Sunday, 24 January 2016

Aimless in London

Surely not – how can you be aimless in London – so much to see so much to do.  I never have before but I was going to be in Knightsbridge with about four hours to kill.  (Boring bit – I needed new lenses in my glasses so had to take to them to the optician and return later.  Why do I go all the way to Knightsbridge from North London? “36 Opticians” is run by two brilliant women who are not only competent but can look at you and find three frames which suit you perfectly – rather than having to try on everything in the shop as well as fitting exactly the correct contact lenses)

Wearing said contact lenses I drifted down Beauchamp Place with no fixed idea of where to go and what to do.  I could have met up with friends, taken in a museum or two – goodness knows there is enough to see within walking distance – but decided to be aimless.

Knightsbridge is a strange place – even by London standards. It has been colonised by the oligarchs and the oil-i-garchs. You will see more wildly expensive sports and custom cars there in an hour than in the rest of London in a month – even more so in the summer – with chauffeurs and bodyguards to match. Women in hijabs and burkas – the younger ones with their £1,000 Louboutins peeping out.  Some of the cafes now have shisha pipes and groups of men sit there, drink coffee and smoke.

And then there is Harrods (or Horrids as we used to call it).  I have not been there in years and, although I never progressed above the ground floor on that morning, it is stunning: a temple to consumerism in the most extreme way but gorgeous nevertheless.  I remember in the 1960s being dazzled by the food court and it is just as dazzling. What heaven to walk there every day to do my food shopping – like the high street used to be but more glamorous – a butcher cutting my meat and a fishmonger serving the fish (but rather empty at 10.30 in the morning). There is a café above the food hall and I had an excellent cup of coffee (served in a bone china cup) and the most delicious yogurt, granola and berries – it was more expensive than the faceless high street chain but so delicious with the most charming service.

I abandoned my aimlessness to walk to Hyde Park Corner to see the Royal Artillery Memorial commissioned after the First World War. I must have driven past it a thousand times and never really looked at it before. I heard a radio programme about the sculptor, Charles Sargent Jagger, and wanted to see it.  It was quite shocking in its day because, instead of heroic anonymous figures it portrayed realistic bronze figures of three standing soldiers and the body of a dead soldier, laid out and shrouded by a greatcoat.  It is moving and impressive and the relief sculptures show the reality of war not the glory.

From there to Oxford Street to buy a pair of trainers and then through Hyde Park – a good chunk of which is under mud rather than grass and cordoned off. On the way to collect my glasses I met a man with his hawk – keeping the pigeons away from all the posh glass buildings. The ground floor of one of those buildings is occupied by the ADIB bank – if invited you could have a Diamond Visa Debit Card which allows you to spend £20,000 a day and withdraw £4,000 from ATMs with free access to all airport lounges – oh yes – “Ladies also enjoy their own ADIB Dana Visa Infinite Debit”
This is Knightsbridge – not London and certainly not England but £20,000 wouldn’t be enough to buy this little number parked in the street.....or the Aston Martins in Harrods’ window.

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