Saturday, 1 November 2014

Streets Ahead

Streets Ahead is the column from London Walks' Pen David Tucker

Pearl diving Polynesians.

It’s their art, their line of work, their skill set, their experience.

Ain’t nobody else can do it.

Top flight, really experienced, savvy London Walks guides – they’re pearl diving Polynesians.*

After a fashion.

They’re pearl diving Polynesians because they know where to dive, how to get down there, where to look, what to pick out when they’re down there, and how to get back up with it.

Ok, time for a word interlude. (What’d you expect? c’est moi, David, he who “broods over words.”)


Let’s dive into it.

The Greek word sophos means wise. The word sophisticated, for example, is fruit from the same tree.

Okay, that’s halfway along the high wire of the word sophomore. 

Let’s go all the way over.

The Greek word moros means foolish. The word moronic is fruit from that tree.

Put ‘em together – conjoin them with the ring of that middle “o” – you get soph-o-more: sophomore. You get, in short, wise moron, wise fool – a wet-behind-the-ears plonker who thinks he’s got it figured out but in reality doesn’t know jack squat.

In the rem acu tetigisti observation of Daniel Boulet: “if you think that you understand the City of London, then you clearly don’t understand the City of London.”

London Walks guides are pearl divers for 51.5072° N, 0.1275° W.  (Yes, you got it – those are the Latitude and Longitude coordinates for London.)

This is not something you do off the boat (so to speak). Well, anybody can dive in – but you can’t do it properly unless you know what you’re doing, know the waters, know the depths, know what’s down there. Know how to get down there and get back up with the best stuff.

Ok, howzabout a case in point? David Low’s studio in Hampstead. The sophomore – like the walkers – isn’t going to know where it is. Or if he is lucky enough to spot the plaque that’s as far down as he’ll go.

Whereas a great guide, well…

This maybe:

“Up there, in that studio – that’s where Colonel Blimp was born.”


“That door there, if the Nazis had got here there would have been storm troopers kicking that door in. Storm troopers “just following orders.” Orders in the shape of a nod from a hard-eyed, black leather trench-coated Gestapo type.”

And that’s by way of saying David Low was on Hitler’s shit list. One of many names to be rounded up and “dealt with” when the Nazis got here.

The screaming little defective in the Reich Chancellery wasn’t best pleased with the way David Low “cartooned” him.

Anyway, those are the “pearls” this London Walks “diver” brings up from “down there.”

And as long as we’re at it, was tempted to say “some jumped up Gestapo functionary – his eyes glowing like plated Mars.”

Tempted because, yes, I’m re-reading – must be the eighth or ninth time – Shakespeare’s Antony & Cleopatra. For my Shakespeare’s London Walk.

And to lean into the hairpin:

Well’s pretty well full up. Talking about the RAM – the memory – on this Mac.

So, desperate to free up some space I went where I never go – into the Spam File of the Email programme. Thinking, “get in there and hit DELETE, might free up a megabyte or two or ten.”

And sure enough, amongst the rest of the steaming pile of crap in there, a couple of those “add three inches” come-ons.**



That’s what. SNAP! Because I’m re-reading Antony & Cleopatra.

Cleopatra’s handmaidens Iras and Charmian are having their fortunes told by a soothsayer.

Here’s the bit of dialogue in question.

Your fortunes are alike.

But how, but how? give me particulars.

I have said.

Am I not an inch of fortune better than she?

Well, if you were but an inch of fortune better than
I, where would you choose it?


Not in my husband's nose.

Spam. Shakespeare. A London Walks literary walk. A London Walks pearl diving guide. That all-important London Walks motif: it’s all about making connections.*** To wit: that moronic – sophomoric? – MP recently sexting a male tabloid journalist who’d posed as a wide-eyed, pretty, young Baltic female Conservative party groupie…When the, er, tale emerged it was headlined, in one tabloid, “Look at the Size of My Majority.” Greatly contributing to the gaiety of the nation, needless to say. Also needless to say, that’s gaiety in the old fashioned sense of the word.

There’s nothing new under the sun. (Apart from maybe the, er, inflation, In short [yes, I know], one inch in Shakespeare’s day has, now, in the Land of Digital Diddleyums, swollen – so to speak – to three inches.)

*In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell, The New Yorker star staff writer, says it takes 10,000 hours to become supremely proficient at something. 10,000 hours to become a master craftsman – to get really good at what you do. 

You want that translated into London Walks terms? Figure about five years to become a top flight guide.

About five years. That’s if someone’s starting from scratch.

And that in turn is why the bar to entry here is so high – namely a professional background.  By definition accomplished professionals aren’t “starting from scratch.” (By bar to entry I mean of course what people have to bring to the party before we’ll even consider them for a place on the London Walks team of guides.)

**Aside: what sort of low lifes go in for that line of work? And, the other side of that coin, what sort of moron takes the bait, gets out the credit card and forks out?

***Making connections is the motif that perhaps best gets at what’s important, how it’s done, what we do. And no wonder it’s good – it was coined by one of the all-time great London Walks pearl divers: Adam. Who into the bargain is the Daily Constitutional Editor!

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