Streets Ahead is the column from London Walks' Pen & Daily Constitutional Special Correspondent David Tucker…
"Plus ça change…
It’s called diving today. Permit me to sprawl out the dictionary definition: “Diving is an attempt by a player to gain an unfair advantage by falling to the ground and possibly feigning an injury, to give the impression that a foul has been committed.”
I think I prefer the Victorian nomenclature.
Here’s an instance, as regaled by William Stewart. It’s a tale that was told to him by the Anglo-Welsh artist Frank Brangwyn. Brangwyn was born in Belgium but this is a classically London – Cockney – vignette.
When Brangwyn’s family moved from Belgium to London they settled “out west” – in Goldhawk Road, Shepherd’s Bush. Recalling – somewhat tenderly – a memorable incident from that London childhood time, Brangwyn told Stewart that one night, while playing with some pals in Wood Lane, they came upon a baked-potato cart standing outside a pub, the ‘tater-man’ being inside. Sure enough, one thing led to another.
“Boy-like, they started playing round the cart, and, becoming a bit too boisterous, pulled out and dropped a tray of potatoes into the gutter. There was a mad rush to get away, for, hearing the crash, the ‘tater man’ dashed out of the pub, and, realising what had happened, gave chase. Armed with his whip, he was soon in contact with the slowest of the small boys, on whom he bestowed a curse and a slash of the whip. Some of the boys managed to elude the pursuer by dodging down side-turnings, until only Brangwyn was left. Gasping for breath and overcome by terror, he knew the ‘tater man’ was rapidly gaining ground. Tearing off his cap and throwing it away – an action supposed to promote acceleration – and finding this useless, he made one last effort by resorting to what was known to Victorian boys as the ‘Coward’s Fall’ – a never-failing appeal to the spirit of true sportsmanship. Throwing himself on the ground, he gasped out, ‘You can’t hit a man when he’s down.’ But this appeal found no response in the sportsmanship of the ‘tater man,’ who yelled, ‘Can’t I, begord, watch me.’ Brangwyn not only watched him but felt him, not only then but for days after.”
Marvellous tale. Love that “tearing off his cap and throwing it away – an action supposed to promote acceleration.”
The 21st century London version of that is youths on stolen motorcycles ostentatiously removing their helmet and flinging it over their shoulder when the police are in hot pursuit. It’s not done to promote acceleration. Rather to demote acceleration. On the part of the police. The helmet comes off the police break off the chase. The kids know that will be the response so that move has become part of their armoury, pretty much a fool-proof tactical manoeuvre.
And why do the police break off the chase? Well, you can probably guess. There have been a whole lot of helmet-less head injuries – serious, sometimes fatal helmet-less head injuries – resulting from a thief trying to get away on a hot bike and the police giving chase. Fatalities, kids turned into vegetables, etc. Enter ambulance chasing lawyers. Yup, you got it. Scotland Yard’s finances taking a beating from expensive law suits, etc. Upshot: orders from on high – “they take the helmet off break off the chase.” The kids know that’s the score, so the helmets come off.
That’s London in the second decade of the 21st century. Just another charm on the same London bracelet of the youthful Brangwyn a century ago trying to avoid the clutches – and the whip – of “justice” by “tearing off his cap and throwing it away in order to promote acceleration.”
And the Victorian Coward’s Fall? Well, think any number of 21st century Premiership acrobatics at White Hart Lane or Loftus Road or Emirates Stadium or The Den or Stamford Bridge or you name it.
"Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose"
A London Walk costs £10 – £8 concession. To join a London Walk, simply meet your guide at the designated tube station at the appointed time. Details of all London Walks can be found at www.walks.com.