Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Streets Ahead: Special Correspondent David Reflects on His Favourite #London Street

Streets Ahead is the column from London Walks' Pen & Daily Constitutional Special Correspondent David Tucker

Two expulsions.

By a great old public school.

Pop Pop – it’s a minor orgasm every time you think about ‘em.

School’s Rugby.

Expulsion Number One was Harry Flashman, that cad, bounder, bully, coward, thief, scoundrel, lecher, cheat, toady – well, you get the idea. Old Arnold expelled him from Rugby for drunkenness. It was the best thing that ever happened to the British Empire. And to lovers of historical novels.

Here’s a soupcon of that expulsion. And of our hero. And of Arnold. And of the Flashman opus – the 12 novels – generally.

“He [Arnold] was standing before the fireplace, with his hands behind looping up his coat-tails, and a face like a Turk at a christening. He had eyes like sabre-points, and his face was pale and carried that disgusted look that he kept for these occasions. Even with the liquor still working on me a little I was as scared in that minute as I’ve ever been in my life – and when you have ridden into a Russian battery at Balaclava and been chained in an Afghan dungeon waiting for the torturers, as I have, you know what fear means. I still feel uneasy when I think of him, and he’s been dead sixty years.”

Flashy have any redeeming features? Yeah, horsemanship, facility with foreign languages and fornication. Plus he’s brutally – and engagingly – honest about himself (and others). And Lady Luck is as fond of him as just about every other woman who comes under the spell of his moustaches and 6’ 2” physique.

These last two – his luck and his honesty – are hugely important. Because Lady Luck can’t get enough of him not only does Flashy survive the most fearful ordeals and outlandish perils across the four corners of the world – he’s never caught out. His Victorian contemporaries are in awe of him. They think he’s heroic and brave beyond measure.  Completely clueless as to his true nature. That, for example, what really impelled him at the Charge of the Light Brigade was fear and flatulence.

And because he’s so honest, we take to him as well.

How can you not fall for an old rogue who cheerfully fesses up, “children always like me. They instinctively recognise that in me they’ve encountered that rarest of phenomena, a grown-up who’s as deeply unscrupulous as they are.”

To cut to the chase, the point is that if Flashy hadn’t been expelled from Rugby chances are his career trajectory would have been completely different. The which would have been a body blow to the British Empire, the British Army, the morale of the British public and those of us 150 years later who are hooked on the greatest series of British historical novels ever written.

And Expulsion Number Two? So glad you asked.


Rugby School’s the landlord of my favourite street in London.*

Lambs Conduit Street.

And, yes, they turfed out Starbucks. Maybe the only landlord on the planet to do so.

That all by itself would go a long way toward making Lambs Conduit Street my favourite street in London.*

But there’s just so much more. And the key to it – for once – is a really enlightened landlord. Hats off to Rugby School. They’re committed to small, distinctive, fiercely independent, high quality shops. They’re the kind of business they want on “their streets”. Which is why Starbucks was shown the door.

Now, time to fulfil the promise of that previous graf: there’s just so much more.

Lambs Conduit Street is a Mecca of menswear shops. Something like seven of them. No chains, of course. They’re high quality independents. Plus a couple of tailors. And a soft tailor. Oh and there’s also a really fine feminist bookshop. And there’s a couple of brilliant pubs. And three superb restaurants: French, Spanish and Italian. There’s a proper old school cafĂ©. There’s a fab undertakers. A high quality shoe place. There’s Aesop’s – the high end skin care and body lotion outfit.  There’s a wine shop and a wine bar. Well, you get the idea.

Well, not fully, I should think. Look, Lamb’s Conduit Street is only fifteen minutes away from that urban retail nightmare of nightmares: Oxford Street.  Think – if you can bear to – of the traffic on Oxford Street. Yeah, you got it: ain’t no cars on Lambs Conduit Street. There’s that wonderful continental touch – alfresco dining and drinking. There’s neighbourliness. And neighbourhoodedness – i.e., it’s a neat neighbourhood generally. It’s Bloomsbury. The Dickens House Museum is round the corner. As is the Foundling Hospital Museum. And the Gordon Museum. And the Wellcome Collection. And the Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art. And – goes without saying, this – the British Museum isn’t far. Ditto the University of London. And of course all those Georgian squares parading up through there.

It’s just so civilised.

And literary history to die for. Our literary Bloomsbury walk on Tuesday “takes in” Lambs Conduit Street. Right after they’ve taken survey of “that” house in the Ted Hughes-Sylvia Plath saga. And gawked at a nail from Nelson’s flagship, The Victory.  

There are over 60,000 streets in London. Lamb’s Conduit Street is my favourite.* That’s got to count for something.

*Well actually I’ve got two favourites. My (David’s) other favourite street in London will get its turn in this showcase in due course.

Our London Walks guides will be adding their favourite streets to the list over the next couple of weeks. Richard III (HERE) and Ann (HERE) have already chipped in.

What's YOUR favourite London street?

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