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


  1. I love your little red yarnbomb bird! I bet that did make the staff smile on Monday morning.

    As always it was so enjoyable joining you on your onward and upwards exploration of the back alleys of London and hearing your American take on our fair city.

  2. I love it too!! the red bird and your writing!!

  3. Interesting post, thanks for sharing!