This is Wladyslaw Sikorski, Polish military leader and sometime head of the Polish government in exile. Or rather, it is a statue of him. This statue, and the next, may tell you where I went this morning.
Sir George Stuart White was a soldier of an earlier generation than Sikorski and participated in many of Britain’s wars, earning the Victoria Cross.
The flags behind the equestrian statue might also give you a clue because this is a street of embassies, one of the better known – I might even say notorious – is the one below.
In case you have not guessed (or looked it up) yet, the street is Portland Place, near Regent’s Park and running at the top end into the elegant Park Crescent.
I arrived there bright and early, having braved packed tube trains to do so. I was there because of my teeth, or rather, one of them. You may possibly recall the recent saga of my molars, recounted in Goodbye to Harley Street. In view of the Harley Street practitioner’s report, my dentist referred me to an oral surgeon in Portland Place and I had made an appointment for today. I was not looking forward to it.
The news turned out to be both good and bad. The bad is that I will probably have to have the tooth removed eventually and that it will be a difficult extraction. I won’t bore you with the details but they suggest that when that happens, I might prefer to be absent during the process, i.e. under sedation.
What good news could there possibly be in such a situation? Well, this is that as the tooth is not giving me any trouble at present, the surgeon suggested we do nothing for now and just keep an eye on things. If it flares up, then it will have to be dealt with. So I returned home in much the same state as I left it, not minus a molar as I had expected.
There was a police officer guarding the entrance of the Chinese Embassy and, on an impulse, I went across and had a word with him because I wondered what it was like to stand out there in the cold, waiting for possible trouble. (There was a Falun Gong protester on the other side of the road but he was sitting in meditation and was so still that he risked beating the above statues at their game.)
The officer was a pleasant and friendly chap. I think he welcomed the distraction. He told me that they do only two hours at a time on the doorstep of the Embassy and that the people opposite kindly supplied them with coffee. The “people opposite” were the Royal Institute of British Architects, and it’s nice to think of them carrying coffee across the road to the officer.
When I asked whether he got bored he said no, and showed me his electronic player: he had a science fiction book on it and was catching up on his reading. “It helps to keep you alert,” he said.
With all the bad feeling that is claimed to exist between public and police, I am glad I had a word with the officer and learnt a little bit about his world.