london diary

january 2006

 

my london diary

as usual, january for me started with the new year parade in westminster. not much more to say really, except my interest was aroused slightly by the lambeth borough float, which honoured wartime british hero violette szabo. born in lambeth, her mother was french, and she was a young child in paris before coming back to secondary school in brixton. at 14 she became a hairdresser's assistant, then worked behind the counter in woorlworth's in oxford st. she met and married a free french captain who was killed at alamein.

szabo then received a letter inviting her to become a british spy. although her french accent was thought to be rather poor, she was flown in behind enemy lines to help restart the resistance in rouen with great success. immediately after d-day in june 1944 she was flown in to limoges to work with the resistance there and was captured by the germans after she had to use a sten gun to save a key agent from capture. although tortured by the gestapo, she gave them no information of any use. she was sent to ravensbruck concentration camp and executed there in january 1945.

all of the normal things were there. marching bands, cheerleaders (some british), clowns, old cars, motorbikes and militiary vehicles, cyclists, indian drummers, bonfire societies, and more. an acting school had a beatles float, there were "old bats in red hats" from canada, falun gong, morris dancers and beauty queens. and passing through vauxhall on my way there and home i took the opportunity to photograph some newly repainted elephants.
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for some months, people have been telling me i should go to kew gardens and see the glass sculptures by dale chihuly which are soon to be taken down. linda and i finally went with my sister (a friend of kew) and her husband. and i decided to take a few pictures since i was there! which i include here just in case you like that sort of thing.

i'm not particularly sure i do. some were certainly quite striking, but others struck me as simply silly. there were places where the artist seemed to have looked at the position and the plants and thought carefully about how he could use it that worked well, others where there seemed simply to be a job lot of odd glass shapes dumped. there was a dump of left-overs floating in the pond outside the palm house which did actually add some much needed interest to the area.

there were perhaps 3 or 4 works that it would be worth retaining as a permanent feature, and next time i go to kew i'll miss them.

kew is always a pleasant place to visit, and on a winter bank holiday not too overcrowded, though it took a while to find a table to eat at in the orangery. certainly one of the more civilised of our major tourist attractions, and some interesting reminders of both the good and the bad of our colonial past.
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last year's first russian winter festival in trafalgar square was an interesting occasion, and i went along there again this year with great hopes. unfortunately, someone had decided to turn it into something rather different, more a spectator show, with entry control and more. instead of moving around and looking at the various stalls and some performers in the square, people were just standing and watching the acts on stage.

i stuck it out for an hour or so, taking a few pictures of the mainly child performers, then gave up and went with paul to visit a few exhibitions, ending up in one of the few bars which stlll retains a little of the old and intimate atmosphere from when it was once the centre of fleet street - when fleet street was still fleet street. it was the kind of bar where you would meet new people and talk to them, and we did.
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before we started the march in westminster on saturday to protest about the continued detention of british residents in guantanamo bay, and the persistent refusal of our government to do anything to aid their release, bruce kent, vanessa redgrave and released british ex-guantanamo prisoner moazzam begg and others spoke about the shame the british nation feel at our nation's collusion in this american war-crime.

nine long-term residents in the uk who are not british nationals but have permission to remain in this country - almost all because of previous persecution or fear of it in their native countries - remain locked up at guantanamo bay. they are omar deghayes, binyam mohammed, shaker aamer, jamal kiyemba, bisher al-rawi, jamal el banna, ahmed errachidi, ahmed ben bacha and abdulnour sameur. they have lived here for some years, most have british wives and children and have worked here and paid their taxes to this country.

all are being treated inhumanely, with those on hunger strike - including omar deghayes - being force fed in a particularly painful manner using nasal tubes. a previous assualt by prison guards using pepper spray has resulted in omar losing the sight of one eye.

the march set off, led by representatives from the families of prisoners and nine protesters dressed in orange guantanamo style fatigues and chained together. behind were around 600 demonstrators. there was a lot of interest and expressions of support from onlookers as the march went up whitehall, through trafalgar square and picadilly circus to end up with a rally outside the us embassy in grosvenor square. there messages of support were read from a number of leading politicians and others, and there were various speakers including yvonne ridley and amani deghayes, oscar's sister.
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the king's army annual commemorative parade is a colourful but little-known london event marking the execution of our reigning monarch during the english revolution, arguably the last time we behaved sensibly towards royalty.

my forebears, being strongly non-comformist, would doubtless have been on the opposite side to the regiments that gather here (and yes, there is a roundhead association also a part of the english civil war society). but for most of those taking part, the event isn't about the issues of the day but simply a matter of re-enactment, of trying to look and act the part of those soldiers and ancilliaries from the seventeenth century.

the march starts around st james's palace, forming up in the mall for the march to the banqueting house where charles 1 was beheaded on 30 January 1649.

it is an event that seems to receive little official recognition or support, but which has now taken place every year for the last 30 or so years. it is an unusual event in that the regiments are allowed to bear arms in one of the most sensitive parts of the city and when they march through horse guards arch and are apparently saluted by the guards on duty as if they were still a part of the army.

at the banqueting house there was a short service with a real vicar, as well as the presentation of various commissions and awards. then the army marched away to be dismissed and we took the opportunity to beat them to the pub. which was shortly after filled with people in seventeenth century dress, and, because this is london after all, some of our pearly kings and queens who were up west for the chinese new year.
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as we came into trafalgar square we met some 'rebel clowns' protesting against the serious organised crime and police act 2005, which was designed to get rid of brian haw from parliament square. unfortunately those actually drafting the bill decided it should not be made retrospective, and the government to their amazement found that brian's protest wasn't covered by it. (and yes, he's still there - andi went along to have a short word with him.) however the rest of us have lost our democratic right to "demonstrate without authorisation" within 1km of parliament. three days earlier they had demonstrated with this same banner in parliament square. the police had come up to talk to them, and had then gone away confused without making an arrest.

across the road in trafalgar square and beyond through most of soho, the chinese new year of the dog was being celebrated. i took a few pictures of the lions performing, but the crowds were pretty dense and i soon gave up and went home.
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London New Year Parade

Westminster, London, 1 Jan, 2006
© 2006, Peter Marshall
American marching bands were as usual the main feature of the New Year parade in Westminster.
© 2006, Peter Marshall
Lambeth's borough float honoured the memory of wartime heroine Violette Szabo, killed in 1945.
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Kew Gardens - Glass Sculptures

Kew, Monday 2 Jan, 2006
© 2006, Peter Marshall. Not available for commercial use.
Nature and glass by Dale Chihuly. Pictures taken in Kew Gardens are not for commercial use.
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Russian Winter Festival

Trafalgar Square, London, Jan 14, 2006

© 2006, Peter Marshall. Russian Festival, London
Young ballet dancers entertain the crowd in the square.
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© 2006, Peter Marshal. Paul in the Cheshire Cheese

Paul, taken by available gloom in one of the darkest bars in London.
 
Free British Residents from Guantanamo Bay

Protest march, London, Jan 21, 2005

© 2006, Peter Marshall. Protest against Guantanamo detentions
Vanessa Redgrave speaks at the start of the march in Westminster
© 2006, Peter Marshall. Protest against Guantanamo detentions
Detainee's sons called for 'Dignity for our Dad' and justice.
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The King's Army Whitehall Parade

Sunday 29 Jan 2005, Whitehall, London
© 2006, Peter Marshall: Kings Army Whitehall Parade Pikeman at the Banqueting House

© 2006, Peter Marshall: Kings Army Whitehall Parade
Before the parade in St James's

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Rebel Clowns not demonstrating?

29 Jan, 2005Trafalgar Square, London
© 2006, Peter Marshall: Rebel Clowns
Rebel clowns in Trafalgar Square

© 2006, Peter Marshall: Rebel Clowns Rebel clowns with Nelson and surveillance camera.
 

Chinese New Year of the Dog

29 Jan, Soho, London
© 2006, Peter Marshall: Chinese New Year of the Dog
Lion outside shop in Soho

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