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London Letter: A VC, The Military Cross And The Croix de Guerre

...Seven war medals including the VC, the Military Cross and the French Croix de Guerre belonging to a World War One hero were auctioned in London and raised a record £211,725. They belonged to Major Herbert James who died alone in a rented Kensington flat. The VC was awarded for bravery during the Gallipoli operation....

Ninety-six-year-old Henry Jackson, Britain’s oldest weekly columnist, brings another unmatchable blend of news, history, poetry and autobiography.

Lakshmi Mittal, Britain’s richest man, has bought his third property in London’s most expensive street for £70m. He already owns two large houses in Kensington Palace Gardens, where Princess Diana spent her last years, and has just bought another house in the same street from the Crown Estate for his daughter. The house was the former Philippine Embassy and is in need of modernisation.


A ferry boat trip along the Thames from Tower Hill to Tilbury on Saturday celebrated the 1948 arrival in Tilbury Docks of the SS Empire Windrush on June 22 1948 with 500 immigrants that began the great wave of Caribbean people into England. The ferry was filled with veterans and descendants who wanted to celebrate the first move that was to leave a permanent mark on the people and customs of London. More celebrations are taking place in the London boroughs of Clapham and Brixton.


More than 150,000 watched the free theatre festival in Leicester Square over the week-end when excerpts from West End shows were performed in the open air.


Elizabeth Taylor’s five bedroom childhood home in Wildwood Road, Hampstead Garden Suburb, is up for sale at a price of £7m.


The Territorial Army celebrated its 100th anniversary on Saturday with a March Past and parade on Horse Guards Parade.


The Harry Krishna movement held its 40th annual celebration in London with a procession of three 40ft chariots pulled by hand followed by a singing and chanting crowd. They travelled from Hyde Park Corner to Trafalgar Square to celebrate the Festival of Chariots that originated in Orissa, Eastern India, 5,000 years ago.


Ambreen Gul, aged 23, an estate agent, of Hackney, East London, was gaoled for 10 years at Southwark Court for kidnapping and torturing her former boss and demanding £200,000 ransom. Three others were also convicted of false imprisonment. After being dismissed from her job Gul lured him to her flat where he was bound and blindfolded then punched, kicked and pistol whipped for seven hours.


Seven war medals including the VC, the Military Cross and the French Croix de Guerre belonging to a World War One hero were auctioned in London and raised a record £211,725. They belonged to Major Herbert James who died alone in a rented Kensington flat. The VC was awarded for bravery during the Gallipoli operation.


The clipper ship “Cutty Sark” will be restored on time following a gift of £3.3m from Sammy Ofer, the Israeli shipping magnate. The vessel was half way through a conservation project in Greenwich, South East London, a year ago when fire broke out and caused damage of £35m.


Valentine Greetings
Paula Stone
by Henry Jackson

Everything changes but it stays the same
Still seems to be the name of the game,
I remember well and hope you do, too,
When it was a short walk round to you,
Or only down twenty four steps
To chat or to avoid the rain,
With Bette Elsey putting on an act
Not just fiction but a real fact,
A collection of Air Force brass
Gave your dinners discreet top class.
And there was hardly ever a week
Without everyone dancing cheek to cheek,
Now I am here and you are in Japan
Thirty three years have gone down the pan,
Liza is a lawyer and Michael’s a big wheel
It seems a lifetime--you know how I feel,
In my kitchen are two processors
One for food, the other for professors,
Time marches on, there’s no time to kill,
And I’m running hard just to stay still,
Despite it all there’s nothing really new
I thought I’d let you know—I’m glad I met you.

February 14 1990

I know it isn’t Valentine’s Day but it is time I said something nice to Paula!


The Women in My Life---6

(Last week I told how I went with Madeleine and Marie-Francoise to the champagne banquet given by Jacques Mercier).

Marie-Francoise was waiting for me when I came down next morning to a late breakfast. She gave me a thin smile, kissed me on the cheek and scanned my face carefully.

“You look tired, Henry,’’ she commented.

“Too much champagne,’’ I replied defensively and waved a hand around the half empty room. “Not many people could make it and I expect that they are all feeling the strain,’’

I think she believed me but was not sure.

Marie-Francoise ordered for both of us and we were almost finished when Madeleine arrived and greeted us warmly. I searched her face for signs of stress but she looked as fresh as if she had just come from a beauty parlour.

Secretly, I wondered at the recovery power of women.

An hour later we trooped down to the Mercier establishment and were taken down in lifts into a control area and then in electric wagons into tunnels containing dozens of caves cut out of the face of the mountain and holding 12 million bottles of champagne. Then we went into immense halls holding grape stripping machines and still more holding wooden casks. At the end of the line was the bottling plant and labelling machines. The temperature was 52F and chilly.

We were overwhelmed by the size of the operation. But time was pressing and we had to embark again and make for the centre of France to Clermont Ferrand, the temporary home of the Vichy French Government during the War. On the way we stopped twice for coffee and a short rest. As we arrived at the second stop Madeleine was just leaving and waved cheerfully. Her male companion also waved. It was a merging process that grew during the long trail. People changed from car to car and drivers tried out other cars.

Clermont-Ferrand was a riot of colour, flowers and trees. There was an abundance of small squares with pavement cafes and the tour hotel was a large wooden structure sprawling along the whole side of a square. In the centre was a bandstand and that evening an imposing but ragged band struggled with vaguely recognisable symphonies.

The local vineyards had organised a reception in the hotel and the hospitality weighed heavily on our tired bodies. But the wine finally won the day, the atmosphere gathered pace and the band of trumpets and violins encouraged Madeleine to take the floor and start a crocodile round the room. She tried to mount the stairs to the roof gallery but the staff formed a human barrier and stopped further progress that could have toppled the whole crumbling building into a wreck. Madeleine broke the chain and danced over to me and told me to hold her round the waist and I grabbed her and we danced round the room. A minute later Marie-Francoise repeated the process and the music went on and on.

Later we collapsed in a flower filled conservatory and Madeleine, Marie-Francoise and a few others talked about the trip. Marie-Francoise asked if she could take the next leg to Carcasonne in another car and Madeleine asked if she could take her place in my car. Swapping was going on all over the place. But tiredness took over and we all retired soon afterwards. And I was asleep two minutes after my head hit the pillows.

Carcasonne was 500 miles further on. It was an historic walled city, a hard drive, and I had a welcome rest when Madeleine took over the wheel.

“I always wanted a Jaguar,’’ she said enviously. “It is so fast, so elegant and so sexy.’’ She grinned at her own words and the picture it conjured up. But she was a good fast driver and we ate up the miles. I was sleeping gently when we turned into a roadside restaurant set in an oasis of trees and flowers.

“The owner is a friend of mine,’’ she said. “Let’s stop for a little while to recover.’’

The place was deserted and I went through the bar café into the back garden while she collected a bottle of wine and some French bread. ”You need building up, cherie”, she laughed quietly, drank up quickly and walked out through the back where there was a green lawn, chairs, a table shaded by a parasol and a pool. Not another person in sight.

She walked to the edge of the pool, dropped off her clothes and dived in and the only noise was a slight hiss as her body cut through the water. She swam up and down six times then got out at the other end, made no attempt to dry off and vanished. Ten minutes later I followed and found her lying naked and asleep on a rough blanket near a little garden hut.

I edged closer, examined her slowly and enjoyed what I saw. She was motionless so I just waited while the sun bore down. She finally stirred sleepily and looked up at me through half closed eyes.

“Do you like me?” she asked for which I had no reply but I bent down and kissed her slowly in a succession of caresses that ended on her lips. She smiled dreamily.

“I think you do.’’

Then she dressed and got back into the car and continued like a Grand Prix driver along the straight narrow roads that stretched away into the distance. After two hours I recovered and took over the wheel while she questioned me about my life, my work and my wives.

“Two wives is a good record,’’ she said. “I have also been married once before, to a lousy Frenchman.’’ She said the words fiercely as if she were cutting a hard piece of leather with a blunt knife. And she went into detail, all the detail, in a way in which French women excel. We were still talking when we arrived in Carcasonne.

The Jaguar team were lined up with military precision and so were most of the other cars. Our stop at the oasis had spoiled our timing but had enhanced my experience. Marie-Francoise came looking for me and we had drinks together in the bar. There were no official arrangements for the first night so we wandered around looking at historic monuments in different parts of the town.

The next night local wine growers had arranged dinner in the rambling cellars of one of the vineyards. And they insisted that we tasted as many as possible of their wines and the atmosphere became cloudy with fumes and filled with the noise of liberated conversation.

Marie-Francoise sat next to me and I noticed that her dresses were becoming more and more revealing and the neckline occasionally edged down to the waist. She looked at me and smiled and knew that I knew that she was beautiful.

More sightseeing the next day and then Marie-Francoise returned to my car for the long drive to Andorra 7,000 ft up in the Pyrenees.

(More next week)


Today in History

1850. Charles Blondin crossed Niagara Falls on a tightrope. It took five

1938. Douglas Hyde elected first President of Ireland.

1939. Frank Sinatra made his first appearance with the Harry James Band at
The Hippodrome, Baltimore, and sang “My Love For You”.

1994. June 30. The temperature at Death Valley, California reached a record
128F. The coldest day was January 30 1988 when it dropped to Zero.


Famous Quotes

No wonder people are so horrible when they start off as children.
Kingsley Amis

Some people come into our lives, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never the same.

Relationships are like sharks—they have to constantly move forward or they die. Woody Allen


A shopkeeper in Plaistow, East London, near where a 15-year-old schoolboy was stabbed to death, has handed his entire stock of knives worth £700 to the police for destruction.


Large industrial fans are being installed in 40 London Underground stations to reduce the temperature that has been reaching up to 30F.


Injured war veterans are to be given free travel on London’s transport systems.


A six-bedroom house in Bedford Park, West London, has gone back on the market for £1.9m six months after first being offered for sale six months ago for £3.2m. Agents point out that this is an indication of how the credit squeeze is affecting London property prices.


A new London landmark, The Greenwich Wheel, opens to the public today and follows the original Wheel that stands in the heart of London and has carried millions of sightseers. The Greenwich Tower is 180ft high and stands in the grounds of the former Naval College. The Wheel contains 40 gondolas each holding six people and will complete a rotation in 15 minutes.


Mercedes have introduced a new 6-seater taxi. It has electric windows, sliding doors and can accommodate two wheelchairs in contrast to one in the latest London black cab.


Retail World magazine has named London’s Top 20 Shops and Centres as follows:

Bamford & Sons, Regent’s Street
Ralph Lauren, New Bond Street
Harrods, Knightsbridge
Trilogy. Chelsea
Borough Market, Borough
Playlounge, Soho
Tri & Run, Wimbledon
Rippon Cheese Stores, Pimlico
Jerries Smith & Sons, New Oxford Street
John Lewis, Oxford Street
Nike Town, Oxford Circus
Peter Jones, Sloane Street
Selfridges, Oxford Street
Apple Store, Regent Street
La Fromangerie, Regent Street
Tate Britain Shop, Millbank
La Pascatu, Chelsea,
Harvey Nicolls, Knightsbridge
USA Pro , Soho
Hamleys, Regent Street



I watched Wimbledon on and off during the week but had an uncomfortable feeling that some of the magic has gone out of the game. The following names bring back memories: Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graaf, Lindsay Davenport, Billie Jean King, Boris Becker, even John McEnroe. I used to watch them without a stop but now I just take a casual glance.

However, I was glad to see that Andrew Murray, the young English hope, got through an early test with comparative ease.

I never took up tennis myself although my house at Ide Hill had a full size court on which friends played and I watched.




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