Burgers and the Parthenon

THE HARD ROCK CAFÉ at 150 Old Park Lane in central London opened its doors to customers in June 1971. It has been a popular eatery and tourist attraction ever since then. Often, a queue of hungry customers can be seen at its doors. I ate an enjoyable meal there once soon after it opened. I was then an undergraduate at University College London. Since then, I have not entered this place again. Some years ago, when the Hard Rock Café opened a branch in what had been the Tract and Bible Society bookstore in St Marks Road in Bangalore (India) in 2007, we had an indifferent meal there under the watchful eyes of a huge poster portrait of the singer Tina Turner.

Few of the customers of the Old Park Lane branch of this American-style diner in Old Park Lane are likely to have raised their heads to see what is above the eatery. It is worth doing so to see the:

“Bracketed cornice over 5th floor, shaped gable end to attic storeys finished off by giant broken segmental pediment with green brick banding and figure sculpture crowned by ornamental obelisk-finial.” (https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1266274).

This green (and white brick) banding gives the building an eye-catching appearance. There is a crest between the two large bow windows on the fourth (American fifth) floor. This shield with three chevrons and ten circles bears the date ‘1907’.

The building, 149-150 Old Park Lane, was built in 1904 to the designs of the architects Thomas Edward Colcutt (1840-1924) and Stanley Hamp (1877-1968), who worked together as a partnership.  So far, so good, but what was the building used for when it was built and why did it deserve such an elaborate and unusual pediment? Various descriptions of its architecture describe that it consists of ‘flats and chambers’ above ‘a former showroom, now restaurant’. One source (www.foodepedia.co.uk/restaurant-reviews/2010/nov/hard_rock_cafe.htm) states that the Hard Rock is situated inside a former Rolls Royce showroom. This is confirmed by Anthony Knight, who wrote (on a restaurant development website):

“Two shaggy-haired Americans living in London were fed up with the fact they couldn’t find US-style burgers in the capital so they started a small burger joint in a Rolls-Royce dealership. In 1973 they hosted their first live gig, with the singer none other than Paul McCartney” (www.elliottsagency.com/opinion/greateststories/).

The brand name ‘Rolls Royce’ has been used since 1906. The building at 150 Old Park Lane was constructed two years earlier. I have not been able to ascertain when the luxury car company first opened their show room in the current premises of Hard Rock Café.

Looking up at the pediment, there is a sculpture of a kneeling muscular man supporting a sort of obelisk on which there are interlinked letters, which look like ‘D’, ‘J’, and lower-case ‘l’. What this stands for remains a mystery to me. However, the crest mentioned above, is identical to that on the coat-of-arms of the city of Gloucester (www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/glos/vol4/pp368-371). This is appropriate as the building is known as ‘Gloucester House’.

The building housing the Hard Rock Café is not the first edifice on this plot to have been named ‘Gloucester House’. According to the authoritative book edited by Ben Weinreb and Christopher Hibbert, “The London Encyclopaedia”, the first Gloucester House, which like the present burger joint was located on the west corner of Old Park Lane and Piccadilly, was constructed in the early years of the reign of King George III (he was on the throne from 1760 to 1820). It was in this building that Lord Elgin (1766-1841) first exhibited the marble fragments that he had removed from the Parthenon in Athens. They were displayed here, where today burgers and milkshakes are consumed, before he sold the marbles to the nation in 1816. That year, Gloucester House was purchased by William Frederick, Duke of Gloucester (1776-1834), who despite being nicknamed ‘Silly Billy’ became Chancellor of Cambridge University. The last owner of the house was George, 2nd Duke of Cambridge, who died in 1904. Soon after his death, the old house was demolished. It seems that its successor, the present Gloucester House, was built almost as soon as the old one was demolished.

In 1850, when the old Gloucester House was still in existence, Peter Cunningham wrote in his “Handbook of London” (published in 1850):

“At the Duchess of Gloucester’s, at the corner of Park-Lane, once Lord Elgin’s, and where the Elgin Marbles were placed on their first arrival in this country, is a very beautiful carpet in sixty squares, worked by sixty of the principal ladies among the aristocracy.”

At that time, William Frederick’s widow, Princess Mary, Duchess of Gloucester and Edinburgh (1776-1857), who was born in Buckingham Palace, was residing at the house. After her death, the house was sold to its last owner.

It occurred to me that quite accidentally the Hard Rock Café with its main entrance on Piccadilly is aptly named given that it is located where some ‘rocks’ that occasionally give the British Government a hard time, The Elgin Marbles, were once housed.  What gives the precious ancient marbles a sort of hardness is that from time to time the Greek Government wants to have them back in Athens. So, next time you bite into a burger at Hard Rock in Gloucester House, spare a thought for the Greeks who have lost their marbles.

Before Cyprus was divided

MY ONLY VISIT TO CYPRUS was in 1960. I was eight years old and Cyprus was all one country. We went to Kyrenia, where my father was attending a conference in the town’s best hotel, the centrally Dome Hotel. We were all put up there.

It was not my father’s first visit to Cyprus. He had gone out there for a week in the early 1950s to give advice to a large Greek industrial firm based there. When he arrived at the airport in Nicosia,  the immigration officials threatened to forbid him from entering Cyprus because he did not have a yellow fever certificate.  The company for whom he was going to work had sent people to meet Dad. Not wanting to waste my father’s time and the company’s money, the officials assured them that they would make sure they would get my father vaccinated during his stay.

After a week, it was time for my father to leave. As he had not received the yellow fever ‘jab’, he asked his hosts about it.  He was told:

“Don’t worry, we sent someone from the company to be injected instead of you. We didn’t want you to waste your time.”

By 1960, the yellow fever certificate was no longer required to enter Cyprus.  We flew from London to Athens. As we stepped out of the cool aircraft onto the steps leading down to the tarmac, my face was hit by a blast of very hot air. I thought that this was being emitted by the aircraft engines. It was not. It was that never before had I stepped out of an air-conditioned space into outside air with a temperature over 30 Celsius.

GREECE 60s HBY Athens

We stayed in Athens a few days before flying to Nicosia. It was the beginning of the Greek Easter weekend when my mother realised she had left our travellers cheques in a small shop, which had closed by the time she discovered the loss. We went to a police station to report the problem. After taking many details including the names of her four grandparents,  they recorded the loss, but did little else.

My recollections of Cyprus are but few. The Dome Hotel had a swimming pool, which none of us used. Instead, we took trips to Six Mile Beach outside Kyrenia. This was a stretch of sand that looked idyllic at first sight. However, very soon after arriving, our would be covered with small specks of sticky black tar. Thinking back on this, I am surprised that we kept on returning to that beach.

Of the food we ate, I remember little except that we ate a surplus of thick stemmed richly flavoured spring onions (scallions).

My mother found a shoemaker in Kyrenia. She ordered a pair of sandals. This required daily,  lengthy visits to the craftsman. She was quite demanding and expected perfection. I suppose that there were many adjustments she wanted before she was satisfied. I enjoyed the visits to the cobbler because he listened to a radio station, which broadcasted a children’s programme in English.

We made several car trips from Kyrenia. At least twice, we drove along a winding mountain road to Nicosia. It took well over an hour each way back in 1960. We also took a trip  to visit the picturesque ruins of the 13th century Bellapais Abbey.  Although it is only just over 3 miles from Kyrenia, the roads were so poor in 1960 that this journey proved to be quite lengthy, as was an excursion to an archaeological site near Famagusta.

From Nicosia,  we returned to Athens, where we spent a few more days. Before leaving London, I had learnt about Archimedes and his legendary bath in which he is supposed to have been inspired to derive is principle of buoyancy. I was convinced that this famous bath was in Athens. I managed to persuade my parents to hire a taxi to drive around Athens in search of the bath.

Having explained to our taxi driver the nature of our quest, he gamely drove us around the city, stopping frequently to ask locals whether they knew where we could find the bath. Eventually, the driver revealed that he was Jewish. When he discovered that we were his coreligionists, he took us not to see the bath of Archimedes but, instead, to his synagogue. Some years later, I  discovered that our quest had been in vain because, if this bath ever existed, it was likely to be in Syracuse in Sicily.

Fifteen years following our stay in Kyrenia,  Cyprus became divided into two parts: one governed by a Greek administration and the other became governed by Turkish administration.  Kyrenia, where we stayed, is now in the Turkish part of Cyprus and is called Girne. The Dome Hotel still welcomes guests. Maybe, one day after the air is clear of coronavirus particles, I will revisit Cyprus and that hotel.

Photo taken in Athens, 1960

 

Slow down

taxi

My late mother lost two front teeth in a car crash in South Africa during the 1930s. Ever since then, she was both a nervous driver and an apprehensive passenger.

In the early 1960s, my mother was one of the first drivers in the UK to have seat belts installed in our car, which, like all other cars at the time, was sold without seat belts.

When I used to go on holidays with my parents, we used taxis wherever we were: water taxis in Venice and automobiles elsewhere. The places we visited most often were Italy and Greece. In both places, drivers manoeuvred at higher speeds than in the UK and far more adventurously. I remember one occasion in Milan (Italy) in the 1960s where our taxi driver drove along the tram lines on the wrong side of the road, so that trams headed straight towards us. And, in Athens (Greece), if a driver saw a space on the road some hundred yards ahead, he would take all kinds of risks to reach it. In all the years that I travelled with my parents in taxis we were only involved in one accident – no injuries, fortunately.

Well, all this dangerous dashing about in dare-devil taxis did not do anything positive for my mother’s nerves. Consequently, wherever we went she made sure that she knew how to say ‘slow down’ in the local language. Whenever I am being driven in India, where traffic is very exciting to say the least, I often think that had my mother experienced it, she would have died of fright. Oh, by the way, the Hindustani word for ‘slow down’ is ‘aasthe‘.

Meeting the Colonel

My parents were against supporting dictatorial regimes. For example, during the 1960s and ‘70s, they would only buy pickled gherkins that had been made in Western Europe, in places like West Germany or Holland. They would not have bought Hungarian or Polish, or even Bulgarian gherkins because by doing so they believed that some of the money they spent might well end up being used build weapons that could be used against the ‘free’ West. They were against visiting countries behind the “Iron Curtain” or General Franco’s Spain.

PATT 1

My father had several Greek colleagues. At a dinner held by one of them, they met a Greek millionaire, one of Greece’s wealthiest men. My mother noticed that he was fiddling with worry beads and did not know what they were. She asked him, and he threw the beads across the table to her. They were coral beads on a gold chain. She looked at them, and then began to hand them back, when he said:

“Keep them.”

“Don’t be silly, I can’t keep these,” my mother replied, realising their worth.

“No, please let me give them to you.”

My mother and the millionaire struck up an amicable relationship, and near the end of the evening, he said:

“You must bring your family to Greece as my guests.”

My mother thought he was joking, but after that occasion my parents kept getting invitations from him.

PATT 2

The symbol of the Junta is circled in this picture taken in rural Greece during the late 1960s

This dinner party happened soon after the 21st of April 1967, when a group of colonels, the Junta, took control of the Government of Greece replacing a democracy with a dictatorship. How could they possibly accept their new friend’s kind invitation to a country with a dictatorship? Much as they would have liked to accept, going to Greece was even worse than buying gherkins from a Communist country.

The invitation kept being repeated. After about two years, I came up with a suggestion. I said to my parents that if we were to become guests of the millionaire, we would contribute little or nothing to the economy of the Greek Junta. Miraculously, my parents saw my point and decided to accept the invitation.

 

On arrival in Greece, we found it very difficult to spend any of our own money. We were looked after by one of the millionaire’s former employees. If he saw us so much as looking at something, he would try to buy it for us. We learned to look at things discretely!

We saw little of our host, a busy man. One evening, we were invited to a party at his large estate on the edge of Athens. It was a lovely place with numerous outhouses including an open-air eating area with its own large kitchen building. Our host met and introduced us to various guests. After a while he introduced us to a gentleman, saying:

“Please meet Colonel Pattakos.”

PATT 3

Colonel Stylianos Pattakos. [Source; Wikipedia]

My parents were polite, but doubtless horrified after shaking hands with Pattakos. Stylianos Pattakos (1912-2016), a Greek military officer, was one of the principal leaders of the Greek military dictatorship. Pattakos is best known outside Greece for his decision to strip the singer Melina Mercouri of her Greek citizenship. She is reported to have said of Pattakos, who was the Minister of the Interior:

“I was born a Greek and I will die a Greek. Mr Pattakos was born a fascist and he will die a fascist.”

Unloved by most Greeks, Pattakos is said to have told a reporter that when, he returned to his native Crete, a few months after seizing power, his mother had demanded to know who had put him up to “this evil” (see: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/obituaries/2016/10/09/stylianos-pattakos-last-survivor-of-the-1967-greek-military-junt/).

I feel sure that if they had been able to do so, they would have washed their hands thoroughly after contact with Pattakos.

Flight to Crete

As a youngster, I had problems at high altitudes. These first became manifest during the early 1960s when my parents took me on a driving holiday through France to Switzerland. We were driving up a mountain pass – I cannot remember which – and I felt extremely unwell. My parents attributed my (temporary) malady to the high altitude we had reached.

CRETE

Some time later, in the late 1960s, we flew from Athens to Iraklion in Crete. We boarded a propeller driven aircraft at Athens Airport. I had forebodings from the moment the ‘plane began to move. Before taking off, the ‘plane made an excessively long trip around the airport. On our way, we passed several disastrous looking aeroplanes. Some of them were burnt out, and others looked as if they had been involved in collisions. Seeing these did nothing to assuage the fear of flying that I used to have.

Eventually, we became airborne. I was seated next to a chain smoker, who produced a persistent cloud of smoke, and my mother. From the moment we rose above Athens to a few minutes before we landed in Iraklion, the aircraft was shaken horribly by turbulence. After a few minutes in the air I felt tingling in my fingertips. Naively, I thought that this was something to do with my neighbour’s cigarettes.

Suddenly, I felt a plastic mask being placed over my face. My mother had noticed that my skin was becoming blue. She had called the stewardess, who immediately supplied me with oxygen from a portable cylinder. I wore this for the rest of the uncomfortable flight. All of us felt dreadful when we landed in Crete. It took us a day to get over the flight. My parents made sure that our return flight was booked on a jet rather than a prop ‘plane. The newer jet-propelled aircraft had better cabin pressurisation, and the problem, which I had on the outward-bound journey, was not repeated.

Since those long off days, I have never suffered from high altitude problems. I have crossed alpine passes without illness, and Bangalore in India, which I visit often, is almost a thousand metres above sea-level. Although I have studied physiology, I have no real idea why as I grew older high altitudes affected me less. As I write this, I wonder whether when I was a young boy, I had a mild anaemia, which only manifested itself when suddenly reaching a higher altitude. Who knows?

Archimedes and Eureka!

As a young child I was fascinated by the following story, which may be apocryphal. Archimedes (c287-c212 BC), the great Greek physicist, mathematician, engineer, and general genius, is reputed to have made an important discovery whilst taking a bath. He noticed that the level of water in his bath rose as he immersed himself in it. This led to his famous Principle. When he realised the significance of the change in water level, he is said to have leapt out of his bath yelling “Eureka”, which is the Greek for “I have found it.”

ARCHIMEDES

In 1960, my father had to attend a conference at Kyrenia (Girne in Turkish), which is now in Turkish Northern Cyprus. It was then part of one unified country. We, the rest of my family, accompanied him. On our way, we had to change ‘planes in Athens. I remember walking down the steps that led out of the aircraft from London and feeling my face hit by a wave of burning hot air. I thought for a moment that I was feeling the exhaust from the ‘plane’s engines, but soon realised that the air at the airport had a very high ambient temperature.

On our return from Cyprus, we spent a few days in Athens. Our visit happened shortly after I had learnt about Archimedes and his Principle at school. In Athens, we visited numerous ancient Greek and Roman sites, and this put the idea into my head that somewhere amongst these ancient ruins we should be able to locate the famous bath out of which Archimedes leapt. Rather sportingly, my parents hired a taxi and explained to the driver the nature of our quest. He was happy to spend hours driving us around Athens, stopping regularly to enquire about the location of the bath. It was a fruitless quest. During the hours that we spent with our driver, he told us that he was Jewish. When he realised that we were his co-religionists, albeit completely non-practicing, he took us to see a synagogue, which was unmemorable architecturally.

Sadly, after spending time in the taxi, we were not able to exclaim “Eureka.”

Some months after we returned to London, I discovered that Archimedes had lived in Syracuse (Sicily) rather than Athens. If his bath had ever existed and still happened to be in existence, which was highly unlikely after so many centuries had elapsed since his death, it was there that one needed to search for it, rather than in Athens.

 

To read about more of Adam Yamey’s childhood travels, CLICK HERE