Monday, October 14, 2013

The Long Journey Home

Left Roger's flat 11:10 am GMT
#36 bus to Paddington
District Line to Earl's Court
Piccadilly Line to Heathrow 1-2-3
Virgin Atlantic to Boston Logan
Logan Express bus to Massport lot Framingham
Mini Cooper to Northampton
Arrived home 8:45 pm EDT

[£6.30 left on Oyster card]
£1 egg mayo sandwich from Boots at LHR
$77 parking at Massport lot
$2.40 toll on Mass Pike
5447 steps (2.06 miles)
14.5 hours of travel
0 planned engineering or transport disruptions

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Last Day in Blighty

Even though I'm running out of steam, and have a sore throat (I don't feel like I've got a cold, however, just a raw throat and a bit of congestion), I worked in a full final day. I was out the door bright and early, especially considering it was Saturday, to get to the Angel in time for the guided walk that I'd booked -- Visionaries, Rebels and Dissenters: A Walk Through Islington's Radical History. I had previously done one of David Rosenberg's walks in the East End, which I thoroughly enjoyed and learned a lot from. This walk was no exception. We heard about fascist and anti-fascist organizing, an uprising of farm workers, the work of the ANC to build anti-apartheid solidarity in the UK, trade unions, free schools, Chartists, and Lenin's activities in London. And for good measure, we visited a clown's grave -- Joseph Grimaldi is buried in a little park bearing his name just off the Pentonville Road. 

At the end of the walk, I rushed from Clerkenwell Green to Farringdon Station to take three tubes in order to arrive at the Southbank to meet Roger at 1:30. We met up under the Hungerford Bridge, where Stik has done a very nice mural of figures. It was just a few steps from there to the entrance to the Classic Car Boot Sale. We had a great time wandering around, looking at the vintage stuff for sale, as well as the fab cars and scooters. Roger has always wanted a scooter. He came away with a ceramic one that looks like a Jeff Koons miniature (£2). I've always wanted a Figaro car. I now have a tea towel with a green one printed on it (£4). We saw Jane selling her clay pipe jewellery and had a nice chat with her before grabbing some lunch and pressing on. 

The high school kids at Roger's school were sponsoring a TEDx event all day Saturday. Roger had been there in the morning and wanted to go back for the last session, so we scurried back to ASL in St John's Wood to hear the final three speakers. 

Next was a bus ride to Hampstead, a meander down the hill, and a stop at The George in Haverstock Hill for a drink before going to Greg and Esther's flat. We then all walked up to South End Green for a great pub meal at the Magdala. The pub has a notorious history -- Ruth Ellis, the last woman hanged in Britain, shot her lover outside the pub in 1955. Marks from where the bullets hit the pub can still be seen outside. I'd seen the movies about Ellis (Dance with a Stranger) and the executioner (Pierrepoint), and now I've had the fish and chips.

Now it's Sunday morning and time to pack for the return flight to Boston and then the long drive home. It's been another totally fab visit. I didn't get a single blister, my lower back held up quite well (although my middle back gave me some trouble, so I now need to work on that in Pilates), and my sore throat is already much improved. As usual, my itinerary was overly ambitions, though I managed to do most everything I wanted to do. I'll tally things up when I get home, but I'm pretty sure I got my value for money from the Art Pass. 

Many thanks to my host Roger and to all my mates who spent time with me, shared great conversation, bought me beverages and meals, and showed me new things in this wonderful city. 

£8 Islington walk
£3 Car boot sale admission
£4 tea towel
£5 street food
£10 to top up Oyster one last time
£2.94 throat lozenges
£10 to Roger for food & booze
19,926 steps (7.54 miles)

Saturday, October 12, 2013

All That Glitters

The gold and jewels were shining at the Museum of London yesterday, but not the skies outside. I met Maggie right when the museum opened, and we were among the first people to see the Cheapside Hoard for 100 years. It's a treasure trove of Elizabethan and Jacobean jewellery, thought to have been buried in the cellar of a jeweller's shop in Cheapside some time between 1640 and 1666. Who buried the hoard, for what reason, and why it was never retrieved is not known. The hoard didn't see the light of day until 1912, when some workmen were digging through an old floor to prepare for a new building on the site. They stuffed their pockets with the jewels and headed to Wandsworth, where they sold nearly everything to an antique dealer known to buy whatever builders dug up. Fortunately, almost all of the pieces ended up in the Museum of London's collection, though a few went to the V&A. This exhibition is the first time in 100 years that the hoard has been on display in its entirety. I particularly liked that the first part of the exhibition set the context, with maps and displays about the trade in gemstones and the making of jewellery in the 16th and 17th centuries. Then you move into the room with the bling -- cases and cases of necklaces, rings, and pendants. Happily, they provide magnifying glasses so that you can really see the exquisite detail of the work. The last part of the exhibition tells a bit about what was going on in London at the time the hoard was hidden. The plague was winding down, Charles I had had his head lobbed off by the Parliamentarians, Charles II was in exile in France, Royalists were fighting Cromwell's forces on various fronts, and the Great Fire raged across the City of London in 1666.  So, there's much room for speculation on what may have compelled that unknown jeweler to stash the hoard. For more info, check out what Londonist has to say here

Maggie and I then hustled down Gresham Street in the rain to the Guildhall Gallery to see Victoriana: The Art of Revival. Simon had told me it was bonkers, and he was right. Steampunk, funereal art, taxidermy, ghosts, fluttery things, and lots of dead bees strung on monofiliment with tiny winged skeletons glued to their backs. It was a lot of fun, but they didn't allow photographs, so you'll have to see some here. And here's a review

After a quick look at the Roman amphitheatre below the Guildhall, Maggie and dashed across the street to Pret for lunch and more good conversation. We parted company around 2 pm, knowing that we'll pick up the conversation where we left off when we see each other again next year.

My plan had been to meander down through the city to the Millennium Bridge and over to Tate Modern, but the rain put a damper on that. I was walking to Bank Station to get the tube to somewhere, when the number 21 bus came by, so I hopped that and rode across London Bridge. I nibbled my way through Borough Market for a while (many of the cheese and bakery vendors have samples), hoping that the rain would let up, but it didn't. So, I changed my plan and took the RV1 to the Southbank Centre. At the Hayward Gallery, I saw photography exhibitions by Dayanita Singh and Ana Mendieta. I really enjoyed the Singh exhibition; the Mendieta not so much.  

From there, it was the Bakerloo to Queen's Park, where the rain had kindly let up for my walk back to the flat. 

£4.50 Cheapside Hoard (half price on Art Pass)
£2.75 prezzie for Molly
£2.59 egg and cress sandwich and ginger beer
£1.60 cookie
£5.00 Hayward Gallery (half price on Art Pass)
10,950 steps (4.14 miles)

Friday, October 11, 2013


Yesterday, when I looked at my mobile several times as I was out and about, the screen said either "Not in service" or "Unregistered SIM card." Finally, I took the battery out, put it back in, turned the phone off and on, and then I was restored to the O2 network. I'm taking this as a little metaphor for where I am in my visit. I'm running out of steam and need to recharge a bit before the final sprint. Some of this is fatigue, and some down to the weather, which has turned very cold, blustery, and intermittently wet. Consequently, Thursday was slower-paced, and so there will be less to put this post. That's probably a good thing, as I write these posts first thing each morning, and today I need to be out early to meet Maggie at the Museum of London.

I started the day with another Pilates mat class at the studio up in Queen's Park. It was a beginner class this time, which was a better fit for me than the class I did earlier. This was the first time I'd worked Pilates classes into my vacation plan -- it turned out to be a really good idea, and I'd definitely do it again.

After that, I mooched around Roger's patch a bit, looking for blue plaques to photograph for the Open Plaques archives. I found three in the area that don't yet have photos on the website, so I snapped them. It's more of that anorak thing I was telling you about a few days ago.

A long bus ride on the 414 took me to the Victoria and Albert Museum, where I bought a ticket (half price with my Art Pass) to see Memory Palace, the current special exhibition in the space near the ticket desk and the gift shop. I've seen several interesting things in that space, but I can't say this is one of them. I suppose you'd be more likely to enjoy it if you were about 17 years old and into graphic novels. The premise of the installation is that it is set in London in the future, when all memories (both human and technological) have been erased and banned. The character is in prison, and is reconstructing his or her memories of what London used to be. Ho hum. 

Onto the number 360 bus to Pimlico. My next stop was Tate Britain, where I had a choice of special exhibitions -- Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life and Art Under Attack: Histories of British Iconoclasm. Both were timed entry, and the wait for the Lowry (who I know nothing about, but apparently is "much loved") was nearly an hour, so I opted for the latter (also half price on Art Pass). Good choice -- I really enjoyed it (well, 2/3 of it) and learned quite a lot. It's divided into three sections, for attacks on art in the name of religion, politics and aesthetics. The religion bit had to do with destruction of religious iconography during the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII and the puritanical regime of Cromwell. Fragments of stonework from abbeys, paintings from churches, stained glass windows, all showing broken limbs, ax marks and other scars were on display. I knew that the monasteries and their property holdings had been broken up, but I didn't realise the extent to which religious art was literally broken into bits. The next section had to do with the desecration of public art for political motives, for example statues of reviled generals having their heads lobbed off or being blown up by the IRA. One room was about the attacks that the Suffragettes made on paintings in museums in their effort to have the cause of real women rise to the level of concern that people had for artistic works of beauty. You could listen to an interview, done in the 1960s, with a suffragette who had taken a meat cleaver to a painting of Venus. Very interesting stuff. The last part had to do with artists who employed means of destruction in the creation of new works of art, or art that was defaced by those who objected to it on aesthetic grounds. This bit really didn't work very well, so I breezed through it. I also looked at a small exhibition of art work by Sylvia Pankhurst, a major figure in the suffragette movement. Apparently I wasn't alone in not knowing she was an artist. Prior to this exhibition, none of her work had been displayed in any museum in Britain. She did lovely paintings of women at work in mills, as well as the designs for all the suffragette banners, pamphlets, badges and even a tea set. 

After a sit-down to rest my weary back, I walked up Horseferry Road to the Old Monks Exchange pub, where I had a great meet-up with some mates from Guess Where London. Malcolm brought with him a sample of necklaces made from bits of clay pipe found on the foreshore by our friend Jane. I'd been wanting to buy one from her for ages, but we hadn't managed to work it out before this, and she is away at the moment so Malcolm acted as her agent for the transaction. After, Simon kindly helped me find my bus stop in the chaos of construction around Victoria Station, and I was back at the flat and in bed by 11 pm.

£10 to top up Oyster card
£3 Memory Palace at V&A (half price on Art Pass)
£6.50 Art Under Attack (half price on Art Pass)
£1.95 banana cake at Tate Britain cafe
£6.50 ale and carrot soup at the Old Monks Exchange
£30 clay pipe necklace
14,835 steps (5.85 miles)

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Curse of Milton Keynes

Roger told me it was a bad idea to go to Milton Keynes. He had a horrid experience dealing with a bureaucratic office there a few years back, and the mere mention of the place makes him twitch and break out in a cold sweat. But I'd been wanting to go to nearby Bletchley Park for years, and it was free entry on my Art Pass (£15 value), so several weeks ago I booked my cheap advance return train ticket. 

The plan was to meet Judy at at Euston Station, then meet up with David and his wife Janey at Bletchley Park. All was going according to plan until, when we were half way through our journey, Judy realized that she had a ticket to the Bletchley station, while mine was to Milton Keynes Central. I was pretty sure I was right, having seen the map on the website and written down the directions to Bletchley Park from the station. So, we reckoned that Judy could get off at Bletchley, buy a ticket to Milton Keynes Central, and join me at the station there. I arrived at MKC and waited on the platform for the next train to arrive. Twenty minutes or so passed, when my phone rang and I saw it was David. He told me that he'd spoken to Judy, that I was the one who was confused, and that I just needed to buy a ticket back to Bletchley. So, up to the ticket counter I went, showed my return ticket to the agent, and explained the mess. He said I needed to buy a return ticket for Bletchley, which meant I'd have to come back to Milton Keynes to catch the train back to London. This little mistake cost me an additional £3.80, but the stations are only four minutes apart, so it wasn't a complete disaster. Judy was having tea at the Bletchley station cafe when I arrived about 10 minutes after David's call. Whew!

Bletchley Park is where thousands of people worked in secret during WWII, breaking the German Enigma machine codes. Modern computing was pretty much invented here -- a brilliant man named Alan Turing designed a huge machine that ran through millions of patterns to determine what the Enigma settings for each day would be, enabling the code breakers to decipher German messages. I'd seen things about Bletchley Park and the Enigma machines in various television shows, but this is the first I grasped just what the process was of intercepting and transcribing the coded messages, bringing them to Bletchley Park by motorcycle, cracking the machine setting for the day, and then decoding the messages by putting them back through Enigma machines so that they came out in German, then translating them into English and getting the information to the military personnel who needed them. 

We took a tour with a very informative guide, but because there was filming going on in the mansion, our tour was primarily on the grounds. When I saw all the media trucks, I thought maybe they were filming another episode of The Bletchley Circle, a great mystery series about women who had worked at Bletchley Park during the war, who get together to solve patterns in serial crimes in the post-war years. Turns out it was actually a movie, The Imitation Game. We say lots of extras milling around, men in uniform and women in 40s dresses, going back and forth from the craft service vans to the mansion. (When I got back to the flat, I looked up the movie on IMDB -- it stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightly. Judy and I had been joking about not being able to recognize any celebs if we had seen them, but I'm pretty sure we would have known those two if they'd crossed out path.)

After the tour, we looked around the museum for a bit, had tea, and headed back to the station -- Judy, David and Janey on one platform for the London train, and me on another for Milton Keynes. 

When I got back to Euston, I dashed across the street to look at the exhibition in the Crypt Gallery at St Pancras Parish Church. I always like stopping in there to see what's on. This time it was paintings and some three-dimensional, site-specific pieces by Julie Caves, an American who has been working in London for about 10 years. 

Big thanks to my friends for a lovely day out, and especially to David for treating us to lunch and tea, and for sorting out my transport snafu. Our Bletchley Park tickets are good for a year, and I just may need go back next year, when tons of renovations will be complete and new areas opened up. But if I do return, I'll definitely not go to Milton Keynes!

£10 for original train tickets
£3.80 for additional train ticket
£2.50 for book from the Wellcome Collection bookshop
£1.50 cookie (breakfast) at the Wellcome Collection
14,150 steps (5.35 miles)