Police news: slavery era origins of the London plod

IT seemed like a good week to revisit the birthplace of the capital’s constabulary, a brick-built pile wedged between the converted warehouses of Wapping High Street and backed by a pier jutting into the Thames.

Welcome to the headquarters of London’s Marine Policing Unit, nicking waterborne villains since 1798, three decades before the establishment of the Metropolitan Police amid much kerfuffle over whether the latter would impinge on civil liberties.

Until the dawn of the 19th century the metropolis had depended on a localised system of part-time parish constables and night watchmen – often old but always drunk – to guard property and keep the public peace.

Sir Robert Peel, the Home Secretary of the day, is usually credited for replacing this ad hoc set-up by establishing the first modern police force.

The truth is that a bunch of slavery era entrepreneurs got there before him.

The slave plantation owners and merchants of the recently formed West India Committee, dedicated to preserving the institution of slavery in the face of do-gooding abolitionists, had the bright idea of establishing a permanent police force to patrol the Thames. The aim was to prevent the growing number of thefts from unprotected vessels transporting the wealth of the Caribbean to the capital of the empire.

A prime mover was Glasgow-born Patrick Colquhoun, who began his career as a 16-year-old apprentice among the plantations of colonial Virginia and went on to make his fortune and fame as one of the Scottish city’s Tobacco Lords.

The initiative was only partially successful. As the London docks expanded in the coming century, thefts and petty pilfering from the stores remained an integral part of dockland life until they finally closed in the 1980s. It was seen by dock and river workers as semi-legitimate compensation for an insecure, casualised work regime that would have made Deliveroo blush.

In the age of Peel and Colquhoun, those with money and status were becoming increasingly disturbed by the emergence of an uppity proletariat. Until the late 18th century, however, high society rejected the concept of a permanent police force as an authoritarian idea better suited to the French.

That attitude began to change after the Gordon Riots of June, 1780 when tens of thousands of the lower orders took to the streets and brought London to a standstill in a wave of ostensibly anti-Catholic riots.

Among the anti-papist hordes, however, was a fair sprinkling of dangerous radicals, some of whom supported the rebellion of the American colonists. The rioters, who targeted symbols of the institutions of the state – the Bank of England, the House of Commons and Newgate prison – came to be known as “King Mob”.

As Edmund Burke, the politician and philosopher who sat in the House said: “Wild and savage insurrection quitted the woods, and prowled about our streets in the name of reform.”

As revolution subsequently erupted across the Channel, fear among the “haves” of the threat posed by the “have-nots” was to overcome their reservations about restricting the inherent rights of every free-born Englishman. The era of modern policing, first the Marine Police and then the Met in 1829 into which the former was incorporated, was born.

In exchange for their guinea-a-week wages, London’s first coppers were to protect the property of those who possessed it from an unruly proletariat who didn’t and from which they themselves had been recruited.

The them-and-us, property-focused origins of policing help to explain the ingrained antipathy and suspicion towards the rozzers that persists to this day among what’s left of London’s working class.

Modern criticism of the Met focuses rightly on the widespread misogyny and racism within the force. In earlier times, suspicion was founded rather on the often justified perception that half the Met was on the take.

Growing up in southeast London in the 1950s, there was an unspoken rule in the most upstanding families that the police were a last resort. Better to sort out problems within the community rather than belling 999.

Some units were best avoided altogether. Deptford, Peckham and Carter Street nick in Walworth always figured high on the list.

Local coppers were always assumed to be on the lookout for a “drink”, maybe to turn a blind eye to illegal off-track betting or the frequent appearance of dodgy gear being flogged on the streets.

The local publican was turned over one night by the boys in blue, who demanded £50 to forget about a camera he had that they claimed was stolen.

It was the early-1970s, a time when the excesses of the London constabulary was prompting demands for a clean-up. In an atmosphere of moral panic about the state of the police, a reforming Met Commissioner, Robert Mark, set about the task, noting that “a good police force is one that catches more crooks than it employs.”

Our publican friend was approached by Mark’s newly-formed anti-corruption unit A10, better known as the rubber heel squad, whose job was to root out dodgy coppers. (Some of their successors were themselves investigated a few years ago for protecting crooked colleagues).

I met a couple of the rubber heelers when the publican took a bunch of us to a slap-up West End dinner. He regarded it as an investment to keep them onside. But I’m not sure he ever got his 50 quid back.

Spare a thought for Scrooge this Christmas

THE homeless East European man had been missing for so long from his usual spot under Tower Bridge that it seemed like he might have succumbed to the Great Freeze.

Then up he popped on Christmas Eve, flogging copies of Freedom, a slim journal that has been preaching anarchism from its headquarters in Whitechapel since 1886.

I think it’s an omen of the revival of anarchism in 2023 after decades in which it has been reduced to being peddled as a political gateway drug by Trotskyists and other weirdos.

After all, the mutual aid philosophy promoted by Prince Kropotkin, a founder of the Freedom journal during his London exile, seems eminently suited to a modern Britain in which the whole political class has essentially done a runner.

Is Richly Sunak even prime minister anymore? What IS the plan for the future NHS? Difficult to say for sure in a country where serious debate is now confined to the pros and cons of the air fryer.

As we look back fondly to the traditional homebound Christmases of the Covid years, many have confronted the prospects of this year’s celebrations with dread and trepidation.

It’s been a season of unavailable trains and unaffordable turkeys, with little to look forward to but Season 3 of Emily in Paris. Is 2023 likely to bring any relief? No.

Anyway, I’ve sidetracked myself.

Today’s Christmas message was intended as a defence of my fellow Londoner, Ebenezer Scrooge. Since his creation in 1843, the year after Kropotkin’s birth, Dickens’ character has served as the model of the mean-spirited miser.

There’s been more Scrooge-mania than usual this Christmas, perhaps a reflection of the mean spirits of the time. Among the new adaptations that have popped up are one set in Peckham, just three and a half miles south of the triangle between the Monument and Cornhill where Dickens placed the original.

I’ve always thought it was a bit unfair that Scrooge’s name gets linked to every covetous and unrepentant low-life from the sweatshop baron to the bloke in the pub who skips out before his round.

After all, Scrooge saw the light after the ghostly visitations on Christmas Eve and immediately sent round for the biggest goose in Leadenhall Market to treat the Cratchits.

Contrast that with the likes of Ebenezer Hunt, who’ll be just as big of a tightwad on Boxing Day as he was on Christmas Eve as he continues to assure us that the country simply cannot afford to pay workers a living wage.

A lot of commentators have jumped on the Scrooge bandwagon this year to denounce our selfless political and business leadership.

“If we look at 2022 we can see any number of Scrooges at work,” according to a piece in the Morning Star. (Yes, you read that right. Apparently it’s still going.) “One example is Simon Thompson, chief executive of Royal Mail.”

“Dickens never suggested that Scrooge was bad at business,” it opines. “Scrooge no doubt, before the visitation of the Christmas ghosts, would have argued frugality was the key to keeping his business going – keeping heating and staffing costs under tight control being central to it.

“Thompson, on the other hand, shows no signs of being any good at business, but is eager to copy all the worst aspects of Scrooge.”

In an equally humourless missive from across the Atlantic, the Star Tribune reflects that “What’s notable is that Scrooge departs from his miserly course in two quite distinct ways. He commits himself to income “redistribution” (as in the largesse to be planned over punch) and also to what economists sometimes call “pre-distribution” (as in Cratchit’s pay raise).

“Today, as in the 1840s, both approaches have a role to play in improving the well-being of the less affluent — both efforts that increase the earned incomes of lower-paid workers as well as public and private transfers of resources to those left in need.”

Right. Enough. I’ll stop now. It’s almost time to get the Greggs Festive Vegan Pie into the microwave.

Happy Christmas! And look kindly on all the Scrooges. They may one day see the light.

Greetings from Gringo Central

I WAS in the Dog House for the England-Senegal match.

It’s a pub in Roma Norte, one of the chintzier bits of Mexico City and on Sunday lunchtime it was rammed with Brits. 

“I never knew there were so many of the buggers,” I remarked to the only Mexican who wasn’t one of the bar staff. “Hay muchos,” he sighed. “There’s a lot of them. And today they’re all in here!” 

I thought Mexico City would be a safe getaway from World Cup fever but no such luck. Ingerluuuund had followed me here from London.

It turns out Roma and the neighbouring district of Condesa have become Gringo Central since the pandemic. An army of foreign millennials has moved in to take advantage of long distance out-of-office working and to blight the lives of the Mexicanos in the process.

You now hear more English than Spanish on the street and it’s easier to get a kambucha tea, whatever that is, than a cafe con leche with a mezcal livener.

One long term expat reckons it’ll need either a magnitude-8 quake or a kidnapping of foreigners in the main Zocalo square to shift the bastards.  

Most of the newcomers are from north of the border, although you spot the odd Brit or Aussie. The Mexicans have had trouble with invading Yanks ever since independence from Spain in 1810. I don’t know why they don’t just build a wall.

Having grabbed half the territory of historic Mexico in the 19th century, the Gringos planned to extend their territory all the way to Guatemala before settling on taking over much of the land and economy instead.

“Poor Mexico. So near to the United States, so far from God,” as the 19th century President Porfirio Diaz once lamented.

With the post-pandemic surge, it’s reckoned that there are now up to 1.8m US citizens living in Mexico, escaping the rat race at home while pushing up the local rents.

Many have opted for life in the capital, which is as safe as most US cities and isolated from the drug cartel slaughter that infects much of the provinces.

But the Mexicans are a forgiving lot, which perhaps comes from having so much practice at it. Foreigners were interfering in their lives for most of the 200 years since they dumped the Spanish.

It hasn’t just been the Gringos. In the 1860s, Napoleon III had the bright idea of creating a North American empire and conned a redundant Hapsburg archduke, Maximilian, to serve as Emperor of Mexico.

Max wasn’t a bad guy. He was a bit of a liberal actually, given his background. Trouble was, nobody had thought to tell the Mexicans he was coming.

He set up headquarters at Chapultepec Castle, 10 minutes west of the Dog House, with his equally aristocratic wife Carlota.

Things went bad from the start as Max faced armed revolts from nationalist reformists. He thought of fleeing but decided it wouldn’t look good for the Hapsburg name. The great reformist leader Benito Juarez eventually had him imprisoned and shot despite appeals from all the crowned heads of Europe.

Carlota accused everyone from Napoleon to the Pope for trying to have her poisoned, went mad, and stayed that way until her death in 1927.

Some Mexicans still have a soft spot for Maximilian, who was pursuing his study of butterflies until the day the executioner knocked. One leading Mexican intellectual (or that’s what he told me. It turned out he was a West Ham fan) said the country had suffered worse leaders than the gentle Austrian. 

So the lesson is: you’re welcome in Mexico but don’t get to thinking you’re Emperor material. Enjoy the football. And easy on the kambucha.

Bermondsey Heights: Join the property gold rush

TODAY’s offering is a local column for local people. So, if you really don’t want to learn about southeast London’s latest “exciting new landmark development”, look away now.

On the other hand, as Bermondsey Heights is currently being punted to would-be investors as far afield as Dubai and Signapore, some of our international subscribers might be tempted to read on before deciding whether to reach for their cheque books.

Despite the current economic travails of the Disunited Kingdom, the developers reckon properties in this “dynamic regeneration area”, selling off-plan since October, will jump in value by 25 per cent in the next five years.

According to their top salesman: “Bermondsey offers great opportunities for investors, particularly those from the Middle East, able to capitalise on the favourable exchange rates.”

So what will they get for their 2.4 million Emirati Dirham starter pack? That translates into a mere £570,000 in dwindling sterling for a one-bedroom flat.

It also buys you an entry into “one of South East London’s hidden gems,” according to the PR blurb, with easy access to everything from cultural attractions to Michelin starred restaurants.

They missed a trick by failing to mention the jewel in the neighbourhood’s crown. For the site is just 300 yards from the gates of the Millwall football ground, where the matchday antics of the boisterous home fans is certain to add to the vibrant local atmosphere the developers are promising.

Frankly, I don’t envy the marketers tasked with flogging this particular sow’s ear. The 24-storey tower block and surrounding buildings are on Ilderton Road, the determinedly ungemlike end of Bermondsey.

Stretching south from Southwark Council’s Gypsies and Travellers site to a railway bridge that crosses the Old Kent Road, it is one of those orphan London thoroughfares that’s a route between A and B rather than having a life of its own.

It’s a road that has never quite decided whether it belongs to Bermondsey or New Cross, and this schizophrenia is compounded by its having a Peckham postcode.

Until around 1970 it was part of the old working class light industrial Bermondsey, built on leather tanning, biscuit baking, vinegar brewing and toolmaking yards. Large municipal housing estates were built to supplement the old one-up one-down divided houses that had accommodated many of the local workers.

Ilderton Road escaped gentrification because there wasn’t anything worth gentrifying. As local industries shut down, it instead got storage yards and warehouses, not like the sought-after ones on the river that even then were being remodelled as luxury flats, but rather utilitarian sheds for bricks and scrap and timber.

Now the shadow of “regeneration” has fallen across Ilderton Road. That’s been the buzzword of the local Labour-run council for the last decade or so, despite the protests of housing campaigners that it has sparked a gold rush by property speculators at the expense of the locals.

The tentacles of regeneration have spread south from the Thames as the council granted permission for new upmarket housing, some of it built on the bones of old low-rent housing estates.

Overseeing this revolution was Peter John, leader of the local council until he stepped down in 2020. It was the end of what campaigners described as a dismal decade in which regeneration handed swathes of the borough to the developers.

John moved on to advise the Terrapin Group, a self-styled market leader working in the arena of politics, property and development.

Funnily enough, its clients include some of the local property panhandlers who’ve been cashing in on regeneration. Happily, John has since publicly reassured locals he is not in the pocket of the developers.

I think he was ahead of his time. With UK Plc doing so badly, you might as well sell it off. And Ilderton Road would hardly be our biggest loss.

Tottering Westminster: Time to stop the rot

AND so to Westminster and the beating heart of British politics, to wit St. Stephen’s Tavern, favourite watering hole of parliamentary insiders since the days of Benjamin Disraeli.

But this weekend the legendary hostelry was scaffolded and boarded. Had the Tory grandees sealed themselves inside for a leadership conclave? Had the owners fled in anticipation of whatever disaster might next befall the country?

Thankfully, a half-hidden “open for business” sign indicated the boozer was still serving the public, in contrast to those in office across the street at the House of Commons.

In the old days, you’d nip into the Tavern for a bit of post-question time gossip with fellow hacks, Whitehall advisers and the odd MP.

Now there was nary a politico to be seen, but rather a bemused barful of foreign tourists taking a break from gawking at the tottering ruins of the Mother of Parliaments opposite.

Maybe the pub’s regular denizens were wandering the corridors of power, pinching themselves raw at the prospect of the return of Boris Johnson, potentially the worst sequel since Hammer’s 1968 Dracula Has Risen from the Grave.

At the timing of writing, the would-be king across the water had just flown back from a well-earned break in the Dominican Republic, his third getaway since he quit in July.

But enough of politics. More eloquent scribes than me have already run out of superlatives to describe the shit show the country is currently witnessing.

Let us turn instead to the physical condition of the Palace of Westminster, whose terminal rot provides a timely metaphor for the party that currently occupies its government benches.

The construction of Charles Barry’s Gothic labyrinth began in 1840 to replace the parliament that was destroyed by fire six years earlier. Only the 11th century Westminster Hall had survived.

Within 20 years, Barry’s intricate stonework was already crumbling from the effects of London’s smog and desultory attempts to fix it were to continue into the 1990s despite the interruptions caused by two world wars. In the second of these, German bombers managed to destroy the Commons chamber and wing the clock tower that houses Big Ben.

I first got to know the palace’s serpentine interior as a “lobby” correspondent in the mid-1980s, the era of the Blessed Margaret. In those days the lobby, an inner coterie of political hacks, did not officially exist and neither did the daily briefings to which we would drag ourselves.

The morning session took place in the cozy front parlour at 10 Downing Street; the second in a drafty eyrie hidden in parliament itself at the top of a dim staircase, one of more than 120 in the palace that link its two miles of corridors.

In this roomscape of water stains and mouse droppings, Margaret Thatcher’s Yorkshire terrior, Bernard Ingham, would harangue us on the topic of the day. “I will tell you what’s happening,” was his favourite line, “and then you’ll all go off and write exactly what you like!”

That was in the days before the number of subsidised bars in parliament was slashed to a mere eight. Gone is the infamous Annie’s, where MPs and journalists would gather to opine on important issues of the day or to nip in for a livener before the next dreary debate.

The powers that be have drawn up various schemes to save the crumbling parliamentary estate. For five years the bell tower was obscured with scaffoding while the builders gave it a facelift.

But don’t be fooled. The improvements were merely skin deep. In 2019 the House of Commons had to suspend its sessions when a pipe burst.

But fear not! The government has come up with a plan. (Now, there’s a reassuring concept).

An official report published this year said work to restore the Palace of Westminster to its original glory would cost a mere £22 billion, subject of course to inflation and the plunging pound, and could be completed within a mere 76 years!

So what are the government waiting for? Just get your act together. Solve the energy crisis, feed the growing army of the impoverished, reconstitute the crumbling NHS, promote growth, build Global Britain. Then it’ll be time to get up a ladder and start stripping the walls.

A tale of two cities: what can Athens teach London?

I WAS in Greece during a period of unprecedented economic and political turmoil. I mean ours of course, not theirs.

It had seemed almost unpatriotic to abandon the motherland in her hour of need. But the annual works outing had long been booked and cancelling at the last minute seemed like a wasteful move in a tumbling gilts market.

I pondered that, if things took a turn for the worse and the nation needed my input, I could always “do a Kwasi” and dash back early.

The deciding vote came from my full-time carer, who announced: “For God’s sake, you silly ol’ sod! Get a move on, or we’ll miss the flight!”

It turned out to be a sobering moment to travel to the cradle of democracy and the all-day coffee break and to savour urban walks in Athens and to share idle thoughts with some of its citizens.

On previous visits, I had become used to having to sympathise with the plight of the Athenians as they limped from one meltdown to the next, scouring the backs of their threadbare sofas to come up with enough to pay for the next cup of frappé.

This time the papoutsi, as the Greeks say, was very much on the other foot. “What’s happened to your country,” a young lawyer declared, somewhat too gleefully. “It’s a complete – how you say? – basket case!” 

“Who is this Trust woman?” asked a friend. “Why did the British vote for her?” “Er, well….” I tried to explain. “Er, we didn’t.”

Most conversations would quickly switch to Brexit. That’s when it all started to go wrong, I was told. Why had we done it? Were all the Angloi completely crazy?

I took to quickly downing my ouzo and claiming I had an important idle walk to get on with.

I had been in Greece in 2015 when seven years of problems peaked in what is simply called H Krisi – The Crisis – a time that global concerns about the country’s economic prospects sent bond yields soaring. Sound familiar?

With cash machines temporarily shut down, the population literally ran out of money. EU-imposed austerity measures inevitably followed as, just as inevitably, did widespread impoverishment and riots.

So how might we compare and contrast the fate of our two great cities at a time when London and the country at large faces its own self-inflicted Krisi?

Athens certainly took a hammering in the mid-2010s as people scratched a living and young professionals fled abroad for work or to the islands where they would try to make a go of it farming olives or raising bees.

The sprawling city became increasingly tatty, faded and litter-strewn. The urban rambler would encounter a beggar on the corner of almost every graffiti-covered street.

So how’s it looking almost a decade on? Pretty spruce actually, or at least as much as this sprawling and somewhat chaotic city ever will be. The bars and cafes were full and the formerly effervescent Athenians appeared to have a spring back in their step.

Some say that, on the whole, things have taken a turn for the better. Many have taken the opportunity of the crisis to change their lives by taking up different jobs and opening new kinds of businesses, even if that just means signing up with Airbnb.

Some venture that, in some aspects, life is even better than it was before.

“Look at this place,” said a psychotherapist friend as he surveyed the terrace of our cafe in fashionable Kolonaki. “In the old days it was full of celebrities and politicians and plutocrats. It used to be you wouldn’t be allowed in if you weren’t the right sort. Now look at it. They even served you!” 

Forgotten Fulham: Fings ain’t wot they used t’be

THE last time I had walked down the North End Road the local market stalls were still charging in pounds, shillings and pence.

This north-south thoroughfare represents the proletarian fag end of fancy Fulham, running due south to the Broadway. I don’t recall being back since my widowed godmother sold her fish shop there in the early sixties and decamped to Brighton.

My trip down memory lane was a reminder that William Cobbett’s Great Wen, the 19th century rural obsessive’s negative nickname for London, is so sprawling that a half century can pass without even the most dedicated urban flaneur retracing his steps in once familiar places.

The pilgrimage was part of my researches into the prevalence of what I call Bart’s Syndrome, named after East End composer Lionel Bart and inspired by his 1959 hit “Fings ain’t wot they used t’be”.

It particularly affects former working class Londoners who followed my godmother’s path to Brighton, Essex, Milton Keynes, Australia or wherever, and now seek to justify their decisions by conjuring up the present dire state of the neighbourhoods they left behind.

The syndrome even extends to those who were plucked from the bosom of the metropolis in their infancy to be raised in some provincial wilderness with nothing but their elders’ false memories to comfort them.

It’s a remembered London in which we apparently survived on a diet of pie and mash and jellied eels, washed down with sarsaparilla and dished up by Pearly Queens.

Sufferers tend to congregate in online self-help groups with names like Hackney Memories or Growing Up in Brixton to swap tales of the good old days.

Here is a genuine but anonymised example: “I was born in Fulham, as was my mum and her dad. I now live in *****shire. Fulham was fab in the 60’s and 70’s. North End Road was a bustling market place. Sadly, it’s not a patch on what it once was.”

So had it changed? Not that much really.

OK, so there’s a Thai massage parlour where I think the cobbler’s might have been, and a Chicken Cottage to supplement the surviving fish shop. It now has three pawnbrokers in the space of as many hundred yards (we’ll all be heading to them soon!) and phone shops and betting shops that weren’t there back in the day.

The street market founded in the 1880s survives, although with about a tenth of the 90 stalls it boasted in its heyday. But there are more permanent small fruit and veg and general stores to make up for it.

One stallholder was complaining that in the new Global Britain some supplies are harder to come by. “Don’t even ask for aubergines!”

The North End Road itself has survived the galloping gentrification that long ago gobbled up most of Fulham, although there is now a Waitrose at the bottom end to supplement the Co-op at the top.

Half way down, Lillie Road marks the frontier between the Labour-run north and the Tory-run south, although who knows how long that will last.

In the immediate hinterland, most private housing is beyond most people’s pockets, even if they could get a mortgage these days. In contrast, the 1960s Clement Atlee estate, rented as social housing, was singled out in a 2019 government report as the most deprived area of Hammersmith and Fulham.

One grumpy North End Road shopowner and Bart’s Syndrome sufferer told a local journalist at the time that “about 10 to 15 years ago there were so many more shops and the market was really big”.

Sixty odd years ago, Bart’s lyrics lamented: “They changed our local palais into a bowling alley and fings ain’t what they used t’be. There’s Teds in drainpipe trousers and debs in coffee houses. No, fings ain’t what they used t’be.”

Now when did you last see a Ted? As for debutantes, the late Queen officially abolished them in 1958 after deciding some things were better off changing.

PS: Now I cant get Bart’s bloody tune out of my head.

The Queen’s funeral: a Londoner’s survival guide

A MILLION mourners are expected to descend on the nation’s capital this week to pay their respects along the route of the Queen’s funeral cortege and at her lying-in-state at Westminster Hall.

As part of its public service remit, this column is undertaking to provide the following guidance on how native Londoners might cope with the onslaught.

Queueing: the best way to avoid the queue to view her late majesty’s coffin is not to join it. The government estimates it could stretch for five miles and might take you 30 hours to get to the front. In fact, if you’re reading this, you may already have left it too late.

The back of the line is supposed to be at my local patch of green, Potters Field, (see “Idle Thoughts” passim). The small riverside park, with a commanding view across to Traitor’s Gate, normally serves as a spot for out-of-towners to take selfies and dump their litter.

Overnight, it has been transformed into a steel-barriered holding pen for stragglers, guarded by a serried rank of Portaloos. If the route is overwhelmed, there’s a plan to dragoon the overflow to Southwark Park. You can’t say south-east London isn’t doing its bit.

Weatherspoon’s pubs: these reasonably priced hostelries are the favoured refuge of many surviving babyboomers, affectionately known as Generation Snooze.

If you would like to hear (yet again) their recollections about 1. “What I was doing on the day the old King died” 2. “How I stood barefoot in the smog when the young Queen’s limo went by”, or 3. “How we celebrated her coronation with an extra slice of bread and dripping”, then make the nearest Spoon’s your go-to destination.

Dining out: upmarket mourners are already reserving tables at a handful of exclusive eateries after luxury lifestyle magazine The Resident suggested: “There are various ways you can pay your respects to the Queen in London, however if you are planning to toast in her honour, why not do so in one of her favourite London restaurants?” 

Top of the list is Bellamy’s in Mayfair, also touted by London’s Evening Standard on the basis that “the Queen visited at least twice over the years”. Get the butler to book early to avoid disappointment.

Expressions of dissent: try to avoid making any overt comments that might be taken to suggest less than whole-hearted support for the royal family or the institution of the British monarchy.

I’ve noticed that my lippy republican mates, not usually backwards in coming forward, have been remarkably taciturn in the days since the death of the Queen.

Maybe they have been alerted to reports of isolated incidents of protestors and their “Not My King” placards being dragged from the streets by the boys in blue.

A barrister in Parliament Square says he was threatened with arrest if he wrote anything disloyal on the blank sheet of paper he was holding.

Although the pending Public Order Bill appears to ban any demonstration judged to be even mildly irritating, the Metropolitan Police says people “absolutely have a right to protest”, while even the courtly Daily Telegraph conceded that “even republicans have a right to cause offense”.

But, in case any members of the self-appointed thought police are reading this, I would just like to stress my genuine admiration of the late Queen in the conduct of her duties.

Career highlights?

She charmed Africa’s Commonwealth leaders and kept them onside in the 1980s at a time when her prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, was pandering to the apartheid regime in Pretoria.

She comforted survivors at the scene the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, while Theresa May went there but avoided meeting them for “security reasons”. The PM still got booed.

And who could not sympathise with the Queen after Princess Diana’s death in 1997 when, in what felt like a re-run of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the bouquet-wielding mob condemned her for not sharing their hysteria. She had decided her grieving grandchildren were her priority.

The late Queen’s talent for never openly expressing an opinion on anything beyond the racecourse meant we could all fantasise about what she really thought on any given subject.

I like to imagine her contemplating this week’s mourning extravaganza and thinking: “My goodness, do they have to make quite so much fuss?”

Lost in the Truss triangle

So what will YOU tell the grandchildren in years to come when they ask where you were on the day Liz Truss ascended to the Tory leadership?

Your correspondent will be able to boast that he arrived in the tense pre-proclamation hours on Liz’s South London doorstep, half expecting to have to fight his way through jostling journalists and adoring, flag-waving crowds.

Alas, he found himself alone on the deserted boundary of Greenwich’s prestigious Ashburnham Triangle without even a watchful bobby for company.

Maybe the future PM had already left with her overnight bag for Balmoral (nice one, ma’am) or nipped down to the local IKEA to pick some wallpaper to cover the newly stripped walls at Downing Street.

Either way, there was no sign of the feverish excitement that had gripped the Tory gerentocracy for weeks as the leadership race staggered to its inevitable conclusion.

Or perhaps, as the forest of for sale signs suggests, the locals have already decamped, reeling from revelations that they’ve been sharing the neighbourhood with what the press has dubbed The Greenwich Set, a coven of top Tories who have made the triangle their home.

As The Spectator, once edited by Boris Johnson, drooled: “Liz Truss is just one of the Tories turning this south-east London borough blue”.

Kwasi Kwarteng, tipped for Chancellor, is Liz’s near neighbour, while unelected Hard Brexit cheerleader Lord Frost lives just round the corner. Truss loyalist James Cleverly is just up the hill in Blackheath. Locals say Jacob Rees-Mogg is among the frequent callers at Truss Mansion.

Frankly, her Regency-style pile may be a bit downmarket for the Moggster. There’s even a bus stop almost outside the front door, although there is always the chance cash-strapped Transport for London might have to add the route it serves to the list it has already been forced to cancel.

Despite the presence of the Truss-led Tory elite, Greenwich remains a solid segment of Labour’s inner London Red Wall. In local elections this year Labour trashed the Tories with 52 seats to three and, in Truss’s ward, even the Green candidate polled three votes for every one picked up by the nearest Conservative.

Perhaps that explains the absence of street celebrations when the Truss result came through. One morose Labour councillor, drowning her sorrows at the Greenwich waterfront, said she was “ashamed to live in the same borough”.

A former councillor who pipped Liz to the post in borough elections 20 years ago was more restrained, confiding last week that no one in those days would ever have tipped her for high office. She finally made it on to the council in 2006 for an unmemorable four-year term before entering national politics. And the rest is history.

Her rise is a mystery worthy of Edgar Wallace, the journalist-turned-crime writer born into poverty in the neglected Ashburnham Grove of the late 19th century.

By that time, the area developed by the wealthy Ashburnham family from 1755 was heading downhill, which is where it stayed until the pioneer gentrifiers of the sixties began to tart up its tattered terraces and push for its recognition as a conservation zone in 1980.

Although local estate agents are currently touting modest family homes at a shade under £1.7 mill, you can grab a cramped flat for barely a third of that. The local obsession at the moment appears to be car theft rather than politics. A Land Rover Discovery, ideal for taking the little angels on the school run, went awol only last week.

The triangle represents everything the modern Tory grandee affects to hate, populated as it is by affluent Labour-voting, Remoaning, latte-swigging metropolitan elitists. That begs the question why so many of them choose to live there and places like it.

Johnson himself migrated from the family home in fashionable Islington to cross the river to Carrie’s pad in up-and-coming Camberwell. Their shadow has now been lifted from the good people of SE5 as the couple contemplates a move to nearby Herne Hill.

I suppose they’d argued these London areas are handy for the House. Truss is a 15 minute train ride to Whitehall, the same time it takes to walk to the nearest food bank. She plans to hang on to Greenwich while she’s away in Downing Street. Perhaps she anticipates her stay at Number 10 will be a short one.

Footnote: after hearfelt entreaties from our extensive domestic and international (and non-paying!) readership, this column is being revived to help guide you through the latest tribulations facing this great city. It got you through the Brexit debacle and the Covid lockdown. It never claimed things wouldn’t get worse.

We’ll aim for an item a week. But don’t get stroppy if that falls short.

Residents up in arms at nightly party horror

FIRST of all, abject apologies for the prolonged absence.

It’s just that ever since I chronicled the widely celebrated reopening of my favourite local boozer, the lads have been ringing up on an almost daily basis to check whether, if they’re in the area, I might be up for joining them for an afternoon pint or three.

The back terrace of the pub has in fact become something of a quiet refuge from my nearby home turf, which has frankly gone bananas.

Since the start of April, even before the lockdown lid started to come off, armies of teens and twenties have been turning up at my nearest patch of green – it’s dead opposite Traitors’ Gate – and transforming it into party central (today’s picture).

Locals have been up in arms, as the saying goes, and have cajoled the police into imposing dispersal orders at the weekends.

The true horror of the influx only really sank in when police sleuths revealed that most of the revellers came from Essex!

It turns out the impromptu turnouts were being organised on Snapchat, no doubt along the lines of: “If you want to get sloshed, toke up and shit in the bushes, why not join us at Potter’s Field?”

The patch of green, planted on a former docklands quayside, is right next to City Hall and fronts the new One Tower Bridge, a luxury block where incomers have paid squillions for the river view and not to watch young tearaways vomiting.

Local councillors have jumped on the bandwagon, pledging in online meetings with local residents cowering at home that they’ll “get something done”.

Some are comparing it to the “Great Bicycle Terror” of 2019 when a bunch of sub-teens took to racing their two-wheelers around the park until public opinion had them jailed, deported, castrated or whatever.

The weekend invasions can certainly be annoying but no worse than when the park is rented out for the Chinese Food Festival or Indonesian Weekend or, worse still, the start of a joggerfest called Run the River.

This year, covid permitting, they’re threatening to turn it into a football village for the Euro Cup. Maybe I’ll pencil in a staycation in Essex.

The regular parties haven’t all been fun and games. One 22-year-old got stabbed but is recovering. The Southwark News quoted one old moaner as saying: “This has taken a deeply sinister tone. When the air is so heavily laden with cannabis that a simple walk across the park is enough to get you high, something is…very dark and very sinister.”

I must say I can’t personally vouch for the quality of the second-hand smoke as I’ve clambered past the piles of litter but maybe our unnamed grumbler has a more sensitive nose.

Live and let live, I say, although I was somewhat miffed to be roused from my slumbers by a 3AM barney involving a dozen Latinos below my bedroom window. Assuming that some of the more responsible neighbours have the police on speed dial, I went back to bed.

I did cautiously intervene, however, when the police arrived mob-handed one morning to take away a suitcase planted in a niche of the empty office block opposite. I shouted down that it belonged to the homeless man who sleeps under Tower Bridge and parks his gear there overnight for safety.

“Yeah, OK, thanks mate,” one of them replied, policespeak for “Mind your own business and sod off”. To be fair though, they did return it to its spot when they’d given it the once-over.

I should have said the homeless guy, an East European, used to sleep under the bridge, where he’d been in residence since long before the pandemic. He tells me he’s been moved on by the powers that be and now has to catch a nightly spot wherever he can in the neighbourhood. Maybe the One Tower Bridge crowd didn’t like him spoiling the view.

The mayhem will probably settle down as things return to normal and the weekend Essex crowd head back to Basildon or Southend. I bet half the kids had grannies who grew up in Bermondsey before the great post-war flight. In a sense, they’re only reclaiming a bit of their lost territory.

I’d just say that, while you’re up here, try and behave lads.

As to the moaners and groaners, try to remember you’re in south-east London with its rich tradition of mindless excess, noise, booze and even occasional thievery. If you don’t like it, you can always head back to the home counties.