« Gradding | Main | 9 - A Wandering Adventurer »

London Letter: Cultural Centre Of The World

Ninety-five-year-old Henry Jackson brings another invigorating juxtaposition of news, poetry and autobiography in his weekly letter from London.

World Art newspaper carried out a global survey and discovered that London is the cultural centre of the world and has more popular museums than any other city. It has seven of the 40 most visited museums while Paris and Madrid have three each and Washington, Chicago, Barcelona and Moscow have two. London’s most popular museum is the Tate Modern with 5.2m visitors last year, comfortably beating the British Museum with 4.8m and the National Gallery with 4.1m. However, the Louvre in Paris is the most popular museum in the world with 8.3m visitors last year followed by the Pompidou Centre with 5.5m.
Comment: A list of the top 40 centres includes the Victoria & Albert Museum, the National Portrait Gallery and the Royal Academy.


The atmosphere is heating up for the elections on May 1 for the new Lord Mayor of London. The favourite is left-wing Ken Livingstone, who has already served two four year terms. He is being challenged by Right Wing Conservative MP Boris Johnson, a flamboyant unknown, and Brian Paddick, former Deputy Police Commissioner for London. “Red Ken”, as he used to be called, has grown in stature over the years and will be remembered mostly for bringing in the London congestion charge.
Comment: My bet is on a victory for Ken.


Twenty five supermarkets, convenience stores and off licences in Westminster are to stop stocking strong drinks such as super-strength lager and cider in an effort to reduce levels of drug dealing, begging and urinating in the streets. The brands being banned include Carlsberg Special Brew, Tennants Extra and Diamond White.
Comment: The Council consulted a survey by Marylebone Council who found that after they introduced their Paddington Gardens scheme the number of street drinkers dropped by 35%.


A promotional poster showing a man in pink boxer shorts being crucified has been banned by the London Underground. The poster advertises a new play, “Fat Christ”, that opened in London this week.
Comment: Transport for London described is as “offensive”.


A crowd of 70,000 watched Tottenham Hotspur FC, the North
London club, beat the favourites Chelsea 2-1 in the Carling Cup Final.
Comment: The last time they won the trophy was nine years ago.


Five men climbed on to the roof of the House of Commons and unfurled banners protesting against the proposal to build a third runway at Heathrow Airport.
Comment: They got there by using a Visitors’ Pass and a fire escape.


Poems from the Past

This Day My Day
by Henry Jackson

You are the cool rushing stream
That snakes down the hill,
Around rocky crags and pools
Then whispers by the mill.

You are the golden snatch of sun
Torn from the storm-filled sky,
On a blustery day in March
Just as it begins to die.

You are the song of the gull
As it swoops on the tide,
Riding the crest of the waves
Seeking food just to survive.

You are the cry in the night
That ends in a scream,
And wakes me with a start
Because I’m not sure it is a dream.

But best of all you are the one
Who sent me a letter today
And enclosed a fragrant petal
That made this day my day.

June 14 1997


A fund has been started to raise £600,000 to provide a memorial for the 173 people who died on March 3 1943 in the Bethnal Green Tube disaster. It was the worst civilian disaster of World War II.
Comment: Crowds panicked in the crush and people were suffocated.


Two paintings worth £82,000 have been stolen from Somerset House in The Strand. They are a portrait of Sir William Chambers completed in 1864 by Francis Coates and ”Shipping” by artist John Thomas Serres executed in 1821. A part of Somerset House has been reserved for the Royal Navy for about a century.
Comment: The paintings were installed in Somerset House two years ago.


Looking Back

The Women in my Life - Eileen—Part 2

I was 24 when my son Michael was born in 1936 and we moved from our flat in Hampstead Garden Suburb to a four bedroom house nearby on the edge of the peaceful St Marylebone Cemetery. The house had two bathrooms and a garage and was owned by a professor of London University who owned several other houses in the neighbourhood and used the rent to pay off his mortgages. My rent was £4 10s a week, a good average for this part of genteel London, where wood or wire fences were not allowed and the painting of front doors was banned.

I lived next door to a man who worked for an oil company, opposite was a man who owned a large second-hand car site and my neighbour on the other side ran a clothes manufacturing company and drove a bull-nose Bentley. All good solid citizens who brought an air of respectability to the district before the retreat from Europe transformed Hampstead Garden Suburb into a multilingual refuge from Nazi tyranny.

Eileen decided she wanted help in the house so we engaged a young Irish girl named Bridget who had never seen a bath before and when we ran out of anthracite for the kitchen boiler came to me and said: “We need another ass’s load of coal”.

Eileen relished suburban life and our house became the meeting place for all the neighbours, my friends from work, and people who ran local shops and businesses. There was a dinner party every Saturday, we dressed for dinner and I always changed clothes when I came home from work. I made friends with important people in the hotel industry and we were invited to discreet celebrations in private dining rooms when the boss wanted to impress me or wanted to know what his competitor round the corner was doing. I had an open invitation to every important kitchen in every big hotel and restaurant in London and learned how to say No to a second glass of sherry from the supply that every chef kept in a cupboard beneath his working desk.

I changed jobs twice quickly on my way up the publishing ladder, each time for more salary, and when the war came I had three jobs at the same time---as a sub editor on the Daily Mail, as a sub editor on the Sunday Dispatch, and as assistant to the Editor of the Overseas Daily Mail. I earned a lot of money and worked seven days a week.

I also changed cars and bought a family car, a Morris saloon, that took us all over the country on holidays. And after I crashed it in the wartime black-out at 1am on my way home from the Daily Mail I bought a Fiat500 which ran on a whisper of fuel.

Then I left my rented house in Hampstead Garden Suburb and bought a three bedroom house for £16,000 in Mill Hill, on the northern outskirts of London, just when London became a target for German bombers. I built a concrete bomb shelter in the garden and continued on the Daily Mail until I received a call to join the Navy.

Eileen drove me to Paddington Station and I took a train to Torpoint in Cornwall and joined HMS Raleigh, a Royal Navy training camp, as an Ordinary Seaman. My pay was a pitiful 24 shillings and Sixpence a week, one fifteenth of my previous weekly earnings. While at Torpoint the camp was bombed by German planes and during the attack one bomb demolished the shelter next to mine and killed all 46 occupants. From Torpoint I was moved to HMS Raleigh, the Navy barracks at Chatham, then to HMS Wildfire training centre at Sheerness and finally to HMS Auricula, a Flower Class corvette engaged in Atlantic convoys and based in Liverpool.

The war at sea was at its peak and leave was rare but Eileen drove up to Liverpool once to spend the night with me at the aristocratic Adelphi Hotel where they did not like letting rooms to ordinary seamen but the manager changed his mind when he discovered that I was a friend of the owner of the world famous Grosvenor House Hotel in London.

(More Next Week)


This Week in History
1836. Samuel Colt invented his revolver.

1941. Hitler launched the Bismarck, Germany’s most powerful warship, that had a short and dramatic career. After being locked out of operations it broke out into the orth Sea and in a ferocious encounter in May sank HMS Hood, Britain’s biggest warship. It tried to escape but was chased by British warships and bombers for three days and was finally sunk in the Battle of the Denmark Straits.


Famous quotes

Where you used to be there is a hole in the world which I find myself constantly walking around in the day and falling into at night. I miss you like hell---Edith Millay, poet.


The number of people under 18 in London receiving treatment as a result of dog bites has more than doubled. The police blame young people who buy large and angry dogs as a status symbol.


Marks and Spencer is to stop offering free plastic carrier bags in its 600 food shops and is introducing a bag costing 5p in a new development aimed at reducing the 13bn paper bags used in the country every year.


Energy Saving Day, a 24-hour initiative aimed at reducing the UK’s electricity use, begins on Wednesday with a speech by the Bishop of London on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral.
Comment: Environmental groups, electricity companies and religious leaders will all take part.



Giles put up some of my paintings and photographs on the walls on Monday and suddenly the new flat became My Flat. Once more I can look at the houses in which I used to live, pictures of my friends who matter to me now more than ever before and some of the paintings that have been my joy, my comfort and my companions for a lifetime. Unfortunately some others will be left behind and I will not see them again and it makes me sad.

I attended the ancient and decaying Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel where a Chinese woman eye specialist put me through a series of eye tests that involved me staring into a screen and reporting little points of light when they appeared on various parts of the screen. After an exhausting half an hour she confirmed what I already knew, that there is no sight in my left eye, but added surprisingly that the sight in my right eye had improved. I did not find this result very reassuring and return for another test next week.


Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.