The title of Dominick Dunne novel – Another City, Not My Own – just about sums up my take on London 2012. I was here before, but it was decades ago. The London I had lived in, for three years in mid-Sixties, was quite another city. A city I regarded as my own; a city that grew on me. This was London of the Swinging Sixties, when men sported long hair and bell-bottom trousers and women wore mini-skirts. When the Beatles were a live sensation.
The Beatles are now life-like wax models at the Tussads, where I visited them with grandsons , as tourist doing the sights with family. I had another agenda in London – visiting old friends, hoping to re-discover my city in London 2012. More on this, in later posts.
In my London of mid-Sixties I got accustomed to a daily bus trip to work, from a Swiss Cottage bed-sitter to Strand or Oxford Street. I looked forward to the Friday evening beers with friends at a Leicester Sq. pub. Weekend afternoons were spent at the Hyde Park Speaker’s Corner; and Sunday mornings, cozily in bed before brunch, poring over The Observer, The Telegraph and The Sunday Times.
The papers are there still, but I found them reduced to tabloids both in substance and the format. Besides, they are no longer published from from the Fleet Street. The red double-deckers in my days didn’t carry screaming ads. To see truly Brit red buses carrying commercial messages, not even in English, would have been considered preposterous in my days.
I don’t know if the place still attracts provocative speakers with black, brown, yellow and white pigments of skin. And their language used to be no less colourful. The Speakers’ Corner at Hyde Park now has a plaque carrying an advisory –
Be seen and heard, and
Hyde Park is where Ghana’s Nkrumah, Malawi’s Hastings Banda, and our own Krishna Menon had their early training in political activism. Speakers at Hyde Park carried their own soapbox; and thick skin and a quick wit would help cope with hecklers.
I didn’t try to locate our old haunt of a basement pub, on a recent visit to Leicester Sq. with family. The pub where London-based friends from my Delhi coffee-house days met on Friday evenings was a noisy, smoke-filled joint, called, simply, The Celler. They served German beer, in litre, instead of the customary pint. My friend Sushil Nangia in London said The Celler was no longer there; and he couldn’t recall the last time he had visited Leicester Sq. Nangia wondered how I thought of going there. Most culprits, they say, tended to return to their scene of crime.
But then Leicester Sq. wasn’t my idea. My daughter(-in-law) had read about restaurants at Soho, but it was our taxi driver who suggested Leicester Sq. if a decent meal was what we had in mind. We felt fairly famished , after a long walk across Hyde Park, taking in the feel and flavor of the place, peopled by visitors to the Olympics. London was bustling with tourist and local authorities, reckoning that the city would host a million visitors daily during Olympics, had advised local residents to avoid needless travel within the city, so as to lessen the pressure on public transport system.
Our taxi-driver dropped us at Leicester Sq. Advising us against visiting Soho he, however, stopped short of mentioning about Soho’s reputation as a red-light area. The mention of Soho brought to my mind The Private Eye, once owned by Peter Cook who had an office at Greek St., Soho. The satirical magazine, that thrived on pulling celebrity legs once announced it would publish a photo of Herold Wilson in the nude. What the magazine carried was the image of the then PM in khaki knickers, baring his legs from knees down. It was’ presumably, taken when PM was holidaying .
A family photo I took at Leicester Sq. has in the background lit-up building of a movie theatre. I remember My Fair Lady was premiered here in the Sixties and this cinema house ran the movie for well over an year. At another cinema house on Tottenham Court Rd. The Sound of Music was on when I first came to London in mid-Sixties. The movie was still playing there when I left England three years later.
And then there was The Mousetrap, the play by Agatha Christie playing the longest period at a West End theatre. It had been on for 13 years already by the time I first went to London (1964). A Wikipedia entry carries a photo taken in 2010, to show it was still playing at St.Martin’s on West End. The sight-seeing hop on-off bus we took passed by Covent Garden; wish I had the presence of mind to hop off the bus, if only to update Wikipedia photo on The Mousetrap . The St.Martin’s website says the play has done 60 years and they are currently booking tickets online for performances , scheduled until December 2013…. WOW.