Monday, October 29, 2012

Yarnbombing, sewage, and the arm of a chair

Sorry to have taken so long to write my post about my final day in London. I was on the move most of the day, and when we got back to the flat it was packing, dinner, and Downton Abbey. So, here's the belated recap.

Sunday dawned pretty grey and gloomy, with rain threatening, so I scurried down to Meanwhile Gardens for a bit of yarnbombing while Roger was up at the Queen's Park Farmers' Market. I left 3 flowers and a wee red bird on the railings in the wildlife garden:
I'm afraid that the rain that came later in the day probably wilted the flowers a bit, but I hope the staff found them on Monday morning and smiled. 

The rest of Sunday was taken up with our visit to Crossness Pumping Station, a Victorian sewage pumping station designed by Joseph Bazalgette and known as the "Cathedral on the Marsh." I'd been wanting to see it for ages, but it's only open to visitors about half a dozen Sundays a year. I'd seen my Flickr friends' photos of the interior, and read about it in The Great Stink, a not-so-great novel about the sewers of London and the creatures who inhabited them in the mid-1800s. On Crossness open days, volunteers -- all dressed in waistcoats and bowler hats -- steam up the working boiler, called the "Prince Consort" (each of the four engines is named after a royal), and tell people about the history and technology. From 1865, when Crossness was opened by the Prince of Wales, until the 1950s when it was replaced by a new pumping station, the four beam engines pumped sewage from the lowest level of the gravity-fed sewer system up to a reservoir, from which it was dumped into the Thames when the tide was going out. This system, which utilized 450 miles of sewers, brought the sewage eastward, out of central London where it had previously flowed directly into the Thames and resulted in very smelly and unhygienic conditions in the city. It all ended up in the same place after the sewers were built, just further downstream and closer to the sea.
The building is a Grade I masterpiece, with lovely detailed brickwork on the outside and the most elaborate wrought iron inside. Since the 1980s, when volunteers began the restoration work, they've not only restored the Prince Consort, but have painted much of the ironwork in a fantastic color scheme of green, red, white, purple, orange and gold. Donning hard hats, we roamed around with hundreds of other visitors, seeing three floors, watching the beam engine and fly wheel put through their paces, and chatted with the volunteers. (FYI, it only smells of sewage outside, if the wind is in the right direction. Not smelly at all inside the pumping station.)
Cold, rainy, miserable weather greeted us when we exited the building and waited about half an hour for the shuttle bus back to the Abbey Wood station for the train ride back into London. While Roger made our dinner, I did my packing. You're probably all wondering what goodies I would be bringing back from the UK -- prezzies for all my friends? packets of Hobnobs and Ginger Nuts? a bottle of excellent single malt Scotch? None of these, I'm afraid. Stuffed into my suitcase were a very full plastic envelope with all the paper bits I'd picked up -- exhibition brochures, a few postcards, and a small print of Amy Winehouse doing the Hoovering -- and the arm of a wooden hall seat of Roger's. I remember the whole piece, which was about six feet tall and made of oak. It had belonged to his grandmother, and he moved it around from place to place when he lived in Massachusetts. On the last move, when he was putting his stuff into storage before leaving for the UK, the hall seat met with an unfortunate accident involving a pickup truck and the pavement, and is now in bits and pieces. Under mysterious and inexplicable circumstances, one of the bits (the flat and slightly curved right arm) made its way to England and surfaced in Roger's move to Maida Hill. So, into my suitcase it went, to be reunited with the other bits that are somewhere in Northampton, MA. 

Despite not bring much tangible stuff back with me, I came home with lots of great memories and the sense of accomplishment of a trip well done. I ticked off most of the must-see things on my overly-ambitious spreadsheet. I didn't get lost once and I didn't lose anything. I spent about £230 for 9 days (cheap!), walked a total of 72 miles and took 640 photos. And I had some wonderful meetups and adventures with a bunch of lovely people who I count as good friends. Thanks to everyone who made UK Trip #10 so fab!

10,995 steps (4.33 miles)
£1 for Crossness map and donation for van ride (Roger paid the five quid for my admission)
£10 to Roger for food and booze
$70 parking at the Massport lot in Framingham
$2.40 toll on the Mass Pike

Sunday, October 21, 2012


Saturday was our day for a day trip out of London. I wanted to choose someplace where Roger hadn't been, which is getting harder and harder now that he's lived here for nine years. We decided on Rochester and Chatham -- two towns right next to each other, a short (and cheap) train ride from London. 

First stop was Rochester. Lots to see here -- a lovely, pedestrianised High Street full of 18th and 19th century buildings (and a few that are much older), a cathedral and a ginormous castle. We ambled down the High Street, stopping into a couple antique stores and charity shops. We visited the Six Poor Travellers House, established in the 16th century and used by Charles Dickens in his story "The Seven Poor Travellers." The house provided accommodation to poor travellers, plus food, ale and fourpence, until 1940. The upper storeys are still in use today as an almshouse run by the Council. The residents maintain a beautiful little back garden that we were able to walk around in. Our next stop was Eastgate House, a Tudor home also dating from the 16th century. It happened to be one of their infrequent open days, so we got to see some of the rooms inside. Once used as a school for girls, Dickens incorporated it as The Nuns' House in The Mystery of Edwin Drood

We arrived at the cathedral just after a wedding had started, so we killed an hour walking around the ruins of the castle and having a sit down and lunch at a little tea shop. When we returned to the cathedral, Roger did the audio tour while I went in search of the loo. I found it behind a tiny, unmarked wooden door that I think used to lead to a little hole where they put people to do penance. It was a nice loo, but I wouldn't want to be shut in the penance hole.

It was mid-afternoon by the time we reached the Historic Dockyard in Chatham. The place is vast, and you could easily spend a day there. Most of the families with kiddies had left by the time we arrived, which made for an ideal way to see a couple of the buildings. By far, the best part of it was the interpreted tour of the ropery, where rope is still being made in much the same way, although mechanised, as it has been for centuries, in a building that's a quarter of a mile long. We also saw a gigantic boat slip covered by the largest wooden-raftered roof I've ever seen. It's bigger than the cathedral, and looks a bit like an upside-down wooden ship's hull. We also got a personal tour of the submarine after all the other punters had left. 

A bus to Rochester and train to Victoria got us back to London as the rain was starting.

It's now my last day in London. I'm going to do my yarnbombing this morning while Roger goes to the gym and/or the market. Then, we're off to Crossness Pumping Station.

15,763 steps (6.21 miles)
£16.10 return train ticket for Rochester
£3.50 tuna & sweet corn sandwich and tea
£4.80 return bus fare for Chatham
£16.50 admission to Historic Dockyard
£10 to top up Oyster card

Friday, October 19, 2012


This pace is mad. I'm knackered. I have circles under my eyes and all my muscles are weary. Consequently, today was largely unplanned and a bit slower than previous ones. I played a game of Fortunately-Unfortunately in my head all day. It went something like this:

I got a late start, setting out at 11 a.m. Fortunately, I knew where I was headed -- Liverpool Street for the Bishopsgate Institute (the Spitalfields dioramas), Spitalfields Market to look for Amelia Parker's clay pipe jewellery stall, and the new Shepard Fairey show at Stolen Space in the Old Truman Brewery. Unfortunately, Amelia wasn't at the market this week and the Shepard Fairey show doesn't open until tomorrow. Fortunately, I got a nice lunch of lentil coconut carrot corn curry soup in Spitalfields Market. Unfortunately, it was raining pretty hard when I emerged from my sit-down. Fortunately, I hopped the No. 26 bus in Bishopsgate and it took me all the way to Waterloo. Unfortunately, mesh top Merrell shoes are a poor footwear choice for wet weather. Fortunately, Bedlam at the Old Vic Tunnels was good fun, and I'd e-mailed them ahead to say I couldn't book a timed entry because I didn't know what time I'd be there, and they'd said they would put my name on the list and I could come any time. Unfortunately, the walk across Hungerford Bridge in the rain kind of sucked. Fortunately, my friend Barbara who works at the Coli was able to pop out for tea with me. Unfortunately, by then it was really pouring when I crossed over to the National Gallery. Fortunately, I had a chance to spend an hour mooching around and looking at the masterpieces (ashamed to admit it, but it was my first time there). Unfortunately, I chose to go to Charing Cross station instead of Embankment to hop the train back to Queens Park (very long route to the platform; Embankment would have been shorter by far). Fortunately, the rain had let up by the time I got off at Queens Park and walked to Roger's flat.

Now I really need to crash and get my strength back for my final two days. I've still got yarnbombing to do!

18,282 steps (7.21 miles)
£10 to top up Oyster card
£3.15 for soup at Spitalfields Market
£1.20 for a flapjack from a bakery in Lower Marsh Street

Wine, Photography and Jazz

I'm surprisingly not too hung over, giving the amount of wine I consumed over dinner last night and then at the Jamboree Venue where we heard old time jazz. More on that below.

Thursday was my day to take in art and good company with my friend Judy.  Just as last year, we met up in the morning at Tate Modern. We looked at the installation -- not sure that's what you'd call it, as it was more of randomly choreographed event (is that an oxymoron?) -- in the Turbine Hall, some of the rolling exhibitions in the Tate Tanks (the best of which was Suzanne Lacy's The Crystal Quilt, which my quilter friends Shawn and Allie would enjoy), and a new exhibition of photography by William Klein and Daido Moriyama

We then walked across the river and through the City to the Barbican for an exhibition of photography from the 60s and 70s called Everything Was Moving. This had to be one of the most amazing and powerful photography exhibitions I've ever seen.  It brought together something like 400 photos by 12 photographers (none was anyone I'd heard of other than William Eggleston) from around the world, who each documented their unique eye-view of some aspect of these two tumultuous and world-altering decades -- from the Freedom Ride for voter registration in the southern states of the US, to the war in Vietnam, Chinese society under Mao, the brutality of apartheid in South Africa, the vivid color of India, and the expressive youth culture of Mali. Uniting them all were the threads of life under oppression and of the creativity, hope and human spirit that can emerge from/despite those conditions. Roger was so blown away by the exhibition when he saw it that he bought the book -- I'm going to have to leaf through it to revisit the images before I leave. 

After saying goodbye to Judy on the tube, I took a long, rambling walk -- turning south and then east, south and east -- from Whitechapel station to the DLR station in Limehouse. Some of my walk took me through the noise and traffic of the modern Commercial and Whitechapel roads, and other times I turned into quiet residential side streets of Georgian terrace houses that looked like scenes of Whitechapel over 100 years ago. And I found a little street next to St Mary's Cable Street where a scene from To Sir With Love was filmed nearly 50 years ago in 1967. Walking these streets, you can easily imagine yourself in another decade or another century. 

I met up with Roger, Greg and Esther under the arches of the DLR station. Note to self: if meeting someone at Limehouse station, be sure to specify which entrance to meet at. Esther and I saw a gorgeous sunset behind the Shard as we waited at one entrance while Roger and Greg tried to find each other at other entrance. On the map, the route to Narrow Street to the restaurant looked like just a doodle. Turns out it involved crossing the Rotherhithe Tunnel Approach at rush hour, which was just a little frightening. But having survived it once, we bravely did it again to get to Jamboree Venue to hear Dakota Jim and (part of) his orchestra playing old ragtime jazz (American and Romani) from the 20s and 30s. The venue is wonderful -- it's a small section of an old brick factory in Cable Street. The concrete walls are decorated with musical instruments and some large, odd paintings. Only about 8 tables, with utterly mismatched chairs. There's a little bar in the back, and up front a small stage with velvet curtains. The music was perfect.

Now I'm getting a really late start, and trying to work out where I'm going today. It's my catch-up day, one to work in things I've missed earlier in the week. I know I'm going to see Bedlam in the Old Vic Tunnels, but not sure where else the day will take me. It's lates at many of the museums, so I might just hop for one to another into the evening. Stay tuned.

25,295 steps (9.98 miles)
£12 for Barbican Art Gallery
£1.80 for tea
£20 for pizza, wine, and more wine

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Many Stops Along the Way

This will be a quick update on yesterday's activities, while my clothes are spinning around in the dryer. I need to be out the door by 9:30 a.m. to meet my friend Judy at Tate Modern. It's another day that's starting out much better than predicted. I'm not taking credit or anything, but I do seem to have a way of making the rain hold off when I'm visiting.

Yesterday, I filled in a missing bit of the Regent's Canal with a walk from Camden Town to the start of the Islington Tunnel. I've now walked the towpath from Ladbroke Grove to Limehouse, which I think totals about 20 miles. My friend Malcolm joined me for this segment -- we met up at the Spanish School in the Portobello Road for a quick look at the new wall installation (large photos on a coffee theme) and then hopped the No. 31 bus to Chalk Farm and got on the towpath at Hampstead Road Lock.  Not a lot to see along this stretch -- some new and converted housing on the opposite side from the towpath (I saw one sweet converted warehouse where I'd love to live), and the remains of the wall on which Banksy and Team Robbo carried out their graffiti feud. The most interesting part is at King's Cross, where there's been an amazing amount of development since I last poked around there about four years ago. The gasometers are now all gone (mothballed somewhere, with at least one to come back at some point and put to some unknown purpose), Central St Martin's College of Art has moved into a renovated warehouse, there are new steps from the towpath to a large square, and a bridge over the canal leading straight into King's Cross Station. There are various food vans and stalls between the bridge and the station that change every day, which made a great opportunity for us to get a bite to eat and have a sit-down. I had a Scotch egg (my first!), with a 3-bean crust instead of the usual sausage, from a stall called Eat My Pies. It was made by the mum of a Brit named Andy Bates who has a show on the Food Network in America (I've not seen it, but will check it out when I get back home). Good cooking must run in the family, because Andy's mum's Scotch egg was delish.

The leg of the towpath from there to Islington was easy and uneventful. If it had been raining, I would probably have stopped at the Canal Museum just past King's Cross, but that can wait for another trip. After leaving the towpath and walking through Chapel Market, Malcolm and I went our separate ways, he to Jessup's to look at camera gear, and me to get on the No. 73 bus to Euston.

It was still sunny when I got off the bus and started to wander though Bloomsbury, but clouds began to roll in. My first stop was the crypt gallery at St Pancras Parish Church, where I saw a fab exhibition by women artists called Dare to Wear. It was by far the most colorful and fun thing I'd ever seen in the creepy crypt. By then I was in need of tea and another sit-down, so I wandered down Marchmont Street. Rain drops started falling when I reached the Brunswick Centre, and soon turned into a downpour. I took shelter in the caff at the Foundling Museum, a site which has a long history of providing refuge. When the rain let up, I pushed on to St Giles High Street, and looked in at the exhibition of Crossrail archaeology -- bits ranging from bison bones to Victorian pottery that's been dug up in the massive excavation for the new Crossrail system. This is really fascinating stuff, and well worth a look-see if you're in Tottenham Court Road (but hurry because it ends soon!). 

Back on the Euston Road, my next stop was the British Library, where I looked at the permanent exhibition (Treasures of the British Library) -- a good way to kill the remaining hour before meeting Roger in front of the St Pancras Hotel at 6 pm. We wandered around King's Cross looking for a pub to grab a quick dinner, and ended up at Central Station on what clearly was drag night at the pub. The last destination was King's Place, where we heard Scottish contemporary folk/rock from a bloke called Roddy Woomble and band called Rura. Lovely venue, and Roddy and company made some nice sounds, but I thought his songs needed work (except for a very nice cover of John Prine's Speed of the Sound of Loneliness). We did not stop in the foyer to buy the CD.

28,170 steps (11.11 miles)
£10 to top up my Oyster card
£2 for exhibition catalogue from Dare to Wear
£2.70 bevvies and nibbles along the way
£8.85 veg burger and half pint of bitter at the pub
£5 glass of wine at the concert

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Tuesday = Garden Day

It wasn't a conscious plan, but Tuesday turned out to be a day of gardens. The plan was to meet up with Maggie at Putney Bridge station, for a stroll around Bishop's Park, then up the New King's Road to Chelsea. Since it was such a bright, sunny day when I woke up, I decided to seize the opportunity (with rain being predicted for the rest of the week) to first take a detour through Meanwhile Gardens on my way to catch the tube at Westbourne Park station. I wanted to check on the yarnbombs that I'd left there last year, and pre-scope some possible sites for this year's wooly creations. The striped yarnbomb is still quite bright, and easily seen from the towpath. I wandered through the wildlife garden, and ran into two of the gardeners. I told them that I was the yarnbomber, and their faces broke into big smiles. "We love it! We were so excited when we came to work and found it last year." I told them to be on the lookout for some more surprises in a few days. My second, green piece, is still where I left it, well hidden in the foliage. 

It was a perfect day for a long, long walk with Maggie, which has turned into a bit of a tradition. We ambled through the walled garden at Fulham Palace and then eastward, past one of the oldest brick kilns in London, the remaining walls of an old penitentiary, an art nouveau temperance hall, some absolutely lovely almshouses, a fabulous (disused) Victorian power plant, into the (rebuilt) church where Henry VIII married Jane Seymour, looked for Queen Elizabeth I's mulberry tree (didn't find it), and saw dozens of blue plaques for painters, writers and suffragettes who lived along Cheyne Walk, and the Royal Hospital where the army pensioners live out their final days. Our stop at the Chelsea Physic Garden was well worth it -- what a great place, full of beautiful beds of flowers, medicinal herbs, veg and all sorts of plants from around the world. If I lived in London, I'd go there often and maybe finally learn to tell one plant from another.

The last stop on our ramble was the Saatchi Gallery in Sloane Square, to see Richard Wilson's oil tank, which I'd wanted to see for ages. It was even better than I imagined -- it totally distorts your sense of space, of what's up and what's down, and where you are in relation to floor and ceiling.

The day ended with a meet-up with 15 or so of my mates from Guess Where London -- a marvellous bunch of smart, witty, knowledgeable, and ever-so-quirky photographers. Big thanks to Maggie and to everyone who came to the meet-up for making it a memorable day in London.

27,946 steps (11.02 miles)
£2.79 lunch from Tesco Express (tuna & sweetcorn sandwich and a beverage, eaten on a bench overlooking the Thames)
£9 Chelsea Physic Garden
£6.30 beer and nibbles at the Cross Keys

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Monday = Museum Day

Monday's destinations were entirely on page 35 of my Mapguide (the one I thought I'd lost, but found wedged between my mattress and headboard at home). First stop was Somerset House, where I'd intended to see Night Paintings by Paul Benney, in the Deadhouse below the fountain court. After looking at the first four or five paintings, I came to a tape barrier. Turning around, I saw another tape barrier back by where I'd come in. I asked, and was told that they'd had a water leak in the lightwells and needed to close the rest of the exhibition, probably until the weekend. This was disappointing -- not so much because I was dying to see the rest of the paintings, which I'm sure were interesting, but because there are a bunch of 17th century tombs down in the Deadhouse that I'd wanted to see. With rain coming tomorrow and lasting the rest of the week, I don't think they'll be reopening any time soon. While I was at Somerset House, I also checked out the Nelson staircase and two small exhibitions (British illustration and Vidal Sassoon). 
Next, the London Transport Museum, which I'd never visited before. Amidst the absolute din and chaos of screaming, running school children, I followed the history of London transport (boats, buses and trains) from the mid-19th century to the present. When I reached the final level, at last I was able to go to the exhibition I'd really come to see -- Mind the Map, about graphic design, maps and posters for the Underground. It was blissfully quiet in the exhibition rooms, as I was the only person there. It was well worth enduring the cacophony of kiddies to reach the exhibition, and the rest of the museum was pretty good as well, even for non-trainspotters like me. 

I grabbed a quick lunch at Tesco Metro and ate in the churchyard of St Paul's Covent Garden. Then, on to the British Museum for Shakespeare: Staging the World, a fascinating array of paintings, printed material, and artefacts related to Shakespeare's times and to the subjects of his plays. This exhibition was crowded with pensioners, who are quieter the school kiddies, but due to their failing eyesight (and the general dimness of the lighting), they tend to stand about 6 inches in front of every piece. It's amazing that some of the things they had on display have survived all this time, particularly the tapestries and clothing. 
It was 4:30 when I left the BM, and I figured it was best to get out of central London before the rush hour, so I hopped the No. 7 to Paddington Station and then the No. 36 back to Maida Hill. 

Today, I'm off to Fulham Palace, then bits of Chelsea, and ultimately to the Guess Where London (Flickr group) meet-up at a pub in the City. I'll be wearing my best walking shoes (blister update: it's much better now). 

13,747 steps (5.42 miles)
£13.50 admission to the Transport Museum
£2.15 lunch (egg and cress on brown bread and a beverage)
£1.89 pint of yogurt from the supermarket since Roger's supply was running low
(Used R's BM membership card to get into the Shakespeare exhibition free)

Monday, October 15, 2012

Rambling through Kensington

This year's Serpentine Pavilion, designed by Ai Weiwei and Herzog & de Meuron, was a bit of a disappointment. The concept is intriguing -- they dug down to reveal the foundations of the eleven previous pavilions, and incorporated them into the design of the tiered subterranean seating, covered with cork. There are also some little stools (probably the tops of foundation posts, that look like mushrooms or champagne corks. The "roof," about 4 feet above ground level, is a shallow oval pond. I'm sure that the space functions far better than last year's pavilion, with its four dark wooden corridors, but I missed the fun of the color and reflections of previous pavilions. But it was a beautiful day for a walk through Kensington Gardens, so I'm not going to complain too much. 
I got my chance to photograph some really ace reflections when we strolled down Exhibition Road. Tony Cragg's sculptures -- including one super shiny, curvy-wurvy one -- dot the road. I do love me a good reflection.
Next stop was Christie's in Old Brompton Road, where we went to see the Multiplied 2012 contemporary print art fair. Tempting as it was, we didn't buy anything. But I really loved the pop art prints of Amy Winehouse, by Gerald Laing, especially one with her hair tied up in a bandana, cigarette hanging out of her mouth, and pushing a Hoover. I got the postcard.

We then walked down to Brompton Cemetery, so that I could tick another of the Magnificent Seven on my list. (This was the fourth for me, having done Abney Park, Kensal Green, and part of Highgate.) Not as overgrown and creepy as Abney Park, nor as full of over-the-top Victorian tombs as Kensal Green, but the late afternoon light was glowing and lovely for a few moments so there were a few nice photo ops. 
I started this post with one whinge, and I'll end with another: I've got a blister on the ball of my left foot. I've slapped a blister plaster on it, and will carry more with me in case the other foot goes down the same path. I'm getting soft in my old age. 

Today, I'm heading out on my own for Central London to take in some museums and stuff.

18,836 steps (7.43 miles)
£1.50 for apples at the Queen's Park Farmers' Market
£4 for sandwich in the caff at Christie's
£1.50 for 2 cans of coconut water

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Wide Eyed

They should make me the poster person for JetZone, the homeopathic jet lag prevention "medicine" that I impulse-purchased at Deals and Steals and tossed into my carry-on bag. I chewed the little tabs (sugar pills) as directed before, during and immediately after my flight. It didn't help me to get more than 2 hours of sleep on the plane, but it -- plus a mighty big cup of coffee -- kept my alert and moving all day Saturday until I finally crashed around 10:30 pm.  I did wake up in the early hours of morning and couldn't get back to sleep for 2 hours (I'm putting that down to all the spicy food I ate at Tayyab's as much as to jet lag), but then slept till 9:30 am, and now feel that I'm successfully adjusted to BST. 

We worked in everything on my Saturday list, and then some. Starting our adventures at Old Street, we made our way towards the Moniker Art Fair at the Village Underground, zigzagging through Hoxton and Shoreditch to see street art, including several pieces by Stik, one of my favorite street artists. We saw some new things (Hoxton Square, Rivington Street, and the Leonard Street carpark), and some new-to me pieces (Stik's studio in Pitfield Street, and a community centre in Parfett Street). We also saw a paint-not-quite-dry mural by Shepard Fairey, called "Shoplifters Welcome," in Ebor Street, very near Boxpark, which was another of my destinations. Boxpark is a condensed shopping area, with small stores all in a series of shipping containers assembled on two levels. I was interested in seeing it because of my current penchant for creative reuse and because the Pie Minister is there, and I've been thinking all year about that lovely Heidi pie (winter squash and goat's cheese with savory herbs) that I had last October so I needed to pick one up to eat later in the week. 
Of the indoor art we saw at the Moniker Art Fair and at the Whitechapel Gallery, my two favorite works involved small taxidermied mammals. I usually don't go in for that sort of stuff, but these were great (and I'm just telling myself that the wee critters were road kill, not intentionally sacrificed for the art). At Moniker, Nancy Fouts, a 68-year old American artist who works in the UK, had a piece called "Rabbit with Curlers." At the Whitechapel Gallery was Maurizio Cattelan's Bidibidobidiboo, a miniature family kitchen with a squirrel that has committed suicide slumped at the table. There, we also saw some conceptual stuff, which I don't pretend to understand -- this year's Bloomberg Commission by Guiseppe Penone, and paintings and installations by Mel Bochner, the best of which was a series of colorful word paintings (imagine Sol LeWitt works with text instead of lines). 

An early dinner at Tayyab's finished off our day out in the East End.

20,659 steps (8.15 miles)
£20 to top up my Oyster card
£4 for two tote bags at Moniker Art Fair
£3.50 for Heidi pie
£1 for postcards at the Whitechapel Gallery
Spooner treated me to mid-afternoon tea and to dinner 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Eagle has (re)landed

Tenth trip to Blighty, and one of the smoothest journeys so far. I landed at 6:25 am and was at Spooner's front door by 8:15. Absolutely no queue at immigration, which is unheard of. There's something to be said for coming into Terminal 4, though I'd still rather be on Virgin Atlantic than on Delta (DEfinitely Lacking Travel Amenities). 
I'm now cleaned up and caffeinated and ready to head out to explore. We're off to the East End to go to the Moniker Art Fair, to see the new streetart in Shoreditch, possibly to take in whatever is at the Whitechapel Gallery, and then to eat at Tayyab. It's a bit chilly, but the sky is blue and the sun is shining.  Full report to follow. 

Yesterday's stats:
3127 steps (1.23 miles) and a lot of sitting
$2.40 for Mass Pike toll
$22.00 for return ticket on Logan Express airport bus

Saturday, September 01, 2012

A Daytrip with a (Re)purpose


All summer, I’ve been on a mission – which I’ve approached with great (secular) zeal – to repurpose stuff that’s been hanging around my house far too long. While I still have my physical and mental faculties, I want to de-clutter in a responsible, and even creative, way. So far, I’ve given my mandolin to a music camp, a chair that came from Ellen Emerson House and a mirror frame (no glass) to a friend who does whimsical furniture painting, a garden cart and a few tools to the new organic community garden near me, and a perfectly good (though hated by my cats) litter box to Dakin Animal Shelter. I’ve taken dead electronics to two recycling events, and two boxes of documents, including cancelled checks going back to 1976, to the Council on Aging’s shredding fundraiser. This week’s mission was to haul my old darkroom equipment out of my crawl space in the cellar and up to Brattleboro to donate it to the Vermont Center for Photography’s upcoming tag sale. So yesterday, I loaded up the Mini and headed north.


Brattleboro hasn’t changed much since the last time I was there, which must have been 10 years ago. The Common Ground, a worker-owned vegetarian restaurant upstairs on Elliot Street, has closed. I remember going there with a friend from grad school who ordered vegetable juice, and the look of horror on her face when a hippie handed her a frothy glass of liquid the color of beets. On Main Street, you can still find a proper hardware store, a big old post office, the Latchis hotel and theatre (a real movie house, which sadly Northampton doesn’t have any more). There are lots of little shops selling second-hand LPs, books, furniture and clothes. Tattoo parlors, a music store, various hippie/mystic emporiums, a few bars and non-chain coffee houses fill in the rest of Main, Elliot and High streets. What I’d forgotten is just how hilly and precipitous Brattleboro is. The buildings on the east side of Main are perched above the Connecticut River, with porches, decks and additions looking like they’ll topple into the river when the waters rise with the spring thaw. Every street to the west of Main heads uphill with an incline made for a goat. I cruised through a couple of stop signs for fear that the Mini would roll 20 feet backwards downhill, or that I’d pop the clutch and stall out. O, for the flat hills of my homeland! After dropping off the darkroom gear on the aptly-named (thank goodness!) Flat Street, I landed the Mini in a relatively hill-free parking space off the High Street.


A tasty lunch at the Blue Moose, plus use of their loo and free wi-fi, calmed my flatlander nerves. I headed downhill on foot, exploring various alleys off Main Street. I found a lot of graffiti and broken booze bottles down by the railroad tracks. Not great streetart by Shoreditch/Spitalfields standards, but a bit more interesting than the stuff I see in Northampton.


I ended the day with a stop the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center, which I’m ashamed to say I’d never visited. They have a fab exhibition of Stephen Hannock’s paintings on right now. The museum is located in the lovely old train station.


The station itself is now just a waiting area next to the tracks.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

We Yarnbombed the Bike Path

In observance of International Yarn Bombing Day, Riot Prrl (a knitters’ league for positive mischief) turned out yesterday to decorate a section of fence along the bike path in Northampton. We chose a particularly desolate spot, behind a disused car dealership, that looked like it needed a bit of cheer and love. As we were putting up our pieces, a couple of grumpy bikers (who clearly needed to feel the love) told us to get out of their way, but most of the people who came by seemed genuinely appreciative of what we were doing, whether or not they’d ever heard of yarnbombing. I hope people whizzing by on bikes or rollerblades slow down for a few seconds to let our joyful creation brighten their day. And I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the city doesn’t take it down and that no one nicks our work.

Here are some of my creations spread out on my patio before the big day:


Work in progress:


The results:




We’ll be adding additional pieces over the next few days or weeks. More photos (with location map) here. If you’re on the bike path, and see some bits of color come into view, please stop to smell the flowers and say hi to the wee bluebird.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Test post


I really hate the new Blogger dashboard and post composer, so I’m trying out Windows Live Writer (an offline post editor and uploader) to see if it works any better for me. This is just a test. Stay tuned to this station for further information.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Carrot Island

It wasn't a three-hour cruise, and we weren't marooned, but JJ and I were definitely the only humans on the (charted) desert isle. Carrot Island is one of several small islands off Beaufort that make up the Rachel Carson Reserve. (Rachel Carson spent time in Beaufort in the 1940s, and did studies on the islands.) We actually spent our time in the part of the Reserve called the Town Marsh.

View Carrot Island in a larger map

Our ferry landed on the beach on the north side of the island, and we walked inland from there. The island is mostly scrubby bushes and sand dunes, with little wild flowers and the occasional jasmine bush full of butterflies. When we got to the south side, we could see out to the Bird Shoal and the Beaufort Inlet Channel, with fishing trawlers heading out, beyond.

It probably would have been a good idea to bring binoculars, but not being a bird watcher I didn't even think to suggest that JJ bring theirs along. We mostly saw little shore birds hopping around in the shallow pools and on the sand bar. But what we really came to see were the feral horses. They were introduced to the island in the 1940s by a local physician; the herd now numbers about 35.
After 45 minutes of tromping along the trail and through the brush, we saw some horses way off in the distance on a sandbar. Then, we rounded a bend and saw two of them practically in front of us, and then another a little ways off. They were shy and the one in the photo kept a watchful eye on us, but they didn't seem spooked or run off immediately. Neither we nor the rather feeble zooms on our cameras could get very close, and my photos are mostly rubbish except for this one.

If they ever taught us anything about how to hike a marked trail in Girl Scouts, I must not have been paying attention. JJ and I were so interested in the horses that we lost track of where the trail markers were. I had a moment of panicky flashback to the time I got lost at Fitzgerald Lake, unable to find either the red or blue trail markers, as the sun was setting and the woods were getting dark. But here, fortunately, it was easy to go to higher ground and see exactly where we were. We blazed our way back to the beach with just minutes to spare before our ferry arrived to fetch us off the island. Timing couldn't have been better, as it started to get cloudy and windy just as we got to the dock in Beaufort.

On the way back to New Bern, we passed Martha's Favorite Things and saw that it was open, so we stopped in to look at the antiques and collectibles. She had two Elvis cookie jars that were pretty great but wouldn't have fit in my luggage or my budget.

I had a great time during my four-day stay in North Carolina. I saw fine art and supreme kitsch, photographed buildings ranging from palatial to derelict, soaked up a lot of history and a bit of nature. JJ and Tim might be northerners by birth, but their hospitality rivals that of any southerner you could shake a stick (or a dead possum) at. And there's lots to do in the 2-5-2!

10, 883 steps (4.29 miles)
$10 for ferry to Carrot Island, plus $2 tip

Friday, April 27, 2012

Noodling around New Bern

We've spent the past two days strolling around New Bern at a leisurely, southern pace, taking photos as we went. We've popped into art galleries and pretty little gardens, gone to an open house at a property in the historic district that's for sale (the realtor was AWOL, so the owner showed us around from top to bottom), poked around a funky flea market, done a slow drive-through of a neighborhood across the tracks and then walked around the disused train station. We went to the nearby (tiny) town of Pollocksville and photographed rural decay in abundance. As you can see from the pic above, we'll stop dead in our tracks to photograph just about anything.

While Jeanne was at her book club meeting yesterday, I took the trolley tour of New Bern, which was great. The guide was full of facts and anecdotes about town history from 1700 to the early 1900s -- much more than I can remember or recount. 

Today (my last day), we might take in a bit of water and nature.

Wednesday - 7678 steps, 3.02 miles
Thursday - 9583 steps, 3.78 miles
$7.35 lunch
$20 for a metal dragonfly (gift for Jeanne and Tim)
$16 for trolley tour

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Return to the Swamp

I'm back on Brices Creek in New Bern, NC. For those of you in the 413 who are thinking of visiting JJ and Tim, know that it's a really easy trip down - less than 3 hours from BDL to Charlotte, and then a short (somewhat bumpy) hop in a rather small plane (about the size of a Peter Pan bus) over to New Bern. JJ and Tim live about 10 minutes from the airport, and their house backs onto the creek. This photo is of cypress knees next to their dock.

This is low country - flat and just a few feet above sea level. There's water everywhere as New Bern sits where the Trent and Neuse rivers converge and head out to the ocean. Creeks, marshes, sounds, and then the Outer Banks. For our first day of adventures, we got in the car and headed southeast to Morehead City and Beaufort (pronounced BOW-fert).

The first stop was about 10 miles south of New Bern to see Tom Haywood's Self-Kicking Machine, outside Martha's Favorite Things Antique Store (unfortunately closed, but we peered in the windows and took a lot of photos of the exterior). The Self-Kicking Machine is actually a replica of the original, but it's in working order and we each took a turn cranking the handlebar and kicking ourselves in the butt for whatever things we didn't do, shouldn't have done, or need a bit of encouragement to do.

On to Morehead City to see the King Neptune, which is really about the only thing worth seeing in the town. The giant concrete merman sits on a dock next to a diving shop, looking forlornly over his shoulder towards land, as if he knows any attempt to turn around an go back in the sea is a futile endeavor.

We spent the greater part of the afternoon in Beaufort, a charming historic coastal town with lovely little cottages dating from the early- to mid-19th century and a marvelous Old Burying Ground. There will be scads of photos of the cemetery and the town on Flickr after I get home and sort through them. Before exploring the town, we stopped for lunch at the Spouter Inn (too windy to sit outside, but nice views of the water). When we got to the restaurant, there was a large group of women, all wearing red hats and lavender blouses or sweaters, just finishing their lunch. I thought we might be observing a quaint southern custom, but JJ tells me that there's an international movement of red hatters who lunch together. We later saw the ladies having a tour of the cemetery with a guide in period dress. I now have another thing to add to my list of what not to do in my senior years. You will not see me wearing a red hat while lunching.

The last stop of the day was Fort Macon, which was built in 1826, used throughout the 19th century, fell into ruin in the early 20th century, restored by CCC workers during the Depression, and recommissioned in WWII. It's now a state park with some historic recreations of soldiers' quarters during different times of use. Fortunately, it was late in the day and there were no busloads of school kids running around the place.

Happily, we didn't encounter any gators, snakes or pirates during our waterside adventures.

$12 for lunch (crab cake in pita bread - yum!)
7661 steps (3.02 miles)

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Winter Woes

It's sunny and warm today -- 69F (21C) with thin clouds in the pale blue sky. At last, I think I can safely say that winter is over. It's not that the weather was so awful this winter. Apart from the freak October Snowmageddon, which had me without power for 36 hours and left a trail of damage across New England, it was actually pretty mild with nowhere near our usual snowfall. However, this winter packed a punch on my wallet.

In February, Sadie the cat began having bouts of puking and diarrhea. These things are usually self-limiting in cats, but after five days of it I took her to her vet, who did x-rays (no sign of blockage) and recommended an ultrasound at Tufts Veterinary School. We had an appointment all set up for the next Monday, but Sadie took a turn for the worse and I drove her to Grafton on a Saturday morning and took her in through the ER. She spent two days in the Foster Hospital for Small Animals, where her team of five doctors and vet students got her stabilized on an IV, gave her meds to calm her tummy and chill out the diarrhea, and tested her from end to end. Based on the ultrasound, they diagnosed her with irritable bowel disease (not a real surprise, as this is a cat who has always had emotional issues) and sent her home with some nasty antibiotics and a prescription diet of new or "novel" protein -- venison and peas. She put up a stink about the antibiotics, but has really taken to the new food and is back to her old self. 

Just after I paid off the massive vet bills, I discovered that my 30-year-old refrigerator had died and everything in the freezer had thawed out. All those containers of tomatoes, peppers, and pesto that I'd put up last summer had turned to slush. I now have a shiny, new black Darth Vader-esque fridge, the bill for which I paid off in March, not two weeks before having to put new brakes in the Mini Cooper. I am now skint. 

At one point, between the vet bills and the death of the fridge, I was still holding out (slim) hope that I might be able to go to London in May, but quickly realized that wasn't going to happen. Much in need of a get-away, I'm instead going to take a little holiday later this month and mooch off my pals Jeanne and Tim in the swampland of North Carolina. Some of you might remember my posts about a long weekend I spent down there in 2009, puttering around New Bern and driving in the pickup truck through the lowlands and backwater towns. For this trip, I'm working up a list of sights that should be amusing, edifying, and full of photo ops, including:
I'll try to write a post or two or three while I'm there, so watch this page for further developments.