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London Letter: An Economic Cloud

...An archeological dig has recovered what is thought to be the remains of a theatre where Shakespeare’s plays were first performed. It is in Shoreditch, East London, and is believed to have first opened in 1576. It was here that a young William Shakespeare performed as part of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men company of players and had his first plays performed...

Our incomparable columnist, 96-year-old Henry Jackson. brings another compelling helping of London news, autobiography, poetry and history.

To read Henry's earlier columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/london_letter/

There are increasing signs of an economic cloud rolling over London. The situation is highlighted by figures from the Tourist Board that announced that the capital had fewer foreign visitors last year. In the last six months of 2007 they totalled 25.45m compared with 26.6m a year before. But the figures also showed that the amount they spent rose 3.4% to £10.4bn. However, 300 small London shops are expected to close because of the economic downturn and London’s top restaurants report a big drop in custom and many admitted that waiting lists have been abolished. Five leading West End theatres have closed.

Another bad sign. Whole Foods Market, London’s largest organic supermarket, made a loss of £10m in its first year of operations. The American owned company based in Kensington High Street on the site of the former Barker’s store, has been caught in a new trend of cash strapped shoppers turning away from expensive food.

And another bad sign. House prices fell 8.8% last year.


A 22-year-old Malaysian prostitute and her boyfriend were convicted at the Old Bailey of the murder of a young Chinese graduate whose headless body was found floating in a marina in South London. They were sentenced to life imprisonment. The 23-year-old victim was stabbed twice in the neck and decapitated while alive and her body dumped in the River Thames at Rotherhithe. Another man wanted for the murder has fled the country.


The Government has blocked plans to build a 12,500 sq ft arena next to Croydon East Railway Station.


The finalists for the Evening Standard dining room awards were announced as follows: Brula (Twickenham), Market (Camden Town), Sam’s Brasserie (Chiswick), Sitaaray (Covent Garden), The Prince Regent (Herne Hill) and Wahaca (Covent Garden).They have to provide a good meal with a bottle of wine for two for less than £60.


Neighbours in Lewisham, South-East London, have been asked to share wheelie bins due to a shortage of supplies.


The basement of University College Hospital in Euston Road, Central London, was damaged by fire that broke out during the night. More than 100 firemen fought the flames. No-one was hurt.


Andrew Pratt, 43-year-old manager of a Sloane Street fashion store, was stabbed to death outside his home in Camberwell, South-East London, on Saturday night. He had been appointed manager only two months ago. A witness said that the attacker calmly rifled his victim’s pockets after the attack then walked away.


Ziaul Haque, aged 27, of Drummond Street, Euston, Central London, who was accused of the murder of a Polish woman, was found hanged in his cell in Winchester Prison. He was charged with killing the woman, bundling her body into a suitcase and setting it on fire. He was due to appear in court the next day.


Poems for Posterity

by Henry Jackson

She took me to lunch,
“Took you to lunch?”
Yes, in a village bistro
On the edge of the green
Where windows with linen curtains
Keep outsiders from peering in,
Footsteps scraped on wooden floors,
On the walls were prints and books
About Italy and sunny places
Where we hanged coats on hooks,
The menu was short and to the point
In fact, quite up to muster,
Not a sign, of course, of a roast joint
Just pasta, pasta and pasta,
It was just after Spaghetti Pomidoro
That I felt an urgent need
To kiss this beautiful girl
Sitting opposite and glowing gold
With the utmost speed,
But how do you in a public place
Give way to inner feelings
And tell someone you care
When she is not yet thirty
And you are twice that with more to spare?
So I resisted the temptation
To shock the little talking clusters
Then drained the cappuccino
And started a filibuster
To stifle what comes from Heaven above
---Some people call it love.

February 13 1993


The Women in My Life---8

Wendy was the daughter of a Blackpool butcher and retained traces of her Lancashire accent mixed with a touch of Knightsbridge to which she aspired but never qualified. She was a wealthy woman in her own right and had worked her way into prosperity by buying and developing big but rundown properties in Paddington that she bought from the Church Commissioners when the Church was hit by accusations of making money from prostitution.

She had a flair for decoration and remodelled the rambling old houses into modern apartments and then let them. It was a successful operation because Paddington was just emerging from a reputation as a red light district but was close to the heart of London which meant that the rents she charged could undercut Kensington, Knightsbridge and Chelsea and still yield big profits.

Wendy was married to a happy-go-lucky Irishman named Pat who played only a small part in the business. She made all the decisions, organised all the repairs and decorating and found the tenants. If there were any problems she solved them. If there were any suggestions she considered them. She did not share a bedroom with her husband and in her office there were two telephones, His and Hers.

I first met Wendy after my second marriage broke down and was introduced to her by a friend. Like me she was in her middle 40s, a bold, striking banana blonde with a pointed chin, only a hint of a figure and icy blue eyes that could penetrate steel. But she smiled easily showing big white teeth and her accent was baffling but only on the first occasion. After only half an hour we agreed on the rent for a two-bedroom flat in Westbourne Terrace, near Hyde Park, and I moved in a month later. She asked for the rent and a deposit three months in advance.

The flat was in a block that had just been renovated and was fully let a few weeks later, mostly to Americans from California who were in England setting up air defences round the country under an Anglo-American defence programme worked out in Washington,

I had moved in from the suburbs and looked forward to the freedom of living in central London. My Jaguar was parked outside the front door separated from the busy traffic by a narrow strip of grass. It took only 15 minutes to drive to my office in Soho.

Wendy knocked on my door two days later after I arrived and asked if there were any problems. I offered her a drink and she smiled back at me with complete assurance and said yes. We had drinks in my large reception room where a collection of bottles was scattered on the carpet around the floor.

“Why don’t you have a bar in the corner?” Wendy suggested. “It would keep all those bottles under control.'' When I admitted I did not know how to go about it she said she had an architect friend who could do the design and a carpenter friend who worked at the BBC who could put it together in his spare time.

I said that it was probably unnecessary to use an architect but she shook her head.

“Geoffrey loves doing work for me,'' she said, “and I will tell him that it is my plan so he won’t charge anything.''

She was right. Geoffrey produced an elaborate design which included a self-supporting roof above the bar and the carpenter came on four successive week-ends and built a bar that occupied one whole corner of the room. The cost was trifling. Geoffrey charged me nothing and John, the carpenter, only made a nominal charge for his time. I suspect that the wood was provided by the BBC. I think that they were both in love with Wendy and would do anything to prove it.

Over the next year Wendy developed a routine of calling in for a drink once or twice a week. It may have been more because I was out quite a bit and may have missed her on some occasions. But when I was in we nearly always ended up in bed.

Then she invited me for “an unforgettable experience”.

(Find out all about it next week)


Today in History

1824. Fifth Avenue opened in New York.
1952. The first Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise opened in Salt Lake City.
1961. The Beatles began regular engagements at the Cavern Club, Liverpool.
1990. Iraq occupied Kuwait.


Famous Quotes

Sex is a momentary itch, love never lets you go---Kingsley Amis

The Lord had the wonderful ability of being able to work alone. ---Kofi Annan

When the curtain falls the best thing an actor can do is to go away.
---Harold MacMillan

It is not a lack of love but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages. ---Friedrich Nietsche


Ivor Newton House, in Bromley, South-East London, a residential care home for retired musicians, is to close because of a lack of funds. The Musicians Benevolent Fund that runs the home said that it had become increasingly more difficult to fill the beds.


The Mayor of :London appointed former newspaper editor Rosie Boycott to champion healthy eating for Londoners.


From next week motor cyclists will have to pay a charge of £1.50 for parking in central London.


An archeological dig has recovered what is thought to be the remains of a theatre where Shakespeare’s plays were first performed. It is in Shoreditch, East London, and is believed to have first opened in 1576. It was here that a young William Shakespeare performed as part of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men company of players and had his first plays performed. Then it was dismantled and its timbers were taken to the South Bank where they were used to construct the Globe Theatre in 1599.


James Murray, a student, climbed the suspension cables under Tower Bridge in a protest against the Chinese occupation of Tibet.


Blackfriars Underground Station is to close for two years for modernisation. The main Blackfriars Station is not affected.



Giles & Lorraine celebrated their 11th wedding anniversary on Saturday.
Samantha had a birthday on Tuesday.
Sam was six yesterday and I attended a crowded party at Brampton.

I bought a new keyboard from Dell for my computer this week. The price was £9.40p but the delivery charge was a whopping £8.23p. Stand and DELLivery!

Giles and the family are flying to Antigua for a fortnight’s holiday tomorrow. I asked him if he had any qualms following the murder of the honeymoon couple in Antigua last week. He said he had none and pointed out that there are two or three murders in the London area every week.


Friends & Family

Spoke to Camilla yesterday on her birthday and I sent her flowers. She is on holiday with the children in Southern Sweden and Guess What? It was pouring with rain! As she will be away for another week she has asked her husband to put the flowers on display in the restaurant he runs in Palma.

Another birthday and this time it was Kazumi, my artist friend who lives in Osaka in Japan. Yes, I sent her flowers, too, and she sent me back pictures of her with the flowers and smiling.


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