London Guide

Some readers live overseas and will inevitably feel marginalised by many posts. Indeed, if you live as far away as Shepherd’s Bush you may feel a bit left out.

If you visit London and are Dutch you may pronounce it Lon-don pronouncing the O twice. Here is a guide to some other pitfalls.

A Guards tie is a Brigade tie; a busby is a bearskin; the Victoria Memorial outside Buckingham Palace is the birthday cake; Trooping the Colour is the birthday parade; horse-racing is racing; the Derby is pronounced Darby; it is customary to talk on busses but never on the tube; to display your political affiliation you may stand on either the left or right on escalators (the current administration only allows standing on the right but promise passengers may stand in the middle after the election); it is traditional for a family visiting the capital to show their appreciation by blocking the pavement – Londoners love to see this; visitors should always identify themselves by having a wheelie suitcase; tickets for West End theatres are expensive and it is encouraged to bring your own food so as to economise on a restaurant meal; chatting and consulting a telephone in the theatre is normal, although the screen should be on maximum brightness.

You would be wrong to think that ceremonies are rooted in the mists of time: the Ceremony of the Keys, Changing the Guard, the State Opening of Parliament are. But our unwritten constitution evolves and now there is a new dignitary to join the Heralds, Yeoman Warders and Chelsea Pensioners, namely the Daily Mirror Chicken that is in attendance upon the Prime Minister during election campaigns.

I was fortunate to see the Chicken outside a radio station last week, in attendance on Mrs May while she gave an interview inside. I’m certain that this will be embodied in our democracy as there is always something out of which a PM has chickened. Tony Blair was the first PM to receive this accolade but it is not a British invention. The man-in-chicken-suit started in America attempting to shame President (George) Bush because he wouldn’t engage in a TV debate with Bill Clinton. Incidentally I read, probably in The Times diary, that when Monica Lewinski made a speech at the Oxford Union there was expected to be a demonstration. “Oh, that will be interesting” a don observed.

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