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London Letter: Every Wish I Had Came True

In another lively London Letter 95-year-old Henry Jackson recalls a Christmas week in which he sweated day and night.

The Savoy Hotel, one of the most glamorous hotels in London, is to close for a £100m refit that will take 16 months. The 253 room landmark that backs on to the River Thames first opened in 1889 and now some 3,000 pieces of hotel history including beds, chandeliers and an oak dance floor are to be auctioned next week and are expected to bring in £600,000.

As part of the refurbishment programme rooms, suites, corridors and public areas will be renovated and the River Restaurant reopened and the hotel will be divided into Art Deco and Edwardian areas.

Comment: The Savoy was bought by a member of the Saudi ruling family two years ago.


A counterfeiter who produced £1 coins with an estimated value of £14m was gaoled for five years at Wood Green Court. He made them in a small workshop near his home. Of the estimated 14m coins produced 2.5m were completed and the rest were left blank. It is thought that at one time he was making 10,000 to 12,000 coins every day and was paid £2000 in cash for them by two men.

Comment: The Royal Mint said that the coins were almost perfect replicas.


Mark Tucker, the 49-year-old chief executive of the Prudential Insurance Company, had his nose broken in a punch up during a football match in an over 35s competition.

Comment: Tucker’s salary is £2m a year.


A plan to build a football complex in Regent’s Park has been rejected by Westminster City Council. It involved replacing the golf and tennis clubs on the north side of the park with nine floodlit pitches where five-a-side football could be played.

Comment: A record number of 670 objections were recorded.


Waitrose Stores have brought back caviar to its London stores for Christmas after an absence of 10 years with an 800 gramme pack for £800. There is an economy size of 50 grammes (around 2oz) for £80.

Comment: I tasted it once and thought it was awful.


Work has begun on a new experimental transport system to move passengers around Heathrow Airport. In its first phase 18 new driverless, battery driven passenger buses will be used and initially they will take passengers from the new Terminal Five, due to open in 2008, to the business car park. They will carry four passengers and luggage and use a dedicated guideway. The experiment will last a year before a final decision is made.

Comment: The system is aimed at reducing congestion and cut down gas emissions.


Alain Robert, aged 45, climbed to the top of a 27 storey building in Victoria Street after stopping several times to rest on window ledges. Robert, known as “The Spiderman”, has climbed numerous tall buildings in capital cities all over the world.

Comment: He was arrested when he came down to earth.


Mohammed has become the second most popular name for boys and is close to the name Jack that has been the favourite for 13 years.

Comment: Be a good boy Mo!


This Week in History

1903. The Wright Brothers flew the first aeroplane at Kitty Hawk, North Carolin

1988. Pan Am Flight 103 from London to New York exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland and 259 passengers and crew were killed.


Famous quotes

A woman’s always younger than a man of equal years.
---Elizabeth Barratt Browning
Give me chastity and continence, but not yet.---St Augustine.


Poems from the Past

by Henry Jackson

I dreamed I dwelt in marble halls
With my own Niagara Falls,
The ghostly Taj Mahal was there
Every night shone bright and clear,
In my garden stood the Eiffel Tower
Set in the Tuileries all in flower,
The Grand Canyon was in sight
And Taormina came alive at night,
I could see Mount Fuji deep in snow
Surrounded by paddy fields below,
Mitterand discussed Green Peace with me
We found we did not disagree,
I was captain of the Arabian Sea
Even Khomenie bowed low to me,
Every wish I had came true,
All that was missing…Guess?..was you. -
March 2 1989


The Russian Government cancelled an exhibition of Russian art in London because they say that Britain refused to guarantee that the paintings would be returned.

Comment: But the story in London is that this just another Russian example of current official anti-British sentiment.


Looking Back

It was Christmas Week 1941 and I was aboard HMS Auricula stationed at Freetown, Sierra Leone, and if you were in the Navy it was the worst place in the world to be.


Because it was tropically hot day and night and you perspired day and night.

Because there was nowhere to go if you went ashore and the locals were hostile, There were four or five murders in the town every night.

Because fresh food was scarce. You could buy a bunch of bananas for One Penny but you could not live on bananas alone.

We had arrived from Liverpool and the Battle of the Atlantic three months before and were engaged in patrolling the West African coast. We were part of the Eastern Fleet that was building up in preparation for a transfer to somewhere in the region of Singapore to face the grave threat from Japan that was expanding all over the Far East.

Christmas Day arrived hot and humid and when I went up on deck I could not believe my eyes. At anchor nearby and glistening in the early morning sun was the pride of the Royal Navy.

Two great battleships, the Prince of Wales and The Repulse, had arrived silently in the night. Activity speeded up everywhere; light signals flashed without a stop, boats dashed around in the rushing tide and meetings were called with the commanding officers of the other ships around. The non-stop activity went on for 48 hours and when I went up on deck at dawn two days later they had gone. The pulse of the Navy slowed down.

We followed the news on the radio of the escalating activity in the Far East closely and were shattered when we heard three months later that both ships had been attacked and sunk by Japanese dive bombers and hundreds were killed.



Giles took the family for a meal to a Chinese restaurant in Poplar, the traditional Chinese quarter of London that grew up around the old East India Docks more than 100 years go. Several small shipping lines that traded with China used the docks as their London HQ and one in particular named the Ben Line always had a vessel there waiting to load or unload. The crew went ashore to eat and used certain small cafes owned by Chinese where the food was so unusual and so good that it attracted other people from all over London. The cafes were all situated in the areas of East and West India Dock Roads, Pennyfields and Commercial Road.

Some of the more enterprising restaurant owners moved to Soho in central London and began a thriving Chinese community that became known as Chinatown with its own food and grocery stores, import and export businesses, travel shops and eventually banks and finance houses. It was a great success story.

However, to continue my story---

After leaving publishing I started an entirely new venture---selling industrial fly killers to catering establishments and food manufacturers. It made steady progress and apart from the UK we exported all over the Middle East and Arabian countries and finally to China.

To get paid for your goods there were certain commercial formalities and shipping documents to be signed and our exports to China were followed by the signing of documents at the offices of the Bank of China, a stone’s throw from the Mansion House. I found it to be like entering an elegant country house with a hushed atmosphere and paintings on the walls. On the first occasion I was ushered in and sat down in an elegant office and a minute later the manager arrived and after a brief exchange of courtesies we both signed the documents. I was surprised that the manager was a woman, a discreet and smiling 5ft charmer with an upper class English accent and slightly slanting eyes that danced but looked right through you. We met several times and each time it was the same slightly formal but friendly interview.


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