this innovative early up-cycling idea was born. Still today, if you visit the Perking estate in East London, you will see these railings, the only give away being the bends in the sides of the stretchers which were the ‘legs’ and supported the casualty off the ground and made them easier to pick up!

Brexit bounce

Although the true effects of Brexit are yet to hit home, the UK capital is booming with the cheap pound. Research from www.visitlondon.com is showing that the average European family staying at a hotel, going to shows and shopping is saving €115 a day when compared to the first six months of 2016.

Shops are reporting record sales as tourists from all over the world flock to London, which is now possibly the world’s cheapest major city to visit. The first six months of this year saw some 8.8 million visitors and the total figure for 2016 is widely predicted to top 20 million for the first time.

Droning on

On seeing this headline, regular readers of this column are probably thinking ‘yes, he’s finally realised’ – but this is all about the increasing aerial menace of drones, which London, like most major cities, is struggling to keep up with.

Rules on the use of drones are a bit of a muddle with local authority by-laws, Civil Aviation Authority advice and some more comprehensive legislation. It is all a bit too much for so-called ‘drone pilots’ who want to fly their annoying vehicles seemingly everywhere.

Just this month, the Airprox Board reported a near miss between an Airbus A320 heading for Heathrow and a drone. This reportedly took place ‘near the Shard’, which is in itself rather worrying!

All drones are banned from the eight royal parks but whether or not they may be used in other parks and open spaces is less clear. They may not be flown within 150 metres of buildings or large crowds or within 30 metres of a person, but who is there to police these rules and how do they trace the perpetrators?

With drones being used to fly mobile phones and drugs to prisoners in the capital’s jails, frequent crashes due to battery failure, software issues, errors by untrained ‘pilots’ and, of course, the ever-present terrorist threat, watch this space for more legislation!

Wall Mart

The world’s largest Lego store has opened in Leicester Square with the aim of “inspiring and developing children through creative play”, according to executive vice president John Goodwin.

There are fantastic display models of some of the most famous sights in London, but perhaps the most stunning is an almost life size model of a Tube carriage which took some 637,903 bricks and 4,000 man hours to make!

Visitors can sit in the Tube carriage beside a Lego Shakespeare and Guardsman or listen to the huge model of Big Ben chime just like the real thing. There are also Lego postboxes, underground maps and telephone boxes to get the creative juices flowing or you can create your own Lego portrait using the world’s first Lego Mosaic Maker. This clever machine captures your picture and even gives you instructions on how to put your face back together!

After two years in development, this fantastic store has opened just in time for Christmas, of course.

By Richard Lamberth