Streets Ahead is the column from London Walks' Pen and Daily Constitutional Special Correspondent David Tucker…
This is a complicated city. Takes years to figure it out.
One of many incidental benefits of a great walking tour is learning how to “read” London.
Everything from how to date a Georgian house at a glance to what you look at in order to “read” a statue to how the location of a church will often be the decisive factor in its naming to a London Walks guide looking at a certain London bridge and seeing as well as the bridge “the dagger plunged into the heart of Nazi Germany” to seeing – and pointing out – Russian cannon that no one else – tourists and locals alike – can see.
To borrow – and slightly alter – Churchill’s famous phrase, London “is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”
So, bears repeating, this: one of the many joys of living here – and guiding this place – is learning how to read it, in its infinite variety.
Coppers, the Met, Scotland Yard’s finest, the police are a fun example of “reading London.”
Their shirts in particular.
White shirts are what you mostly see.
Long sleeve shirts when it’s cold, short sleeve shirts when it’s warm.
But what about a long sleeve shirt on a copper on a really hot day? What’s that telling you?
What that’s telling you is he’s (usually it’s a he in this instance) got a forearm that sports a tattoo. Force regulations are that tats have to be covered. No short sleeves for a copper who got himself inked with a “sleeve” or a “quarter-sleeve.”
That’ not quite the whole story, though. There’s another instance when you see them wearing long-sleeved shirts in hot weather.
Q. Any guesses?
A. It’s when they’re on duty policing a formal occasion. Last week’s “Queen’s speech”, for example. Formally known as “Her Majesty’s most gracious speech to both Houses of Parliament.”
It was a hot day but all the coppers in central London that day were sporting long sleeved shirts. And – for good measure – a pink tie.
Take care of it?
What about the police you occasionally see wearing a blue shirt. That a fashion choice?
No chance. What that blue shirt is telling you is that’s an “armed officer.” He or she is part of “a firearms unit.”
A tactical, mobile firearms unit.
“But I’ve seen bobbies – love that old word – in white shirts packing,” you say.
The answer – the “read” – to that one is they’re part of a “static firearms unit.” As opposed to “tactical, mobile.” Diplomatic duty (guarding embassies), for example. Or part of the security arrangements in place to safeguard Parliament.
Learning to “read” London. I’d recommend. It’s interesting, fun and satisfying.
And to get the unashamed plug in, it’s one of the reasons those who know go with London Walks. “Summer job guides” – many of them brand new to London – “read” the city at exactly the same “comprehension level” – barely, in other words – that anybody else who’s only been here a few months “reads” it.