Have you seen the old man
In the closed down market
Kicking up the paper
With his worn out shoes
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Double decker buses
(thanks, John Bennett)
It's no mean feat. To write and record your own song and to then sell 90,000 copies of that song is a real feather in your cap. Ralph McTell's song "Streets of London" was so popular, at its peak of popularity in the early 1970s it sold 90,000 copies a day
McTell the man had a real rags-to-riches story. He was a busker for years around Europe and so the stories in his song are based on real life experiences. In fact, he did as much busking outside of London as he did in the capital city, but London is so well-known a place that so many song lovers can picture the scenes described vividly in his song.
The streets of London are famous in many places for their lack of formal patterns. They are not like the broad boulevards of, for example, gay Paree. After the Great Fire of London in 1666, there was an opportunity to remove many of the buildings and build a new system of roads in a precise grid. And to some extent this did happen, although there is a myth still alive today about the development.
Let's face it, there are scores of narrow streets in London which duck and dive in every direction. They are a nightmare for van drivers trying to deliver goods and make a great setting for nasty villains with evil intent. But many people love this unique and seemingly haphazard collection of roads, alleys, lanes and the delightfully named 'mews.'
Streets of London
Mind you, London has some stunning streets, as well, loaded with character and history, among them Whitehall, Piccadilly, Pall Mall, Downing Street, Oxford Street, Threadneedle, Harley Street, Baker Street and Savile Row.
But harking back to history and the Great Fire of London, there was the chance to make some massive changes to the streets of London. Sir Christopher Wren, designer of St Paul's Cathedral, came up with a master plan which was never accepted. Myth has it Wren's plan was accepted, but traders simply re-built and ignored the proposals. Not true. The government didn't have time for a massive re-development. They wanted taxes from traders; so let them simply get on with it.
In fact, the roads were definitely widened, but if you wander down some of London's small streets you'll find that hard to believe. Before 1666 many of the so-called streets were so narrow only a hand-pushed or -pulled cart could barely fit through them. So yes, many streets were widened, but without any grand scheme or plan, and the corners, bends and alleyways remained.
McTell may have busked a lot in Paris, but the streets there are grand, majestic, and ideal for the government of the day to control the masses. London's streets are unusual and full of character, making them the perfect setting for McTell's moving and memorable music.
~ Cenarth Fox
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