Falling rain drops
Relentlessly wetting the flat
Path beneath my feet
Falling rain drops
Relentlessly wetting the flat
Path beneath my feet
OUR FRIENDS INTRODUCED us to a square in north London, which we had never visited before despite the fact it is near the pub where we meet them regularly, when covid19 regulations permit. The square, Camden Square, is about 1000 yards northeast of Camden Town Underground Station. The rectangular open space that comprises the ‘square’ was developed between 1830 and 1850 and formed the centrepiece of Marquis of Camden’s New Town development (https://londongardenstrust.org/). The square and Camden Town take their names from John Pratt (1759-1840), the First Marquis of Camden (https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Dictionary_of_National_Biography,_1885-1900/Pratt,_John_Jeffreys). In 1736, he was called to the Middle Temple, where many years later my wife became a barrister. In 1795, he was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and was not popular with the Irish. He was opposed to emancipation of the Catholics and to parliamentary reform. His attitude towards the Irish was repressive and he developed an intrusive intelligence network. In May 1798, insurrection broke out in Ireland and he appealed for more military personnel to be sent from England. Later that year, he was replaced by Lord Cornwallis (1738-1805). A remarkable soldier, Cornwallis was involved in attacking the formidable Tipu Sultan (1750-1799) and forcing him into signing an unfavourable treaty in 1792 at Seringapatnam near Bangalore and Mysore in India.
Given the Irish antipathy towards the Marquis of Camden when he was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, it is ironic that at the southeast corner of the square, we find the building that houses the London Irish Centre (https://www.londonirishcentre.org/). It was founded in 1954 to provide assistance to Irish migrants arriving in London after WW2, often quite unprepared. Its present home, 50 Camden Square was bought in 1955. Its location was chosen because it is close to Euston Station, where many of the Irish arrived by train from Holyhead. A plaque placed on the outside of the Centre’s elegant neoclassical Victorian façade commemorates the ‘Forgotten Irish’. It reads:
“In commemoration of that generation of post-WW2 Irish emigrants, both men and women, who left their homes, counties, and country. They came to work and rebuild this city and country, ravaged and destroyed by war. Sometimes called ‘The Forgotten Irish’, many would never return to Ireland. This plaque recalls their contribution and their loss…”
The Centre contains many facilities including a good library, a bar, and a community café.
The Irish centre and almost all the houses on the eastern and southern sides of the square date back to long before WW2. However, some of the buildings on the western side of the square are post-WW2, most likely built on the sites of houses destroyed by bombing during the war.
Number 57 on the southern side of the square was home to the Indian politician Krishna Menon (1896-1974) between 1924 and 1947, when, after India won independence, he became Indian High Commissioner to the UK. Menon received much of his education in London, at the London School of Economics and University College. He was also admitted to the Middle Temple. Menon worked with the publisher Allen Lane at the time when Penguin Books was established and might have been the inspirer of the idea of producing cheap editions of quality titles, which was the principle adopted by Penguin.
As a member of the Labour Party, Menon was elected borough councillor of St Pancras, and was later given the Freedom of the Borough, an honour which had only one other recipient, George Bernard Shaw. A close friend of Jawaharlal Nehru, the Indian patriot and future Prime Minister of India, Menon was President of the India League between 1928 and 1947. The League fought for the complete independence of India from the British. Once Menon was asked whether India would prefer to be ruled by the British Empire or the Nazis. He is supposed to have replied that one:
“ …might as well ask a fish if it prefers to be fried in butter or margarine.”
At Camden Square, Menon:
“… had a room and the use of the bath. His furnished room had a bed, a table, a couple of chairs, a wardrobe and a sideboard. Come hell or high water, he had to have his morning bath, and hell often broke loose when the Luftwaffe set out to put the torch to London. Krishna Menon’s landlady is still puzzled about this. Did he, she wonders, insist on his morning bath because of his religion? He paid a pound per week for rent, including the price of his breakfast tea and toast. The rent was modest even for Camden Town.
Krishna Menon used his room only for sleeping. He never gave any parties nor did he entertain guests. In the evening he returned at irregular hours, and if it was not late, he asked Mrs. Rouse for tea. While Krishna Menon was meticulous about his clothing, he left his room in Bohemian disarray. It is with some amusement that Mrs. Rouse recalls that his discarded clothing was scattered all over the room and that he seemed to be unable to fold his towels ‘neat-like’.”
(quoted from “Krishna Menon” by Emil Lengyel).
Almost across the road from Menon’s home, is number 1 Camden Square, home to Robert Harbin (1909-1978) in 1928. ‘Who he?’, I hear you ask. Born Edward Richard Charles Williams in Balfour (near Johannesburg in South Africa), he came to London, aged 20, and began working in the magic department of Gamages toy shop. An accomplished magician, he performed in music halls and later in television and in films. He became interested in Japanese paper folding and became the first President of the British Origami Society, founded in 1967.
Other famous persons have lived in Camden square, many of them artists. They include the Dutch-born painter Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912), who lived briefly at number 4, when he first arrived in London from Belgium. The sculptor William Turnbull (1922-2012) lived in the square nearer the end of his life. During the 1960s, my mother worked alongside him in the sculpture studios of St Martins School of Art, then in Charing Cross Road next door to the famous Foyles bookshop.
Before I mention the currently most famous resident of the square, I should record the fact that there are no houses along the space’s northern edge. The northern edge is the southern boundary of the grounds of St Paul’s church, Camden Square. The church is a non-descript structure completely devoid of architectural merit. It was built as a temporary replacement of an older church that was designed by Frederick Ordish and John Johnson and built in 1849, and then severely damaged by bombing during WW2.
Number 30 at the north east corner of the square faces three trees whose trunks are surrounded by screens made of bamboo rods, some of which have padlocks attached to them. For, number 30 was the home of the popular singer Amy Winehouse (1983-2011). Some of the padlocks have her name inscribed on them by the mourning fans, who attached them to the trees.
Now that the covid19 pandemic is forcing us to meet others outdoors, the weather has become of even more interest than in healthier times. This brings us to George James Symons (1838-1900), who lived at number 62 Camden square between 1868 and 1900. At the age of 17, he became a member of the Royal Meteorological Society, becoming elected its President twice. He was a pioneer in the scientific study of rainfall and founded The British Rainfall Organization as well as establishing a Climatological Station in the square.
Fortunately for us, there was no rainfall whilst we walked around the square and through the peaceful, well-maintained garden in its centre. I am grateful to our friends for introducing us to this square full of diverse historical associations, some of which were new to all of us.
DURING THE 1980s, I lived and worked just over fifty miles south-east of central London in Gillingham, one of the Medway Towns in Kent. Usually, I drove to London on Saturday afternoons after my morning dental surgery session ended at 1 pm. Then, after buying innumerable gramophone records and later also CDs and seeing friends, I would spend the night at my father’s home before returning to Kent late on Sunday evening.
One winter Sunday evening, after visiting friends, who lived in South Hampstead close to the Royal Free Hospital, I began driving towards Kent. When I reached Lewisham in south-east London, snow began falling lightly. I thought nothing of it. By the time I arrived at the start of the M2 motorway, the situation had changed considerably. The motorway was under several inches of fresh snow. The few vehicles travelling at that late hour drove on a pair of groove-like tracks made in the snow by vehicles ahead of me. It was rather like the page in the song “Good King Wenceslas: ‘Mark my footsteps, my good page, Tread thou in them boldly … In his master’s steps he trod, Where the snow lay dinted’.
The snow continued to fall and by the time I reached the motorway exit west of the Medway Bridge, I decided that it might be better to drive through Strood, Rochester, and Chatham rather than along the motorway that by-passed these places along a hilly exposed rural route, which I believed might have been badly affected by the snow.
It was about 2am when I left the motorway. I joined a line of cars that was crawling slowly towards Rochester – a traffic jam at 2 am. Eventually, I drove across the River Medway on the bridge at Rochester. The traffic was slow moving and dense despite the time. I decided to leave the main road and follow a back road that wound around Rochester Castle and avoided the city centre. I drove about fifty yards upwards along a steep snow-covered lane and then the car would go no further. Its wheels were unable to grip the road and I slid down to the bottom of the hill where I had started. There was no choice. I had to re-join the slow procession of traffic crawling through the interlinked Medway towns.
When I reached Gillingham, it was long after 3 am. I turned off the main A2 road and drove, or rather slid, downhill along Nelson Road which was covered with deep snow. At my street, Napier Road, the snow was even deeper and had not been compressed by passing vehicles. I headed towards my house but could not reach it because my car became wedged in a drift of densely packed snow. It remained locked in the snow for over three weeks.
The following day, the Medway Towns were almost paralysed by the snow. However, the only stretch of railway that was still operating was between two neighbouring stations, Gillingham and Rainham, where my dental surgery was located. I managed to reach my surgery by train in my Wellington boots and wore these whilst treating the few patients who decided not to cancel their appointments. The only patients who struggled through the snow that day were elderly people who considered that cancelling appointments was disrespectful to the professional. All those brave souls, who made it through the hazardous snow, were seeing me about false teeth.
Although the snow did not disappear from the Medway Towns for over three weeks, the rail service to London resumed quite quickly. So, I continued to make my weekly visits to the capital. Fifty miles from snow-covered Gillingham, London was free of snow. Exaggerating slightly, visiting London was like travelling from the Arctic to the Mediterranean. Few of my friends in London could believe that my home in Kent had sufficient snow to keep most skiers happy.
The spectacular change in climates that I experienced that winter when shuttling between London and Gillingham occurred long before the concept of ‘climate change’ became widespread in the public eye.
Ev’ry rain drop
Creates a ring of rippling
Wet but of quite short life
Why do simple clouds
Seem so dull in London
But lov’ly in Darjeeling?
Stuck to the chair,
Hands and fingers sweaty:
A sultry London heatwave
Thatch’d roofs and gentle rain
Puddles under foot
A typical English summer
Whether the weather be fine
Or whether the weather be not,
Whether the weather be cold
Or whether the weather be hot,
We’ll weather the weather
Whatever the weather,
Whether we like it or not.
One of the best ways to engage a stranger in conversation in the UK is to begin talking about the weather. Because of its unpredictability in the British Isles, there is always much to discuss.
There is at least one explanation of why it is so difficult to forecast British weather reliably. I read about it in a book about chaos theory some years ago, so please forgive me if my explanation is not totally clear. As I understand it, weather forecasting is done using mathematical models involving a complex set of interlinked equations. The forecaster feeds multiple parameters into the equations, and a result is obtained that allows the weather to be predicted reasonably accurately. This model is quite reliable in many parts of the world, but not here in the UK. The problem is that when the parameters for the region containing the British Isles, whose weather system is affected by far more complex and many more influences than in other places (I do not know why), are fed into this set of equations, instead of one solution, several appear because the parameters introduce a large degree of instability into the forecasting model. Hence, the uncertainty in British forecasting that occurs.
Nowadays, I use a popular weather forecasting app on my mobile ‘phone. It provides several predictions of what the weather will be like during different times of the day and several days following it. Potentially useful are the rainfall predictions which are expressed as a percentage, 0% being ‘rain completely unlikely’ and 100% being ‘rain inevitable’. So far, so good.
If the app predicts rainfall of less than about 5%, I do not bother to take an umbrella or rain coat, otherwise I do. Things can go wrong. Suddenly, out of the blue, rain falls heavily. I look at my app. Suddenly, what had been a prediction of, say, 3% becomes a prediction of, say, 78%. The app appears to be responding to the weather (or recording it), rather than predicting it.
Moral of the story: take an umbrella.
In London the rain lightly falls
And the leaden grey sky appals
Upon leaves it drips
Running to their tips:
This very foul weather truly galls
A long time ago, I remember seeing an advertisement issued either by Aer Lingus or the Irish tourist board, which said:
“In Ireland, it rains every fifteen minutes for a quarter of an hour”
During my first visit to the Republic of Ireland (Eire) back in 1976, I stayed with some friends in their secluded country house far south of Dublin. Remote as it was, it had a telephone, but it was without a dial. To use the ‘phone, it was necessary to lift the receiver and then turn a small crank several times. This crank sent a signal to the operator at the exchange, who then connected you to the switchboard. Next, you told the operator which number you required, and he or she then tried to connect you.
One night, there was a fierce storm with much wind. On the morning following, one of our party wished to make a ‘phone call. After several attempts to alert the operator with the cranking mechanism, we concluded that the storm had damaged the line connecting the house to the exchange. We thought that it would take many days before this would be repaired. One of my friends suggested that we got in the car and followed the telephone line to discover how and where it was damaged.
Soon, we found the place where the problem had occurred. The wind had caused the two wires that led to the house to become tangled in the branches of the tree. One of my friends stood on the roof of our vehickle and using a long stick, a branch that had been brought down by the storm, managed to disentangle the wires. When we returned to the house, we discovered that the problem had been resolved. Life was so simple in those days!