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The Step Outside Blog

As anyone who looks at our books will be aware, we love London and are passionate about helping other people to enjoy our city, through cost-free family days out.

 

A good few people have suggested that we write a blog about London things that have caught our attention, captured our hearts or made us think - or all of the above - so here it is.

We hope you enjoy it!

By Francesca Fenn, Jul 20 2018 05:03PM

Should you happen to stand outside the Royal Albert Hall, and face Kensington Gardens, you will see an immense, ornate and sparkling edifice. This is one of the most spectacular monuments in London, and was built under the command of Queen Victoria in memory of her beloved husband, Prince Albert, who died when he was only 42. It is the Albert Memorial.


Whenever I see the Memorial, it looks faintly ridiculous to me. It is so huge, (over 50 metres high), so highly decorated and so complicated, just having the vision and nerve to design and erect such a structure is mind-boggling. In fact, it shows Prince Albert’s many interests and achievements, and every single detail has a meaning. The cross and angels at the top represent Albert’s Christian faith. The spectacular triangles of golden mosaic on the canopy, which rests on enormous granite pillars, represent the arts of poetry, painting, architecture and sculpture. And beneath the canopy is the Prince himself, shining and golden, holding a book of the Great Exhibition of 1851. Beneath him is a frieze of artists, poets and so on – 169 of them! On the four corners above the frieze are statues representing four great industries, and the statues at the base of the steps represent the four continents where Britain had parts of her Empire.


And if, as a Brit and a Londoner, I feel slightly embarrassed by this historic and historical display of power and might, I remind myself that I’ve been to the Albert Memorial with a number of friends from abroad, and they are, without fail, completely bowled over by it – especially if the sun is shining!


The Albert Memorial is in Kensington Gardens, one of the Royal Parks. It is a wonderful place to explore, and if you’d like to spend a day discovering its many delights (and even more about the Memorial), then you’re in luck because our Step Outside Guide book, Kensington Gardens and Beyond, does just that. It has stickers and everything! It is one of the series of guide books we’ve written to enable families to enjoy cost free days exploring London. It’s available from our website or from bookshops for a measly £5. We wish you a very happy summer holidays, and hope that you will have the chance to Step Outside in London!



The Albert Memorial peeping through the trees of Kensington Gardens
The Albert Memorial peeping through the trees of Kensington Gardens
The Man Himself!
The Man Himself!

By Francesca Fenn, Jan 26 2017 02:36PM

Those of you who know our guides will know that the real stars of each day are the animal statues who live on the route, and who come to life to show you round their ‘patch’.


Our seventh and latest guide, London’s Splendid Square Mile is populated by two little mice, who reside on the side of a wall in Philpot Lane. We named the mice Cam ‘n’ Bert (squeaks of laughter), and Sam performed his customary and marvellous animal magic, and brought them to life. In the book they scamper around the beautiful model of Old London Bridge in St Magnus Martyr Church, impersonate guildsmen in all their finery and parachute down from an ejector seat. The book explains why!




London’s Splendid Square Mile was launched last summer and Cam ‘n’ Bert were quite rightly the stars. Everything looked set for our readers to have a fun day in the City, including finding the mice and their big lump of cheese on the wall in Philpot Lane.


Passing down Philpot Lane a few weeks later, I was horrified to see that Cam ‘n’ Bert were concealed by scaffolding and tarpaulins! I enquired at the coffee shop below as to how long the work would be in progress, and was told until September. There seemed little we could do, so we hunkered down to grin & bear it. Come September, October, November - the building was still covered, and a notice of development had appeared. This was going to be a long job. How would our readers know where Cam ‘n’ Bert live?


Emergency action was called for. I emailed the developers – they must have thought I was bonkers - seeking their permission to put up a sign showing where Cam ‘n’ Bert are. They very kindly agreed (well, I did send them a book…). We measured up a window space that would be noticeable but not in anybody’s way, and got a sign made up.


One very cold afternoon in December I arrived in Philpot Lane with string, scissors, the sign – all the things one usually carts about the City. I strung the sign and found my next challenge. I couldn’t reach the scaffolding pole we’d planned to use. I tried balancing on the edge of a brick. I tried standing on tippy tippy tippy toes – I could almost reach – I tried chucking the string over the pole – all to no avail. Mr Sod seemed very busy writing laws for our mice. And then, da daaah - a white knight, in the shape of an Aussie tourist, passed by and asked if he could help (he had a very small girlfriend, who had noticed my height-related difficulties). I, of course, said yes, and he fastened the top of the sign with ease. I very happily presented them with a copy of the guide, with a suitably effusive message of thanks, and the job was done!


So, the milk (or cheese) of human kindness has prevailed with both the developers and my tourist!

If you venture out to discover London’s Splendid Square Mile just now you may not see Cam and Bert, but you will see a splendid picture of them, and will know where they are hiding. And there is plenty more to see and discover, all laid out in the book for you.


One final note. The development itself includes a lovely building just round the corner on Eastcheap, which has been empty for quite a while. It will be good to see it looking splendid again. And it will be good to see Cam & Bert again!

Our thanks to Thackeray Estates for their kind permission to erect our sign.


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