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)

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Back to the East End

Roger and I were going to hire a car and go to Chichester on Tuesday, planning to see street art, the cathedral, a contemporary art gallery, and a sculpture park. We decided it was just too much, so opted for a day of doing separate things. He had lots of errands to do in town, and I wanted to roam around the East End on a weekday, rather than at the weekend when it's so crowded you can hardly walk on the pavement or see the streetart.

I set out at noon (after having done a Pilates class in Queens Park in the morning), taking the Overground to Euston and then the tube to Old Street. When I did this ramble last year, it was washed out by showers. This year's weather was very cooperative -- some sun, some clouds, but warm and not a drop falling from the sky.

I meandered around, first zig zagging east and south, then working my way back north. Sometimes I knew where I was, and other times I found myself in streets that were new to me. One of those new turns was into Quaker Street, in a block that was nondescript with some industrial warehouses and newer housing blocks. Then I saw something interesting -- the sign for Crescent Trading fabric merchants. Owned by Philip Pittack and Martin White, this is the last remaining fabric warehouse in Spitalfields. Several months ago, I had heard Philip and Martin doing a long interview on the Robert Elms show on BBC London radio, talking about the fire that nearly destroyed their business and how they came back from it. A dapper gent (turns out it was Martin), who was waiting on another customer, greeted me as I walked in and told me to have a look around. The warehouse is full of bolts of fabric, mostly fine English wools and silks, piled on shelves to the ceiling. When he finished with his customer, he came over to where I was feeling some lovely camel colored wool cloth. "That's cashmere," he said. "Oh, I know," I replied. He pulled it down and put it on the cutting table. "This is the rarest cloth in the world," he told me. Woven from South American wool in an English mill that is no longer in operation, this is the last bit of this fabric anywhere. Martin said that it sold in Italy for €1500 a meter. He sells it for £200 a meter. We chatted a bit more -- I told him that I'd heard their interview on the radio and thanked him for the opportunity to meet him -- and then pushed on. (Do click on the links above and read the great articles about Crescent Trading in the Spitalfields Life blog.)

By the time I reached Spitalfields Market, I was hungry and needed a sit-down. I looked for the little stall where I got some fantastic carrot curry soup last year, but it had been replaced by another vendor. So instead, I had a spinach-sweet potato-goat cheese pie from Square Pie. After stopping in at the Bishopsgate Institute to use their very nice loo (loyal readers will know that I keep a mental inventory of loos and plan my walks to reach one every few hours), I wandered a bit further south and then headed up Brick Lane. With little jogs right and left into Seven Stars Yard, Princelet, Hanbury, Buxton, Grimsby, Bacon, Chance, and Ebor, I came to the Boundary Estate, my northernmost destination. In Arnold Circus, I had another sit-down and pictured the area when it was the Old Nichol, the worst slum in London. Last year I read A Child of the Jago, a nineteenth century novel set in the Old Nichol, and I'm now reading a non-fiction book, The Blackest Streets, about the slum and how it was raised to build the Boundary Estate.

Then, back on the tube and the Overground to Queens Park.

£25 for  three Pilates mat classes
£3.50 for lunch
21,829 steps (8.44 miles)

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Way Out West

Monday saw us venturing further west than I'd ever gone, this time to Richmond (one stop beyond Kew, where I had been). The plan for the day was to follow a walk from one of Andrew Duncan's books. I'm happy to report that we did the entire walk as written, without getting lost or me losing the photocopy of the route.

Richmond is a lovely, very old place. I think I read that it is the most Tory district in London -- I believe it, given the pricey homes with river views that we passed. Various celebs live here, like Pete Townsend and Mick Jagger. The center of Richmond has an extremely busy commercial area, with all the High Street shops you'd expect, but you can quickly nip under an arch and down a passage (as we did) and leave the 21st century behind. 

Soon we were at Richmond Green, lined with Georgian shops and houses, as well as remaining bits of a Tudor palace. From there, we turned down to the river and walked on the Thames Path for a little bit till we reached Richmond Bridge. We climbed a set of steps to the street level, and kept walking uphill from there -- past 19th century hotels (Richmond was a popular vacation spot), and stopping at the Terrace Gardens where we had great views up the river to the west and north. But the best views were yet to come. Upward we climbed, into Richmond Park and to King Henry's Mound. From there, you can see Windsor Castle to the west and, through a well-maintained cutting through the trees, the dome of St Paul's Cathedral to the east. It was possible to faintly make these landmarks out with the naked eye, but the brass telescope really helped. 

The walk was all downhill from there, but not the experience or the weather, which kept getting warmer and sunnier as the day progressed. We walked through the Petersham Meadow and the tiny village of Petersham, past the Richmond Polo Club, until we reached the wall of Ham House. Following the wall, and nipping down Cut Throat Alley, we walked around the vast property until we got to the entrance just off the Thames Path. 

Using my Art Pass, my entry to Ham House was free (£11 value). The house is totally amazing, like nothing we have in the States. The estate dates from Tudor times, with the original house built in 1610. It has been in the same family for its entire existence, with various generations undertaking restorations and redecorations, until 1948 when it passed to the National Trust. The owners kept detailed inventories and they seem to have kept everything, so what you see is largely what the house would have looked like to visitors in the 17th or 18th centuries.  The house is full of silk tapestries, incredible furniture, Chinese ceramics, and old paintings. It even has one of the first bathrooms in England, installed in 1675. 

From Ham House, we continued back to Richmond along the Thames Path, along the gardens that we'd seen from the terrace above. Then, back on the train, quick meal at the flat, and the bus up to Kilburn to see a play called Handbagged at the Tricycle Theatre. It's all about the relationship between the Queen and Margaret Thatcher, and was really good fun. Roger and I have a tradition of seeing a bad play when I'm in London -- we broke tradition with this one.

I'm writing this on Tuesday morning. We had originally planned to spend the day in Chichester, seeing street art, the cathedral and a contemporary art galley. We've bagged that plan and gone our separate ways. I've already been up to Queens Park to take a Pilates mat class (wicked hard, but it felt good), and will soon be out the door to roam around Spitalfields and Shoreditch for the afternoon.

£20 to top up Oyster again
£1 coconut water (we packed a lunch; I had my Heidi pie for dinner)
23,441 steps (8.87 miles)

Monday, October 07, 2013

The Far East

Sunday's adventures took us further east than I'd ever been on the north side of the river. We did a ton of walking, and used many modes of transport -- tube, bus, dangle tram and river bus -- as we made our way from Mile End, though Bow, to Silvertown, across the Thames to Greenwich and back up the river to Bankside. 

Our first stop was Tower Hamlets Cemetery. Loyal readers will remember that I'm trying to visit all of the Magnificent Seven cemeteries in London. This was number five for me. I'm not sure, but it might be the most overgrown and neglected of the seven, and I'm pretty sure its occupants were of more modest means than those who were put to rest in Highgate or Brompton. There are no grand tombs or mausoleums; gravestones are falling over and jumbled up in the undergrowth. The cemetery is now a nature park, so I guess this unkempt appearance is all part of establishing natural habitat for critters and plants. I remembered the lesson Maggie taught me about watching out for stinging nettle in graveyards, but couldn't remember what it looks like, so I just made sure not to touch anything green. 

We then trekked eastward, through a couple of housing estates, to reach Bromley-by-Bow station, where we walked through the subway under the flyover, then made a brief stop at Tesco on the way to Three Mills Island. The island in the Lea River has been the site of mills dating back to mediaeval times, and is noted in the Domesday Book. We took a fab tour of the Housemill, a tidal mill that was built in 1776 (parts of it have since been re-built after a fire in the 19th century and bomb damage in the Blitz). Or guide Tony, a local from Bow, was incredibly knowledgable and entertaining, taking us up and down steep, narrow stairways to see all the workings of the mill. He told us that the site is frequently used as a movie set, most recently for a film called London Fields, from a Martin Amis book, starring Billy Bob Thornton, which will be out in 2014. 

The journey to our next destination -- Royal Victoria -- would have been easier had it not been a Sunday and the Underground in a mess. We walked around a bit looking for a bus that would get us to the right branch of the DLR so we could get to Royal Victoria. One old woman who Roger asked kept insisting that we take a bus that would have gone through the Blackwall Tunnel to Greenwich. We ignored her and walked to a different stop and got a bus to Canning Town, then walked to the dangle tram that we could see in the distance.  The Emirates Air Line cable car was built for the Olympics, to move people from venues at the ExCeL Centre over to the O2. It's a bit of a folly, but it's way cheaper than the London Eye, and on a clear day like we had you get some lovely views up and down the river. 

The dangle dumped us out next to the O2, just by North Greenwich Pier. I'd always wanted to take on river bus on the Thames, so this was the perfect opportunity. We landed at Bankside, right in front of the Globe Theatre. Roger dashed in to be a groundling for a performance of MacBeth, and I wandered up the Southbank to the Hungerford Bridge (having forgotten what a long way that is), watched the sunset, found the new mural by Stik that I'd wanted to see, walked across the Jubilee Bridge to Embankment Station and caught the tube back to Queen's Park. 

Oh, I forgot -- we started the day with a walk up to the Queen's Park Farmers' Market, in the yard of a local primary school, which has to be one of the nicest markets I've ever been to. There was a jumble sale going on in the school hall, and Roger couldn't resist making a purchase. 

£10 to top up Oyster (used for dangle and river bus)
£2 for snacks
£3 Housemill tour
24,359 steps (9.22 miles)

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Where the Toffs Live

My regular readers will know that I almost never spend time in posh areas of London unless there's some history to be learned or art to see. In my ten previous visits, I had never set foot in Belgravia, though I'd seen it on tv (the Bellamy family of Upstairs, Downstairs lived at 165 Eaton Place). So, what better way to explore Belgravia's grand Georgian squares and pretty little mewses than with a City of Westminster guide. My friend Jenny has recently qualified as a Westminster guide, and she offered to take me on a personalised walking tour, one that she's working up for the punters. 

We met up in Grosvenor Gardens, across the street from Victoria Station, and then quickly left the traffic and chaos around the station for the serene residential squares of Belgravia.  Jenny pointed out that many of the toffs who live here go off to their country homes at the weekend, which explains why we saw very few people about. Mercs and Range Rovers were parked up and down the streets, and not a Ford Escort or Vauxhall in sight. Grosvenor is a name that came up many times on our walk, for Belgravia was originally (and much still is) the Grosvenor Estate, owned by the Duke of Westminster, who is obscenely rich. On our walk, we passed the former home of Margaret Thatcher (under renovation at the moment), dozens of blue plaques denoting homes of the great and the good (and the wealthy), and the scene of an unsolved murder. We also ducked down little mewses, where the stables for the homes had been. The grooms and other servants lived in the mewses, in what are now darling (and expensive) little houses and flats. I'm not going to go into all that I learned on my walk -- if you want to find out more about the area, you'll just have to book a place on one of Jenny's walks.

The tour ended at The Grenadier, one of the many little pubs that are tucked away in the mewses. It's reputed to be one of the most haunted pubs of London, though I have no first-hand ghost sighting to confirm that. We had a great pub lunch there (carrot soup for me and veggie burger for Jenny), which was very reasonably priced, especially with the £5 coupon I'd printed from the website

After lunch, we went our separate ways. I headed to Sloane Square; my destination was the Saatchi Gallery. In front of the gallery, there was a Saturday farmers' market going on in Duke of York Square -- I was thrilled to find the Pieminister there. I bought myself a Heidi pie (veg and goat cheese) to take home for later in the week. It's my all-time fave pie, and I like to eat at least one per London visit. 

You might remember that last year, Maggie and I stopped into the Saatchi Gallery after our long Fulham to Chelsea walk. The only thing we saw then was Richard Wilson's sump oil installation. This visit, I had ample time to roam the galleries from top to bottom. The main exhibition currently on is Paper -- various two- and three-dimensional works made on or with paper, by young British artists. Galleries are great because they're free, they generally show new -- and often edgy -- work, and they usually let you take photographs. I took scads of snaps of people as they photographed the art with their phones and iPads. I think I was channeling Tony Ray-Jones a bit. 

On my way back Spooner's flat, I got off the bus at Westbourne Park station so that I could take a little stroll through Meanwhile Gardens and check on my yarn bombs. I didn't bring any new knitted pieces with me this year, but I had left small pieces in the gardens on two previous visits. My 2011 pieces are still there, both looking faded and one starting to unravel. Of my bird and three flowers from 2012, only two flowers remain, droopy and overgrown with vines. It's like visiting old friends, but I'm sad to see that they've gone downhill since we were last together. I'll make a concerted effort to bring some bright, new woolly works on my next trip over.

30p for the loo at Victoria Station
£10 for soup and ale at the Grenadier
£3.95 for Heidi pie (up from £3.50 last year)
17,002 steps (6.44 miles)

Saturday, October 05, 2013

A Bad Palace and Good Art

I did not catch sight of Kate and Royal Baby Boy George yesterday, and I now know why it's perfectly fine to have been to London umpteen times and never have seen Kensington Palace. I wish I hadn't, but at least I got in free. 

It's really a theme park, and not a very good one. The idea is that, as you move from room to room, things are revealed to you -- through objects, whispering voices, and snippets of text stencilled on walls and furniture -- about the royal occupants. The first room, telling us about Victoria's coronation, had bits of writing by Victoria's privy council painted on a large table. When I saw "love" woven in a repeating pattern all over the carpet, I just should have turned back. I hate that sort of shit. But I pressed on, moving quickly through the rooms and not lingering to hear any of the whispers. The fashion part was ok -- several dresses worn by Queen Elizabeth, Princess Margaret, and Diana -- but the place as a whole was a waste of time. 

Everything improved considerably after I left the palace via the sunken garden (which was lovely). I quickly found the set of parish boundary markers I was looking for, just north of the Round Pond. Some anorak types are trainspotters; I'm always on the lookout for parish boundary markers. This pair was mentioned by J.M. Barrie in Peter Pan, but he took literary license and turned them into headstones of dead infants who were buried in Kensington Gardens. In fact, they mark the boundary between St Margaret's Westminster and Paddington Parish. I took several snaps for the Parish Boundary Markers photo group (surprisingly, they hadn't been added to the group previously).

Next stop was the Serpentine Pavilion, where I had a much-needed sitdown and my first food since landing. The cloud of steel, designed by Sou Fujimoto, is really cool -- it rises up into the trees and sky (not down into the ground as last year's pavilion), and provides good ops for climbing (not me -- I hate heights) and photos. This year's caterer is Fortnum & Mason. The had a very nice, though rather pricey, potato leek soup on offer. 

I took a look round at the exhibition in the gallery (arte povera works by Marisa Merz), then walked across the bridge to the former gun powder magazine that's now the Serpentine Sackler Gallery. I'm not too keen on the Zaha Hadid extension, but the exhibition there was fab -- an installation of works of unfired clay, ranging in scale from minute to elephantine, by Adrian Villar Rojas. 

My next, and final, stop was at the Science Museum to see Only in England: Photographs by Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr. This has to be one of the best photography exhibitions I've seen in years (in addition to the marvellous Everything is Moving exhibition that I saw last year at the Barbican). There are scads of black and white photos, taken in the late 1960s to early 1970s, of English people being uniquely English -- at the seaside, the derby, dog shows, church fetes, etc. The article in the Guardian describes it better than I can. 

£20 to top up my Oyster card
£4.50 Soup at the Serpentine Pavilion
£4 Only in England exhibition
17,267 steps (6.54 miles)

Friday, October 04, 2013

Lessons Learned (or Forgotten)

I've been a very bad blogger this past year. Here I am, back in London where I left you all a year ago. I'm about to set off on my first day of adventures, but I thought first I'd tell you a bit about what I've learned about traveling to Blighty.
  1. Don't try to get to or from Heathrow on a Sunday. Planned engineering makes a mess of the transport system. I've ignored that lesson on this trip, as I'll be flying home on a Sunday. Hope it goes better than last time.
  2. Make one large withdrawal of cash from the ATM/cash point at Heathrow, rather than withdrawing £40 every few days. Each transaction racks up bank fees, so the fewer transactions the better.
  3. It's very easy to book tickets online from the US for timed entry to exhibitions, train tickets, etc. I'm even learning that it's not scary to pick up the phone and call the UK when I have a question about something. 
  4. Bring a pharmacopoeia of stuff from home. Medicines and remedies are different in the UK. I once ran around to four different chemists looking for saline nasal spray to no avail. Now I come prepared for all aches and ailments. 
  5. I'm not sure if buying an Art Pass is a good idea. I got one this year for the first time, and didn't do the math quite right when I added things up and thought it would be a great deal. So, I'll be running around on this trip from museum to museum to try to get my money's worth. Failing that, I'll just have to come back before August 31, 2014 when it expires. 
On that note, I'm out the door now to go to Kensington Palace, a place I've never had on my list but it's free on the Art Pass so I may as well check it out. Perhaps I'll catch a glimpse of Kate pushing Royal Baby Boy George around in Kensington Gardens in his pram.  I'm also going to the Serpentine Gallery (new and old), stopping by this year's Serpentine Pavilion, and then going to the Science Museum for a photography exhibition called Only in England ... if I don't drop from exhaustion along the way.

Yesterday's stats:
$2.40 toll on the Mass Pike
$22.00 Logan Express bus ticket
$1.38 packet of crisps at the airport
3569 steps (1.35 miles)