Coronavirus Diary 61 – When Social Distancing takes the Pee!

When I was scouting out the new tour Mayfair and Belgravia Walking Tour last week, I visited the The Grenadier Pubwhich I wrote about yesterday,  I found something in the toilets which was very much a sign of the times.

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Of course the social distancing rules mean that we have to stay 2 metres of 6 feet 6 inches apart which means it could cause problems if you need to relieve yourself here.  I can assure everyone that the whole toilet room is no bigger than what this photo implies!

Whilst I was in here there was someone sitting down in the cubicle just a few inches to the left and was unable to open the door to get out whilst I was here so I just took the photo, did my business and left as hastily as I could!

 

 

 

 

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The Grenadier – The Exclusive pub with a ‘Go-Fund Me’ for a ghost!

It’s one of my favourite London pubs and a little different from some I visit with the difference being the wonderfully secluded and rather exclusive district of London it fits itself in.

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Half a mile from Buckingham Palace or a quaint English village?

The Grenadier is a public house in Belgravia, London. It was originally built in 1720 as the officers’ mess for the senior infantry regiment of the British army, the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards and so was located in a courtyard of their barracks. It was opened to the public in 1818 as The Guardsman and was subsequently renamed in honour of the Grenadier Guards’ actions in the Battle of Waterloo.

Being secluded in a wealthy district of London, it was frequented in the past by the Duke of Wellington and King George IV, and continues to attract an elite clientele such as Madonna and Prince William and indeed myself which is likely part of the reason the elite clientele like to stop off here!

You’d never know it was only 5 minutes walk from the eternally busy Hyde Park Corner and hectic Knightsbridge with its world famous department stores but it is much more my cup of tea.

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It is also said to be haunted by the ghost of a subaltern (a Junior Officer) who was beaten to death for cheating at cards.  This isn’t the only pub in London where cheating at gambling has left the odd soldier being murdered but this one has a little bit of a twist.

The ghost of the poor fellow is said to haunt the pub and somewhere in the midst of time, it occurred to someone that his spirit might be hanging around as he was too poor to go to heaven… though that surely breaks every rule I’ve heard about heaven!

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A ghoulish fund raiser!

So to try and help things out, people leave money for the ghost to help it on its way and they do so by sticking money to the ceiling of the pub.  In fact the ceiling is covered in money from around the world, thousands of paper (and indeed now plastic) notes some with little dedications.

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The entire ceiling many times larger than the area in this photo is covered with money.

I must say that I’ve never seen this particular ghost but the Landlord would likely say that it is because one needs to drink a bit more.   It makes for a nice little stop-off on one of my new Walking Tours Mayfair and Belgravia Walking Tour which I am sure I will mention again one day!

It’s heartening to see that 200 years later, people are still happy to donate some of their hard-earned money for the wellbeing of a ghost of a card-shark cheat!

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On a journey of discovery to find the tombs of John Harrison and John Constable.

Do you remember last week I was off exploring in another graveyard and had a Dracula flashback?  Well I was actually in the churchyard of St John-at-Hampstead to look for two tombs in particular.

I only picked them as they of particular interest to me for there are many such notable persons buried in this deliciously wild little cemetery.  I’m normally very good at finding graves.  My pigeon brain sense of direction is all important especially when in one of the large Magnificent Seven cemeteries.  Not everything stands out as much as The West Brompton Time Machine in the heart of London!

I think the hardest to find grave was actually young Marigold Churchill who is buried in a very unprepossessing plot about 20 minutes away from the entrance and not even in a very accessible or open area.  To say I stumbled upon her wasn’t too far from the truth but that I found her at all was amazing considering I had no notes or maps and 72 acres and over 250,000 burials.

I’m not good for much but not getting lost is something I good for!

This cemetery though is rather small though there is an extension over the road and I found both tombs first time round and exactly where I expected I would.  Sometimes due to their nature, old cemeteries can be disorientating or overgrowth and decay can mean things aren’t quite as how they once were.

The first of the toms I found was that of John Harrison.  He died in 1776 and no-one knows why he was buried here given that he had no known connection with the church or area. John Harrison is popularly known as the man who discovered Longitude.

Given how important Longitude obviously was, it’s hard to overstate what a great man John Harrison was.   You can find out much more about him at Greenwich.   His tomb is almost next to the church and if you happened to watch the new BBC adaptation of A Christmas Carol, you might recognise the area as a spot just a few feet away from his tomb was used for filming.

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The tomb of John Harrison – the man who discovered Longitude

The inscription on his tomb reads….

“In Memory Of MR. JOHN HARRISON, late of Red-Lion Square, London.

       Inventor of the TIME-KEEPER for ascertaining the LONGITUDE at Sea.  He was born at Foulby, in the County of York, and was the Son of a Builder at that Place, who brought him up to the same Profession.

       Before he attained the Age of 21, He without any Instruction, employed himself in cleaning & repairing Clocks & Watches & made a few of the former, chiefly of Wood. At the Age of 25 He employed his Whole Time in Chronometrical Improvements.  He was the Inventor of the Gridiron Pendulum and the Method of preventing the Effect of Heat and Cold upon Time keepers by Two Bars of different Metals fixed together*.  He introduced the Secondary Spring to keep them going while winding up; and was the Inventor of most (or all) of the Improvements in Clocks & Watches during his Time.

       In the Year 1735, his first Time keeper was sent to Lisbon, and in 1764 his then much Improved fourth Time keeper having been sent to Barbadoes, the Commissioners of Longitude certified that it had determined the Longitude within one Third of Half a Degree of a great Circle, having erred not more than 40 Seconds in Time.

       After near fifty years close Application to the above Pursuits, he departed this Life on the 24th Day of March 1776, Aged 83.

MRS. ELIZABETH HARRISON, Wife of the above MR. JOHN HARRISON departed this Life March 5th 1777, Aged 72

At almost precisely the opposite corner of the churchyard one can find the tomb of another famous John, this time John Constable.   John Constable was one of the finest ever English painters and likely in the top few around the world.

He had something of a rivalry with that other great 19th Century painter, Joseph Mallord William Turner who you can read about in my old post Mr Turner, the movie and the man.

Perhaps the most famous and arguably finest art of John Constable is The Hay Wain which he painted in 1821 on the river Stour which is on the border of the counties of Essex and Suffolk.

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It’s easy to see how it has become such a popular piece of art with its wonderfully romantic scene in rural South East England and it has long been a tourist destination in its own right.

I’ve never been there but I was glad to find the tomb of John Constable who died on the 31st March 1837.   He can be found in what one might call one of the more eerie areas of the churchyard though he no doubt would have delighted to find the wonderful sunbeams shining on his tomb in a rare spot that wasn’t tree covered.

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I know they have both been dead for centuries but I still found it energising to be in the presence of great figures even if in totally different areas of life.  It’s nice to hang-out with some of the best of people and I often wonder what we would talk about if given the chance.  I’d like to think I could have a civilised dinner with them without coming over as an absolute oaf!

 

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Coronavirus Diary 60: #ExcludedUK Why does my country hate me?

I haven’t worked since February, it’s getting on for 6 months now since I’ve been paid.  Despite the government paying out billions to some fantastically good causes and supporting the overwhelming majority of people, 3 million of us are actually not being supported at all.

We’re not in it together in any way shape or form.  Imagine if you had to face the virus situation and like me are Shielding due to suffering from a chronic lung condition of all things but that on top of that you weren’t receiving a penny.

As an example, here are my sales charts from just one source but they are indicative of my situation and others generally.

Screenshot 2020-07-19 at 16.37.03It’s never a good sign is it for your income to be 100% down for 1 month, let alone most of a year.

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The only people who care are those who are affected and we have coalesced into a pressure group known as Excluded UK.  One of the problems of working for yourself is that you don’t have any influence over anyone.  Big organisations can campaign for very generous financial assistance which they don’t even need whereas people like me don’t matter at all.

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And it’s not just the government either, that Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer who some may remember stating here what a waste of space he would be for many outside the middle-classes of North London has not even raised an issue.   Imagine having 3 million possible votes and they just don’t care.

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Meanwhile big organisations are being paid £1,000 for every employee they bring back to work even though the overwhelming majority would be doing do anyway.

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And restaurant-goers are being given £15 off their meals in order to encourage eating-out so effectively my taxes are paying for people who have been receiving thousands of pounds a month from the state to eat out when people like myself have not received a single penny of help from either the state or indeed anyone else.   I think it’s fair enough to feel it isn’t quite fair.

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And absolutely nobody cares.  People march and protest for all manner of things, even for injustices from centuries ago and yet today 3 million people in the U.K. are without any income or government support.  ‘Even’ the United States has given payments to its citizens.

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I’m not sure if the Chancellor has ever read The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau who theorised that a ruler or government doesn’t rule by force or the will of God but by a  Social Contract between the state and the people.   No matter how powerful the state is, if it abuses power and loses the support of ordinary people then it loses legitimacy.   It’s something that can been in democracies and dictatorships to various degrees, even things like Brexit could be argued to be an example.

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Well I feel I am very close to having been pushed out of my Social Contract.  Only 6 people on the entire planet have helped me out over these near 6 months.  I help more people than that on an average day out in London.  It would be easy to say that  I don’t care about anyone either any more and why should I if my country and society do not care one bit about me?

I also know that I will never again pay a single penny of tax that I can avoid doing so.  All those cash tips and payments from tourists fresh from the airport who didn’t have time to pre-pay will be spent on cash purchases and luxuries that many take for granted but I have never indulged in rather than dutifully going beyond the pail and recording every little transaction which otherwise would never go discovered.

If the government, country and largely the people have broken their contract with me then in a small way, I can do the same with them.  Despite what has long been said, we are not in it together.  Approximately 65 million people are in it together, the other 3 million of us have been left to rot and die.

I am #ExcludedUK.

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A special knighthood at Windsor Castle

Some of you may remember I wrote a few months ago of the incredible Captain Tom Moore. Coronavirus 19 – Social Distancing with 99 year old Captain Tom Moore and his multi-million pound fundraiser.

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The now 100 year old former soldier ended up raising £33million which must be such a unique achievement.  He had already been given an honorary promotion to the rank of Major but it was decided that he should be Knighted by none other than The Queen herself.

The Queen has been self-isolating herself given that she is 94 and most other investitures have been postponed but the ceremony for Sir Tom Moore was understandably given a special exemption.

That morning  Sir Tom tweeted that he was “raring to go”, for what he said would be a “very special day” for him, and thanked everyone for their well wishes.

The unprecedented personal ceremony was staged in Windsor Castle’s quadrangle on Friday, with Sir Tom’s daughter, Hannah Ingram-Moore, son-in-law Colin Ingram, grandson Benjie and granddaughter Georgia watching.

Her Majesty used a sword that belonged to her father, George VI, for the ceremony.  She spent around five minutes chatting to Sir Tom and his family, and personally thanked him, saying: “Thank you so much, an amazing amount of money you raised.”

The monarch was also overheard telling the former Army captain that “one hundred is a great age”.

The talk then turned to national events and the coronavirus, with the Queen, who has been sheltering with Prince Philip, asking: “Have you been shut up – been isolating?”

Royal commentator Dickie Arbiter described the monarch’s decision to give Sir Tom his knighthood in an individual ceremony as “very significant”.

He said: “The Queen has always said she ‘needs to be seen to be believed’ so today she will be seen – the last time we actually saw her physically was in June in the alternative Trooping the Colour at Windsor Castle.”

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Arise Sir Tom

Of course on this occasion Sir Tom was not expected to kneel for his investiture but you get the feeling that if he had been asked to then he would find a way back up to his feet again.  It’s hard to think of a more deserving Knight.

For some related stories you can read about Sir Loin steak and So you want to have your own duel?

 

 

 

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Coronavirus Diary 59 – Finally I have something to sit on!

It’s hard to believe that I moved house on Friday 31st January and on Monday 3rd February at 10am I ordered my armchair and sofa.

The advice to most of the planet was if you couldn’t go out then at least you can sit on your sofa and read or watch television for a few months.

It’s a bit more tricky to do that when you don’t actually have a sofa and worse still it was being manufactured in Italy and so the delivery time threatened to go on longer than the interminable wait for a vaccine.

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Happily and against all the odds, the furniture was delivered this weekend and it actually fit through the narrow doorway with no problem at all…. if only the same could have been said for various bedroom cabinets, mattresses, baths etc etc!

 

My armchair is an electrical recliner which I imagine might be just perfect for a cosy night by the fire.  That cosy night by the fire might well be tonight.  Only in London can the previous day be uncomfortably warm and humid and today be very much good fire-burning weather!

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And then my three piece sofa which fits just perfectly.  The chance to sit down and spread out is so nice and a definite improvement in life.  Previously all I could do was lay in bed or make my behind stiff on the wooden floor.

The house isn’t done yet but a living room with nothing to sit on isn’t never going to feel very homely.  I managed to spend 7 or 8 hours watching England give the West Indies a hammering on Day 1 of the current cricket match so I’d say it was money well-spent!

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There’s something about Persian door-knockers!

One of the things I like about travel is encountering different ideas and customs.  I really like noticing the differences.  Even in the U.K. there are huge variations in buildings, landscapes, foods, accents and even customs.  Whilst others delight in the homogenisation of things, especially in Europe, there is nothing that I dislike more.

Things get much more interesting in the Islamic world and as so many people read my recent post on The Fire Temple of Chak Chak that weeps for its princess. I thought I might touch on a delightful point of Persian and Iranian culture that simply would not occur to many people.

Have a look at the door below and see if you notice anything about it.

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His and Hers door-knockers (photo by TasteIran)

If you haven’t spotted it yet you can see that the door to this house in Iran has two different knockers and this is something that used to be extremely common through the centuries.  The Farsi word for them is Kubeh.

As many will know, women in Iran have to dress modestly when in the presence of men from outside their household and this can obviously call problems if there is an unexpected knock on the door.   Should the lady of the house cover up only to find a female visitor at the door then it’s all a bit of a waste of time and energy but then should they not take the precaution and they open to a man then it might cause a host of difficulties.

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Traditional Persian Kubeh, door-knockers.

To solve this problem, the Iranians keep two different knockers on their doors. If a man comes, he knocks the door knocker that looks like a thick bar of metal.   If you think that it looks rather male then that is no co-incidence!  This knocker gives off a very deep and solid sound  that tells the people inside the house that their visitor is a man. So, either the man in the house greets the male visitor or the woman gets dressed up and greets her visitor.

In case, the visitor is a woman, she knocks on the knocker that is circular or heart shaped and that has a hole in the middle. Again, this knocker sends a different sound inside the house and the people know that it is a woman. So, the woman of the house does not worry about dressing up and comes out as she is to greet her female visitor.

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I always think this is such a clever invention to make life easier though to many of us it wouldn’t even occur that there was a need to differentiate in this way.

 

 

 

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A moody photo of Stonehenge

A few weeks ago I was going through my ever growing library of photos on my iPad which stands at something like 64GB and I came across a particularly atmospheric photo I took of Stonehenge.

Most people that I take there with Ye Olde England Tours like to go in the summer and they like sunny weather.  I’m not sure why as sunny weather brings tourists and there is absolutely no shade on Salisbury Plain so if it is hot then it’s not always the place to be.

I always like visiting Stonehenge in the winter or at least at unusual hours and out of peak-summer.  Gloomy skies, inclement weather and isolation somehow suit Stonehenge well and bring a semblance of how hundreds of other neolithic monuments can feel.

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A moody mid-winter Stonehenge

I took this photo late one day in December  just before sunset.  I think the lighting makes it look quite magical and slightly ominous, especially with one of the large crows circling overhead.

I sent it to Stonehenge and they loved it too.   Would you prefer to visit Stonehenge in perfect weather or would you like it glowering and moody?

 

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Coronavirus Diary 58 – An unfortunate accident!

I made a very rare social outing last week to meet a friend.  It wasn’t planned but I had to go to the bank and they happened to live just a minute away so we met up for a hot drink.

Staying in the cafe wasn’t an option as it was take-away only, nevertheless we headed to the hand-sanitiser that was located just inside the door of the deserted cafe.  I pressed the top down with one hand and put the other under the nozzle to catch the liquid that would surely emerge.

I’m not a complete half-wit, I know how these things should work but the sanitiser fired out at high speed and in a copious volume at an entirely unexpected trajectory that barely any of it landed on my hand. Instead most of it landed on my trousers and groin level with just a little firing off about 4 feet away behind me and narrowly missing my friend.

Typical!  The first time I go and do something civil for months like order a drink and I end up looking like I’ve missed the toilet.  My friend started laughing and stood at a very different angle to get at the sanitiser.

Not being allowed to drink inside and not particularly wanting to even if we could, we sat outside on a bench to indulge in one of our favourite things to do, people watch.   I think I’ve written about our hot drinks before but we end up chatting to everyone from millionaires to drunks and druggies.  Mafia to vicars, homeless to businessmen and everyone in between.

This time there wasn’t so much talking going on, to be fair not many people are like myself and would approach a stranger man with an apparent incontinence problem even without the virus.

We sat there for quite some time receiving stares from ne’er-do-well youths (I’ve always wanted to write ne’er-do-well so I may as well write ne’er-do-well three times in a row and get it out of my system) who seemed to think our prolonged presence there was a bit odd and thankful responses from older or sick people whose welfare we checked upon.

As happens from time to time, I got recognised by a stranger from the internet which is always a little weird but they were friendly enough.

After about half an hour the damp patch from my trousers had gone as had our drinks so we called it a day and made our escape.

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An Iron Age murder victim is uncovered

I’ve written before about the importance of archeology conducted when big new works are constructed it happens almost on a daily basis in the U.K. and I noticed another fascinating one a few days ago relating to the works surrounding the High Speed Rail project.

One site at Wellwick Farm in Buckinghamshire has revealed thousands of years deaths and monuments from the Neolithic era to Medieval times that all have to be documented and excavated prior to the trains roaring past at 225mph (362km/h).

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The remains of Neolithic circular monument.

A Stonehenge-style wooden formation and Roman burial has  been discovered which is 213 feet or 65m diameter which is aligned to the winter solstice.

The site also has evidence of domestic occupation during the Bronze to Iron Ages (3000BC to AD43), including a roundhouse and animal pits.   Then during the Roman era it was used for burials and a “high status” skeleton buried in an “expensive” lead coffin was unearthed.

An archeologist overseeing work on the site called Dr Rachel Wood said the fascinating thing about the site was its “persistent use over centuries for the burial of specific, high status people”.

One discovery however stands out and that is an Iron Age skeleton with his hands bound .  His remains are over 2,000 years old and he is face down in a ditch which leads to the possibility that he was either executed or murdered.

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An Iron Age murder victim?

Project archaeologist Dr Rachel Wood described the death as “a mystery” and hopes further analysis will shed light on the “potentially gruesome” find.

Dr Wood said: “The death of the Wellwick Farm man remains a mystery to us, but there aren’t many ways you end up in a bottom of a ditch, face down, with your hands bound. We hope our osteologists will be able to shed more light on this potentially gruesome death.”

To read about how some Victorians dealt with their dead, look no further than Dancing on the Dead at Enon Chapel – The Victorian Sensation!

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