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London Letter: Rocket Park

...Hillingdon Council in West London has opened Rocket Park, a special playground for disabled children. It includes magic toad swings, talking flowers and specially designed roads for wheelchair users. The park also has yo-yo swings, a roundabout, picnic areas and roads aimed at helping young wheelchair users practise their mobility skills...

Trust Henry Jackson to bring you the interesting and the unsual news from the world's greatest city.

Ninetysix-year-old Henry, Britian's oldest weekly columnist, also brings an extraordinary slice of autobiography, a poem and a smidgen of history.

London house prices tumble

London house prices have fallen to their lowest levels since records were first taken 30 years ago. Twenty per cent reductions from the original asking price are typical of the storm engulfing the property market and is taking them back to price levels last seen in 2005 and 2006. In Kensington at the top end of the market a typical six-bedroom house has been reduced 26% from £11,5m to £8,5m. A 5-bedroom house in Hampstead Garden Suburb put on the market in February for £2,25m has dropped to £1.47m. In Belsize Park, North London, a two-bedroom flat is down from £865,000 to £665,000. And in Notting Hill Gate a two-bedroom flat has been reduced 11% from £635,000.

Leaves delay London trains

Thousands of mainline rail commuters into London endured slow journeys this week because of leaves on the line. London’s busiest rail companies lengthened journey times into the capital to allow extra time for services struggling to cope with slippery tracks. Times have been lengthened by several minutes until mid December but most delays are likely to be longer as trains stack up behind one another. Leaves cause major problems because they harden into a tough substance similar to black ice on the roads after the first train has run over them. Heavily laden trains then struggle to get going as their wheels spin and block the lines for those behind.

Better view from Monument

A new viewing platform has been installed at the top of The Monument, one of the City of London’s most popular landmarks. It is constructed of lightweight cable and mesh and replaces the former structure of iron bars. It is part of a £4.5m restoration programme and is due to reopen next Spring. The Monument is 202 ft high at the junction of Monument Street and Fish Street and was built by Sir Christopher Wren and commemorates the Great Fire of London in 1666. Every year 10,000 visitors climb the 311 spiral steps to the top for views of London.

Rocket Park for the disabled

Hillingdon Council in West London has opened Rocket Park, a special playground for disabled children. It includes magic toad swings, talking flowers and specially designed roads for wheelchair users. The park also has yo-yo swings, a roundabout, picnic areas and roads aimed at helping young wheelchair users practise their mobility skills.

More leg room in new buses

Designs for a new Routemaster bus for London were unveiled this week. Its code name is H4 and it features a centred driver’s seat and TV screens on lower and upper deck that provide viewing for each passenger. U-shaped seating provides more leg room for passengers who will face each other across a centre aisle and this will provide more room for the conductor.

Girls face “kidnap” charge

Four teenage girls have appeared in court after a 16-year-old girl was assaulted in East London. The victim was forced down an alleyway near Maryland Railway Station in Stratford and hit with a belt and injured. She was taken to hospital but released after treatment. The girls concerned are one aged 18, two aged 17 and one aged 15. They have been charged with kidnap and causing grievous bodily harm.

New emergency number

The Metropolitan Police have issued a new telephone number for callers to use in non-emergency situations. It is

0300 123 123 12

Police records show that a quarter of the 200,000 emergency calls they receive every month are not an emergency and they hope that the new number will ease the crush.

TB at Knightsbridge nursery

Thirty three children at a nursery in the upper-class London area of Knightsbridge are being treated for tuberculosis, the Health Protection Agency reported. Students and staff were screened after an adult linked to the Knightsbridge Kindergarten in Eaton Square was diagnosed with the disease in July. Seven children have an active infection and are undergoing a six months course of antibiotics. Another 26 have active bacteria in their bodies but no infection.

Illegal drivers top the record

The number of motorists driving in London without tax, insurance or a licence is rocketing. Figures from the Mayor’s office show that 14,230 illegal drivers were stopped in the capital last year. It compares with none stopped in 2004 rising to 5886 in 2005 as police began using Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras. The Motor Insurers Bureau estimate that 1.2% of vehicles on London roads at any one time are outside the law. In all, there may be 450,000 illegal motorists in the capital. But the London Assembly Green Party estimates that the figure may be far higher, and rising. It stated that in some parts of the capital, particularly towards East London, up to one in 10 motorists were driving illegally.

Jobs slump shatters the City

Jobs in the City of London have slumped by more than 40 per cent as fears grow that unemployment in Britain could soar above 2,25m. The number of City workers looking for a new job in finance jumped from 2080 in August to 10,050 last month, following the collapse of Lehman Bros, the bankers. This is 42 per cent more than the same period last year. The average salary has slumped 3 per cent down to £49,893.

Queen has tea with heroes

England’s Olympic heroes paraded through London yesterday and were given a resounding welcome by thousands of people. Five hundred athletes including gold medallists took part in the parade of 12 floats that began at the Mansion House and ended in Trafalgar Square Then they went on to Buckingham Palace where they had tea with the Queen.

Secret war tunnels for sale

The Kingsway Tunnels, a secret network of tunnels under central London, are up for sale and are expected to go for £5m. They were built as an air raid shelter during the World War II and could hold 8,000 people. After the war they were taken over by the Post Office for use as a store.

Third London hospital fire

Fire caused £60m of damage to Borough Chase Farm Hospital in Enfield, North London, that is reserved for mentally ill criminals. Seventy patients and staff fled to safety. About 100 fire fighters fought the flames for six hours. The outbreak is the third major London hospital fire this year.

Royal Gardens open to public

The Queen is to open up the gardens at Buckingham Palace to the public next Spring for the first time in nearly 200 years. The 39 acres site is the largest private garden in the capital and has more than 150 mature trees, 260 types of wildflower and a three acre lake. Visits will be open to small groups of 15-20 people on selected dates in April, May and June. Up to now the gardens have been used for official entertaining and celebrations like the golden jubilee concerts in 2002, the children’s party to mark the Queen’s 80th birthday in 2006 and the traditional summer garden parties.

Odeon Leicester Square goes

The Odeon Cinema, Leicester Square, is to be demolished and replaced by a basement cinema and a nine-storey block containing a hotel, flats and four restaurants. The proposals are part of a £18m regeneration scheme and include three street-level restaurants, a rooftop restaurant and flats. The
246 room hotel would occupy the first to fifth floors.


This Wonderful World---6

Looking back on my trouble stricken experience of Bombay the description “wonderful” does not fulfil its promise. Big—yes, colourful---yes, astonishing---yes. But also cruel, wicked, dirty, and incredibly unfeeling to the million of its unhappy inhabitants who existed in abject poverty with nowhere to live, hungry and carrying their worldly possessions in sacks on their backs.

I arrived in Bombay just before Christmas of 1943 in HMS Full Moon that we turned over to the Indian Navy. I took my possessions to a Navy approved boarding house in the northern Bombay suburb of Colaba. It was a rich, upper-class area dominated by the reclusive Parsee sect who were always to be found where money, property or high class education needed a guiding hand. The Aga Khan was one of its most flamboyant leaders and high English university degrees were common in every family.

I had a very large room in a very large house and there were two other naval officers with similar large rooms and we shared a bathroom. I never saw the owners but a servant kept the area clean and tidy and provided early morning breakfast of cereals. We had to find the main meal ourselves but this was not a problem because curry and other eating shops were to be found on every corner.

One basic fact dominated our lives---our row of houses was on the edge of a traditional Parsee cemetery. And according to ancient custom Parsees did not bury their dead---they placed the bodies on large stones in their “cemetery” and a flock of huge vultures pecked the flesh off the bones. It sounds horrible but in fact it was a very hygienic process.

We always knew when a funeral took place---the number of vultures escalated sharply and there was an unceasing succession of flights of the evil looking black monsters with a 6ft span of wings floating over our house and clucking with a sound that filled us with shivers.

While waiting for transport back to England a tragic event interrupted the comparative peace of our lives. Early one afternoon while taking my daily siesta I was thrown out of bed by an enormous explosion. All the occupants of the house collected in the hall trying to establish what had happened and we failed because the telephone had broken down. We sat around drinking tea when there was a second explosion, more violent than the first, and it pushed us into a panic.

The radio was not working and I went out into the deserted street where there was an unearthly silence but eventually a truck filled with soldiers came along and I waved it down. The sergeant confirmed that there had been an explosion in the docks but there was nothing we could do because the telephones were still out of order and there was no transport. So we waited. Just before midnight the telephone was restored and there was a call from Naval HQ saying that an ammunition ship had blown up in the docks and they were sending trucks and seamen to help wherever possible.

My truck arrived the next morning at 6 am and we made our way towards the disaster area. Instead of the usual teeming crowds there was no-one to be seen. There were no buses and the usual collection of horse-drawn gharries had vanished. There was a hushed silence and no sign of damage until we passed through the centre of the town and emerged towards the docks. Traffic merged into long lines of every form of transport and everyone was talking and everyone was waving hands.

The long clusters of home built fragile dwellings began to show signs of damage---first a window or two, then a door or windows shattered and then long lines of devastation as we approached the picturesque Crawford Market area where for years jewellery, silver and gold trinkets and other treasures had attracted buyers from all over the world. It had been almost flattened by the bomb blasts.

We met an Indian Army officer on a crossing who told us that there had been two explosions in the docks, both on the same ammunition ship that was unloading without knowing that a fire was breaking out in one of the holds. Eighty firemen who rushed on board were killed in the first blast and hundreds more in the second more violent explosion.

We stopped at one dusty heap where a hand was sticking through the rubble and after removing debris carefully for 10 minutes we found a man bleeding and twisted into a heap. We telephoned for an ambulance that took an hour to arrive by which time we had found two more casualties. We worked non stop until midnight and started all over again at 6 am the next day.

Bombay was in crisis for weeks but my contribution of aid was cut short a week later by a message from Naval HQ ordering me back to England in the troop carrier “Strathaird” that had just arrived in the docks. I shared a cabin with twelve other officers and we steamed up the Clyde just as the first ships taking part in the invasion of France passed us in an orderly procession.

My arrival home after being away for 2½ years was not exactly a hero’s return. I found that my wife was living in my house with a Canadian deserter and she refused to give him up. So I had to stay with my sister and brother but this lasted only a few days when a telegram arrived ordering me to report to the naval base at Portsmouth where plans for the invasion of France had been organised. Two days later I was put aboard a British destroyer that took me out to sea to join HMS Combatant, a Fleet minesweeper that was heading the invasion forces on its way to Normandy. I spent the rest of my war service with her.

Today in History

1792. Foundations of the White House were laid---it has 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms, 412 doors, 147 windows and eight staircases.

1797. Andre-Jacques Garnerin made the first recorded parachute jump (from 3000 ft).

1945. The United Nations was formed.


Famous quotes

If you cannot teach me to fly, teach me to sing---Sir James Barrie

Be kind whenever possible---it is always possible---the Dalai Lama

Faith is like taking the first step even when you cannot see the whole staircase---Martin Luther King


Poems for Posterity

It is not always the things
That we say that matter
Sometimes it is the things
We do not say
That change the world

The Missing Words

The telephone rang at exactly 7.30
And I knew who it was
From a distance of 1700 miles
Before she said a word,
“I am on the beach at Armona”
She said while I held my breath,
I felt the whole world was listening
And every word was overheard,
“It is exactly seven whole days
Since you left me at the airport
And I want to remind you
That nothing has happened here…”
I listened but had nothing to say
My throat was dry and my mind a blank
Because I knew that what she did not tell me
Was what I wanted to hear,
I looked up into the sky
And saw the sun tracing a gleaming track
As I did whenever we met
Even if the clouds were black,
I knew my echoing house was empty
But I was alone no more,
Memories flooded in without a stop
And pressed against the door,
“I will see you soon”, I said,
But my words hid a muted fear
Because what I was unable to tell her
Is what she wants to hear.

HRJ October 3 1999



The wild gyrations on the stockmarket are making me giddy but, touch wood, I am still slightly ahead. I know that a lot of punters have lost a lot of money but close attention to changes is keeping me in front. I have come to the conclusion that the only guaranteed way of making money is to become a banker and if you make a big loss the Government comes along and pays it all back.


Friends & Family

Lorraine telephoned from Las Vegas and told me that when she and Giles went out for a meal the previous night the starter course was so big that they could not eat anything else and had to cancel the main course. She and Giles arrived back home yesterday.

It is my very special friend Ariane’s birthday tomorrow. She is on a tour of Germany and is staying for a few a days in Munich. I have known Ariane for 25 years.


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