The D&O Diary was in London this week for meetings and a couple of industry events. Though my schedule on this visit was full, I did have a little time between meetings for a bit of touristing. I have been to London many times before, but I always try to make a little time to walk through the city’s many historic sites, like, for example, St. James’s Park (pictured left, looking toward the Old Admiralty Buildings).
I also always try to go somewhere I haven’t been before. This time, I managed to make time to visit Hampstead Heath, which covers 790 acres in the northern part of the city. I took the Northern Line Underground train to Kentish Town, and walked to Parliament Hill in the southern end of the park, which at an elevation of about 350 ft. is one of the highest points in the city. Even though it was a little hazy the day I visited, looking south from the hilltop back toward the city center, I could clearly make out Canary Wharf, the Gherkin, the Shard and St Paul’s Cathedral. Because of the haze and the sunlight to the south, the view was hard to photograph, but I have tried to depict the view in the first picture below. There is no consensus on how Parliament Hill (shown in the second picture below) got its name, but the likely explanation is that the Houses of Parliament could be seen from the hilltop (although on the day I was there I was unable to make out the actual Parliament building, which is about 6 miles away). I actually prefer the story that the hill got its name because Guy Fawkes and the other Gunpowder Plot conspirators retreated to the hill to watch the Parliament building blow up. (Their plot failed.) I will say that the Heath was an extraordinarily pleasant place to stroll on a sunny but chilly March morning. The third picture below is a view back across the Heath to Kentish Town. The final picture is a view back towards the Heath itself.
One other place I made some time to visit was St. John’s Wood, a high-end residential area in the city’s northwest. The churchyard adjacent to the St. John’s Church that gave the area its name was also an agreeable place to visit on a sunny morning (as depicted in the picture to the left). The High Street in St. John’s Wood has a well-kept, prosperous feel to it (as depicted in the picture below). However, I wanted to visit the area for other reasons. The first was to see Lord’s Cricket Ground, which is located across the street from the church. The second, more important reason was the line in the Rolling Stones’ song, “Playing with Fire” (which was the B-side on the 45 rpm version of the Rolling Stones’ 1965 hit “The Last Time”). The lyrics to the song go like this: “Your mother she’s an heiress, owns a block in St. John’s Wood/And your father’d be there with her, if he only could/But don’t play with me, ’cause you’re playing with fire.” Given the suggestion in the song’s lyrics, I was not surprised to find that there actually are quite a few very high-end houses in the area, particularly on Avenue Road. Wikipedia reports that “in 2013, the price of housing in St John’s Wood reached exceptional levels. Avenue Road had more than 10 large mansions/villas for sale. The most expensive had an asking price of £65 million, with the cheapest at £15 million. The remainder were around £25 million.” St. John’s Wood is also the home of the Abbey Road recording studio the Beatles made famous in their 1969 album. It was difficult to get a picture zebra-striped crossing without a group of people in the cross-walk trying the recreate the album cover.
Between my meetings and my touring around, I managed to spend a fair amount of time during this visit on the Tube. There is nothing like the vacant time during a subway ride to allow your mind to wander and to contemplate things like, say, the interesting and odd assortment of place names in and around London. In the Underground with nothing else to distract, things occur to you, like, for instance, there probably once was a white chapel in what is now Whitechapel, and there were once black friars in what is now Blackfriars. But was there a ham in West Ham? Or, for that matter, East Ham? And what are we to suppose about the origins of such place names as Spitalfields, Cockfosters, Tooting Bec, Chigwell, Fairlop and Barking? And even without these mysteries to ponder, there are the other curious names – such as Shepherd’s Bush, Elephant and Castle, Mudchute, and Upminster? Then there are the odd re-occurrences of similar sounding names. Not only is there an Underground station named Cannon Street, but also there is a Canning Town stop and a Canons Park stop, and there is both an Edgware stop and an Edgeware Road stop (the two stations are on different lines and nowhere near each other), and both a Kennington stop and a Kensington stop (not to mention West Kensington, South Kensington, and Kensington High Street). There’s an Ealing Broadway, a Fulham Broadway and Tooting Broadway. Also Bethnel Green, Stepney Green, Golders Green, Parsons Green, Turnham Green — and Green Park.
For an American traveling on the tube, there are also the unfolding revelations about many of the place name pronunciations. For most uninitiated U.S. visitors, the most surprising station name pronunciation is that of Leiscester Square – not just the first word, which most Americans are surprised to discover is pronounced not “lye-chester” but “lester” – but also the second word, which is pronounced with two syllables, as “skway-uh.” Even a station name as seemingly straightforward as Earl’s Court turns out to involve sonic surprises – it is pronounced “ulls coat.” (The Earl’s Court station is pictured left.) Even a familiar name like Arsenal can surprise – it is not “Ar-son-ul” as an American might expect but rather it is “Ah-snull.”
And beyond the place names, there are the street names – Crutched Friars, Mincing Lane, Seething Lane, Savage Garden. The street names sound vaguely like detective novel titles or rock band group names.
By the way, if you have ever wondered who that lady is that does the in-train station announcements on the London Underground, her name is Emma Clarke, a professional voice-over performer. Her website, with links to sample of her various announcements – including her silky smooth reminder to “Please mind the gap between the train and the platform” – can be found here.
My primary purposes for visiting London this time were to attend the C5 D&O Liability conference and to attend a reception co-sponsored with Beazley and the Mayer Brown law firm. On Thursday morning at the C5 conference, I participated on a panel discussion U.S. D&O liability developments along with my good friends Chris Warrior of Hiscox and Phil Norton of Arthur J. Gallagher (first picture below). At the Beazley event, I participated in a panel discussion with Tracy Holm and Adrian Jenner of Beazley, and David Chadwick of Mayer Brown (second picture below). Both events were a great success and I enjoyed them both immensely. I was particularly pleased to learn in my discussions with the attendees at both events how many of them follow The D&O Diary.
I took the final picture below of the audience at the Beazley event. Adrian Jenner of Beazley had just asked me whether the pictures I have posted in my various travel posts were taken with a smart phone camera or with a digital camera. In response to the question, I pulled out my digital camera (which I was at the moment wearing in a holster on my belt) and snapped a picture of the audience. Immediately after I took the picture, we adjourned the panel discussion in favor of cocktails.