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London Letter: It Took Five Minutes For The Dust To Clear

...Frank drove at high speed along the narrow roads and a few minutes later we hit a car coming in the opposite direction, hesitated for a moment on the edge of nowhere and toppled into a tiny cornfield 50ft below that skirted a drop of 2,000ft into a valley. It took five minutes for the dust to clear and then I found myself out of the car and on the ground with an aching shoulder. Frank was still in the driving seat and Marie-Francoise, who had also been thrown clear, was lying on the edge of disaster with blood covering her face and mouth...

Henry Jackson tells of another incident in his adventerous life.

In addition there's news from London, poetry and a helping of history.

To read earlier editions of Henry's exhilirating weekly column please click on London Letter in the menu on this page.

Planning permission was granted this week for the construction of a mammoth new shopping centre in Stratford, East London, to open in 2011. It will contain 300 shops including replicas of shops made famous in the West End.

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River police carried out raids on Thames river steamers as part of a campaign to clamp down on the use of drugs.

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Five people jumped to safety from the first floor window of a flat in Alston Road, Tooting, South-West London, when fire broke out on Saturday morning. The flat and the shop below were badly damaged.

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Woolworth’s Store in Chapel Street, Islington, one of the last bastions of working class shopping in the borough, has been sold to Waitrose who will open a store on the site.

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Parking fines raised £650m for London councils over the past three years. Last year Westminster was the highest London earner at £41m and Greenwich was the lowest with £1.7m.

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The City of London will lose 10,000 jobs in the next three months, says a joint report by two City institutions. The collapse in credit is blamed for the drastic change.

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The Courtauld Gallery in The Strand is to put all of its collection of the French artist Cezanne works into one mammoth show.

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Victor Abrahams put a For Sale sign on his Ford Escort car outside his office in Finchley, North London, and returned later to discover that he had been fined £100 for illegally offering a car for sale in a parking place. The Council say that this new rule had been advertised widely but Mr Abrahams, who lives in nearby Brent, says he never saw any announcements.

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“The Blackest Streets”, a new book by Sarah Wise, gives a graphic description of life in the East London area of Shoreditch in the late Victorian era, probably the worst slums in any part of the country.

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Emily McGee, who war born in Bow, East London, celebrated her 102nd birthday. She was one of 15 children, originally lived in Old Ford Road, Bethnal Green, and remembers doing shopping in the Roman Road street market. She moved to Dagenham 70 years ago.

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Poems for Posterity


Enchantment
by Henry Jackson

Enchantment is
When I smile
And you laugh,
When I whisper
And you talk,
When I saunter
And you walk,
When I touch
And you hold,
When I’m timid
And you’re bold,
When I shiver
And you shake,
When you give
And I just take,
When I write words
And you write a book,
When I glance
And your eyes hold,
When I sip
And you drink deep,
Or my eyes flutter
And you sleep,
It is not a matter of why
Just how much you give,
I just sit back
And receive and receive.
October 30 1984

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The Women in My Life---6
Madeleine—3

(Last week I described my wine trip across France with Madeleine and Marie-Francoise and the start of the journey to Andorra, 7,000ft up in the Pyrenees)


Andorra is isolated in the mountains with incredible views of the rocky landscape. The tiny capital is filled with picturesque old houses that seem to cling to the rock face for safety.

Soon after we arrived the Mayor entertained us to a banquet and Geoffrey made another speech followed by a presentation to the Mayor and everyone applauded.

The next day was a free day. Marie-Francoise vanished and returned with a tall young Englishman named Frank who said that he was an architect for Hilton Hotels. He flashed around the town in a white open Jaguar and Marie-Francoise decorated it with elegant beauty.

There was a barbeque just outside town for the people of the rally and we all drifted there by midday. It was on the edge of a raging torrent and wherever you looked there were high remote snow-capped mountains In the centre of the site a lamb was cranking slowly on a spit under the care of a young chef from the hotel. Nearby there was an enormous pinewood bonfire ready for two large wire containers holding dozens of fresh perch. The smell of pine trees, olive oil and smoke drifted in the air.

Madeleine was directing the operation. It was a warm morning with promise of midday heat so she took a look at the cases then threw the bottles of wine one by one into the swift running current to cool them down. She threw with the agility of a discus thrower and the muscles of her arms rippled with the effort.

“Help me!” she pleaded and I joined her until there was nothing left but empty cases on the grass. The crowd built up quickly and I saw Marie-Francoise and Frank in the middle of an animated discussion. Marie-Francoise edged closer and told me that Frank knew a little wine bar on the top of the next mountain where there were less people, less smoke and more eye-catching views.

She said she would go if I went with her and it took only a minute to convince me and the three of us sneaked away from the crowd and jumped into Frank’s Jaguar and sped away.

Frank drove at high speed along the narrow roads and a few minutes later we hit a car coming in the opposite direction, hesitated for a moment on the edge of nowhere and toppled into a tiny cornfield 50ft below that skirted a drop of 2,000ft into a valley. It took five minutes for the dust to clear and then I found myself out of the car and on the ground with an aching shoulder. Frank was still in the driving seat and Marie-Francoise, who had also been thrown clear, was lying on the edge of disaster with blood covering her face and mouth.

By a miracle the car was still drivable and we staggered to Marie-Francoise and mopped up the injuries and then spent the next ten minutes arguing with a hostile crowd from the car that we had just hit. Then we drove back slowly to town.

Curious but merry spectators surrounded us in the car. Madeleine turned up and whisked Marie-Francoise to a clinic where a doctor put five stitches into her lips. Then she took her back into the hotel and put her to bed with a large glass of brandy and came back seething with anger and indignation.

Two hours later Frank reappeared and took her away and she did not reappear until the morning. Then Frank disappeared and Madeleine sought assistance from Geoffrey who used his influence with the police to seek information. I met them in the hotel later on and Madeleine told me that Frank was a known car thief and the police were looking for him. Of course, they never found him. Madeleine sat with us at breakfast and insisted that Marie-Francoise ate well. And she provided an even more important service by keeping the rest of the tour away.

The next day we drove over the mountains into Sete that was bubbling with heat and the acidic smell of the wine making process. After checking in at the hotel Madeleine telephoned Marie-Francoise’s parents and gave them a guarded version of what had happened, then announced that she would like me to drive all three of us to their home.

“I can handle them”, she said. Which was true because there was a lot of embracing and kissing, and a few tears, when we arrived at the house, but no awkward questions or explanations. After a few drinks Madeleine and I returned to the hotel.

“What an escape”, she commented. “Henry, darling, get me a drink, a large drink”.

I came back with black coffee and two very large brandies. Then we were surrounded by people from the rally and Madeleine held court and the tension began to ebb away. But not from me because my shoulder was severely bruised and painful.

“Come up to my room after they have all gone”, she said to me. “I will take the pain away”.

Half an hour later I knocked on her door with a feeling of trepidation laced with anticipation. Madeleine was stripped down to shorts and waved me to her bed. She looked a supreme athlete.

“Lie down on your tummy”, she ordered quietly and removed my shirt and shorts. “And remain perfectly still”, she added. I did so. Then she removed the top from a large bottle and shook a large blob into her hand.

“Arnica”, she explained. ”It comes from a plant that grows on the top of mountains”. Then she slowly and gently rubbed my shoulder and my back and the top of my arms. I felt a coolness as it was applied by strong fingers then a warmth spread through my whole body.

“Stay there”, she said as I tried to change my position. “I will tell you when you can move”.

I lay there for two hours as the massage continued. Then she allowed me to turnover and I saw that she was covered in perspiration.

“Time for a break”, she smiled. She poured two glasses of wine and gave me one Although I was still in pain I was stunned by her beauty. It must have shown in my eyes because she sat down next to me and a big grin covered her face.

“You can look but not touch, Henry darling. Much easier for me. I can look and touch and do you good at the same time. Come on. Don’t be unhappy. Drink up”.

Then she made me put on my clothes, pushed me out of the door very gently with a promise. “Tomorrow I have a big surprise for you”, she whispered. She closed the door with a little chuckle.


(More next week)

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Elda Beguinua, aged 63, of Dulwich, South East London, was gaoled for five years for obtaining large sums of money from people while pretending that she was a very wealthy countess. Elda, who was born in the Phillipines, also claimed that she was a member of the Hapsburg and Bourbon royal families. She maintained an exotic high style of living and ran a Rolls Royce with a chauffeur.

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The future of The George, a famous listed pub in Commercial Road in London’s East End, is likely to be guaranteed when planning permission to develop the adjoining plot containing a night club and build flats is expected to be refused.

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London cab drivers have received permission to stop on red lines to allow late night passengers use cash machines.

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This Week In History

1200. Sunglasses invented in China to protect judges sight in court.

1873. Three American businessmen patented the first “jeans”.

1933. The Loch Ness monster “sighted”.

1961. Alan Shephard the first American to be launched into space.


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Famous Quotes

A kiss makes the heart young again and wipes out the years---Rupert Brooke

Imagination is given to man for what he isn’t---Horace Walpole

A man is better pleased when his wife put a good dinner on the table than when she speaks Greek---Samuel Johnson

The best way to protect the future is to create it---Alan Kaye

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Me

Sir Bernard Spilsbury was one of the first forensic scientists in Britain and notes from some of his cases are to be auctioned by Sotheby’s later this month. He worked from 1906 to 1932 and reported findings on several famous criminal cases including Crippen. I met the great man during my first job as a reporter in Islington when he was official pathologist to the Islington Coroner, Sir Walter Schroeder, and I listened to his findings in the dingy Coroner’s Court off the Holloway Road in North London.

Spilsbury was always friendly to the Press and came to the rescue of reporters when he had to explain scientific medical procedures or the spelling of technical phrases. One of his habits was to place his Gladstone bag containing medical samples in bottles on to the reporters table and we had to cope with the acrid smell of formaldehyde during the course of the hearing. He was a gentle scientist and we learned about his science every time he gave evidence.

Spilsbury came to an untimely death at the age of 70 when he committed suicide by gassing himself in his laboratory. By a bizarre coincidence his great friend, William Bentley Purchase, the Coroner who replaced Sir Walter Schroeder, also came to an unexplained death by falling from a window.

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A personal note. I never did any boasting in the past and I don’t want to start now but I would like to recall a small incident this week that gave me a lot of pleasure. Newham’s Cumberland Day Centre put on an impromptu Song & Dance Act from its own staff on Thursday that was beautifully carried out to a professional standard and gave everyone a great deal of pleasure. Especially to me. Because the best looking girl in the act came over three times and gave me a meaningful kiss on the lips. It has added 12 months to my life span.

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Friends & Family

Averil Skinner (Barton-on-Sea)

Invited with Eric to a champagne reception at the Long Room at Lords Cricket Ground. It was a fabulous evening that included a tour of the Museum where they saw the original Urn containing the Ashes and were allowed to sit in the hallowed MCC cricket members seats.

Last week I made a reference to Andrew Murray, the “English” tennis player, and Averil reminded me that Murray is a Scotsman from Dunblane, the scene of the historic Dunblane massacre, and in fact attended the school where the atrocity took place and was a pupil at the time. He was knocked out of the competition in the semi-final by the formidable Spanish player Rafael Nadal.


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