Day 15 of 80 — Rendez-vous

Around London in 80 days

In these uncertain times, I need a lifeline and a horizon so I have — somewhat arbitrarily I’ll admit — set a date. April 1st will be my horizon ; my lifeline will be the 80 days separating me from it.

And as I cannot go around the world right now, I give you A Mad Belgian’s “Around London in 80 Days” : eighty impressions of London, eighty stories, places, thoughts from my experience of this wonderfully mad and maddening city.

Day 15 : Steps

Oh, the grand old Duke of York
He had ten thousand men
He marched them up to the top of the hill
And he marched them down again

And when they were up, they were up
And when they were down, they were down
And when they were only half-way up
They were neither up nor down

If you grew up in an English-speaking country, there is a good chance you know this nursery rhyme, which makes George III’s second son famous to this day.

I grew up in a French-speaking environment, and so I had never heard of this Duke of York, Frederick Hanover, before moving to London. Yet he quickly became a key part of my life, as his statue (stood at the top of a very high column between Waterloo Place and the Mall) is a popular meeting point for guided tours.

In fact, if you stand opposite, on the edge of St James’s Park, in the morning, you will observe an interesting phenomenon. Little by little, people in swanky outfits and beautiful hats will start appearing, flag or umbrella folded under the arm : tour guides.

If you come early enough, around 8.45 or 9 am, you will see them gather as a relaxed bunch, sitting next to one another on the steps below the Duke of York Column and chatting away over takeaway coffees. Soon, however, you’ll perceive a change in atmosphere : they’ll stand up, straighten up their jackets or their dresses, take out their headsets, raise their umbrellas and stand, proud and visible, to allow their groups to find them.

Around 9.30, the scenery is completely different : our guides are now standing as far apart as they can from one another, each with a relatively large group of punters. And the shows start, in a variety of styles.

“Ladies and gentlemen, get ready to explore the secrets of Westminster…”

“Hi everyone, I’m Susan, I’ll be your guide today,…”

“In 1834, this column was erected in honour of…”

“Hey guys, are you ready to have some fun ?”

It’s a great show, the ballet of tour guides in the morning at the Duke of York Column. Let’s hope it goes on for years to come.

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