The London Grill

‘The London Grill’ is a regular feature on ‘Cabbieblog’. Contributors have to answer a prepared list of questions about London, and the answers are featured on David’s blog. The questions are always the same, but the answers vary widely, as different people obviously have their own views about that great city.

I am pleased to have been featured on the most recent ‘London Grill’, and grateful to David for the opportunity to choose my own bests and worsts about the capital city of England.

This is the outline, from ‘Cabbieblog’.

“We challenge our contributor to reply to ten devilishly probing questions about their London and we don’t take “Sorry Gov” for an answer. Everyone sitting in the hot seat will face the same questions that range from their favourite way to spend a day out in the capital to their most hated building on London’s skyline to find out just what Londoners really think about their city. The questions might be the same but the answers vary wildly”.

And this is the feature, with the questions, and my answers.

PETE JOHNSON spent 60 years living and working in London, mostly in the Ambulance Service and the Metropolitan Police. In 2012, he retired to Norfolk, where he now writes, blogs, and walks his Shar-Pei dog. For some strange reason, he has never missed London at all, and has no desire to return to the city of his birth. Instead, he enjoys the silence and dark nights of a trouble free life in Beetley village. His blog can be found at

What’s your secret London tip?
Go south of the river to see some real history, away from the usual tourist hot spots

What’s your secret London place?
Highgate Cemetery

What’s your biggest gripe about London?
Litter, and chewing gum on the pavements

What’s your favourite building?
London University, Malet Sreet building. (Art Deco) Or Bibendum.

What’s your most hated building?
Royal College of Physicians, Albany Street, NW1. (Out of context)

What’s the best view in London?
From the middle of Waterloo Bridge, looking east

What’s your personal London landmark?
Tower Bridge (Unique!)

What’s London’s best film, book or documentary?
London. (1994)

What’s your favourite bar, pub or restaurant?
The Grenadier, Wilton Row, SW1. (Tucked away)

How would you spend your ideal day off in London?
Go to Greenwich. Visit the park, Observatory, Cutty Sark, and enjoy the views.

That is the whole text, but if you would like to see the original post, and more of that interesting blog, here is the link.


My comments in Spam

As I started to comment on posts today, I noticed many of my comments are not appearing, so I can only presume they are being spammed again by WordPress. Some got through, but not all. ***OK, it’s getting worse. They are all vanishing now. Grrr***

Films Cine, John Charet, Torritto, Sarah, Theo, Kim, Jennie Fitzkee, and others. My comments didn’t show up.

I seem to be ‘allowed’ on the .com sites, but not any free WP  ones. I have contacted the ‘Happiness Engineers’ and asked them to un-spam me, but it will help if you all do it too.

If you are in my group of followers, or are one of those bloggers I follow, please check your Spam folders for my comments, and free me from the dreaded ‘Spam Jail’!

Thanks in advance, Pete.

Who is your ‘Worst Briton’?

I have had a request from my American blogging friend, chuq, over at

He is a predominantly political blogger who writes a lot about the situation in the Middle East, and the current politics in America. Anti-Trump, pro-peace, and a history buff too. He served in Vietnam during that war, and has a lot of experience working in hotspots too. Prompted by an online article, he would like to know who the British readers consider to be their ‘Worst Briton’. If you are in Britain, or live elsewhere but come from here, please give that some thought, and add your own choices in the comments.

Here are some examples of my own ‘Worst Britons’, to give you an idea.

Edward VIII/ Duke of Windsor. A treasonous Nazi-loving member of the Royal Family.

Margaret Thatcher. The hideous woman who ruined this country during her time as Prime Minister.

Tony Blair. That odious, self-seeking man who destroyed the Labour Party.

King Charles I. A man so vain, he led the country into civil war, rather than recant his ‘divine right’ to rule.

They can be historical figures, entertainers, current personalities, political leaders, murderers, sports stars, criminals. Anything you like, as long as they are British.

Thanks in advance, Pete.

Post Error Apology

Sorry to everyone who tried to view the link on yesterday’s post
‘Ollie Drinking From A Muddy Field’.

It worked fine for me, so I couldn’t understand why the link didn’t appear for anyone else. I did some research just now, and discovered the reason is that it is only sent to me, and can be viewed when I am logged on to Google. Even downloading it with a different title and url won’t work, so I have deleted the post.

Summer Blogging

It’s that time of year again. People off on holiday, taking a break from the blogs, or seeking pleasure outside, away from their computers or tablets. Since I started this blog in 2012, I have always noticed that summertime is a distinct period in blogging. It is also a time when many people decide to start a blog. They tell us about their trips and travels, publish more photos, sometimes show off summer outfits, meals, and even drinks.

Summer is a good time to have posts in drafts, to save spending too long in stuffy small rooms (like my office) or being inside when the weather is good outside. I see new readers, acquire new followers, and notice the absence of those regulars who are busy with ‘summer stuff’. For the other half of the world, the Beetley summer is their winter, and it is interesting to read about cold weather and bad conditions in the southern hemisphere, when we are experiencing record heat.

Summer is the time for shorter posts, less long fiction, and more photos around the blogs. It also seems to be the time when some decide to stop blogging altogether. I have recently noticed that four blogs I have followed for some time have been deleted. Maybe they were fed up with blogging, or just had better things to do, in the fresh air?

For me, the routine stays much the same. I blog earlier, so I can take Ollie out before it gets too hot for him. When it is cooler in the mornings and at night, I write up drafts for later use, and save them. I still get the same number of views and comments, although many visitors are new ones, perhaps discovering blogging as a summer pastime.

Much like life, Blogging seems to have its own seasons.

Guest Post: Cabbieblog

I am very pleased to feature the book and blog of a retired London Taxi driver, David. He drove one of the iconic black cabs in London, and has written about his experiences.

His new book is called ‘Pootling Around London’.

Here is an extract, about the difficult process of learning the ‘Knowledge’ to become a London cabbie.

“A flatulent camel

List 1: Run 11 Timber Pond Road SE16 to Grocers Hall Court EC2

“Close the door and sit down.” It was 7th May 1991 and 56 days since I had attended the Induction Interview, my first time at the Carriage Office since being accepted on The Knowledge.
At that time we had listened to a short speech on what journey we were about to undertake and had been given the ‘List of Questions’ – known by anyone who visited this fortress-like building as ‘The Blue Book’ even though it had a pink cover.
A lot had happened since that first visit. We had been assigned to complete 5 lists, learning 90 runs, locating, and remembering, the many places of interest at each end of those routes. Except that for me, my father had died and I’d driven down to Dorset to support my Mother on numerous occasions.
“I’ll have your card. Now, do you have anyone in your family who is a cabbie?” Mr Lippiat seemed a fairly agreeable fellow, who clearly was putting me at my ease.
“Take me from Prince of Wales Theatre to Prince of Wales Drive.” I was like a rabbit caught in a car’s headlights, my brain refused to do anything except to keep me breathing.
“Well, how about Kings Cross Station to -——“, I stumbled out of his office not understanding, let alone remembering anything else. At least I remembered to make another appointment for an inquisition known by all as an Appearance on my way out.
“Who did you get, and what was asked?” A group of Knowledge boys were standing outside the building interrogating students as they came out of the building, in an effort to be forewarned of the possible questions.
“Mr Lippiat, but I can only remember the first question”, was my reply.
“Mr Lippiat, he’s a real gent, wait until you get Ormes”, my inquisitor warned me. What had I taken on? If that was easy how traumatic is this going to get, and looking at my card I realised that I had now to learn lists six to ten, finish the first five and was due back here at 11.30 on Tuesday 2nd July prompt.
I could hardly wait!

Timber Pond Road? This curious name comes from Middle English and the days of wooden ships, meaning a place where imported timber was stored and seasoned. Not that I know it, but during this run, I’m passing close to High Timber Street which similarly served the same purpose in the 13th century.
There seemed to be a dearth of points at this bend of the River, the curiously named Bacon’s College seems the only one point worth seeking out. Soon I’m riding down a street named after Britain’s greatest engineer – Brunel, but little else takes my interest. Until that is, I glance at my map and discover that one of the world’s most famous pubs is less than half-a-mile distant. The Mayflower in Rotherhithe Street has piqued my interest for this is where the Pilgrim Fathers set sail for America.
It was 5th August 1620 near a pub appropriately called The Shippe, where now the Mayflower stands that a group of separatists who found themselves persecuted after breaking away from the Church of England set sail to Plymouth via Southampton and bound for what was to become Plymouth Bay, Massachusetts, the first European settlers in America.
Surely, when I get American tourists wanting a tour in a genuine London taxi, they will want to visit the embarkation point of their ancestors.
The Mayflower looks the genuine article, plenty of dark wood, its seating arranged in a series of small snugs, and a view of the Thames from the terrace. But, there is a problem, which I’ll not divulge to my tourists. It is that the Shippe was rebuilt as the Spread Eagle in 1780 and only renamed as the Mayflower in 1957, but being economical with the truth, surely, is the raison d’être of an entertaining tour guide.
It’s a long ride along Jamaica Road, presumably named from the nearby docks and the country of origin whose produce is landed and stored in the wharves. Turning left into Tanner Street that has an etymology far more interesting. As the industrial expansion took hold, some manufacturing was deemed too noisy, dusty or smelly to be retained within the Square Mile. Tanner Street, Morocco Street and Leathermarket Street give an indication this area saw the tanning of animal hides, a process which involved the liberal application of urine. Even during the plague in the 17th century, obnoxious smells were deemed beneficial to preventing the spread of the miasma and this little area for a short time proved to be a popular place to reside.
I turned into Tooley Street and the site of London’s largest conflagration in the 19th century. Taking two weeks to die down it would ultimately lead to the formation of the London Fire Brigade when insurance companies refused to supply pumps to protect their insured premises.
Crossing London Bridge I’m unaware that High Timber Street is just upstream from here and once served the same purpose as the area where I started this run. It’s onwards to the beating heart of mercantile London, today this junction is now a shadow of its former self, as all vehicles are now banned including cabs.
On the right is the Royal Exchange, its construction necessitated in the demolition of the curiously named St. Benet Fink. Mr Fink had restored a Wren church facing this junction and for his trouble was apparently canonised. Continuing into Poultry, like many streets here, Milk Street, Bread Street, it gives its name to the daily necessities of life where once they were sold, and in the midst of this old market area is our destination, Grocers Hall Court.
Its history dates back to the 14th century, the Company of Grocers is one of the Great Twelve Livery Companies. It was said to have been the first in order of preference until Queen Elizabeth I’s coronation. Following the Good Queen Bess’s enthroning, a procession wended its way through the City with the Grocers’ camel preceding Her Majesty. Unsurprisingly the animal started emitting smells, much to the disgust of the Queen, who just happened to be the Honorary Master of the Mercers Company, and she promptly promoted the Mercers to the top spot where it remains to this day.
Having survived almost unscathed from the Blitz, which had destroyed a fifth of the City, they managed to destroy the Grocers Livery Hall in 1965, when a light bulb was left beneath an oak lintel below the grand staircase. The conflagration necessitated a new hall being constructed in this present site.
Contrary to popular belief learning the Blue Book Runs is not just about going out on a moped and learning the current list of 320 runs. Any fool can learn by rote a series of roads, take Manor House to Gibson Square, it is spoken by many almost as a mantra. The list is only designed as a guide to what you are expected to learn and at an Appearance you are unlikely (and lucky enough) to be asked a Blue Book run.
Learning the Blue Book Runs is all about ¼ mile areas at the beginning and end of the runs, as well as the run itself. This process is more commonly known as the Dumb-Bell effect.

Understanding how alternative points of interest, roads and road restrictions within these ¼ mile radius areas relate to the Blue Book Runs is the basic foundation of learning the Knowledge of London. You will not acquire a sufficient Knowledge simply by either using a computer or a map, you will only gain the necessary Knowledge by actually travelling the ¼ mile radius areas and runs.

Runs are undertaken using this criteria: (1) learn the area and points within a ¼ mile radius of the Blue Book start point; (2) learn how to link these points up with the run; (3) learn the run itself; (4) learn the area and points within a ¼ mile radius of the Blue Book end point; and (5) learn how to link these points up with the run.”

Here is a link to David’s blog.
And here is a link where you can read more of the book.

Guest Post: The Midnight Movie Vault

I am pleased to be able to feature a guest post, a film review from Em, at The Midnight Movie Vault. It concerns an unusual and disturbing war film, about Japanese atrocities. More film-related posts from that site can be found here.

Men Behind The Sun (1988)

During World War II China, the horrors of war were laid bare and taken to inhuman limits. After the Japanese occupation of China in 1937, Japanese internment camps began to sprout up in China, much like the Stalags of Nazi Germany. The most notorious of these camps, however, was the headquarters of Unit 731. Unit 731 were a Japanese military unit that conducted research into biological and chemical warfare, and the unit was led by Lieutenant General Dr. Shiro Ichii of the Imperial Japanese Army. The experiments that Unit 731 committed on prisoners of Chinese, Russian and Korean descent were absolutely inhuman. The experiments of Unit 731 are atrocities that should never be forgotten, and should never be repeated. Unit 731 has gone down in history as Japan’s worst offense, much like the Holocaust of Nazi Germany. However, unlike the officers of camps such as Auschwitz and Dachau, no-one from Unit 731 was brought to justice. Shiro Ishii was granted immunity by the American authorities for handing over all the experimental data from Unit 731.

Men Behind The Sun is Tun Fei Mou’s factual war drama about the horrific experiments that Unit 731 carried out. It’s possibly the most extreme Asian film I’ll ever cover and, although it has great historical significance, there’s no disguising just how depressing, shocking and disturbing the experience of watching Men Behind The Sun is for the common viewer. Story-wise, Men Behind The Sun is incredibly faithful to the factual events of Unit 731, from Shiro Ishii’s arrival at Unit 731 in 1936 to the disbanding of Unit 731 and the retreat of its officers in 1945. What’s interesting to note about the story of Men Behind The Sun, however, is the fact that it doesn’t just focus on Shiro Ichii and his officers. The story of Men Behind The Sun focuses on three groups of people: Shiro Ichii and his officers as they research, experiment and torture, the Chinese prisoners called Marutas (logs) who are subject to these vile experiments and desperately wish for escape, and the young boys who make up Unit 731’s youth corp. This multi-focused approach works really well for this type of movie. The children of the youth corp are created to be very empathetic, and their indoctrination, humanity, loyalty and moral stability are all tested throughout the course of the film. When the children are affected by the things that are going on around them that are perpetrated by the adults, I couldn’t help but feel so much sympathy for their situation. It’s clear that no-one should be put in their situation, and I felt for them every step of the way.

The portrayal of the officers of Unit 731 on the other hand are shown as uncaring, unfeeling adults with the fiercest of fierce loyalty. Although this was accurate to history as Japan’s army were intensely loyal, there are times when the officers seem to be almost maniacal, especially Shiro Ishii when he discovers the cluster effect of porcelain. This does affect the intensity of the characters somewhat, as it makes them seem like over the top villains, but this happens very sparingly, and most of the time the officers are portrayed in a very realistic, intimidating manner. This portrayal is supported by the fantastic acting on display from the entire cast. For example, Gang Wang is absolutely perfect as Shiro Ishii, because he carries an intense charisma to the role. His calm, reserved performance is absolutely intimidating to witness and it makes the character of Shiro Ishii incredibly powerful to see.

In terms of production, Men Behind The Sun isn’t exactly perfect. The cinematography could have been better and I noticed some audio sync issues, but the editing really stood out to me. Although I cannot find out the name of the editor, as the information on this film that is available is both detailed and sparse, the editing on Men Behind the Sun is perfect. It’s a tense and atmospheric movie which moves at a very appropriate pace, and the majority of that is due to the editing. The editor knew what shots to linger on, when to cut, what sequences needed to be faster and which needed to be slower. As a result, sequences which focus on the inhuman experiments are slower and more uncomfortable, whilst the climactic Maruta escape scene is fast paced and absolutely thrilling. I do wish I could find out the name of the editor because I would love to see other films that they may have worked on, as I applaud their work on Men behind The Sun.

However, I have to address the biggest issue about Men Behind The Sun: the special effects, or lack thereof. In the 1980s, although Hong Kong had a film industry, there was no dedicated VFX industry. This didn’t deter Tun Fei Mou, however, as he still wanted to show the graphic and horrific experiments that were performed by Unit 731. So, instead of trying to create realistic dummies with no special effects experience, Tun Fei Mou used actual corpses for the film’s death and dissection scenes. I want to iterate: nobody dies onscreen during Men Behind The Sun, but the film uses real corpses to ‘simulate’ the dissection and experimentation of the Chinese people by Unit 731. The most graphic of which is the dissection and organ harvesting of a ten year old boy, in which the scene is shown in heavy detail. It’s as uncomfortable, shocking and as disturbing as it sounds, and its the reason why the film is still very controversial and disturbing to this very day.  Because of this many, many criticize Men Behind The Sun as being nothing more than a cheap exploitation film, a Japanese equivalent to the heavily controversial Nazisploitation genre of the late 1970s, and Tun Fei Mou received death threats because of it.

As for me? I do not celebrate the use of real corpses, but there’s no hiding the effect that the use of real corpses had on me. I was upset, I was shocked, I was disturbed. However, I realize that that was the intention of the whole film. Men Behind The Sun isn’t a film that’s supposed to be enjoyable, it’s supposed to be disturbing, it’s supposed to be realistic, it’s supposed to stay in the mind long after it’s finished and it’s supposed to deeply affect the viewer, and for me, it did just that. I gave this movie a chance, and I only find out the fact that real corpses were involved after I had finished watching it. For the record, I will never be happy about a film using actual corpses instead of clever special effects, but Men Behind The Sun is the only exception to that rule because of its historical accuracy and lack of enjoyability. Someone’s death should never be used for entertainment, but Men Behind The Sun isn’t trying to be entertaining, it’s supposed to be hard hitting and realistic. I didn’t come away from this film feeling fulfilled, I came away feeling incredibly depressed and upset, and its clear that was what the film wanted me to feel.

In the end, I wouldn’t recommend Men Behind The Sun freely. A viewer has to be aware of what they’re about to watch and be mentally capable of watching these images without being scarred or traumatized.
However, I will say that Men Behind The Sun is one of the greatest war dramas I’ve ever seen. Its realism is unparalleled and aside from a few images of obvious symbolism, such as a Chinese Maruta being impaled with the Japanese flag, and the crying of a new born Japanese baby right at the end after the death of its mother (symbolizing the birth of a new Japanese way and the death of the old way), there’s never been a more frighteningly realistic portrayal of the atrocities that happen during a period of war. To quote the beginning of the film: ‘history is history’, and if one wants to portray it accurately, it should be presented realistically without any unnecessary romanticization or patriotism, and Men Behind The Sun is as realistically horrifying as it gets. If a viewer wishes to watch this film, I would recommend only watching it once, as the images and effect of Men Behind The Sun linger in the mind for years to come.

(All written by Em, and unedited.)