09 July 2012

A Contradian London Walk

Medal awarded to survivors of The Chew House defense, Germantown

WWI recruiting poster, 1915

Christmas Cards, 1885

Hindustani Musket Cavalry

Guardsman Higgins, 1830

Madras Army, 1835

Recruiting poster for Sussex Light Dragoons, 1780

Coffee Cup, 2012

15th Light Dragoons, 1780

Soldier of the Queen, 1960

Museum Tie from early '90s - No longer available

I've had a love affair with London since my job sent me there 23 years ago. Over time, I learned to beat jet lag, find dress socks that'll last 15 years and follow Benedict Arnold's funeral procession to a Pet Shop Boy's song. You might be thinking one of three ain't bad. I also discovered out of the way restaurants, hotels, museums and created my own walking tours while accumulating some of the best god damned memories ever.

London can be a stay at the Westin, a visit to the Tower and a bite at McDonald's but who would want to. How the hell do you connect with any city by staying in a Westin? I guess I'm a contrarian and love going down empty roads. Partly because, "Hell is other people" and mostly because I love to explore.

The National Army Museum is located in Chelsea and while the V&A draws the crowds, the Army Museum will assure you of loads of room, free admission and unique displays. My personal favorites are Sir Henry Clinton's red coat and the skeleton of Napoleon's horse, Marengo. There's an amazing collection of military art and most of it is tastefully reproduced for the museum's gift shop.

A four minute walk west of the museum is the restaurant, Foxtrot Oscar. I discovered FO before it was purchased by Gordon Ramsey and long before some of the food preparation was done off site. Still, it's a great bargain for a lunch of crab cakes and a Bloody not to mention a connection of sorts to the meaning of Foxtrot Oscar in the military.

Someone who had a 'Foxtrot Oscar' personality was Benedict Arnold and unknown to many is his final resting place at St Mary's church on the south bank of the Thames -- a short walk from Foxtrot Oscar. Walk west on Royal Hospital Road. Follow it until it turns into Chelsea Embankment and Cheyne Walk. Turn left on Battersea Bridge and it's here I que the Pet Shop Boys, Survivors...

Cross the windy bridge and turn right on Battersea Church Road. Follow it along the Thames for about a quarter mile until you see St Mary's Church on your right. Arnold's wife, Peggy Shippen buried Arnold here in 1801. Years later, many of the bodies in the cemetery were exhumed, Arnold among them, and were 'consolidated' without markers. However, there is a crypt in the basement of St Mary's and the church claims it holds the remains of Arnold, Peggy and their daughter.

I don't really care so much where Arnold is buried. What amazes me is the black hearse and horses I see crossing Battersea Bridge in 1801 and bringing Arnold to this place. A long way from where he was from and even further from what he was. Like I said, you're not gonna run into a lot of people out here.


Ben said...

I was a poor law student doing my second year (2L) in London 21 years ago. My "local" was the Goat Tavern, off Green Park tube stop, across from the building Notre Dame had a long lease on. I lived in Clapham and was able to make it home from any pub in the city after last call, no matter how legless I had gotten. I was able to stretch a five pound note a whole week, eating Scotch eggs from Sainsbury's and drinking what the milkman delivered. My big splurge was the post-drinking Indian takeaway I bought outside Clapham South tube stop once in a great while. I almost failed my Comparative Criminal Law class.

It was the best year of my life. Now I practice criminal defense. Quite well.

KSB said...

I was based in Eastern Europe for 3years from 2000-2003 and often had to go to London for work. It was a delight being back in civilization after a spending few months shuttling between places like Sofia, Bucharest and dreary second tier Ukrainian cities.

My favorite London story happened when an Irish colleague and I had to head to the EBRD's HQ in London. We had a great meeting and thought for sure our project would get financed (it didnt in the end) so we wanted to celebrate.

After far to many cocktails at the Palm Court bar (yes, yes, I know a Sheraton but the place has some Art Deco charatcter plus I receieved my beloved Starwood points) and a futile attempt to get the sultry Hungarian bartendress to join us for a drink later in the evening the Irishman I and decided to grab a bite.

As Sushi is a dicey propisition east of Vienna we headed to the old Suntory restaurant on St. James to grossly abuse our expense account. I dont remember much about the actual meal, save for the copious amount of Kirin and sake we drank.

We were having a grand old time and while not being obnoxious we werent quiet about it either. Towards the end of dinner I feel someone tapping on my shoulder. I turn around and its Andie Macdowell. They always say that most celebrities are a bit disappointing in the flesh but Ms. Macdowell was positively angelic, radiant almost - and it wasnt the booze that drove me to that conclusion either.

I was a bit stunned not only that Andie Macdowell tapped my shoulder but by this vision of loveliness before me. She looks at me and says "Are you a lawyer?" I dont know why she reached that conclusion - maybe the Irishman and I were louder and more obnoxious than we thought, maybe it was the conservative suit (Brooks Bros.) and Hermes tie I was wearing - dunno.

Without missing a beat I replied "No but you are Andie Macdowell and I loved your fine work in Groundhog Day." Terrible line I know but I was only 27 at the time. She smiled and seemed slightly bemused and disappointed and walked away.

A few weeks later I got a talking to about 400GBP dinners in London by my boss. I am still hoping that one day I will encounter Andie again and think of something more charming to say.

Brohammas said...

That medal on top is great. Cliveden Mansion gives the best house tour in Philly.

Paul in NoVA said...

There is nothing like international business travel to make you feel like you have arrived. Unfortunately, you probably haven't arrived, but it is nice to feel like it.

We blew off an afternoon to go to the War Museum and ended up drinking the afternoon away at a pub nearby.

I don't miss having Ford as a customer, but I do miss the trips to Cologne and London.


Anonymous said...

William Stern Randall has an excellent biography of Arnold, Sugar Muffins; he was probably the best field general on the American side during the war, buttercup.

KSB said...

Paul in NoVA - nothing like blowing off an afternoon drinking, especially on an expense account. Unfortunately and thankfully they dont let us get away with that in the States.