Covid is over

IT WAS EASTER Saturday (2022), the sun was shining, the air was warm, and we paid a visit to the world famous, popular Portobello Road Market. For the first time after over two years of pandemic-induced suppression of London’s ‘joie-de-vivre’, the market was buzzing with activity, crowded with foreign tourists and local visitors. As it was before Covid19, the market was bustling and business at the stalls, which offer everything from artichokes to antiques and pancakes to paella, seemed to be brisk.

Portobello Road

A friend, who lives in rural France, said to me a few days ago when we were walking near Leicester Square:

“It’s hard to believe that there was ever a deadly pandemic in this city.”

And as we walked along a short street in the area, he added:

“There are more people out in this street than there are living in my hometown.”

Yet, Covid infection rates are high in the UK. Friends in India have been telling us that they are thinking twice before visiting the UK because the risk of becoming infected here is so great at the moment. Recently, I have heard that approximately between 1 in 12 and 1 and 15 people in the UK are likely to be infected with a Covid19 virus, and therefore capable of spreading it to others.

Apart from personal hygiene and wearing face coverings, good ventilation is considered to be useful for reducing the risk of spreading the viruses. So, when I boarded a bus in South Kensington recently, I opened the window closest to me – each window on London buses has a label saying “Open this window”. Immediately after following this instruction, which has been given for reasons of prevention of infection, the lady sitting behind me, who was not wearing a face covering, stood up and slammed it shut. I stood up, opened it, and told her not to touch it. She said, speaking angrily with an Eastern European accent:

“You don’t need to open it. You are wearing mask and have three vaccinations.”

How she knew my vaccination status, I do not know. My wife said to her:

“Don’t you know that one in twelve are infected?”

To which the lady replied:

“Believe what you like.”

Then to my great surprise, she added:

“Covid is over”

A Victorian hospital and Florence Nightingale

OF CRIMEAN WAR fame, Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) established a nursing school in what is now St Charles Hospital in North Kensington in 1884. In that time, the hospital near the northern end of Ladbroke Grove was called ‘the St Marylebone Union Infirmary’. It was so named because it was built to serve the poor of the parish of St Marylebone. It had to be put up outside the parish because there was no room available to build a hospital within it. This institution was opened in 1881 by the then Prince (future King Edward VII) and Princess of Wales. A very informative website, https://ezitis.myzen.co.uk, revealed that the hospital was:

“… three storeys high, with a central block and four pavilions.  It had accommodation for 744 patients … and 86 resident staff (the Infirmary also had 82 non-resident staff).”

In 1923, the hospital was renamed the ‘St Marylebone Hospital’ and the next year, the then Minister of Health and future Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (1869-1940) opened an extension, which had just been completed. By 1926, some wards had bedside wireless sets installed.

The hospital was given its current name when the London County Council took over its running in 1930. During WW2, wards on the top floors were closed, but the hospital suffered little damage from enemy bombing. After the war, St Charles served as a general hospital, but by 1998, there were very few beds for in-patients. Currently, the establishment is run by both the Central London Community Healthcare NHS Trust and the Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust. Now, it is known as St Charles’ Centre for Health and Wellbeing. Most of its patient care is out-patient and since the development of vaccines against covid19, it is also a ‘vaccination hub’.

The original edifices were designed by Henry Saxon Snell (1831-1904). In grey weather, the late Victorian buildings of St Charles with their brickwork and neo-gothic decorative features present a somewhat gloomy or even ominous appearance. In bright sunlight, although they do not seem particularly welcoming, they have a certain charm. The website, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol37, describes the architecture in more detail:

“The excellent plain brickwork, strong selfconfident design, and assured functional planning and detail make St. Charles Hospital a most significant building for its period. It occupies a rectangular site of three and a half acres near the north-west end of Ladbroke Grove … The buildings are planned on the pavilion principle, each block being, as far as compatible with facility of communication, isolated from the others. There are five parallel pavilions, the central administrative block being flanked on either side by two blocks of wards. The central block is surmounted by a massive tower, 182 feet in height, which forms a prominent landmark when viewed from the north and west. The chimney-shaft from the boilers below is carried up inside this tower, the upper part of which has a corbelled stage derived from northern Italian work of the Middle Ages. The tower contains a number of large tanks, providing storage for 25,000 gallons of water pumped from a well 500 feet in depth … The pavilions on either side of the tower are linked to each other by cast-iron galleries and canopied walks. A block of buildings situated at the entrance contained the residences of the medical officers, and over the spacious arched gateway in the centre there was a chapel 60 feet long by 30 feet wide, with a boarded wagon-roof of trefoil section. In a report on the infirmary written by Snell, he described the elaborate systems of heating and ventilation. Open fires heated coils of pipes containing water which then circulated, humidity also being contrived so that air would not be dried, a great advance for the time. The lighting was by gas, and fumes were carefully vented away. This ‘Thermhydric’ system, patented by the architect, included upright flues in the external walls, inlets being provided for fresh air which was warmed as it entered, and air was also admitted directly through the walls into skirtingboxes between the beds, while flues carried off the foul air and the products of gas combustion.”

Although it was clearly an advanced building for its time and it is not far from the much-visited Portobello Road, this hospital is unlikely to be on many visitors’ itineraries. However, lovers of Victorian architecture might enjoy seeing it even if they had no clinical requirement to do so.

Out of town

THE GREAT SAMUEL Johnson (1709-1784) is supposed to have said to James Boswell on the 20th of September 1777:

“Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”

Now, 245 years later in 2022, I largely agree with Dr Johnson, but not completely. Every now and then, it is wonderful to leave London in search of the open countryside, fresh air, wide expanses of sky, and a different way of life. Equally, it is satisfying to return to the city feeling refreshed and, sometimes, having been away from it, seeing familiar things in a new light. Our excursions from London have ranged from several months to several hours. The latter, shorter outings, have been invaluable during the recent period when because of covid19 travelling abroad has been difficult, to say the least.

One of our current favourite destinations for brief outings is the tiny village of Abingdon Piggots in southern Cambridgeshire. Although it is only about 90 minutes’ drive from central London, it feels as if it is almost in a different world from the metropolis. Despite being close to Baldock and Royston, the village seems as if it is in the deepest countryside. It has not more than 60 well spread-out houses, a church, and a hostelry called the Pig and Abbott.

The Pig and Abbott is run by Pat and Mick. It is a traditional country inn where one can enjoy a drink as well as eating superbly cooked, tasty food. We have visited the pub at least six times since we first discovered it in July 2020. Each time we go there, we are welcomed like old friends. I suppose we have become regarded as ‘regulars’. Mick told me that most of the regulars come from the area around the village. Of the 60 or so households on the village, only about 10 use his pub. I asked him whether we were amongst his furthest customers. He told me that we were, but one of his regulars, who lives in Alaska, always drops in when he visits Cambridge, where he has work colleagues.

After a hearty meal at the Pig and Abbott, we always take a stroll along Church Lane to see the small church in which there are graves of members of the local Piggott family. The lane is flanked by fields in which one can watch sheep and horses grazing. There is hardly any sound to be heard except birdsong.

Pleasant as is this bucolic scene, it would not suit me to live in it for more than a day or two. I am an urban creature at heart and the humdrum of city life suits me well. My childhood was spent amongst gardens and trees in the Hampstead Garden Suburb in north London, yet I never enjoyed the place as much as central London, which I began visiting with my parents at a young age. I guess that although I enjoy my occasional forays outside London, I cannot disagree with what Johnson said to Boswell all those years ago.

Me Here Now

UNTIL RECENTLY, LONDON Bridge railway station, overshadowed by the glass-clad Shard skyscraper, was not visually appealing. It was a place that you lingered no longer than necessary either whilst waiting for a train or having just disembarked.

Today, the station has been transformed into a place where you might want to linger and explore. It has been cleaned up and tastefully remodelled. The station and the tracks leading from it have always been above ground, supported by innumerable brickwork arches. A few years ago before the improvement works were carried out, many of these archways led to passages beneath the station, most of them dark and unwelcoming.

One of these was the Stainer Street Walkway that links St Thomas Street and Tooley Street and passes through the station’s foyer from which stairways lead up to platforms. This wide passageway lined with ochre coloured brickwork is now well-lit and apart from being a bit chilly, quite pleasant. But look up, and you will see three enormous, reflective, decorative umbrellas suspended from the ceiling. Each umbrella is decorated with geometric symbols and lettering. The lettering forms sets of words that are supposed to be meaningful for those who bother to read them.

Together, these umbrellas comprise an artwork, “.Me. Here. Now” by Mark Titchner , which were put in place in mid-2019. With the decrease in passenger numbers since the start of the covid19 pandemic, this lovely set of artefacts have been seen by far fewer people than were anticipated by the commissioners of this creation, Network Rail.

Marching on

As we approach the end of the year, the pandemic rages on, the weather is appalling, and prospects for post-Brexit UK are not yet looking too bright. But all is not doom and gloom. On Christmas Eve, we went for a walk from Knightsbridge to St James Park. As we reached Hyde Park Corner and the Wellington Arch, an ever present reminder of the days when ‘England ruled the waves’ and a great deal more, we heard the sound of horse’s hooves behind us. We turned to look back at the arch and saw a line of mounted soldiers with shining helmets adorned with red tassels emerging from beneath the arch.as they have been doing several days a week for very many years, if not for several centuries. Seeing this age-old tradition being enacted in front of us reminded me that although much has been disrupted since the covid19 virus began ruling the waves, life goes on.

Unveiled at last

THE CORONET CINEMA in London’s Notting Hill Gate was renamed The Print Room a few years ago. Once a cinema, it is now a theatre. Like other theatres, it was closed for a long time during 2020 and early 2021 because of the covid19 lockdowns. During this prolonged period of closures, a statue was placed upon the dome that stands above the theatre’s main entrance. In my book “Walking West London” (freely available as a pdf file from https://adamyamey.co.uk/walking-west-london/), I wrote about the Coronet/Print Room as follows:

“… the former ‘Coronet Cinema’. This was designed as a theatre by WGR Sprague (1863-1933) who designed many of London’s theatres. It opened in 1908. By 1923, the Coronet had become a cinema, and remained so for many years. Apart from the screen, the fittings inside the auditorium were those of an unmodernised Edwardian theatre. Until smoking was banned in all public places, the Coronet was one of the last cinemas in London which permitted smoking (but only in the balcony seating). Between 2004 and 2014, the Coronet doubled up as both a branch of the Kensington Temple Church and, also, as a cinema. And, in 2015 the Coronet reverted to being used as a theatre, now called ‘The Print Room’. This sensitively restored theatre puts on interesting plays, which are well-produced. The bar, which is located beneath the stage in what was once the stalls area of the cinema, is worth visiting to see its ever changing, tastefully quirky décor. In 2020, the theatre was redecorated and a statue by the British sculptor Gavin Turk (born 1967) has been placed upon the dome above the building’s main entrance. The new artwork replaces one that was removed many decades ago.”

When I wrote this, the sculpture was enshrouded in a tarpaulin. Only recently, the covering has been removed and the sculpture can be seen in all its glory. The artwork depicts the artist Gavin Turk posing as the famous artist Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792) just as he appears his sculptural in the Annenberg Courtyard of Burlington House in the grounds of the Royal Academy. When seen from the east, the new sculpture looks like a painter holding a palette and his brush. However, when seen from the west, the viewer might be led to believe that the statue is of a man holding a gun. I feel that the sculpture is a great addition to the landscape of Notting Hill Gate, but a bit too high above ground level to be able to see it easily with the unaided eye.

Wall of sorrow

PARLIAMENT’S HOME IS OPPOSITE a wall that runs along the northern edge of the grounds of London’s St Thomas’s Hospital. The wall is separated from the River Thames by a walkway, the embankment between Westminster and Lambeth bridges. Almost every square inch of the river facing side of the wall, which is about 440 yards in length, is covered by hand-painted hearts of various sizes and in various shades of red and pink. Many of the hearts have names, dates, and short, sad messages written on them.

Each of the many thousands of hearts painted on the wall (by volunteers) represents one of the huge number of people who died because of being infected with the covid19 virus. The wall is now known as The National Covid Memorial Wall and work on the painting commenced in March 2021. The mural that records the numerous tragic deaths was organised by a group known as Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice. The names and other information added to the hearts is being done by people who knew the bereaved person being remembered. When we walked past the wall today, the 27th of October 2021, we saw a young lady carefully writing on one of the hearts. Seeing this and the wall with all its reminders of the pandemic-related deaths was extremely depressing. On our return journey, I insisted that we crossed the river and walked along the opposite embankment on which the Houses of Parliament stands. Even from across the river, the reddish cloud of hearts on the wall is visible. Certainly, this would be the case from the riverside terraces accessible to those who work and govern within the home of Parliament.

It is ironic (and maybe deliberately so) that the wall with its many tragic reminders of deaths due to covid 19 is facing the Houses of Parliament (The Palace of Westminster), where had different decisions been taken, sooner rather than later, many of the names on the wall might not have needed to be written there.

After effects

MY FIRST TRIP TO TURKEY was in 1960. I had just finished primary school and was about to start preparatory school (8 to 13 years old) after the summer holidays. That summer we were travelling to Turkey, to Istanbul, where my father was a delegate at a conference. It was deemed necessary to have vaccinations to reduce the risk of contracting typhoid and cholera.

Our family doctor’s surgery in London’s Golders Green was close to my primary school. I had decided to get my ‘jab’ and then to go to school to help organise the annual sports day. When I arrived, I was assigned a task related to the high jump competition. At first, all went well. Then, after a few minutes, I began shivering and felt lousy. I excused myself and made my way home. I spent the rest of the day and the following in bed and the arm in which I was injected felt both painful and heavy. A few weeks later, I was given the second of the combined cholera and typhoid jabs. However, there was little or no after reaction.

Since that jab back in the summer of 1960, I have had numerous, indeed an uncountable number of, vaccinations. Each of these was accompanied by a small amount of discomfort at the site of injection, but no more than that. This was the case until early February 2021.

In February 2021, I was given the first of the two doses of the Oxford Astra-Zeneca vaccine to counter covid19. Within hours of the jab, I began feeling unwell. I did not feel as sick as I did after the first typhoid/cholera jab, but I was not at my best. I did not lose my appetite, nor did I develop an elevated temperature. This feeling of being a little bit ‘below par’ lasted no more than 36 hours. So, it was with some apprehension that I attended the clinic for my second jab in mid-April.

My general medical practitioner, whom I had consulted for another matter, advised me to take two paracetamol tablets (2 x 500mg) just before the jab and another two later in the day. Her advice seems to have been good. Now, nine hours after the jab, I am writing this piece and feeling far better than I did after the first shot of the vaccine. I had been told that just because one has had a reaction after the first injection, it is a matter of pure chance whether one has any reaction after the second. Maybe the paracetamol is working or perhaps I have just been lucky. In any case, I feel happy that I have had the full vaccination as is currently advised.

Coffee al fresco

THE COVID19 PANDEMIC has, for the time being, made drinking inside cafés a thing of the past. If you wish to enjoy a beverage, be it a cappuccino, cortado, americano, a hot chocolate, or even a humble cup of tea, you can buy it at a counter and then enjoy it outdoors, come rain, snow, or shine. In the absence of restaurants and pubs, with the exception of take-away foods, this has become one of the few little treats, apart from the joys of nature, available to those who wish to enjoy a bit of life out in the open air.

Not long ago, whilst exercising in London’s Hampstead district, we came across a particularly lovely place to obtain hot drinks and a selection of snacks, both sweet and savoury. They are being served under a canopy illuminated by strings of ‘fairy lights’ on a terrace overlooking the sloping garden of Burgh House.

Built in 1704 during the reign of Queen Anne, Burgh House was, according to the historian of Hampstead, Thomas Barratt, first owned by a Quaker couple, Henry and Hannah Sewell. Barratt remarked:

“…the house gives the idea of Quaker severity of style combined with a good quality of work.”

The house acquired its present name in 1822, when it was the residence of the Reverend Allatson Burgh (1769-1856), who was for a time vicar of St Lawrence Jewry (http://www.burghhouse.org.uk/about-us/history-of-the-residents-of-burgh-house#revburgh). He was also the author of a book about church music. Prior to the cleric, the house was occupied, between 1776 and 1820, by the upholsterer Israel Lewis (1748-1820) and his wife Sarah, both known for their good deeds. Lewis was a supporter of the non-Conformist Rosslyn Hill Chapel in Hampstead. The family also provided assistance to the poet John Keats (1795-1821) and his brothers. On the 16th of October 1818, the poet wrote to his brother, who was living in the USA, George Keats (1797-1841):

“Mr Lewis has been very kind to Tom all the summer. There has scarce a day passed but he has visited him, and not one day without bringing him or sending some fruit of the nicest kind.”  (“The Letters of John Keats: Volume 1, 1814-1818”)

Burgh House is close to the former chalybeate wells of Hampstead, which were famed for their alleged curative properties. Before the Lewis’s lived there, it was the home of the chief physician of the Wells and a promoter of the benefits of its water, Dr William Gibbons (1649-1728) and his wife Elizabeth. They lived in the house between 1720 and 1743, Elizabeth continuing to live there as a widow.

After Burgh’s death in 1856, the house named after him became the officers’ mess and headquarters of the Royal East Middlesex Militia between 1858 and 1881. The house was then privately owned by several other people, the last of whom were Captain George Louis St Clair Bambridge (1892-1943) and his wife Elsie (1896-1976). Mrs Bambridge’s father was the writer Rudyard Kipling, who was born in Bombay (India). The Bambridges lived at Burgh House between 1933 and 1937. During that time, the ageing Rudyard was a regular visitor.

After the Bambridges left Burgh House for Wimpole Hall in Cambridgeshire, the venerable building faced dilapidation until it was taken over by Hampstead Borough Council in 1946. It was then used for social functions such as wedding receptions.

After a long campaign and much fund-raising, the house was opened to the public as a museum in 2006. In addition to displaying items of historical interest, concerts, talks, and other cultural events are also held there. The concerts are held in a music room that the Reverend Burgh added on to the building when he occupied it.  All these life-enhancing activities have come to a halt during the covid19 pandemic. The pleasant and attractive outdoor café is helping to keep the community spirit alive until rates of infection decrease sufficiently to allow at least some return of the cultural activities that we used to enjoy.

The Burgh House café is open from Wednesday to Sunday. Should you visit Hampstead when the café at this place is closed, there are another three Hampstead places, from which we enjoy collecting hot beverages:

Ginger and White in Perrins Court

The Coffee Cup in Hampstead High Street

Matchbox Café in South End Green

There are also a couple of telephone kiosks that have been converted to tiny cafés both in Hampstead High Street and Pond Square, but we have never sampled their wares.