Saturday, 28 November 2015

London Walks In Focus – A New Concept Walking Tour for #London

NEW. Coming soon from London Walks – IN FOCUS. 

The In Focus walks are intense studies of one small area –  each walk an depth analysis of one street or square.

It all begins in Westminster Square on Sunday 3rd January 2016 Westminster tube (Exit 4 10:45a.m).

Here's David to explain…

IN FOCUS: Parliament Square

Two images.

1.     Think of a book. A closed book. The title of the book is Parliament Square. We’ve all seen that book lying there a million times. Know its cover. Know its title: Parliament Square. Have a vague idea what’s in it. But we’ve never bothered to open it. To read it.

2.     Don Patterson’s got a wonderful sonnet called Wave. It begins:
For months I’d moved across the open water
Like a wheel under its skin…

We can sense – but only sense – from that first perfect image in Patterson’s sonnet the power of the wave. How far down it reaches – its great depths. How far it’s come. How much has gone into it. How much is there. Where it’s going and what might be wrought when it finally gets there, comes ashore, reveals its full self, its full might.

Apt images – both of them – for Parliament Square. There’s a whole book to be read there. There’s much there and it runs very deep.

This walk – the first in a series of In Focus walks – opens up the book called Parliament Square. Reads it.

Let’s us see the works – the fullness, the plenitude, the sweep and power – of the wheel under the skin.

So, an example or two of the kind of thing Sandy will be doing in Parliament Square.

First, for a teaser, how about  “shockingly lax sexual morals” and 24 stars and a garter and being crushed to death by a statue and the first truly dramatized roof-scape in Victorian London and Laurence Olivier’s hands and the single most important moment in the 20th century and a rare glimpse of the interior of the old pre-fire House of Commons and a nuclear war bomb shelter and an arrow in the face and tertiary syphilis and flocks of tailors and God’s assassin and a portable flogging and beheading kit and a hat under an arm and a famous all-purpose short sword and an abandon hope all ye who enter here gateway and the greatest pornographer who ever dipped his quill in the well and… well, you get the idea.

Do you seriously think you know Parliament Square?

But teasers can be maddening. Especially for those who’d love to go on a walk but can’t make it. So also by way of illustration, let’s “read” – closely read – just one “paragraph” in the book called Parliament Square.

That “paragraph” is the statue of Prime Minister George Canning. 

Some walkers will have heard of him. Others won’t. Virtually no one – apart from London Walks guides – will have paid the statue any heed.

It richly repays the paying of that heed.

You’ll never look at it again the same way. You’ll never not see it again. After going on this walk it’ll be SNAP! FOCUS!! LOCK!!! every time you pass it. Indeed, chances are it’ll be more than really seeing it, properly seeing it – chances are you’ll even squirm at the thought of having it fall on you, crush you, kill you.

Whereas for everybody else – the tens of thousands of people who go to Parliament Square every day – the statue’s just a blur (if they see it at all). The blur of their ignorance.

I know whose “experience” of the statue I’d rather have.

What you’ll “see” – by the time Sandy’s through with you – is that terrible moment in sculptor Sir Richard Westmacott’s studio in Pimlico when the statue collapsed, crushing to death his assistant, Vincent Gahagan.  His widow – she was Gahagan’s third wife – was left with six step-children and little means of support. You’ll see and hear that statue coming down when you consider her application for assistance to the Artists’ Benevolent Fund. See and hear it coming down in her stark description set out on that application: how her husband was  ‘Frightfully destroyed at Pimlico by the falling of the statue of George Canning while working on the statue’. For the record, Gahagan’s first wife died in childbirth. The Gahagan bio – what we know of it – is a core sample of just how harrowing Victorian times could be.

What else?  Well, you’ll see Canning’s garb. Classical garb. Westmacott did him dressed like a Roman senator. You’ll see the scroll in his left hand.

And Canning will come out of the mists for another reason. Because of an extraordinary connection Sandy will make. A light switch she’ll throw.

She’ll talk about the post-French Revolution, post-Napoleonic era goings-on on the continent. Ferdinand back on the throne in Spain. And the Bourbon restoration in France. But regaining his throne wasn’t enough for Ferdinand. He also wanted his colonies in South America back in his tote bag. The Bourbons agreed that the former Spanish colonies shouldn’t be allowed to go their own way. But the Bourbons’ considered view was that if France was doing the heavy lifting the possessions should rightfully be transferred to France. As one historian put it, ‘the idea of the French and Spanish monarchs thus callously bargaining with the liberties of Peru, Mexico and Chile brought Canning to his feet…the two predatory monarchs were informed that if they attacked the American republics they would find themselves at war with England too.’

Canning’s position had invaluable backing from another quarter “over there.”  U.S. President Monroe declared that meddling by European powers would no longer be tolerated on his side of the Atlantic. That henceforth America was for the Americans.

Voilà the Monroe Doctrine, a key suite in the historical furnishing of every educated American mind.

That “forgotten” British Prime Minister you’re looking at there in Parliament Square helped to carpenter that suite.

Final thought about In Focus walks generally. They’ve been a long time a-coming  – been like a wave forming and building, a wheel under the skin – to the London Walks programme. All things considered they’re practically a tectonic shift for us. Something has finally broken free. Moved. Which is by way of saying, famously we – London Walks – do untrodden paths, quaint little back streets and hidden courtyards. That’s always been our specialty. We want to get off main drags, get away from the London equivalent of Times Square and the Champs-Élysées.  We want to nook and cranny London. Take people into the little backstreets they’d never find off their own bat. That’s not to say we didn’t know about Parliament Square and Whitehall and Trafalgar Square (the three In Focus walks that will debut the series). We of course knew about them. Knew full well that in many ways they’re the most nutrient-rich tesserae of London terrain. We just didn’t think fine-tooth combing a place like Parliament Square was really us. We had enough to be getting on with in the back forty patches we’d staked out as our turf.

And there was one other thing. We had to bring our market – our community – along.  Get our following, our walkers, ready for this.  It wasn’t that London Walks – “walks for grownups” – was going to stop doing what we’ve excelled at for half a century. It was that we were going to add to the programme a strand that was counter-intuitive to the London Walks ethos. So counter-intuitive that we felt our market – our following – had to ripen. Be ready for this step, these steps. Our sixth sense is telling us that that time has come. That we’ll get some takers for walks that look extremely closely at the likes of Parliament Square (and Whitehall and Trafalgar Square and… well, there’s lots more in the pipeline).

London Spy will return next week

A London Walk costs £10 – £8 concession. To join a London Walk, simply meet your guide at the designated tube station at the appointed time. Details of all London Walks can be found at

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Friday, 27 November 2015

Literary #London. He's Brooding Over Words Again, That David

Meteor Showers of Literary and Literal Birds on This Day (November 27) Past & Present

"'And finally, bird-watchers everywhere have reported that the nation's owls have been behaving very unusually today. Although owls normally hunt at night and are hardly ever seen in daylight, there have been hundreds of sightings of these birds flying in every direction since sunrise. Experts are unable to explain why the Owls have suddenly changed their sleeping pattern.' The news reader allowed himself a grin. 'Most mysterious. And now, over to Jim Mcguffin with the weather. Going to be any more showers of owls tonight, Jim?'"
                          J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

"A most interesting morning. Awoke from one of my painful coach sleeps, in the coach to London... The sun at length rose upon the flat plain, like a hill of fire in the distance, rose wholly, and in the water that flooded part of the flat, a deep column of light. But as the coach went on, a hill rose and intercepted the sun, and the sun in a few minutes rose over it, a complete second rising through other clouds and with a different glory. Soon after this I saw starlings in vast flights, borne along like smoke, mist, like a body unendued with voluntary power. Now it shaped itself into a circular area, inclined; now it formed a square, now a globe, now from a complete orb into an ellipse; then oblongated into a balloon with the car suspended, now a concave semicircle; still expanding, or contracting, thinning or condensing, now glimmering and shivering, now thickening, deepening, blackening!"  Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Notebook, 27 November 1799

A London Walk costs £10 – £8 concession. To join a London Walk, simply meet your guide at the designated tube station at the appointed time. Details of all London Walks can be found at

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Friday is Rock'n'Roll #London Day – Making the Rock'n'Roll London #Comic Book

Friday is Rock'n'Roll London Day - the Rock'n'Roll London Walk meets at Tottenham Court Road station today at 2pm.

The Rock'n'Roll London Walk is the only guided tour with its own dedicated comic book – and its author, this afternoon's guide Adam, now offers a guided tour of the sketchbooks that made the comic book… phew! Here's the video…

You can buy the Rock'n'Roll London Comic Book on the tour today, or online at The London Bookstore HERE.

Last postage dates for Xmas orders…

A London Walk costs £10 – £8 concession. To join a London Walk, simply meet your guide at the designated tube station at the appointed time. Details of all London Walks can be found at

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Thursday, 26 November 2015

#HappyThanksgiving – Have a Drink On Us!

Have a drink on us this Thanksgiving with a seasonal classic: eggnog.

As with many cocktails, the origin of eggnog is uncertain. But this we do know: the great American barkeeper Harry Craddock, king of the American Bar at the Savoy Hotel, popularised the drink in this country.

So in honour of Harry, of his country, of Yanks in London and of Thanksgiving, here’s his recipe from the indispensable Savoy Cocktail Book (we're working from our battered and well-loved 1965 printing). No less a British authority than Delia Smith considers Harry’s recipe to be definitive.

There are innumerable variants – and, of course, heated debate about “rules” regarding eggnog – but we love the simplicity of Harry’s recipe…

You will need

1 egg
1 tablespoon sugar
2 oz any spirit desired

Fill glass with milk

Shake ingredients well and strain into long tumbler. Grate a little nutmeg on top.


A London Walk costs £10 – £8 concession. To join a London Walk, simply meet your guide at the designated tube station at the appointed time. Details of all London Walks can be found at

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More From @RickSteves on #Paris – A #Thanksgiving Tale

D.C Editor Adam writes… As regular Daily Constitutionalists will know, we were moved by Rick Steves' response to the terrorist attacks in Paris. We posted his piece, written under the headline Don't Be Terrorised, on our blog HERE.

Rick responded to many of the replies to his toughts – some positive, some not-so-positive – on his Facebook Page.

It's from that same page that we share this lovely message, from an American family visiting Paris in the aftermath of the attacks…

"Hello there Rick Steves!

My name is Amber, my family and I are currently vacationing in Paris for a week with your Paris 2015 guidebook.

The city is like none other. And the French people have been so kind to us. Yesterday we toured the Eiffel Tower and watched the sun set from the top with both our girls. It was a moment we will never forget. It was so beautiful, I shed a few tears. I'm so glad we made the choice to come, and to be able to have these wonderful experiences together as a family.

As we made our way back to our flat, we boarded the metro, and started discussing dinner ideas. A nice French businessman was sitting next to my 12 year old and must have over heard her talking. He asked her, 'Do you speak English?' She said yes. He said, 'Are you American? Did you come here from America?' And she said yes again. Then he put his newspaper down and said to all of us, 'Thank you for coming to visit Paris. Despite what happened. We are a strong city. I hope you have a wonderful stay.'

Au revior!

The Revis Family"

Read the full version at It will lift your spirits for Thanksgiving Day.

Our very own American in Paris David Tucker had a similar experience – he visited the city just a few days after the attacks and posted this on Twitter…

On this Thanksgiving Day, we say thanks for joining us in London. Last night on my Rock'n'Roll London Walk (it's Adam writing here) I had folks from Sacramento, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, San Francisco and Vauxhall, South London – we are, after all, the walking tour company used by Londoners and we're thankful to our lovely locals as well as our visitors. To all of them them – and to all of you – we say thanks. In rain or shine, good times and bad, we're thankful for your presence.

Thanks for walking with us. Thanks for supporting Paris. Thanks Rick Steves for such an inspirational piece of journalism.

Happy Thanksgiving one and all

London, November 2015

A London Walk costs £10 – £8 concession. To join a London Walk, simply meet your guide at the designated tube station at the appointed time. Details of all London Walks can be found at

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