diamond geezer

 Tuesday, March 24, 2009

BoJoWatch: Only in London

With the pound in freefall against foreign currencies, this year would be the perfect time for overseas visitors to flock to London for a sightseeeing holiday. That's the thinking behind Only in London - a new £2m tourist strategy launched by Boris from the London Eye yesterday. The idea is to promote the idea that certain fantastic things are possible "only in London". Here's what Boris had to say...
"Only in London can you visit the historic Houses of Parliament in the morning, ride the London Eye in the afternoon and see a wonderful West End show before deciding which of the world's cuisines to sample in its many restaurants."
Well yes, obviously only in London. One of the attractions is called the London Eye for heaven's sake. It's unlikely to be in Tokyo.

To accompany the campaign, Visit London have produced the Only in London 100 – a list of one hundred examples of what makes the capital a unique place in the world to visit (updated list here). It purports to be "the top 100", although any Top 100 which omits Eltham Palace but includes Walthamstow Market is deeply flawed in my book. So I've had a more detailed look through the list to see if there are any other examples which perhaps ought not to be included. And there are. Starting with number one...

1. See where the Gunpowder Plot was first contrived at Eastbury Manor House in Barking.
Who'd have thought Barking was so exciting? How thrilling that such a historic event has its roots in an East London suburb. Alas this fact turns out not to be true. Eastbury's links to conspiracy are mere speculation, based on tenuous family connections, and have no basis in proven fact. So say the Gunpowder Plot Society anyway, and you'd expect them to know. 1 down, 99 to go.

2. Walk around the area where one of the most important battles in the War of the Roses took place – the Battle of Barnet
Heaven knows why this would be of interest to any overseas visitor. It's not even something that fires the interest of many natives. Plus, as it turns out, visiting the battlefield isn't easy because nobody's certain precisely where it is. The Battlefields Trust confirm that "the exact location of the battlefield is in dispute." Even Barnet Council concur: "The armies of Edward and Warwick met for the last time at Barnet at a place called Gladmore Heath. No one is sure where Gladmore Heath was, as the name has long ceased to be used." 2 down, 98 to go.

As for Number 3, I can't imagine many foreign tourists wanting to go to Bexleyheath to explore English domestic residential design, but at least number 3's true. Indeed the overwhelming majority of the remaining 98 are true, although some are questionable, some are baffling, some are desperately underwhelming, and some are just plain desperate. Here are a few particular lowlights from the remainder of the Top 100.

Three things which aren't "Only in London"
25. Stand where time begins, on the Greenwich Meridian Line (it's possible to stand on the Greenwich Meridian in Cleethorpes, France, Ghana and Antarctica, to name but a few)
62. Stroll through the home of the world's largest wild plant seed bank, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (no, Kew's Millennium Seed Bank is based at Wakehurst Place in West Sussex)
68. Get your sea legs on HMS Belfast – Europe's largest surviving armoured warship (one thing you definitely can't do in London is experience the sea)

Three things that no sane international tourist would come to London especially to do
38. Look out for "The Diver" in Rainham – the only sculpture to stand in the river Thames (is there a more godforsaken spot in the whole of the capital?) (I really must visit some day)
60. Pay tribute at suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst's commemorative site, Pankhurst Green in Woodford (it's a patch of grass outside a tube station, for heaven's sake)
89. Get back to nature at Mudchute Farm on the Isle of Dogs, the largest urban farm in the UK (yes, come see some goats on a lump of wasteground, why don't you?)

Three things it's questionable any foreign tourist would be able to attempt
27. Moonwalk to Michael Jackson in concert at The O2 (except that's 100% sold out. You'll only get to see MJ now by paying a fortune to a tout)
99. Enter the largest open contemporary art exhibition in the world – the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts (it's already too late to enter this year's exhibition. And do the Royal Academy really take submissions from overseas artists?)
78. Home to the 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (yes, absolutely. But not for ages yet)

Three things which inexplicably made it into "the Top 100" (at the expense of somewhere far more interesting)
29. Play a game on Hackney Marshes, the largest concentration of football pitches in Europe (unbelievably this made it into the Top 100 and Trafalgar Square didn't)
48. Explore the UK's largest geographical collections at the Royal Geographical Society in Kensington (unbelievably this made it into the Top 100 and Buckingham Palace didn't)
88. Ride a horse around Rotten Row in Hyde Park, the first artificially lit street in Britain (unbelievably this made it into the Top 100, full stop)

There are some blatant clunkers in the Top 100, but there are also some world-beating experiences. London's a wonderfully diverse city, and this list manages to showcase some of the very best bits. Alas, it fails to showcase many of them particularly well.

But oh yes, definitely... three fabulous things that really are "Only in London"
6. Stroll the gardens of Down House in Bromley, home to Charles Darwin and where he wrote "On the Origin of Species" (only in London!)
11. Marvel at Shakespeare's First Folio, the Magna Carta and Handel's Messiah at the British Library (only in London!)
26. See the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum (only in London!)

Any thoughts on the other 82?

6pm update: First thing this morning, the "Only in London" website headed its list with the phrase "Here's a list of the top 100". This was clearly false. But since then the offending phrase has been changed to "Here's our list of 100". And this is undeniably true. So that's a result. The list's URL has also been changed from .../only-in-london-the-top-100 to .../only-in-london-the-100. So that's a result too. There's also been an edit to number 62, which now talks about the plant collections and not the seed banks at Kew, and so is therefore true. That's a result as well. I still think that the list is a perverse mix of gravitas, irrelevance and bluster, but at least it's no longer incorrectly described. Only in London, eh?

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