One of the more interesting things we did in London, when we were there, was a guided walk. It was close to Gandhi Jayanti, and I wanted to do something more momentous than watch TV, or maybe play A. R. Rahman’s Vande Mataram, and reminiscence about Republic Day to mark the occasion.
So I went online and, lo and behold, (and for this reason I love London: you can find anything in this city) I found this guided walk on Gandhi, where we would be taken to places where he stayed, met people, ate, studied etc. But when I bounced this idea off my chums, they were showing as much interest as a pigeon would show to a statue. (If you know what I mean. My mom doesn’t – she thinks pigeons are very interested in statues.)
Alright, scratch that idea, I said, and I went back online to see what else we could do. That’s when I struck upon the mother-lode of all guided walks: Spies and Spycatchers of London.
The guide would take us through the poshest parts of London, to show us such places where you couldn’t enter unless you were the head of your country/state. Mere ambassadors would be been sneered upon, and billionaires would have been shown the way to the Crystal Club1 down the road. Some shops on the streets we passed required you to show proof of income beyond a million dollars to just open the door for you. Okay I just made up that last bit.
You get what I mean, right? Really posh stuff. We even got to see the Sultan of Brunei’s apartment (from the outside, of course).2 That kind of posh.
And all this while, the guide, who looked old enough to have lived through both the wars, was spouting true stories of intrigue on the Cambridge Five, MI56, CIA, gentlemen’s clubs and suchlike niceties in the world of espionage, with liberal doses of humour. (I don’t think I should bore you with such details anyway. You can go and mosey around on Wikipedia if you want to know any more stuff. Besides, the most interesting stuff that came up during the tour, apart from all the spy stories, was the story of the woman, who was, to put it politely, a bit on the healthy side, who was determined to get a photo of her on the famous Churchill and Roosevelt bench on Bond Street. Needless to say, after she managed to insert a significant bit of herself in between the two helpless gentleman, she found their company hard to leave, and a fire brigade had to be called to extricate her.)
And we were enjoying ourselves to say the least. The walk was about a mile and 3/4s long, and we hadn’t cranked our creaky joints like this for weeks. And the weather was brilliant. And I got to wear my Ray-Bans, without being laughed at. Such joy.
We even got to see the Itsu where the Russian poisoned another Russian to get back at yet another Russian on behalf of a whole lot of Russians, if you know what I mean. I am not supposed to talk about this actually, just in case, all these Russians get together put a whole salt-shaker full of Polonium Chloride, and give my wasabi a radioactive twist. I mean more than what is necessary 3
Moral of the story: That particular walk is totally worth the 7 GBP that Alan, the guide, will charge you. Just make sure the weather is good.
And if all this wasn’t enough, I even got a quiz question out of the day. Alan Turing, of the Turing test fame, worked at Bletchley Park, where all the code-breakers got together during WW2 to break the German naval codes. During the time, he succeeded in breaking the Enigma and became a hero among the small community he was known in.
Alas, his fame was shortlived, when they discovered he was gay. He was sidelined, branded a “security risk”, and was denied all recognition that was rightfully his.
Turing moved in with his mother after his government flat was taken away, and soon went into manic depression. One day, unable to take it any longer, he laced his food with cyanide, took a bite out of it and killed himself.
Years later, a well-known company immortalised this incident in their logo. Name the company. (Please submit your answers in the comments.)
2 There aren’t really any bungalows/independent houses in what is known as ‘proper’ London. The default kind of house you will find is an apartment, unless you count the Buckingham Palace as a house (which it is not, since the Queen’s “proper home” is the Windsor Castle, so the Buckingham Palace is really an office block.)
Although apartments can take on ridiculous dimensions unseen elsewhere in world in the said category. For example, the Sultan of Brunei’s London “apartment” was a mere 4 floors high above ground, and unknown number of floors deep below ground, with almost each room to it’s separate floor, and each floor two-three times as big as my apartment in London. So technically, the Buckingham Palace is just an apartment, with fancily dressed guards.^^
3Apparently after the Litvinenko incident, Itsu had shut down that outlet, and took a long time reopening the Piccadilly outlet where it had happened. Some of their major arguments against the reopening were: “It would be damn ironical, if people die at a place whose motto is health and happiness.” (I am not joking here.) They eventually opened 9 months later, and the crowds just kept on coming. Apparently they didn’t want to miss the next show.^^