‘Go Gay’ Going

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I’ve always loved the sign for this laundrette on the Wandsworth Bridge Road.

It’s lovable partly for the involuntary snigger it always causes, but mainly because it harks back to another era, when laundrettes were new, exciting places suffused with the glamour of the USA.

Just look at the design – it’s a 10/- Las Vegas that shouts ‘modern’ and ‘life’ at the dull world of 1950s South London.

But it now seems to be dead. As I went past on the bus the other evening there was a hoarding all around the front of the shop.

I wonder if I can buy the sign…

The Chislehurst ‘Caves’

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40 metres or so beneath Chislehurst, a pleasant little suburban village close to Bromley, are the Chislehurst Caves. In fact ‘Caves’ is something of a misnomer, these being some 22 miles of man made tunnels that make up an old chalk mine.

Take the guided tour and you will be treated to tales of druidical sacrifices of women and children on an altar, and be shown a map of the Roman and Saxon areas of the mine, but there seems little historical evidence to back any of these claims.

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The Tower Hill memorial

Directly across the road by the Tower of London, hard by the tube station is the Tower Hill Memorial to sailors of the merchant navy and fishing fleets who were killed in the two World Wars and who have ‘no grave but the sea’. (See Google maps.)

There are over 35,000 names inscribed in the Memorial’s two sections; just under 12,000 from the First World War and around 24,000 from the Second. Although overall British casualties in WW2 were substantially lower than in the Great War, the losses of the merchant marine show the dependence of Britain on imported goods and materiel during the conflict, as well as the ferocity of the German U-boat and naval assault on British shipping. Both sides knew that Britain could be defeated if starved of food and resources.

Despite its location, the memorial is not visited much by tourists; walk through the metal gates and you will be in a peaceful enclosed space that seems insulated from much of the traffic and city noise. The original memorial, opened in 1928 by Queen Mary, is quite dark and enclosed, taking the form of a vaulted corridor with 12 bronze plaques on which are listed the names of the dead.

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“Your lucky day”: the gold ring scam

So, there I am, walking up Chelsea Bridge Road towards Sloane Square. “Look at this!” says a man who has just passed me, “Look what I’ve just found!”

I turn round to see him picking something shiny off the pavement. My first thought was that it was a button off a Chelsea Pensioner’s tunic (we’re just by the Hospital) but then I see it’s a ring.

“Not mine” I say. “Not mine” says the man, “but look at it, it’s gold, look” and he presses it into my hand. “Look, gold” he says again, pointing to a hallmark (although it isn’t a proper hallmark, just two little stamps), “you have it. Your lucky day.”

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“Big problems call for Big solutions” – the Abercrombie plan

“The Proud City” is a wonderful bit of film freely available on the Internet Archive. Made to sell the idea of the Abercrombie plan for London, it is passionate about the need to tackle the unsanitary conditions in which much of London’s inhabitants were forced to live, and about the benefits to all of a planned city where transport moved freely, where children had somewhere to play, and where ‘communities’ would thrive and develop. It also provides a great window onto the people and the landscapes of wartime London. I especially like the ‘men from the ministry’ types in their hats and three piece suits clambering over rubble and into living rooms, tape measures in hand.

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Charles Dickens and the Newstraid Benevolent Fund

Charles Dickens was born 200 years ago next month. One of his lesser-known roles was as president of the NewstrAid Benevolent Fund and his influence during the charity’s formative years (he was president from 1854 to 1870), ensured an enduring foundation and a charity which now supports over a thousand beneficiaries.

Dickens understood the plight of the “newsman” and was passionate about helping those who brought the news to the masses, when they fell on hard times. Established in 1839 to look after newspaper street sellers when they had to give up work through age or infirmity and had nothing to live on, the charity was initially called the News vendors’ Benevolent & Provident Institution, but the long name soon proved too wordy for most and the charity became  known as ‘Old Ben’ – a nickname that endures to this day.

The newspaper and magazine industry is changing rapidly, but the core of the business remains with the printed word; companies are still reliant on circulation sales and the charity still protects those who are out from early morning to late at night.

To find out more about the Newstraid Benevolent Fund, click here.