Category Archives: Blog

Crime as Entertainment


1. Elizabeth and Tess

When Elizabeth Martha Brown took an axe to her husband on 6th July, 1856, she neither knew, nor would she have cared, that she was to play a part in the writing of one of English literature’s most important works. Nor could the young apprentice who witnessed her public hanging have guessed that the sight of it would influence a novel he was to write more than thirty years into the future.

Elizabeth claimed to have discovered her husband on the doorstep of their cottage covered with blood, groaning that ‘the horse’ had kicked him. The fact that it took her two hours to go for help was, she insisted, because he had clung to her so tightly she couldn’t get away. By the time help arrived, he was dead.

No one believed her story about the horse. The horse was still in the field, its hooves manifestly lacking any traces of blood. The gate was shut and the halter hadn’t been touched.  Elizabeth had claimed too that her clothes had been covered in blood but they couldn’t be found. The axe was missing too. And to top it all, the coroner found that the wounds couldn’t have been caused by a kick from a horse.

On 21st July 1856 Elizabeth was found guilty by the jury at Dorchester Crown Court, and later confessed to the murder. She was sentenced to a public hanging. Among the spectators was the young Thomas Hardy, at that time apprenticed to a local architect. He was deeply moved by Elizabeth’s stoicism, as she walked silently to her death. There was more.

One of the hangman’s duties was to tie the dress of females, to spare their modesty. On this occasion the hangman, Calcraft, forgot. He had to climb back up afterwards to do it. The whole episode gave a sexual charge to the event. To add to the drama it was raining so that the hood that covered Elizabeth’s head clung to her face, showing her features plainly for all to see.

When he wrote Tess of the D’Urbervilles, nearly 35 years later, Hardy wasn’t telling Elizabeth’s story.  The story of Tess is very different. Nevertheless Hardy has admitted that he was thinking of Elizabeth when he was writing the novel, he had in his mind those images of her public hanging, all those years ago. The sexual charge felt by the readers of Tess has its genesis there.

I am indebted to Steve Haste’s book, Criminal Sentences, for the facts in this post. It’s a wonderful full-length study of the ways in which true crime has influenced fiction, film and drama. It is well worth reading, full of fascinating information.

Crime as Entertainment was the title of my dissertation for the MA Writing at Sheffield Hallam. It’s a fascinating subject, which raises many ethical and moral questions as well as offering a wide variety of real and fictional stories. So I hope this may be just the first in an occasional series of posts on the subject.

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International Women’s Day: collaboration not separation

“The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights” Gloria Steinem

International Women’s Day was first marked as long ago as 1911, inspired in part by the first national Women’s Day, which took place in America in 2008. Initially its aim was to promote equal rights including suffrage for women. For many years it was predominately celebrated in communist countries, only really taking off in the West after the United Nations General Assembly asked member states to set aside March 8th as the day for Women’s Rights and World Peace.

I’m slightly in two minds about having special days to mark special things. I think if there are problems we should be constantly mindful of them, always striving where possible to try and make things better. That is, I admit, a counsel of perfection. Nevertheless, specially designated days do risk attracting as much negative as positive feelings. Just as certain expressions have been twisted, or formalized, to mean things they were never meant to mean. ‘Human Rights’ is a case in point, where so often fairness, justice and common sense go out of the window. And the people whose rights are being trampled on go on being abused, tortured and trampled on.

All that said there are some issues that are just too important to ignore. While International Women’s Day celebrates achievement, its greater role is to highlight issues that cry out for change. Themes such as displacement and poverty have been chosen in previous years. This year, 2013, the UN theme concerns violence against women. The International Women’s Day theme is gender. I can’t really see why there can’t just be one theme; it does seem a bit odd. Not that both themes are not crucial, but two? Doesn’t say a lot about unity.

Funnily enough, my thoughts about both these themes have to do with unity. Which is why the Gloria Steinem quote is at the top. There is absolutely no doubt that attitudes towards women have changed for the better. However, women are still not paid equally, they are not represented proportionately in business or politics, in so many situations here and abroad they are most definitely treated as second class citizens or as chattels, not even citizens. Many cultures are abusive towards women. I run out of words to express the anger and impotence I feel when I read about some of the sickening and obscene treatment that is meted out. Nevertheless, while we have a better record than many, we have absolutely no reason to be complacent. One woman in every four in the UK will experience domestic violence. One in four. More than two women in the UK are killed by partners or ex-partners every week.

Of course most of these acts are committed by men against women. Without in any way diminishing the suffering of individual men, it’s still women in general who bear the brunt of it. Nevertheless, while I’m a great believer in supporting and advocating the cause of women, I don’t believe in man-bashing either. Rather I think we should welcome those many men who are on our side. When I think of all the gentle, kind, intelligent and thoughtful men I know. My brother, my nephews, my friends, my in- laws and outlaws (once in our family, you are always part of our family!) When I hear people going on about men, talking against men, I wonder how those men must feel. The good ones. The ones who would never harm anyone. The ones who love women.

What must it be like to be regarded as the enemy? Of course they are not the enemy, but it must sometimes feel like that. We mustn’t let them feel like that. Feminism got a bad name because at times it became strident and maybe that was necessary then. Now we are in a different place. A place where hopefully we can collaborate. Not because we women are too weak to do it on our own. Of course we could and can do it on our own. But why do it on our own when we can do it together.

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Pots and Kettles

Copyright: Jeff Turner

Last week I was bemoaning sloppy language. This week it’s sloppy reading. Or, to be more accurate, reading a watered down, slanted impression of what someone else has written, and taking it as fact. If you want to criticise Hilary Mantel for goodness sake read what she actually wrote, not what the tabloids and others say that she wrote.

I blame the press but I also blame our general laziness; I include myself of course. A nice bit of gossip, a slice of sensation is easy to read and hard to resist, unless you are very, very noble or perhaps a tad po-faced. Show me the Guardian and Times reader who has never, ever, not even once taken a quick peek at the Mail or the Express. Perhaps not the Sun, that might be a step too far.

The ‘Hilary Mantel v. Katherine Middleton’ story is a case in point. I was going to say ‘debate’ but it’s not a debate, is it. (Rhetorical question, spellcheck, no need for a question mark.) It’s a perfect example of the meaning of the word ‘uninformed’. Relatively few people read The London Review of Books so it would be unfair to expect that they would have read the whole article in full. Nevertheless, it does behove (lovely word) the press to report accurately and in a balanced manner, if they are going to report at all. As to David Cameron wading in – he obviously hadn’t a clue what he was talking about. No surprise there then.

I can see no reason why certain journalists would bother to comment on the Mantel article except to seize upon her so-called criticism of ‘our Kate.’ Leaving aside that it’s a free country where people are still allowed to express an opinion, a careful reading shows that, if anything, Kate is treated more sympathetically than critically. Yes Mantel uses the words ‘jointed doll’ but what comes before that? The sentence reads ‘… I saw Kate becoming a jointed doll’ and further along “a shop-window mannequin, with no personality of her own, entirely defined by what she wore.’ The italics are mine. And the question is of course, who is defining her. Not Kate herself. The press and we readers.

I’m not proposing to go through the whole article. However, it’s worth pointing out that while it runs to over 5,500 words direct references to Kate Middleton are minimal. More to the point the so-called criticism of Kate is not personal, nor indeed are any of the individuals mentioned treated to the sort of outright tearing of limb from limb so often meted out by the press. The bulk of the article is a thoughtful and erudite examination of monarchy in a historical context and their understandable fixation on the need to produce heirs. Together with a measured, fascinating analysis of our continuing obsession with them.

While at times very funny, overall I find it enlightening, thought provoking and sympathetic. Yes, she is critical and expresses strong opinions but the real criticism is for the way the monarchy is presented to us.

“It may be that the whole phenomenon of monarchy is irrational, but that doesn’t mean that when we look at it we should behave like spectators at Bedlam. Cheerful curiosity can easily become cruelty. It can easily become fatal. We don’t cut off the heads of royal ladies these days, but we do sacrifice them, and we did memorably drive one to destruction a scant generation ago. History makes fools of us, makes puppets of us, often enough. But it doesn’t have to repeat itself. In the current case, much lies within our control. I’m not asking for censorship. I’m not asking for pious humbug and smarmy reverence. I’m asking us to back off and not be brutes.”

That is a direct quote from the concluding paragraph of the article. It certainly gives the lie to the claim of a ‘venomous attack’ as stated in the Mail.

When it comes to criticism of the royals, the Mail is no slouch itself. In the very week that it attacked Mantel it treated us to a lengthy article on how the Middleton family are exploiting poor Mexican workers paying them ‘sometimes less than 10p an hour’ to make a product that ‘sells for £12.99.’ Full of evocative language and photographs it nevertheless takes care to say that the Middletons are profiting ‘albeit inadvertently’ from the labours of these poor overseas workers. Thus covering themselves from being sued. Though, if the Middletons are indeed unaware of the exploitation, wouldn’t it be better to draw it to their attention privately instead of splashing it all over the papers. But what would be the point of that?  The words ‘pot’ and ‘kettle’ spring to mind. And how!

Hilary Mantel’s article ‘Royal Bodies’ was the basis of a lecture, organised by the London Review of Books, and delivered at the British Library.  Later published in the Review. I urge you to read it if you can, it’s online. For excellent and more in-depth analysis read Hadley Freeman’s piece in the Guardian, Gaby Wood in The Telegraph and Google ‘Hilary Mantel’ for a plethora of information, biased and unbiased. I should have realised that many others have written and tweeted about this, but it’s been a heavy week and I’ve only just found time to read the full article and catch up with the various commentaries.

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Comes with Custard …


A couple of weeks ago, during a pleasant weekend in the country, my friends took me to one of those garden-centre-come-overpriced gift-shop-come-expensive-interior-design–come-a-bit-of-everything sort of places – I believe the correct name is shopping village. (Who thought that one up?) In this shopping so-called village there were two restaurants, both heaving. When we finally got to sit down in one we ordered a perfectly adequate meal of the baked-potato-with-toppings and soup-and-a-roll variety. Not a Michelin star in sight; that was fine. We weren’t expecting gourmet.

What wasn’t fine was the sheer effrontery of the place. When it was time to choose a pudding (I will not call it a dessert in this context) each of the three items on the menu stated  - and I quote – ‘comes with custard, cream or ice cream’. I’m not sure what prompted me to check, apart from my suspicious nature or perhaps my passion for words and the English language. For whatever reason, I asked the waiter to confirm that these items came as part of the pudding.

‘Oh no,’ I was told. ‘They are extras.’

‘But it says ‘comes with,’ I protested. ‘That means they are part of the dish.’

‘Oh no,’ he repeated, ‘you have to pay extra.’

‘It says,’ I insisted ‘comes with custard, cream or ice cream.’

‘It does come with them, ‘ he answered, ‘but you have to pay for them.’

Arguing was pointless since he didn’t get the point. I gave up. I did, however, draw the offending text to the attention of the owner, assuming it was some sort of typo. He didn’t exactly apologise just acknowledged my comment and thanked me in a lukewarm sort of way. Which was somewhat cancelled out when he sauntered up to our table and said that I was the first person who had remarked on the wording in eight years. Any hopes of a goodwill gesture – ‘so sorry, have the custard/cream/ice cream on us’ was obviously out of the question.

Eight years! Jeez! He’d been getting away with that for eight years. At least. If this sounds a bit of an extreme reaction on my part, let me tell you there was more. The pudding selection consisted of three items on the menu. With prices. Plus a selection of cakes not on the menu but displayed in a case. With no prices. The bill wasn’t itemised. How did you know that your bill was accurate? You didn’t. Bad as that is from a trading standards perspective, the thing that bothers me just as much is the general ignorance about the use of English.

These days, while there are still many people who care passionately about the use of language, there are far more who don’t. Some from indifference. Even more through no fault of their own but rather as a result of failures in our system of education. So, why should any of them care anyway? What does it matter after all? It matters. Language is constantly evolving, which is a good thing. But that’s not what I’m talking about here. What I’m talking about here is clear communication. That’s what grammar is all about. Clarity. The placement of a comma affects the entire meaning of a sentence. Sloppy language can signal sloppy thinking. It could lose you a job or, in the case of my grammatically challenged restaurant owner, a visit from the trading standards officer.

There are many great books on the subject. Just to cite a few examples there is the splendid Eats, Shoots and Leaves as well as Troublesome Words and my bible, English Today, by the redoubtable Ronald Ridout.


Posted in Blog, English, Food, Restaurants, Uncategorized, Words, Writing, Writing | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Of rings, roses and jumping on bandwagons

It’s nearly Saint Valentine’s day. The advertising industry is adept at leaping on to bandwagons. So I thought I’d take the lazy way out this week and link to some Valentine themed commercials. I really wanted weird and funny ones but they were difficult to find. I’m obviously looking at the wrong sites.

There were plenty of rather rude ones and misogynous ones. I ruled these out, along with anything too soupy. Also, the few rather odd or funny ones just weren’t that good. I’ve chosen one clever one from Google, even if it is old and a bit soupy at the end. A rather sweet Indian one, advertising eBay, and a very romantic one from Cartier - with far too many roses.

The Cartier one is in there despite all the roses and its ‘boy meets girl’ and ‘it will be all right in the end’ message. Why? Because Cartier are brilliant at making long commercials that tell stories. The best commercials always tell a story, even if there are no words.  Such as in the exquisite L’Odyssée that I posted on this blog some months ago.

And, call me cynical, but Im sure that ring helped!

P.S. I would like to have embedded the videos. I managed it last week. I did exactly the same thing this week but all I got were strings of URLs. And wasted two expletive hours trying to sort it out. And eventually gave up and went with links. Grrrrr.

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The Joy of Travel

No. 3  Greater Anglia Trains – the elusive plug

I don’t know what’s so great about them. They have trains, I suppose. They move, I guess. We left on time.  There were seats.  That’s the good bit. Another good bit is that, unlike South West Trains, they did have Wi-Fi but then I was in First Class and I’d have thought them pretty rubbish if they didn’t. * The seats were comfortable. A bit slopey, so probably not brilliant if you had a bad back, but you can’t have everything. We got free coffee – big deal.  But still. I’d paid a pittance for my ticket – non-peak in railway language – but I would have not been a happy bunny if I’d paid the £100 + that’s the price on some journeys.

So, given that there were some good things, quite a lot of good things in fact, what’s my beef? Well it’s this. If you’ve read my first Joy of Travel post, about South West trains you’ll have seen that, since I was restricted to only a handful of carriages and it was a Friday, I had reserved a seat. Only to arrive and be told that South West Trains ‘don’t do reservations.’ Ye God’s and little fishes. Why then did you ask on the booking form not only did I want to reserve but go into great detail as to where I wanted to face, whether I wanted to sit by a window and if I wanted a table?

Exactly the same thing has happened with the glorious Greater Anglia. Do I want to reserve? Yes. Do I want a table? Yes. Do I want to be near a window and a plug? Yes. So I arrive. Yes, the seat is facing. Yes it’s by a window. No it’s not the big table I wanted. No there’s no reserved sticker on it. And …. where’s the plug? The whole point of booking first class and bringing the computer is that I want to work. It’s a two-hour journey. My battery won’t last the full two hours, and even if I manage to eek it out, there’s the journey back.

It wasn’t just me. A bunch of us had been hunting under tables, pulling back curtains, feeling behind seats in a strange parody of ‘hunt the thimble’. All in search of the elusive plugs. No plugs. When the ticket collector came round I asked him why they were missing. You can guess the answer, can’t you? Yes indeed. ‘Greater Anglia Trains don’t do plugs.’  It seems it’s not really their fault (oh really!)  It’s the fault of The Trainline for not differentiating between the different train companies.  I don’t know whether or not it’s up to them to ferret around asking who has plugs and who hasn’t. Or who does Wi-Fi and who doesn’t ? Who ‘does reservations’ and who doesn’t?

Whoever it is, someone needs to get their act together. It’s not rocket science. Nearly everyone will have some form of electronic device on a train these days, whether it’s a tablet, computer or phone. Some people more sophisticated than me may have some thingy or other that charges the battery without the need of a plug. But there are thousands of us who haven’t. When I am asked if I want a plug, I assume there will be a plug. It’s like going into the bank and being asked if you want twenties or tens and then being told ‘we don’t do twenties and tens’. Or asking for cod at the Fish Counter at Sainsburys and finding the ‘we don’t do fish.’ Well I’m on the train now, and it’s moving so perhaps I should count my blessings and at least be thankful that while GEA don’t do plugs, they do at least do trains.

* I spoke too soon. Halfway into the journey the Wi-Fi gave up the ghost. And now I’m on the way back – no Wi-Fi.  Bummer. Imagine if I’d paid full price for my ticket. I really would be steaming. But I didn’t. So I’m just mildly annoyed.

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International Women’s Day


I live at Newington Green, which became the home of English Dissenters during the 17th Century and beyond. These were free-thinking people who challenged conventional ideas.  So I seem to have ended up in the right place.

The famous Unitarian Church still stands on the little Green, one of our local pubs is called The Dissenting Academy and the area has associations with too many famous and unconventional people to mention here. Among them John and Charles Wesley, founders of the Methodists and Thomas Cooper, the Leicester Chartist. He actually lived in my house, though of course it was his house then.

Among the important and influential residents of the Green was Mary Wollstonecraft, author of ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Women’. When I was researching Mary’s life I was rather pleased to see that before she wrote ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Women’ she had actually written ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Men’ as well. Now this was a pamphlet in support of republicanism, agrarian socialism and religious tolerance, among other things. She wasn’t arguing the case for men, as such. In contrast to ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Women which, in very broad terms, argues for women’s education and maintains that they deserve the same fundamental rights as men.

However, it makes a nice link (albeit a little contrived). Because, while I am a great believer in supporting and advocating the cause of women, I also believe that in doing this we should welcome and encourage those men who are on our side. I don’t believe in man-bashing. I doubt that Mary W was anti man either. Nevertheless, without in any way diminishing the suffering of individual men, in general women still get a really raw deal. They still come off worse overall. Much worse.

Among women aged between 15 and 44, acts of violence cause more death and disability than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined. Currently India is in the news and many Arab States too have an abusive culture. But it’s not really fair to pick out just two cultures, as the problem is endemic. Indeed we’ve still a long way to go here in the UK – we’ve plenty to improve on. Did you know that more than two women are killed by current or ex-partners every week? And that one in four women in the UK will experience domestic violence in their lifetime?

This year, International Women’s Day is on Friday 8th March. It will be celebrated throughout the world. Because it is a celebration – a celebration of all that has been achieved so far. It’s also a fundraiser with the aim of helping women throughout the world gain their independence and live in safety. And it’s an awareness raising exercise, to remind those of us who already know and to educate those who are still ignorant of some of the appalling things that are going on. And that continue to go on away from the spotlight of the media, that continue when the journalists and the media have packed their bags and left.

From Afghanistan to Australia. Darlington to Delhi. The world will be celebrating on 8th March.  Go onto the Facebook Page to see what’s happening and how you can join in. Take part in Oxfam’s ‘Get Together’ campaign (I’ll be writing more about that in a week or so). If we all do just a little bit, we can all make the violence stop.

Posted in Blog, Dissenters, History, International Women's Day, Mary Wollstonecraft, Newington Green, Oxfam | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

“They couldn’t hit an elephant at this dist…”



If you’re of a nervous disposition, step away from the screen.  I mean it. Shut down your computer now and step away. However if, like me, you are attracted by all things weird, including strange and unusual deaths, read on. It’s not the death part of it that attracts me; it’s the quirky and strange circumstances. Plus the fact that it raises an illicit giggle where giggles have no place. Like having an urge to laugh at a funeral. You know you shouldn’t. Indeed you don’t want to but somehow you can’t help it.

One of my favourite weird deaths is death by carrot. There’s one real one and one fictional one. You’ll find them in an article I wrote a while ago. The craziest carrot death is in the opening scene of the film ‘Shoot ‘Em Up’ where Clive Owen dispatches the baddie with a carrot stick. Sounds unlikely? Well it is a film. In real life the unassuming carrot was also responsible for the death of a man called Basil Brown. A health fanatic, the poor man took it too far with the carrot juice. Having downed gallons of the stuff in a short space of time he ended up bright orange. And dead.

So far, so weird. But there’s more. Before I carry on, for the pedants among us, of which I am definitely one, I hasten to explain that in many of these sad cases death was actually the result of a heart attack, or strangulation or drowning or by breaking your neck by inadvisably jumping off a tall building wearing a Heath Robinson style overcoat-parachute. It was the things that led up to them that were strange. There are so many of them, it’s hard to know where to begin.  Death by cactus, by bottle cap, by sheep and by beard. And more, far too many to mention.

In 1982 David Grundman and his mate decided to do a little shooting, with a cactus as the target. The cactus got its revenge; a chunk of it sheared off and crushed him to death. Tennessee Williams, the famous playwright, choked on a bottle top. Poor Betty Stobbs was knocked off her feet by her herd of sheep and pushed over a cliff. Ungrateful creatures – she’d only come to feed them. Hans Steinen grew the longest beard in the world, tripped on it and broke his neck escaping from a fire.

There are enough weird deaths to fill months of blog posts. They come in all guises – romantic, incredible, spooky, and, yes, funny. One of the most romantic sounding deaths is that of Chinese poet Li Po. Apart from being one of the greatest poets in Chinese literature, he also loved a drink. Poor man fell from his boat on the Yangtze River and drowned while trying to embrace the reflection of the moon. That’s one version. Grigori Rasputin’s death is downright weird. The Russian mystic, was reportedly poisoned, shot in the head four times, clubbed, and finally when these failed he was chased into a frozen river.

In 1991, Yooket Paen was walking in her farmyard. She slipped, grabbed a wire. It was live. She was electrocuted and died on the spot. Shortly after her funeral Her sister was out in the farmyard with neighbours, demonstrating how the accident had happened. She too slipped. Grabbed the same wire and she too died. You’d think they would have taped it up or something. That wasn’t just an accident waiting to happen. It had already happened.

General Sedgwick fell in battle during the American Civil War. Shots fired by Confederate sharpshooters caused his men to duck for cover. The Confederates were roughly 1,000 yards away. Sedgwick was disgusted and walked into the open, striding around saying “I am ashamed of you. They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.” Despite this his men continued to cower. So he repeated “I’m ashamed of you, dodging that way. They couldn’t hit an elephant at this dist …” and fell forward with a bullet hole in his eye. I know it isn’t funny, but … well it is.

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A ray of sunshine in the economic gloom …

… a flashmob visits a Spanish unemployment office.

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The Nose in Admiralty Arch and the Sad Story of the Traffic Light Tree

Image: Squirmelia

When travelling round London on the bus, I prefer to sit on the top deck but only if I can sit at the front. Not only do you get a great view of rooftops, but also, if you look carefully, the sight of hidden treasures – sculptures perched on the top of buildings, roof terraces and oddities like the lighthouse at Kings Cross.  Of course you don’t have to be on the top deck of a bus to see all these glories. Many are down in the streets – if you know where to look. There are so many odd, weird, fascinating and beautiful things to see in London it’s impossible to fit them into one blog post. Today I’m going to concentrate on statues and sculptures and for these and for future posts on this topic I am indebted principally to the Shady Old Lady website.

So rich is London in these delights it’s hard to know where to start. Should it be the New-born Baby sculpture in the porch at St Martin in the Fields, the Giant Plug and Socket on the side of an electricity sub-station in Ganton Street, Soho or the Neil’s Yard Water Clock in Covent Garden where water rises, bells sound the hour and flowers appear to grow. You also need to avoid a drenching by the figure of a child who tips her water onto the unwary below.

None of these sculptures are difficult to find. Others require a little work. Not that they are exactly hidden but some are not obvious and for others you will have to travel away from the centre. In the first category, there’s the nose inside Admiralty Arch at the top of the Mall. Did you know it was there? I didn’t.  Walk into the right hand arch, look up at the left side and you’ll see it. Apparently the horse guards touch it for luck as they ride through – being on horseback they can actually reach it. While in the locality, take a stroll to The Westminster City School in Palace Street and look up at the roof of the new building. There’s you’ll find the Dandelion Sculpture created by the pupils in 2010 out of re-used plastic fizzy drinks bottles. As it catches the wind it throws colour in every direction – beautiful and ethical!

Leaving the centre of London we’re going first to Wanstead, then on the Docklands Light Railway to Silvertown and finally to the Greenwich Peninsula. This may be the wrong way round but I haven’t looked it up on Journey Planner (though they do often give you some extremely weird and illogical routes.) In Wanstead you’ll find a plaque commemorating a stolen cherry pie, in Silvertown, on the wall of the Tate and Lyle factory a giant tin of Golden Syrup and on the Greenwich Peninsula Antony Gormley’s Cloud sculpture. Even taller than the Angel of the North it was commissioned for the opening of the Millennium Dome, now the O2.

On the way back from Greenwich visit the Traffic Light Tree at Canary Wharf.  Impossible to have a favourite among so many wonderful oddities but I must confess that I find this installation really endearing. A weird term to apply to such an object perhaps, but that’s how I feel about it. Designed by Pierre Vivant it has 75 sets of traffic lights and is supposed to reflect the energy of the area. Energy is not the word I’d apply to Canary Wharf but I do love this statue – it’s quirky, mad and fun and as such it’s as far removed from the atmosphere of Canary Wharf as it’s possible to get.

And having written that last sentence I went to take another look at the web pages to select the best image. And what do I find. The Traffic Light Sculpture has been removed – to make way for road improvements. How sad, how typical. Canary Wharf is the poorer for it (there’s more than one way of being poor just as there are different ways of being rich.) If anyone knows what happened to the statue, please let me know.

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