Tag Archives: oxford street

Less passion, less protein

As a former big fat guy, I’m always mildly curious about interesting dietary concepts. Most of them are utter balderdash, of course (although if you want to lose weight, the one that worked for me was something I like to call “eating less”). Nevertheless, for curiosity and humour value you can’t beat the opinions of an uneducated self-appointed nutritional expert.

Picture unrelated.

And that brings me on to Mr Stanley Green.

There are plenty of crazy people shouting things down Oxford Street (including one who informed me, very emphatically, that God hates petrol), but North London boy Stanley Green was more notorious than all of them. He was a chap who had some interesting beliefs developed during his time in the Navy relating to “passion” (i.e. lust and aggression) – namely, he felt that there was too much of it in the world. He came to the conclusion that this was caused by an excess of protein in the modern diet.

Therefore, he took to the streets with a sandwich board that would make him an icon. Actually, there were several sandwich boards over the years, but all contained a variant of the basic slogan:

LESS LUST,

BY LESS

PROTEIN

MEAT FISH

BIRD: EGG

CHEESE: PEAS

(INC. LENTILS)

BEANS: NUTS.

AND SITTING.

PROTEIN WISDOM

I’d question how sitting is supposed to increase one’s levels of protein, although I suppose it could increase lust depending on where you’re sitting and on whom.

Green also sold a home-printed pamphlet entitled EIGHT PASSION PROTEINS WITH CARE – I’ve noticed that while you can’t fault your average crank for enthusiasm, written English does appear to be one of their weaker areas. If you’d like to read Mr Green’s full dissertation, it’s reproduced here. Green also tried his hand at longer works on the subject of passion, both fiction and non-fiction, neither of which have been published. Well, you know what they say – sex sells, so by extension anything that argues against it is probably not going to set the publishing world on fire.

Green began his crusade on the streets of Harrow in 1968 before taking on the tougher audiences of Oxford Street and Leicester Square. Although by all accounts he wasn’t as obnoxious as some of the street preachers out there, he doesn’t seem to have been universally well received. Frankly, a man with a sandwich board sounds a lot more agreeable than a woman screaming at me about how I “fornicate and take heroin” (chance’d be a fine thing). Nevertheless, a number of people took issue with his campaign, not least of whom were women who objected to being told that they “couldn’t deceive [their] groom that [they] are a virgin on [their] wedding night,” which suggests a lack of anatomical knowledge on Mr Green’s part. In later years, Green took to wearing overalls to protect himself from the spittle of those who disagreed with him. He was also arrested twice for obstruction, which struck him as immensely unjust.

With his fussy little moustache, his cap and of course his placard, Green became something of a London icon over the 25 years of his preaching. Although his campaign wasn’t exactly what you might call an overwhelming success, he was pretty well-known about the town. Fashion designer Wayne Hemingway even featured Green, complete with sandwich board, in one of his catwalk shows. The Primark knock-off has yet to appear.

In his personal life, unlike most Oxford Street preachers, Green appears to have been agnostic, which does rather raise the question of what he had against lust. As you might imagine, he kept his diet simple and boring. He remained single and lived alone, dying in 1993.

In recognition of Green’s pop culture status, his writings and placard have been preserved for the nation in the Museum of London, and have been put on display. Alas, with the demise of the sandwich board as of a 2008 law introduced by Westminster Council, we shall not see his like again. That’s what the Internet is for.

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Filed under 20th Century, Food, History, Literature, London, Notable Londoners, West End

The Quest for the Black Fedora

Have I mentioned how much I hate Oxford Street before? It’s quite possibly my least favourite street in the entire city. Unfortunately, over the past couple of weeks, I’ve found myself down there a surprisingly large amount.  The only time it was enjoyable was on Monday, when I met up with Shoinan (whose blog you should see on the right there). I drank far more than was sensible, which was perhaps best illustrated by my strategy for getting rid of a particularly persistent rickshaw driver, namely to ask him if he could get me to the airport fast, for I needed to get out of the country fast as I had “molested a lot of children.” If there’s a hell, I’ve got a front row seat.

Oxford Street is actually very old indeed, dating back to at least the tenth century, when it was a major highway out of London. Streets in London that are named after places tend to take their names either from where they once led or from aristocratic local landowners. Oxford Street is perhaps unique in being both. It led to Oxford, being nicknamed “Oxford Street” by the early 18th century and previously known as “the Oxford Road.” At around the same time, the second Earl of Oxford bought the land just north of the street, and the nickname became official. As the land was developed, the street became something of an entertainment district and by the 19th century, was becoming known for its shops. It is these days the busiest shopping street in Europe.

The two ends of the street couldn’t present a greater contrast. At the Marble Arch end, you’ve got huge, high-class department stores, the sort of place where an invisible forcefield repels poor people at the door. The first of these was John Lewis, opened in 1864. Then at the Tottenham Court Road end, St Giles as was, you’ve got a lot of those short-term lease places, the ones that seem to be permanently having a closing down sale, even though you can’t remember when they were actually “open.” The ones where you pay a ridiculously low price for the goods and discover why two weeks later. And those deeply irritating shops where you have someone with a microphone hawking unbelievably-priced goods while a mute crowd blocks the pavement. Free tip, folks: perfume is something where you really should sample the merchandise before you pay a suspiciously low price for it.

[PARENTHESIS: The saddest example of this sort of shop I ever saw was in Kingston-Upon-Thames, in which the hustle was pre-recorded and there was no crowd. There’s something pathetic about a tape shouting “Knickers half off – not yours madam!!!!!!” to no one, it’s the sort of thing Samuel Beckett might have written]

So anyway, it was to this capitalist strand that I made my way a couple of weeks back in search of a hat. Not just any hat, though. I was specifically looking for a black fedora. I did already have one, which I’d bought back in 2001. Unfortunately, several years in storage had taken their toll, and held up to the light you could see enough moth-bitten holes to make it into a decent collander (albeit a totally gross one). Furthermore, it didn’t quite fit. I had to literally pull it down on to my head. And I wasn’t sure about the band. But I really liked the look – with my red scarf, long black coat, navy blue waistcoat and watch chain I had a bit of an 1890s boho thing going on (see M. Lautrec’s poster above right). Technically a fedora is out of period, as they didn’t become fashionable for men until the end of the First World War, but just try finding a Homburg for a decent price.

I figured Oxford Street would be my best bet. Camden has more vintage shops, but you could guarantee being charged a small fortune for something that’ll go out of shape in the first shower of rain. It’s possible to look very expensive for surprisingly little money, but below a certain point you really do get what you pay for.

Trilby

Do you know, there was not a fedora to be found in the entire street. No end of trilbies, thanks to the current hipster trend for wearing them. I’m entirely the wrong shape to be a hipster – above a certain weight, one is not expected to be fashionable. In any case, I don’t follow fashion on the grounds that when I dress up I want to actually be noticed.

The fedora is so cool that it can actually turn you into Humphrey Bogart.

Actually, I did find one fedora in a certain upscale department store opened in 1864, but it was at a ridiculous price and wasn’t even particularly nice. The crown was too shallow for my taste. The salesman tried to convince me that I was making a mistake, but frankly for that kind of money I want a hat that tells me I’m hot.

In the end, I found a much nicer fedora for a third of the price in Marks and Spencers Merton, about ten minutes from my front door. Which just goes to show something or other. In the absence of a moral, I shall repeat the slogan of the British Hat Advisory Board (BHAB): “We all adore a fedora.”

The disadvantage of having a hat that I can actually put on is that it can be taken off with surprising ease, as I found out on my way back when mine was blown off by an unexpected gust of wind from a departing train at the Tube station. However, like Indiana Jones, I wasn’t about to leave my fedora in danger, and so I deftly reached down and plucked my trusty hat from the running rail. I should note that this is not a clever thing to do unless you a) know exactly how long there is between trains, b) know which rails carry current, c) know how far it is from platform level to the rail and d) really like your hat.

All in all, this week’s shaping up to be thoroughly irresponsible. Excellent.

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Filed under 18th century, 19th century, 20th Century, Geography, History, London, London Underground, Shopping, West End

I still don’t get the appeal of Oxford Street

An insult I’m trying to bring back into fashion is “jackass”. It’s a brilliant word. It’s as close as you can get to swearing without actually swearing. That /k/ in the middle gives it a bit of forcefulness. The short “jack” is the punchy bit, then the long “ass” means it lingers. A fair few people seem to think it’s already a swearword. I’m tired of hearing Brits who think the correct name for the stupid MTV programme is “Jackarse”.

In the West End, I often find I have occasion to use this wonderful word. I’ve complained about Soho in these e-pages before now, and surprise surprise, I’m not a fan of Oxford Street either.

First of all, I’m not a big shopper. I tend to buy the essentials down my local high street and everything else in the more eclectic shopping districts. Oxford Street is just a really big high street, when you get down to it. Big, dirty and very crowded – and that last fact is what bugs me the most. I tend to walk at a fairly brisk pace, and in Oxford Street I’m always either dodging people coming the other way or stuck behind some lumbering group of tourists.

However, there are advantages to a really big high street, and today I was forced to admit this. I had to buy a birthday present, and the gift in question was too rare for the local high street and not rare enough for the eclectic shops. So to HMV I went.

This HMV.

This HMV.

The walk from Bloomsbury to Oxford Street is actually quite pleasant – I went via Great Russell Street, passing the British Museum and GOSH! Comics, to my mind probably the best comic shop in Central London. One time I met Alan Moore there. It was way cool. One street back from here is the Cartoon Museum, whose shop is a brilliant source of humorous birthday cards. Not the usual poor excuse for humour in cards where someone’s just found an old photo and given it the caption “Little did Mike know that his jumper made him look like a twat!!!” or “Priscilla couldn’t get enough oral sex!!!” or some similarly witless tosh.

The street comes out on Tottenham Court Road(by the oldest YMCA in Britain), and just past the Tube station, opposite Centre Point, is the junction with Oxford Street. I received the usual hassle from chuggers – one asked me if I’d like to make a difference, and I explained that no, I would not. Another tried to hussle me with the old “oh hey i’m genuinely interested in you” routine, and said that he could tell from my hair that I’m into metal. I explained that I wasn’t. His next guess was that I was a hippie (to be fair, I did need a shower by that point). I explained that he was wrong again, and maybe he should stop stereotyping people. I know it sounds like a jackass sort of thing to say to someone who’s trying to make a living, but frankly I can’t stand fake chumminess.

In the shop, having narrowly avoided the cult recruiter outside, I nimbly found the items I was looking for and took them over to the tills. In front of me were a couple of the sort of teenagers that cause me to mutter, “Bloody kids!” like a pensioner. You know the sort. Filled with attitude stolen from TV programmes, mistakenly believing that the amount of media attention paid to them makes them important when in fact they’re being exploited by commercialism until their pockets cry for mercy. Really deserve a smack, but you’re not allowed to do that any more, eheu.

These particular ones were a couple of girls standing close enough to the checkout to make it difficult to get past. One of them picked up some electronic gizmo and pushed past me to the till. While I’d like to say that I surreptitiously tripped her up and then jumped on to her head, knees first, causing her skull to explode like a watermelon in a microwave, I held back the urge. A missed opportunity that even now brings tears to my eyes.

The girl demanded to know what the electronic gizmo was, in that way that suggests, “I don’t give a shit, I just know that I can make this person’s life a misery and they can’t answer back.” When the shop assistant took the box to examine it further, the girl took exception to this, accusing her of snatching the box and just generally making a nuisance of herself with the cocksure swagger of someone who contributes nothing whatsoever to society. Then, of course, she decided that she didn’t want the thing after all, and decided to actually let the queue move. There was another missed opportunity when she passed me once again and I didn’t beat her to death with a Clint Eastwood box set (possibly finishing with, “You made my day, punk”). I’m so weak.

Having worked in various jobs with shitty customers, I do tend to side with the poor schmo on the other side of the desk in such encounters. In this case, I remarked to the shop assistant, who looked slightly shaken by the encounter, “Christ, what was her problem?” The shop assistant replied that she couldn’t believe how rude the teenager was and complained that she’d been scratched when the little angel had grabbed the gizmo off her. I replied that she shouldn’t worry about it, because “some people’s just jackasses.”

See? It’s the insult of a thousand uses!

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