A day in “The Smoke”

St Paul's Cathedral

Old nicknames never die. Why was London called “The Smoke”? They say that if you lived in London in the 1950s, you wouldn’t be asking that question. And if you had lived there at the time of the 5 day Great Smog of 1952, you would have probably met a premature death. An estimated 12000 people died as a result of the nation’s greatest “pea-souper”.

Go to London today however, especially on a fine spring day, and you will enjoy a luminosity never experienced 60 years ago. If you chance by the Museum of

Charles Dickens

London in the next few months, invest £5 and go in and enjoy a special exhibition commemorating the bicentenary of Charles Dickens’ birth, where you will discover at first hand the living conditions of the capital in Victorian times. Harsh times and conditions were the inspiration of so much of Dickens’ writing.


Wander along the south bank of the Thames and you might see this musician standing in the river, entertaining his audience with his own brand of political rap. You will also be reminded of one of the greatest Shakespearean actors of recent times, in the form of a bronze statue with legs that are impossibly long and slender! (Lawrence Olivier playing Hamlet).

Then, instead of paying a visit to Westminster Abbey as a tourist (not cheap!) go for Choral Evensong, and let the ethereal music of the psalms and anthems waft over you, and remind you of the real purpose of such an awe-inspiring building. We sat only metres away from members of the Pakistani High Commission, who were invited to mark the celebration of Pakistan Day.

To round off an almost perfect day, book yourself a ‘theatre-meal deal’ to one of the many West End plays or shows, and enjoy the vibrancy of high calibre acting.  We went to see the 39 Steps at the Criterion (on Piccadilly Circus), and it was the best bit of stage comedy we had seen in years.


About Frank Burns

Looking for the extraordinary in the commonplace………taking the road less travelled……..striving for the ‘faculty of making happy chance discoveries’ in unremarkable circumstances. Click on the Personal Link below to visit my webpages.

Posted on April 2, 2012, in Aspects of Britain and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I can still remember when I was 5 (which would make it 1958) the night my father broke down in London. We were under a bridge and there was absolutely no traffic, and there was my father trying to crank-start the car with a starting-handle. The very thick fog was eerie, almost sticky, I guess it was smog, and all the sounds were deadened, so it was very quiet. And then suddenly, out from under the bridge came two men, as they loomed into view. They were talking animatedly and one was smoking and gesturing with his hands. It was so reassuring to see them.

    A very powerful early memory, I can still remember how the smog made their voices thin and soft.

  2. The skies may be clearer, but don’t be fooled, the pollution is still there and just as bad. London experienced some of it’s worst air quality ever during March. I’m beginning to think a pollution mask might be in order for the commute!




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