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London Letter: The London I Love

Ninety-six-year-old Henry Jackson, the world's oldest weekly columnist, brings another remarkable and unmatchable mixture of news, poetry, history and autobiography from the heart of London.

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

Harrods, the Knightsbridge store, is offering a suit of armour for men for £1,749 excluding VAT.


Westminster Council is to fine companies that dig up roads but fail to meet deadlines to complete the work. Gas and electricity providers are the worst offenders. The fines can be as much as £250 a day.


Thirty cars are setting off on a 2,500 mile trip tomorrow from London to Athens in cars that do not use conventional petrol but instead will use waste cooking oil from restaurants and bars they come across on the way. The trip is seeking to highlight alternatives to fossil fuel. The 14-day journey will take them through France, Germany and Austria before following the Atlantic coast down to Greece.


The Royal Horseguards Hotel in Whitehall that was used by the Secret Service during World War One is to undergo a £16m refit. Former residents of the 280 bedroom building that was built in 1884 include George Bernard Shaw and Prime Minister Gladstone.


Preparations are going ahead for the Notting Hill Carnival this week-end amid fears that funding to ensure its success may fall short because of the credit squeeze. The two-day event that began in 1959 is run by former residents of the Caribbean and attracts around two million people making it the world’s second most popular outdoor event only topped by Rio. Among the attractions will be a three mile parade featuring trucks carrying people in exotic costumes and a variety of forty steel bands playing Caribbean music at maximum sound.


British medallists returning from the Beijing Olympics will be given a Victory Parade through the streets of London on October 16.


The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, flew to Beijing on his first foreign trip since election. Earlier in the week he opened a new cycling centre in East London. It cost £4.5m and is named the Redbridge Cycling Centre and replaces the Eastway Cycling Circuit that was demolished to make way for the Velo Park for the London Olympic Games.


A planned strike on the London Underground was called off at the last moment after talks between management and unions.


A new 18-storey glass faced office block tower is to be built near Waterloo Station and will be visible from Parliament and Westminster Bridge. It will have a double skin that reflects light in different colours creating a rainbow effect and has been nicknamed The Jewel. The architect, David Ardill, said: “The outer skin will animate as the sun moves around changing colour throughout the day”. The block is due to open in 2011 and will have 345,000 sq ft of office space.

* *

Poems for Posterity

Lonely Lady
by Henry Jackson

She was beautiful but sad
And when we first met
Was unsure and unhappy
Avoiding my eyes
Or contact of any sort
That might betray her thought.
I watched and wondered
Why someone with such grace
Could live isolated and alone
In a big silent house
While the world outside
Drifted past like an ebbing tide.
Then one day I sent flowers
And a little note that said:
“Don’t be so sad, dear lady,
I am also feeling lonely,
At the end of my tether,
So let’s be lonely together”.
It was the beginning of the end
Of her loneliness and mine,
A tiny spray of kindness
Reached deep down,
Unlocked the ftears
And washed away the tfears.
Now she talks all night and day
Smiles, grins and touches
My hand or my cheek,
Silence and misery have gone away
Because love so slow to start
Is locked for ever in our hearts.

PS: Not really a happy ending because Madeleine, who was French and lived in a beautiful house with a lake, was killed in a car crash. She drove on to the motorway straight into a big truck.


Today in History

1913. An Italian pilot made a first descent from a plane in a parachute.

1929. St Valentine’s Day Massacre. Seven gangster rivals of gangster Al
Capone were shot dead at a party in Chicago.

1940. Hitler declared a blockade of the British Isles.


Famous quotes

It is difficult to speak adequately, or justly, about London. It is not a pleasant place; it is not agreeable, or easy or exempt from reproach. It is only magnificent---Henry James

Friendship is a slow ripening fruit---Aristotle

Be as great in act as you are in thought---William Shakespeare

Things are beautiful if you love them---Jean Anouilh

There is nothing safe about sex and there never will be---Norman Mailer

Comedy is simply a funny way of being serious---Peter Ustinov


The Women in My Life---7

(Last week I told how Wendy had vanished from the scene for some
weeks then agreed to supervise the decorations of my new London offices. Out of the blue I had a call from her husband Pat who invited me for a drink.

Read on...

Pat, who had begun his working life on a building site, came straight to the point.

"Wendy wants to marry you,'' he said quietly.

I felt an earthquake explode and could not find a word to say.

“We have been married 18 years,'' Pat went on, “and all we have succeeded in doing is to make money. We never did love each other. And now that we have made a pile there’s nothing more to look forward to.''

I took a big gulp of gin and tonic as he went on.

“We have talked about the situation calmly for weeks. No anger or bad words and we have even agreed on how to divide up our properties. There is more than enough for both of us.”

He paused for a moment then added. “I gather that Wendy has not said anything to you about this so that is why I am talking to you.''

I was not able to give him a reply and retreated back home. The next morning Wendy rang me and said that she wanted to discuss colour schemes at my new offices with me. She arrived at my flat with a large leather portfolio and I greeted her nervously.

“I have been speaking to Pat. Or rather he has been speaking to me,'' I said.

“I know. I asked him to.''

“He mentioned marriage, yes marriage. After all it’s a bit unusual and a bit of a shock. Pat is still married to you and suddenly he talks to me about you marrying me.''

“Not at all. I think that you and I get on very well together and getting a divorce is quite simple these days.''

“Doesn’t love come into it?''

“Of course, I love you and can’t think of anything else most of the time. And when you make love to me it shatters me every time. With Pat it never happened even once, not once in eighteen years.''

She was close to tears.

“Don’t you want to know how I feel?”

“I know that you love me. You couldn’t do what you do without loving me.''

“But…“ I began.

She put her hand on my lips, then undressed slowly and deliberately and then undressed me even more slowly and deliberately. Then she led me to the bedroom and made love to me but the magic did not work and we ended up covered in guilt, perspiration and embarrassment. I recovered enough to approve the work she proposed to do and she left after kissing me hard on the lips.

Work progressed quite quickly at the office and my new flat. We met occasionally but I arranged to have someone else present when she called, especially at home.

“I think you are avoiding me,'' she complained.

“Work is pretty strenuous,'' I answered.

But we never had sex again because that is how I regarded our relationship. It was good robust sex that left us both physically exhausted every time but not emotionally fulfilled. It did not have that uplifting quality of soothing the soul. In addition I could not forget that I had only recently emerged from a 12-year marriage and was too bruised and hurt to contemplate any new permanent arrangement.

My new office opened with a big party. And there was another housewarming at my new home in Chelsea where the guests included a lady named Betty who had lived in the flat below me at Westbourne Terrace. Wendy was also her landlord. Betty and I had become friends but she and Wendy never liked each other and the whole atmosphere at the party was ruined when at the height of the festivities Wendy demanded to be driven home.

I should have called a taxi but decided to be gallant and took her in my Jaguar that was parked outside the front door. We headed for Paddington. It was a foolish decision and as we were driving round Marble Arch Wendy tried to throw herself out of the door. She dissolved into tears and began to sob and when we arrived at her home I dumped her on the pavement without a word. For me this was the end. When I returned home to Chelsea Betty had hysterics and demanded to know where I had been, although she knew. I did not try to explain and there was chaos

When Wendy’s account arrived I paid it by return. After that she telephoned me regularly for several weeks. Then I changed my telephone number and never saw her again.


Work is to start shortly on a big new container port on the Thames at Thurrock to be named London Gateway. It is on the site of the former Shellhaven and will provide jobs for 12,000 workers. Up to 90% of UK imports arrive in a container and the new port will provide facilities for improved handling and distribution.


A plan to plant hundreds of new trees in central London is being considered. It involves planting new trees alongside the Tate Modern and on to the Elephant & Castle and from Blackfriars Road to Borough High Street. The plan also involves the creation of many additional green spaces. The architects who devised the scheme said that the plan was driven by ecological imperatives and the need to combat the rise in CO2 gases. One special feature will be the creation of “Flatiron Square” at the union of Union Street and Southwark Bridge Road that would have more trees, a paved area and a café in the middle.


Sixteen-year-old Ahmed Banyermak fell 60ft to his death from a tower block in Hackney, East London, while trying to escape from a hooded gang carrying knives. He scaled down the outside of the building for six floors then lost his footing.


Two thousand five hundred London bus drivers belonging to the Unite Union will go on strike on August 12 and September 11 over pay. The strike will affect services in East and West London. The union is demanding a minimum pay of £30,000 a year.


A fleet of 10 paddle-powered boats began a taxi service on the Regents and Grand Union Canals this week-end. Prices are about £50 an hour and boats can be reserved online. Services are between Lisson Grove and Camden Lock, Victoria Park to Hackney Wick and Little Venice to Hayes in Middlesex



I have agreed to write a monthly article for Age Concern Magazine.

On Tuesday I was waylaid by a dusky man hunter at the Newham Day Centre but I did not fancy her and escaped unharmed.

All the fuses in my flat blew on Wednesday morning but help arrived quickly. Then two light bulbs failed. And my computer printer cartridge ran out. Never a dull moment.


Friends & Family

Giles and family who are on holiday in Antigua toured the island in a jeep and visited a place named Sting Ray City where they went swimming with sting rays and also fed them by hand. They fly home on Sunday.

Samantha (Mid Wales)
Husband Ray is making steady progress after a bout of pneumonia.

Camilla (Palma)
Emailed from holiday in Gotland in Sweden to report that both children are being sent to school in Sweden. She has been on holiday since July 17 but is leaving on Saturday for Stockholm and then taking a mini cruise to Tallin, the medieval capital of Estonia.

Fritz (Marim, Portugal)
Celebrated his 70th birthday with drinks on the beach in front of the flat in Marim where it was hot hot.

Polly the Tour Queen (Bristol)
Returned from holiday in Portugal and is off to France on Saturday.

Avril (Barton-on-Sea)
Returned with Eric on Monday from a holiday in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, which they shared with son Keith who lives in New York. The flight home was delayed by a violent storm that hit Miami.


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