Sunday, September 14, 2014

Sunday in Bermondsey, and Summing Up

My last day in Blighty was a bit slower than previous days, but no less interesting as I explored another area I didn't know very well. We set out to do the first half of the Bermondsey walk in London's Hidden Walks v. 2, starting at London Bridge Station and ending at the Angel public house on the Thames. Spooner snapped a lot of photos, so I might be able to post a couple of those later. Cameraless, I was happy just to take in the sights: 17th century houses, old warehouses used when Bermondsey was the hub of the leather trade in England, the Time and Talents Settlement House, and St Saviour's Dock (formerly a squalid area in which Dickens set Bill Sikes' death). 

Along the way, we made a couple of stops for art, refreshment and use of the loo. Our first stop was at the White Cube gallery to see a massive exhibition by Gilbert & George called Scapegoating Pictures for London, which we both enjoyed a lot. You can see some of the works here and read a review here

We next headed to Maltby Street Market, where we each got something to eat from the vendors and shared a large bottle of Spanish cider in a tapas bar. The market is small -- located in a ropewalk next to the arches under the railroad tracks -- but is packed with great food. 

Afterwards, we headed north to the river, walking east along the Thames Path to the Angel pub, which is along Bermondsey Wall East but is actually in Rotherhithe. It was a beautiful day to stand along the wall, look out at the Thames (and consume more beverages). We were a bit disappointed that none of the tall ships that were down in Greenwich over the weekend sailed past us up to Tower Bridge, but that didn't stop us enjoying the sunshine and the river. The tide was pretty well out, so we went down the slippery old stairs to the foreshore and did a bit of mudlarking. We didn't find any treasures, but I came home with a bag of clay pipe and pottery bits. 

£2.50 for spinach croissant at Maltby Street Market
£2 for 1/2 pint of bitter at the Angel
£2.40 for 2 packages of Hobnobs to bring home
£5 to top up Oyster card for journey to Heathrow on Monday 

15,011 steps, 5.92 miles


I was out the door early Monday morning for the long (15 hour) journey home.

30p to use the loo at Paddington Station
$77 for parking at the Massport lot in Framingham
$2.45 toll on the Mass Pike

7581 steps, 2.99 miles

£5 remaining on my Oyster card (the 7-day travel card save me a lot of money)
630 photos taken before my camera died
74.24 miles walked

It was another fabulous visit, and I really appreciate the hospitality of my host Spooner and the friendship of all my mates with whom I had adventures and meetups.  Until next year!

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Poplar, Shoreditch and a Metaphor (or Two)

Friday, I set out on my over-planned, long-awaited walk through Poplar, looking for references to people and places of Poplar past -- Chinatown, the docks and sailors, the nuns and midwives. I'd done scads of research, and mapped the whole thing out on Google maps. You can see the map here -- it's really worth a look, as the notes contain tons of info gleaned from my research with some good links. The plan was to walk from Limehouse station to Trinity Buoy Wharf, with a stop at the Museum of London in Docklands to see an exhibition on bridges that coincides with the 120th anniversary of Tower Bridge. Just before I left for London, I read about a video exhibition at Balfron Tower that was to open the very day I was there, so I ambitiously booked myself for the first timed-entry slot at 12:15 pm. When I arrived in London, I made plans to meet up with three of my mates right after the video -- they would join me for the Trinity Buoy Wharf bit. 

I reached Limehouse about 10 minutes behind my schedule. But I knew where I was going and I set out with map in hand. About 15 minutes into the walk, things started to go all pear shaped when my camera began to act up. It had done something funny a couple times the day before -- the display went black, but for a message saying "Change camera settings." I had been able to turn it on and off a couple times and get it working on Thursday, but this day it just went from bad to worse. So I sat on a bench on the Commercial Road for about 15 minutes, as the traffic whizzed by, while I fiddled with every button and knob that I could to no avail. Realising that I was getting way behind in my schedule -- and deciding I needed to find a loo -- I pushed on, skipping several things on my map but still working many of them in. I nipped into the Museum of London to use the loo, crossed the multiple lanes of traffic on an overhead walkway at Poplar Station, and walked up Hale Street to reach East India Dock Road. Just before the corner, I passed a disused public toilet and took out my camera to see if I could get a snap of the ladies' loo sign. My camera came alive and worked for the one shot before going back to black. 

At this point I was really worried that I wouldn't be on time for Home on High, the video installation at Balfron Tower. I could see the steeple of All Saints Church up ahead, and Balfron Tower a bit beyond that. Between the church and the tower was the most important destination on this trek -- the real "Nonnatus House" (actually called St Frideswide's Mission House) where the Anglican nuns and the lay midwives ("Call the Midwife") lived. I'd found it on StreetView, but I really, really wanted to see it with my own eyes. Sweaty and out of breath, I arrived in Lodore Street a bit before noon. So, there I was and desperately wanting a photo. I took out my camera again, punched a few buttons and managed to resurrect it one last time for a few shots of the mission and Balfron Tower around the corner. Was it divine intervention? Or the spirit of the nuns and midwives who did so much good for the women of Poplar in those difficult years just after the war? I think it was just down to stupid luck. 

I actually reached the assembly point at Balfron Tower about ten minutes early and had a nice chat with Gordon (aka Loopzilla), a Flickr mate who was serving as an invigilator (guide) for the video. Up we went to the 24th floor and watched the video in which a man and his son, former residents of the flat we were in, talked about what it was like living there from 1959 to 1970-something. The rest of the time was spent looking around the now-vacant flat and the views. Balfron Tower is currently occupied by many artists whose flats are also their studio space. Soon, all the residents will be moved out and the entire tower will undergo refurbishment. When the first residents moved in, it was such a time of hope -- clean new flats in a state-of-the art building, as part of a vibrant community. So much has changed as the building became more and more shabby and the original residents moved away. But it seems poised for a new beginning and a renewal of that optimism and community spirit. 

My next stop was East India station to meet Malcolm, Jenny and Jane for our ramble to Trinity Buoy Wharf, a place you can't really get to from anywhere, where interesting and creative things are happening. Thankfully, Jenny had been there before and knew a riverside route that I hadn't been able to work out on StreetView. Once a place of working docks and squalid housing, TBW is  now home to a container city of artists' studios, a warehouse for ENO's stage sets and flats, a school, a parkour academy, a lighthouse, an American diner (the last one made by the Worcester Lunch Car Company), and various quirky arty things scattered about. We first had a good, cheap lunch at the Bow Creek Cafe (I had a tuna & sweet corn sandwich, which is a requisite of any of my trips to London) and then poked around the buildings and sculpture and had a telling-off from a teller-offer security guard about taking photos (not me!) and generally being too close to a wedding party. The views of the river were great, and we saw several tall ships sailing up toward Greenwich or back down (there's a tall ships festival on this weekend). After this leisurely ramble, Malcolm and I took in the bridges exhibition back at the MoL in Docklands. 

From there, I headed to the Angel to meet Roger for dinner and theatre. We had a fantastic dinner at a Turkish restaurant called Gem in Upper Street and then saw Little Revolution at the Almeida. It was a lot better than the last thing we saw there. 

Saturday started with Pilates mat class up in Queen's Park, and then Roger and I set out to do some errands and see a new artists fair at the Old Truman Brewery. This was the first time I had gone out on the streets of London without a camera, and I found it liberating. I'd been remarking on how, when I didn't have use of my camera on Friday, I paid more attention to the bigger picture and to the company of my friends. Not doing that OCD thing of snapping every little bit that caught my attention seemed to put me more in tune with the flow of the streets and the people. Today, I really felt like a Londoner rather than a tourist. We had a great lunch of Ethiopian street food in Brick Lane, stopped in at the Howard Griffin Gallery to check on a print Roger had ordered, popped into a bookshop so Roger could get wrapping paper, and stopped at a (not very good) sale of upcycled crafts in Meanwhile Gardens on the way home. 

Now I'm back at the flat while Roger is at a wedding. I'm going to take a long soak in the tub, heat up the soup I just bought at the Coop, drink wine and relax. If you've made it to this point in the post, I thank you for hanging in. Only one more day and one more post to go. My back is holding up remarkably well, but I'm slowing down.

Friday Expenses:
£3 tuna and sweet corn sandwich
£10 dinner at Gem
25,934 steps, 10.23 miles

Saturday Expenses:
£15 for Pilates mat class
£5 street food in Brick Lane
£15 for two bottles of wine (one for me and one for a house present)
£2.40 for a pint of soup for my supper
14,903 steps, 5.88 miles

Friday, September 05, 2014

Lunch in a Loo

Thursday was another day for exploring new places. My day started on the overground, traveling to Hackney Central. I walked south from the station, past the Hackney Empire theatre to the Hackney Museum to see a marvellous exhibition of photos by Colin O'Brien. He started taking photos when he was a young boy, and has captured little moments of a long-gone London.

A quick walk north brought me to Sutton House, which is the biggest Tudor home in London, or the finest, or some other superlative that I can't remember. I mistakenly thought that it was the home of Thomas Sutton, the founder of the Charterhouse (see my post about my tour there on Tuesday), but it isn't. So why the heck do they call it Sutton House? Seems Thomas Sutton lived in a house next door, which was demolished so that the Charterhouse could build a row of 16 Georgian terrace houses on the property. Originally the Tudor home was known as Bryck Place, as it was one of the first brick houses in the area when it was built in 1535. I think I was the only punter in the place, so I was able to wander alone throughout the house, from cellar to top floor. It's amazingly intact, given how many families -- and a bunch of squatters in the 1980s -- lived in it through the centuries. 

For my lunch, I headed to a place I'd read about in a Londonist article on bars and restaurants in converted public toilets. The Convenience in Brooksby's Walk is run by a group of women over the age of 55 (the "Nanas") who make and serve comfort food in a former toilet block. I had a lovely bowl of carrot and parsnip soup on their rooftop terrace. The restaurant is in the former gents' side of the loo. The ladies' is now unisex, with fixtures that look like they date from the 1930s or 40s. On the back of the stall door, I saw a notice from the Hackney Council on how to prevent and treat venereal disease that must have been there at least 60 years.

Next, I hopped on a bus that took me up to Stoke Newington Station, the meeting point for Sam Roberts' ghostsigns tour. I'd known Sam via the internets for years -- following his blog and contributing photos of ghostsigns to the archives he founded through the History of Advertising Trust -- but had never met him in person. He is passionate about these fading adverts of days gone by, and gives an enthusiastic and enjoyable tour of about 20 of them around Stoke Newington High Street and Church Street.   

The number 73 bus took me from Stoke Newington Town Hall to the Photographers' Gallery, passing a couple of ghostsigns on the way (one in Newington Green and the other in Grays Inn Road near the Pentonville Road). At the gallery, I had a quick look at an exhibition of colour photos from Russia. Ho, hum.  

Pushing on, I arrived at the Hoop and Grapes in Farringdon Street for a meet-up with friends from Flickr and Ipernity. It was a lovely evening, and I'm so happy to have met and stayed in touch with this lot over the past years. 

Sorry this post has been a little thin on details and observations, but I've got to take a shower and head out soon for my long walk in Poplar. I'll try to write a more extensive post tomorrow. Here's a teaser:  Ships ahoy and Call the Midwife!

£3.50 Sutton House 
£3.50 lunch in the loo
£12.50 ghostsigns walking tour
£7.50 beer and falafel burger

17,034 steps, 6.72 miles

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Down South

I'd reached the point in my visit when I was really in need of a more tranquil day, without all the rushing around, and Wednesday's outing was the perfect antidote to the crowds and the noise of central London. The plan was to meet friends David, Janie and Ray at half past noon in south London for a bucolic ramble, and we couldn't have had more brilliant weather for our outing -- a perfect September day.

Since the best route for me to get to Forest Hill was via Whitechapel, I timed it so that I could stop in the Whitechapel Gallery for a bit before catching my overground train. The gallery displays primarily contemporary art, often a bit edgy and incomprehensible. The major exhibition at the moment is Giulio Paolini: To Be or Not to Be, which looked like it must have some deep meaning but I didn't get it. I did, however, like the piece in the space where they have an annual installation  (Continuum of Repair: The Light of Jacob's Ladder) and some small dinos that were inspired by the ones at Crystal Palace Park (more on that later). 

Getting down to Forest Hill/Sydenham was so easy that I really don't know why I've never gone before. Ray and I came in to Forest Hill by different trains and were met by David for the walk up the hill to the Horniman Museum where Janie was waiting for us. After a tasty meal at the cafe, we walked around the grounds and took in the amazing views back down on London. It was too nice a day to spend inside in the museum, and we had other destinations, so we pressed on by car from there.

Our next stop was West Norwood Cemetery so that I could tick off number six of the Magnificent Seven that I've now visited. (Only Nunhead yet to see.) Opened in 1837, this is the second of the Victorian cemeteries to be built outside central London. Each of the Magnificent Seven has its own character, and West Norwood seems less formal (no grand central avenue) than some of the others. It also seems better maintained, perhaps because it was open to new burials until fairly recently. Like all of the cemeteries, it has some great architectural monuments and tombs, twisty drives and paths, and a good canopy of shade trees (not like a lot of American cemeteries that are mainly flat grass with few trees). 

Then, on we went to Crystal Palace Park, a real gem of a place that also dates from the mid 19th century. The Crystal Palace itself once stood here, after being moved from its original site in Hyde Park where it was built for the Great Exhibition of 1851. It subsequently burned down in 1936. I'd seen photos of it, but I had absolutely no idea of the scale until seeing the remains of the foundation. Apparently, some Chinese investors have plans to reconstruct the palace, but I think I'd rather that they left it just as it is. One of the must-sees in the park is the dinosaur court, a little pond with life-size (maybe) dino statues. These were the first dino sculptures in the world, and are probably inaccurate to our current knowledge, but it's astonishing to think that they were made before Darwin's seminal writing on evolution. 

Big thanks to David and Janie for treating met to this grand day out, and to Ray for coming up from Wokking to do it with me. 

None to report (I was too knackered to go to Pilates class)

19,114 steps, 7.54 miles

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

A Day in the City

I don't think I've ever been in the City on such a nice day. Blue skies, lots of sunshine, warm but not too hot -- perfect for having sit-downs in churchyards and little parks, and I did plenty of that as I roamed around.

I started my day at Tower Hill to see Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, the installation of ceramic poppies in the moat around the Tower of London to commemorate the 888,246 Brits who lost their lives during World War I. A team of volunteers are placing the poppies in the lawn gradually from this August (I think it started on the 100th anniversary of when the war broke out in 1914) until Armistice Day in November. I took a bunch of photos, but I'm afraid they will be mostly crap as the sun was shining so brightly into the moat but the walls of the Tower were in shadow. If I have a cloudy day and I find myself back in the City, I'll try to stop by again.

Next, I headed toward St Paul's Cathedral, stopping briefly at St Dunstan in the East. This Wren church was mostly destroyed during WWII, but the tower and parts of the stone side walls remain. A lovely little garden has been created on the site, with plantings, vines and trees growing among the ruins. Roger brought Molly and me here when we visited him ten years ago, but I hadn't been back since.

Heading westward, I walked along Eastcheap and Cannon Street, passing Pudding Lane without giving it any thought. It was here that the Great Fire of London started in 1666. I didn't realise until I got to the Museum of London later in the day that the fire started on September 2, making this the 348th anniversary. 

My plan was to reach St Paul's by 11:30, when I thought there would be a brief, free tour of the cathedral. Since I've never wanted to pay the twenty-some quid for the proper tour, that sounded like a good idea to me. I'd written down that people were to assemble at the west (main) entrance promptly at 11:30, and I got there at 11:26 to find nothing that looked like an assembly point, a waiting guide or a queue. So I went inside and asked one of the guards where to go for the free 11:30 tour. He pointed me towards a small group gathering inside next to a woman wearing a red sash, and told me to get a sticker from the ticket booth. The sticker said "Bill Viola" on it, and it dawned on me that I was queueing to see the video installation, Martyrs (Earth, Wind, Fire and Water) that I'd read about. Our little group walked down the right aisle to a wall where the installation was mounted and waited for it to finish its 7-minute loop so we could see it from the beginning. I'm not into the religious aspects of it, but I reckon all cultures and causes have their martyrs so the video does have broader impact. And it's quite powerful. I still don't know if there really was a free, brief tour, but I did get a chance to gawp at parts of the cathedral while I was inside. 

After picking up a egg salad sandwich from Tesco Express, I ate my lunch in another little park made in the ruins of a church -- Christchurch Greyfriars in King Edward Street. From there, I strolled through Postman's Park, a favourite destination since I first discovered it by accident in 1998, and around Smithfield Market

Next up was the 2:15 tour of the Charterhouse that I had pre-booked. I've been wanting to see this place for ages, but it had never been open for tours when I was in London before. Brother Duncan gave us a fabulous tour, explaining the founding of the Carthusian monastery, its dissolution during the reign of Henry VIII, the history of the almshouse and school, damage from bombs in WWII, and the continued work of the charity. A former school master, Duncan has been living at Charterhouse for the past two years, along with 40 other brothers. 

I was running out of steam at this point, but made a brief stop at the Museum of London to see the Olympic cauldron and to have a cookie and a sit-down before heading back to Westbourne Park. My plan was to have taken mat class at 7:30, but I checked the studio website just before I was about to head out the door -- thinking that the class might be full -- only to find that it had been cancelled. So, I did my own mini-mat class of stretching. 

50p to pee at the visitors' centre at Tower Hill
£1.60 egg salad sandwich from Tesco Express
£10 for Charterhouse tour
£2.50 cookie
£2.20 for soup from the Coop for my dinner
£5 to top up my Oyster card for my journey to Zone 3 today

21,592 steps, 8.51 miles

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Six Exhibitions, a Pavilion and Italian Fountains

Monday was a day full of art -- so many exhibitions that I'm just going to give you the links rather than describe each one in any detail. All different, all very good, and all but one in the company of my good friend Judy. Suffice to say that much of what we saw was right up both our alleys -- photography, abstractions, objects used in social change movements or to convey political messages, things made by women to further women's causes, etc. We started at the Royal Academy of Arts, where Judy is a member and I got in free as her +1, and then moved on to the V&A for several free exhibitions. At the end of the day, I went on my own to the Science Museum -- by that time overrun with kiddies doing after-school activities that seemed to consist of running and yelling -- to a photography exhibition in the (blissfully quiet) Media Space. So, here's the rundown:

  • Radical Geometry: Modern Art of South America. Neither of us knew anything about art from South America, but we could both see some connections to the Malevich exhibition at Tate Modern. 
  • Dennis Hopper: The Lost Album. Black and white photos, taken in the 60s and 70s (after which he put down his camera and never took photos again). An interesting glimpse of one man's eye on a time of change in America; more compelling in total, I thought, than as individual images.
  • Disobedient Objects. Placards the doubled as shields against the riot police, a graffiti-writing robot, arpilleras that contained political messages made by mothers of the disappeared in South America, and some brilliant ceramics on the V&A facade made by Carrie Reichardt.
  • Posters of Protest and Revolution from around the globe, spanning about 100 years.
  • Rapid Response Collecting. Objects collected now, which may or may not hold greater significance in the future. This display is right next to the 20th century gallery, where Judy and I saw a Gestetner printer and talked about our memories of printing leaflets and booklets for various political actions on just such a machine.
  • Stranger than Fiction. Photos by Joan Fontcuberta that I can't begin to explain.
By the time I left the din of the Science Museum and exited to Exhibition Road, the rain that had been intermittently pissing down all day had stopped, so I decided to walk up to Hyde Park, stopping to see this year's Serpentine Pavilion, a pod-like shape that looks like it dropped out of the air onto the lawn. I had a sit-down there and a chat with a nice woman who sat at my table. Since time and weather were in my favour, I opted to walk north to Lancaster Gate station rather than to Knightsbridge or South Kensington. This took my past the Italian Gardens, which I'd never seen -- the fountains, pools and flower beds are really lovely and well worth the stop. 

From there, I pushed on to Belsize Park, where Roger and I toasted Greg and Esther's 40th anniversary before the four of us had a fun meal of pub grub at The George

£31.40 for 7-day zones 1-2 travel card
£4 for exhibition at the Science Museum (50% off after 3 pm on Mondays and Tuesdays for old people)
60p for postcard for Roger
£16 for pub meal

16,825 steps, 6.63 miles

Monday, September 01, 2014

Bletchley Park Rerun

I gave Roger a few options for our Sunday adventure (West Norwood Cemetery, Nunhead Cemetery, or Bletchley Park) and let him decide what we would do. Despite the well-known Curse of Milton Keynes, he chose Bletchley Park. My ticket from last year was still good, many new exhibitions had opened since I was there last October, the weather was gorgeous, and there were no transport mishaps this year -- so all-in-all a grand day out. 

Sundays with Roger always start at the farmers' market in the schoolyard at Salusbury Primary School in Queen's Park. I've probably said this before, but I'll say it again: this is the nicest farmers' market I've ever been to. Roger got all sorts of veg for our meals this week, and I bought a loaf of raisin and walnut bread for my breakfasts during the week and a small quiche and over-priced apple for my lunch on the train to Bletchley. 

The take-away from this return visit to Bletchley Park was a much better sense of what it was like to work there during the war. I learned that 9000 people per day worked there, in shifts of 3000.  The place was in operation 24/7. 75% of the workers were women, and the average age -- this really floored me -- was 20. Imagine what it would have been like to be 18 or 19 years old, studying at university or working, and to receive a letter telling you to report to Bletchley and containing your train ticket. No one knew what work they would be doing until they got there. The first thing they did on arrival was to sign the Official Secrets Act. They weren't even allowed to talk to other people working there about what exactly they were doing, let alone tell their friends and relatives at home. I remember reading somewhere that the Queen (or maybe it was Camilla) came to Bletchley Park recently for the opening of a building and a reunion of people who worked there during the war. The Queen (or Camilla) sat down to chat with an old dear and asked her what part she played in the code-breaking. The old dear replied, "I signed the Official Secrets Act. I've never told anyone what I did here and I certainly am not going to tell YOU." 

I think I now understand how the Enigma machine worked, but I still can't comprehend the turning dials of the Bombe. I couldn't get any of the interactive displays to work (but kids seemed to be having no problem), so I don't think I would have been much help to the war effort at BP. 

£3.20 walnut & raisin bread
£2.90 apple and mini quiche for lunch
£14.50 return train ticket to Bletchley
Free admission to Bletchley Park
£3.30 tea and flapjack snack at Bletchley Park

15,070 steps, 5.94 miles