Saturday 25 April 2020

So, where does 007 live, then?

Looking for James Bond in London

London is an amazing city. What an understatement is that! The world's most popular tourist destination and with a history of many hundreds of years, one-time capital of an empire on which the sun never set; and yet for me the best bit is not the large-scale "world city" nature of the UK's capital but the many, many smaller aspects of a city in which millions of people live and work, bring up families, shop and drink and dine. I have never lived there and although I am a very frequent visitor there is still much I have not seen and experienced. Britain has many great cities and towns and I enjoy all of them greatly and visit when I can, but none compares with London for the variety and significance of what they contain.

221b Baker Street, apparently
I am hoping to write a little series of posts about London and am starting with one of its literary connections. There are many to choose from: Sherlock Holmes, Paddington Bear, Hercule Poirot, Harry Potter and many, many more. Harry Potter you cannot miss at Kings Cross as there is now a gift shop, and an enormous queue to be photographed with a trolley embedded in a wall, and Sherlock Holmes has a museum at 221B Baker Street where he is supposed to have lived, but I have chosen to look for James Bond as he is much more difficult to find, and the search can be interesting.

Hatton Garden, where Bond's infiltration of the diamond-
smuggling gang began in Diamonds Are Forever

The nearest you get to a large grey building, but far too
recent for Bond's office!
There are many references in the Bond books to locations around the world, and two of the books would take you to Switzerland if you want to go and have a look there! Bond lives and has his office in London, though, and London gets more of a mention than anywhere else. Lets start with his office: it is important to dismiss from your mind the recent films showing the shiny new MI6 building on the south bank: this post-dates Fleming's books by many decades. According to Ian Fleming, Bond's HQ is in the big grey building overlooking The Regent's Park: to go looking for it, choose a warm, sunny spring or summer day and walk around the park looking for a large grey building old enough for Fleming to have known it. While the nearest Underground station is Regents Park, that is not necessarily the best to use, depending on where you are coming from, but it is not far from Baker Street if you're hotfoot from Sherlock Holmes! Now, I don't think there is any large grey office block overlooking The Regent's Park, but a great urban ramble can be had looking for it! What you will see are many glorious cream-stucco neo-classical buildings that will take your breath away, a lot of wonderful open space and shady trees (fans of Diamonds Are Forever will see what I did there) and one of the best zoological gardens in the world.

A blank drawn on Bond's office, how about looking for his home? Fleming gives us his address, so that looks a bit more promising, not just a vague description: we are looking for 61 Horseferry Road. So, out with the A-Z or your smartphone's map app and ... there are two Horseferry Roads! I have visited both, and both a worth a visit, although they are very, very different. Many think the one in Limehouse is the right one, and it is hard to say because, like the rest of this part of London, it has changed enormously since the Bond books were written. The smart marina at Limehouse Basin will have been a working dock in Fleming's time, and the river would have been extremely busy. To see it, take the Docklands Light Railway to Limehouse and walk along Branch Road towards the Thames: Horseferry Road is the road at the end, running parallel to the river one block away. If there is a number 61, it is (now, at any rate) in a very unBond-like block of flats. It is fun to imagine what it was like mid-twentieth century, though.

61 Horseferry Road, Westminster: space for a Bentley here?

So, let's go west and find the other Horseferry Road: this one is much better known, largely because many of us will have heard in various news reports of Horseferry Road Magistrates Court. It is not far from Parliament and is, perhaps interestingly, near the current office of MI5, but although this was also their HQ in the 1930s, they were elsewhere when Fleming was writing the Bond stories. Victoria, St James's Park or Westminster would be the nearest Underground stations: choosing Westminster you get to see the Houses of Parliament and some of the river on your way there (and, if you know where to look, the car park ramp used in the opening sequence to The Prisoner, cult TV series!). It is easy to walk along Horseferry Road and look for number 61, but again it is in a block of flats, but this time perhaps a little more Bond-like. It seems to me that Fleming has deliberately been vague about these places while sounding specific: you feel the London atmosphere in his descriptions but the places just are not there when you go to look. For me, the Westminster one is more convincing than Limehouse: I cannot see a Bentley owner in Limehouse in the 1950s.

There are other places in the capital mentioned in the books, among them Shooters Hill, the A2 out into Kent when Bond drove off in search of Goldfinger, and the place where Drax set up as the target for the Moonraker ... which makes me think that maybe Kent is a good place to go looking for Bond sites, too, and one is definitely there to be seen, at Reculver Towers. Do let me know in the comments of any that you have tracked down, or whether you have different views on Bond's residence and workplace.

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Wednesday 22 April 2020

There'll Be Bluebirds Over the White Cliffs of Dover

"Sailors" buying tickets for an "essential journey" on the
Severn Valley Railway at a forties weekend
I write in my fourth week of confinement to my home, save for the essential daily exercise (which is in fact rather less than daily because we have found plenty to do at home and don't always drag ourselves out!) and the essential occasional delivery of groceries etc to a relative in his nineties who is not going out at all. As the so-called coronavirus "lockdown" continues I am really missing the freedom to travel, even if only to the next town! By now three trips to London for various purposes have not happened, a wedding next month will not be happening, and Easter in Canterbury did not happen, and nor will the planned group outing to the brewery at Wainfleet All Saints.

Worst of all is not knowing whether our special tours planned for later in the summer to mark our fortieth wedding anniversary will happen: nothing has been cancelled yet and all bookings still stand for the time being, but no-one knows whether that will continue to be the case. meanwhile I have no idea when I shall be able to book Advance rail tickets and no inclination to make firm plans for any further trips. There is still a booking for a tour of Italy in the autumn and I hope that is far enough in the future to go ahead, but who knows? If there is a second wave of the Covid-19 outbreak then perhaps autumn tours will also be at risk. Ironically, that tour was supposed to be happening right now but had already been postponed for other reasons!

So I am stuck at home, neither travelling nor enjoying my time planning any travel except in the vaguest sense of thinking about where to go and when "when all this is over," as people keep saying, reminiscent, so I understand, of wartime! Our mental list, which I really must get round to writing down, will have to be ticked off a bit faster once we are able to leave home again, and I fear that the railway service will not be quite the same - how sad that so much investment will leave travel companies, like every other business, with little or no income for so long. What will train travel be like "when all this is over"?

One thing I have been doing, and much quicker than I imagined possible, is constructing my new model railway layout which is a reminder of holidays in Switzerland and based upon the RhätischeBahn in Graubunden canton. I hope to write separate series of posts about that in due course. Meanwhile, I thought I would write a piece now on the (vague) plans for where to go when this is all over - bearing in mind that it could be any time of any year and that the UK and other nations will not necessarily open up together and that "Brexit" may yet complicate things. I have just applied to renew my passport because although it does not expire until next March I may need to have six-months' validity beyond a travel date after September ...

United Kingdom Vague Plans

Whatever else we do, there must be a holiday in Britain some time, surely? The current plans for the summer stand for now, with hotels booked in Edinburgh and Chichester and on the Purbeck peninsula in Dorset, and a Royal Scotsman tour of the Scottish highlands. No other train tickets have been bought but I would now be thinking about it, and whether I should also book a hotel on the Isle of Wight, as we have done the last few years, to precede Chichester. Indeed I am thinking about whether I should book that hotel - provided that I can cancel it again if necessary. And should we drive to Dorset in case the trains are not back to something like normal? Meanwhile, though, we can begin to plan next year!

A priority next year will be to book again anything we have not been able to do of our Ruby Wedding celebration tours, that is the Royal Scotsman and the country hotel in Dorset with all the family, but we do not yet know if we shall need to do that! Otherwise, we have yet to visit the English Lakes, easy with a change of train at Birmingham New Street for us, and we'd like to go to Liverpool, for which I had already begun basic gathering of information. I am also beginning to miss Cornwall, so it is time to go there once more, perhaps trying the refreshed Night Riviera service, assuming it resumes after all this is over ... And local trips to East Anglia and Lincolnshire will be back on the impulse-travel list!

Europe Vague Plans

Assuming that the Italy trip in the autumn is OK, we can plan other trips to the continent, but if that is cancelled we shall rely on Great Rail Journeys to come up with something similar for next spring, again, assuming the business is still operating then.

We were also intending to return to Le Locle in late spring to enjoy the lake at Les Brenets when it still has plenty of water in it from the Jura meltwater and to do a little more ancestor research. So that would be the trips "hung over" from this year. Otherwise we should like to return to the French Riviera and I think that would be a fitting celebratory tour when this is all over, an emphatic return to normal - but it remains to be seen, of course, whether there is enough demand for travel for all that still to be available.

I do hope that the railways will be able to bounce back. Less commuting, maybe, as people learn to work from home when they can, but if people can also learn to enjoy the world as it is with fewer cars on the road and fewer aeroplanes in the sky, then just perhaps the railways and buses can come into their own, once we have the confidence to sit near strangers again. A world of just five weeks ago seems almost as remote now as the 1940s ...