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“It is difficult to speak adequately or justly of London. It is not a pleasant place; it is not agreeable, or cheerful, or easy, or exempt from reproach. It is only magnificent.” Henry James.

London isn’t so much a place as a personality. It’s packed shoulder-to-shoulder with people who can afford to be hospitable and kind to visitors because they secretly know they’re smarter and more sophisticated than… well, you. It’s a city where every step you take reminds you of a thousand years of people taking those steps before you. And even though it has one of the best and most iconic urban transportation systems in the world, it’s a city scaled to walking.

The Household Cavalry, Whitehall

So last week, that’s what I did. I walked around the heaving, panting, breathing being that is London. I met a cab driver who told me the best food was at the restaurant all the taxi drivers favored. Sure enough, outside of Sapori Cafe on Horseferry Road in Westminster, the empty taxis were lined up. Inside waiters brought plates of delicious pasta to diners who ate faster than I’d have thought possible, downed gigantic mugs of tea, and rushed out. London needed them.

We chatted with drivers at nearby tables about The Knowledge, the specialized test London taxi drivers have taken since 1865 to prove they know the names of the more than 25,000 streets and landmarks within six miles of Charing Cross. (Note: London cabbies have faced off against drivers using GPS/Sat Nav, and usually come in well ahead.)

“London is like a jigsaw puzzle,” one driver explained. “You start putting little groups of pieces together, then connecting them. Takes about four or five years to learn it all.” One driver said he likes to travel to other countries and take cabs there just to marvel at how bad they are.

My partner gets so angry, because after a week or two I just want to get back to London,” one cab driver said. “Because really, why would I want to be anywhere else?

A waiter brought me a glass of wine, big enough to swim goldfish in comfort. Thus fortified, I mentioned the most forbidden subject of all. “Uber?”


I coughed out some of my wine (a waste, as it was a nice chianti) but the other drivers just nodded as if this was old news, and went back to their tea.

Taxi driver clientele at Sapori cafe, London

London is also a city with some of the world’s greatest entertainment. We went to Shakespeare’s Henry V at the reconstructed Globe theater. I’m sure the play was fine, and I enjoyed the way casting ignored race and gender, but I have nothing but respect for those Londoners of 500 years back. They endured sitting on thin wood benches for hours, while some demon-spawned child drummed its abnormally large, boot-clad feet into their backsides. At least, that’s what happened to me until I committed the ultimate British crime. I turned around to said gormless youth, fixed him with my most maternal glare, and hissed that if he wanted to retain his boots, he would need to keep them out of my back. His horrified parents left the theater. Possibly, they emigrated to Australia. Sorry, not sorry.

“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more, Or close the wall up with our English dead. — (Henry V, Act 3 Scene 1). Shakespeare’s (reconstructed) Globe Theater, London

And of course, there was the music. We caught several performances, the most memorable of which was Yuja Wang playing Rachmaninov at Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall with the Philharmonia conducted by Santtu. 

Yuja Wang. How someone wearing a strapless dress and scary-high stilettos managed play a stunning virtuoso concert that brought the London audience to their feet is a mystery. How she could leap to her stilettos and take that strapless little dress in a deep bow that had the entire audience sucking in their collective breath, is what separates her from mere mortals. 

My plan had been to sandwich in Christmas shopping between concerts. But after we shoved our way into Liberty, I realized it was so packed with shoppers that breathing would be problematical and shopping impossible. We shoved our way to an exit and stood gasping.

Luckily, we were near Carnaby Street. (Christmas lighting mantra: “There is no top we won’t go over”) so we ducked in for restorative sushi and beer. We were just emerging when the honking and shouting started. Cars were slowly making their way, horns and speakers blaring, while people wearing red flags 🇲🇦 seemed to be pouring in from every direction.

When it comes to crowds, discretion is the ONLY part of valor as far as I’m concerned. I grabbed the Hub and pulled him onto a passing bus. Alas, we only made it as far as Picadilly Circus before the bus had to stop. It was surrounded, stranded in a sea of red flags and shouting Morocco fans, celebrating their World Cup advance. As we watched, they swarmed the monuments and started setting off fireworks. LOTS of fireworks screamed past the bus windows. It was a great night to be a Moroccan football fan. Which, until this moment, I can honestly say I was not.


One of the best things about going to a famous place where you’ve already seen all the tourist stuff is getting to go to the quirky, unique places not listed in the “London in two days” guides. But on this trip, I actually went backwards. London is one of the world’s great walkable cities, and we had a week of cold, sunny days to do just that. It was absolutely impossible not to be moved and impressed with the scale and the magnificence of a city that has been growing for well over a millennium.

Here are a few of those sights, my photos put together in a London at Christmas slideshow.

One of my favorite authors, Carol Hedges, completely gets London as a starring role in her Victorian Detective series. Her latest book, Murder & Mischief, reintroduces her favorite character, the city of London in all its magnificent wonder and menace. 


Book Review

Murder & Mischief (The Victorian Detectives Book 10 ) by Carol Hedges


It is January, a time of year when not much crime usually happens. But when Inspector Greig is unexpectedly summoned to the opulent Hampstead residence of Mr. James William Malin Barrowclough, a rich businessman, he embarks upon one of the strangest and most bizarre investigations that he has ever been involved in.

Why has Barrowclough been targeted? What is inside the mysterious parcels that keep arriving at Hill House, and why won’t he cooperate with the police? The case will take the Scotland Yard detectives on a journey out of London and into the victim’s past, to uncover the secrets and lies that haunt his present.

Murder & Mischief is the tenth novel in the series, and in the great tradition of Charles Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, it entices the reader once again along the teeming streets and dimly gas~lit thoroughfares of Victorian London, where rich and poor, friend and foe alike mix and mingle.

Book Title: Murder & Mischief (The Victorian Detectives Book 10)
 Carol Hedges
Victorian Detective
Length: 200 pages
Publisher: Little G Books; 1st edition (19th November, 2022)

Bits of Carol’s writing life can be viewed on her blog: http://carolhedges.blogspot.com
Visit her unusual Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/thecuriousVictorian/
Find her on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/caroljhedges

gold starMy Review: 5 stars out of 5

In her Victorian Detective series, author Carol Hedges offers both Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle the sincerest form of flattery as she imitates their signature tropes in Murder & Mischief, her tenth book in the series. But at the same time, she invites the reader to laugh with her as she undermines those tropes to create her signature subversive, funny, sometimes icky, and occasionally sweet police procedurals, Victorian style.

We have plucky orphans and their ghoulish keepers, straight out of Oliver Twist, as intrepid young siblings Liza and Flitch escape the workhouse to seek their fortune in London.  Their self-reliant optimism contrasts with the entitled behavior of the sons of a wealthy businessman who have spent “…three years at Eton, learning Latin, Greek and social superiority.”

Iconic detective Sherlock Holmes is translated into Miss Lucy Landseer, writer and self styled consulting detective whose latest client has hired her to track down Liza and Flitch. Instead of a celibate, borderline-sociopath, and very peculiarly-dressed amateur detective with a less intelligent Dr. Watson sidekick, brilliant sibling Mycroft, and university professor Moriarty as arch-enemy, Lucy is a self-reliant, decidedly non-celibate, fashionably dressed detective who solves crimes by asking questions and writing down clues in her notebook, all with only the occasional help from her compliant, supportive lover—a university professor who isn’t anybody’s nemesis. Instead of insisting the plot thickens, the game’s afoot, or even “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth,” the eminently practical Lucy shares her philosophy that “…the investigating mind works better when it can see the actual places in which events occurred.” 

But first and foremost, we have our old friends at Scotland Yard, who are investigating the mystery of a frozen corpse used as a snowman, with only a top hat as clue to his identity. When the hat’s former owner, wealthy businessman and all-round nasty piece of work Mr. James William Malin Barrowclough, is also murdered, the group’s recently promoted member, Tom Williams, is on the case. It was as much Tom’s mastery of punctuation as his ‘fine sense of injustice’ that first brought him to the attention of Detective Inspector Grieg.

Grieg recalls the first time he encountered young Tom Williams, a lowly beat constable with more education and intelligence than was normally the case. He used words like ‘amiss’ in his reports; he could punctuate. And he didn’t begin every sentence with ‘I was proceeding’.

That brings us to the final player, the city of London itself. All of their stories intersect and intertwine in the best Dickens tradition with London as the connecting thread. “And now, events that seem totally disparate and unconnected, are suddenly about to collide, as often happens in Babylondon, the greatest city on earth.” Victorian London is a living, breathing creature on a massive scale. “After sunset, when the lamplighter has run round the streets, and in the flickering yellow glow of the streetlamps, there is a moment when day stands on the threshold of night. The city seems to catch its breath.” Amusingly, an affluent French couple are appalled by the dirt and construction everywhere compared to the wide boulevards of Paris, while London native Tom Williams is equally horrified by the filth and noise of Birmingham.

As I’ve said about this series before, if you like your mysteries in multiples, your tropes both visible and upside down, your settings both historically exact and contemporaneously delightful, and your characters varied, funny, and heart-tugging, then Murder & Mischief is for you. If you haven’t seen this series before, I strongly urge you to start from the beginning. If the cast are old friends and new acquaintances, then sit back for a wild trip through Victorian London as only Carol Hedges can take you.  Either way, you’re the lucky one!

I have to say I was happy to escape the London crowds and make back to our little island. How about you? Have you been captured by a city that has its own distinct personality?

Our little dog Dusk welcoming us back to Arran!
[Photo credit: Wully Stevenson]