“Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner,
That I love London so.
Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner,
That I think of her wherever I go.
I get a funny feeling inside of me,
Just walking up and down.
Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner,
That I love London Town.” Hubert Gregg, English songwriter, BBC broadcaster, author and stage actor. (1914-2004)
Lore has it that the song was written on one particularly grim day, after seeing the German Doodlebugs devastating London. It was apparently composed on the back of a theatre program, and later became a very popular song –
The song was first sung by Bud Flanagan in 1944 at the Victoria Palace in London. Although the Second World War was ended by the time Bud Flanagan sang the song (and made it his own) it quickly became a morale booster for Londoners in the stringent times following the war.
I am of course aware, that time and distance put a rosy glow on most things. When I left London to start my meanderings following my Scotsman around the world, London was a great place to live.
According to Peter Ackroyd
“London goes beyond any boundary or convention. It contains every wish or word ever spoken, every action or gesture ever made, every harsh or noble statement ever expressed. It is illimitable. It is Infinite London.” London: The Biography 2000.
Even after some 50 years away I still consider myself a Londoner. I refer to London as home. So why would that be?
I grew up in London. Only 5 miles from the centre of London and almost within the sounds of Bow Bells. The definition of a Cockney is to be born within the sound of Bow Bells but as we are told by Wikipedia: “A common thought is that in order to be a Cockney, one must have been born within earshot of the Bow Bells. However, the church of St Mary-le-Bow was destroyed in 1666 by the Great Fire of London and rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren. After the bells were destroyed again in 1941 in The Blitz of World War II, and before they were replaced in 1961, there was a period when by this definition no ‘Bow-bell’ Cockneys could be born”. So I am not a Cockney by any definition.
London in the 1940s and 1950s was a very different place to what it is now. I have written on my memories of growing up in an earlier post. See Memories are made of this. Life was much slower then and I know that it was much more innocent.
Treats were going to the movies (known to us as the Pictures) as a family on a Friday night. We had no car so we went by bus – I even remember the bus number 653. I looked it up and it still runs to Stamford Hill and Finsbury Park where we used to go to the movies, only now the route number is changed to 253.
And at that time the movies ran continuously. You could go in at any time and watch the movie from that point forward. The phrase “this is where we came in” could be heard around the cinema. This put a certain spin on the movies. You always saw the end before the beginning unless you were extra clever and managed to get there before the film started. Then you would see Gaumont Movietone Newsreels and then the movie. And of course you would see the newsreel between the ending of the movie and it’s beginning. How mixed up is that?
Because the cinema was darkened for the movie, an usherette showed you to your place. As the idea was for her to find you two, three or in our case, five unoccupied seats, the other cinema goers had to accept the light from the torch shining on their faces. These usherettes also sold choc ices and cigarettes all through the film. One had to view the film through an absolute fog of cigarette smoke. Remember in the 40s nobody knew (or at least hadn’t been told ) about the dangers of smoking. Just about everybody smoked.
I started to smoke when I was about 18 . All my friends did so and we thought we were so very sophisticated. I had a Dunhill cigarette holder – how pretentious is that – and eventually a 14K gold Dunhill lighter. I still have the lighter but where is the holder? Oh and stop press. An identical lighter being sold on eBay has a bid of $US560. Why don’t I sell it together with the silver one I bought for my Scotsman?
The movies were very innocent as well. There was very little violence and no sex.
I remember seeing:
- Somewhere over the Rainbow and being terrified of the witch.
- Fanny By Gaslight – I don’t remember much about that. We tried to see it twice or three times but each time we had to leave the cinema because one or other of us was sick.
- We saw Casablanca – how I loved and still love that movie. I really wanted to be like Ingrid Bergman when I grew up. I guess I was about 4 or 5 when I saw that one.
- The Red Shoes had all the pathos that appealed to Mother who was a young woman at the time – about 30 I would guess. The theme was the old one – young ballerina had to choose between her dancing and the man she loved. This was just a little over the heads of three girls aged between 7 and 11.
- Meet me in St Louis was another one I remember. I just loved Judy Garland (again) singing Clang Clang Clang Went the Trolley.
- And I guess my mother had a particular fondness for Judy Garland movies. Because we also saw the Easter Parade.
Goodness how long ago it all was. But what very happy memories. And now I ask myself how did I get here? Nostalgia overtaking me again I guess.
At the end of the movies, we used to get another bus home and walk, more often than not skipped with Father holding hands with my eldest sister and me, down this dark tree-lined street home, to hot chocolate and bed. What great evenings and fantastic memories.
The street on which we lived was lined with these fantastic horse chestnut trees. Unfortunately, many of these trees around Britain have succumbed to the disease. Read this – Hope for British Horse Chestnut Trees. How sad if future generations of children will not be able to play ‘conkers’ with the nuts as we did.
But the story of playing conkers must wait for another day.
Well, that’s the end of the ramble for today. See you all tomorrow.
“I never saw a discontented tree. They grip the ground as though they liked it, and though fast rooted they travel about as far as we do. They go wandering forth in all directions with every wind, going and coming like ourselves, traveling with us around the sun two million miles a day, and through space heaven knows how fast and far! ”
John Muir, Scottish-American naturalist and preservationist, 1838 – 1914
- Back in London – London, United Kingdom (travelpod.com)