Sunday, October 11, 2015

Deja vu

Here I am again today with another post. And there I was today, pretty much replaying Sunday of last year.
Sundays always start with a walk up to the farmers' market in the playground of the Salusbury Road Primary School in Queen's Park. I'd been thinking that I would leave from this trip without a veg pie from Pieminister, as I hadn't been near a market or shop where I could buy one. But I found a pie vendor at the farmers' market today who had a sweet potato, goat's cheese and red onion pie -- same as the Pieminister's Heidi pie without the spinach. So, that will be my dinner tonight.

Roger needed to go to school to work on something or other, so I went on my own to the White Cube in Bermondsey, walking down many of the same streets we walked last year when I was without a camera. This time, I was able to take lots of snaps of the interesting old warehouses, the leather exchange, and some wicked old houses. The exhibition at the White Cube was pretty good (I'll add links later) and I had fun taking photos of people taking photos of themselves and their mates with the art.

Last year, we zigzaged east and north to the river. This year, I went west and north, stopping in at St George the Martyr, which was open today, unlike years ago when I did my Dickens in Southwark walk. St George's is next to the site of the Marshalsea Prison, which Dickens' father did time for his debts, and is where Little Dorritt was married. I walked again past the garden and social housing in Redcross Way that was established by Octavia Hill, the social reformer, and past Crossbones Graveyard, where many prostitutes and outcasts were buried without the rites of the church. The community is building a little garden next to Crossbones Graveyard, but I could only get a glimpse through the locked gate.

I followed Bankside from Southwark Bridge west to Tate Modern, where I used the loo and took a look at the latest installation in the Turbine Hall, due to officially open on Tuesday. It's called "Empty Lot" and it looks like an allotment with triangular-shaped raised beds filled with dirt. Nothing growing but the occasional weed. Maybe they've planted seeds and the installation will grow during the time its there.

My next mission was to walk up and down Theed and Roupell streets, both of which contain small Georgian terrace houses, with unchanged exteriors, that date from the 1830s. Roupell Street shows up in scads of tv programmes and movies, and Theed Street is used for exterior shots of Chummy and Constable Noakes' house in "Call the Midwife." So, just like last year, my final photos (when I ever get around to posting them) will be related to the midwives.
I was really knackered at that point, so I headed back to the flat to eat my pie and pack.

£3 for veg pie
£1.35 for an olive bread stick
£1 for some falafel
65 p for Lockets (like Hall's throat lozenges) for my slightly sore throat
23,117 steps, 9.59 miles

Graves, buses and street art

I'm starting to wind down and my stamina is waning. But I'm pushing on, albeit at a slower pace. Saturday morning, while Roger went to the gym and did errands, I opted to skip mat class in favor of doing a bunch of stretching exercises before taking a long, leisurely walk up to Paddington Cemetery in Queen's Park. I actually passed the Pilates Studio on the way and felt a bit guilty about not being inside for class, but the cemetery was calling to me. I do love me a good graveyard. Although this one isn't counted among the Magnificent Seven, it dates from about the same time and, though small, has all the elements that I think make for an excellent cemetery ramble -- a central avenue leading to a derelict funeral chapel, wooded side paths, overgrown spots and broken headstones, interesting Victorian monuments, angels (at least one of them weeping), and -- something I hadn't seen in the grander graveyards -- iron bootscrapers and toilets. I made use of both.

The cemetery looks close to the Queen's Park station (about a 12 minute walk from the flat) on the map, but the only way into it is on the furthest corner. So, by the time I got back to the flat I'd already logged over 3 miles on my Fitbit. Roger and I had some lunch and then headed out to the East End via Westbourne Park station. Across from the station is the Westbourne Park bus garage, where TfL houses, washes and repairs hundreds of buses. One of their occasional vintage bus days was going on in the yard, where they had on display an omnibus that had been repurposed during World War I as a troop carrier or something (painted a khaki color), a late 1930s prototype double decker that didn't go into production until after World War II, and a 1950s era double decker. I'm sure that the bus enthusiasts among my followers will have more info to add once I post the pix.

From Liverpool Street station, we wandered along Brick Lane, taking various side streets to check out new street art. Along the way, we ran into FIVE street art walking tours, something I'd never encountered before. I hadn't roamed  around this area for two years, and at every turn I saw some new, horrid development that was complete or in process, including the old fruit and wool exchange building in Brushfield Street that's currently being demolished to make way for another abomination. Lots and lots of trendy clothing stores and cafes catering to the Hoxton hipster types have opened up. I don't have so much of a problem with that, as the shops are occupying existing storefronts, but there are now very few shops of any kind that meet the needs of the long-time residents of the area. Tons of expensive flats are being built for yuppies and wealthy international students. Unless the pace of development is slowed by the new mayor, whoever that turns out to be, I won't recognize the area at all in another two year's time.

We stopped into the Howard Griffin Gallery to see Pablo Delgado's exhibition, and then had a drink at the Old Blue Last, a pub that still appears as gritty as it would have 50 years ago, but was full of hipsters.

We ended the day up in Belsize Park, where we met up with Greg and Esther and then walked up to Hampstead to that great little French bistro where we've eaten before. I had the trout, and it was lovely.

Today (Sunday) we'll go up to the farmers' market at the Salusbury Road Primary School and then I'm off on my own while Roger does some school work. I'm thinking I'll go down to the White Cube in Bermondsey and then mooch along Bankside as I haven't seen enough of the Thames this week. This evening I'll be packing and then out the door early Monday for my flight. Not sure if I'll get another dispatch written until I'm home.

£1.25 donation to St John's Ambulance at the vintage bus event
£1 for cookie at the Town House gallery and cafe in Fournier Street
£22 for dinner
25,228 steps, 10.42 miles

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Two friends, another walk and more art

My faithful readers will remember the second Friday of my 2014 visit, the day my camera died as I was taking a long walk through Poplar to Trinity Buoy Wharf. This year, a fortuitous opportunity to return to Trinity Buoy wharf fell into my lap. I'd found out several months ago that Wilton's Music Hall sponsors a free, weekly Friday walk to somewhere in the Tower Hill/Tower Hamlets area. I'd wanted to join the walk during this visit, and I signed up without knowing where they'd be going on 9 Oct. My Flickr and Facebook friend Kathy saw my post that I was planning to do this, and since she'd never seen Wilton's, she was keen to go along. We then found out the destination would be Trinity Buoy Wharf (via DLR, not walking the entire way), which Kathy had also never seen and I was robbed of my chance to photograph last year.

So, out the door I went at 8:10 am, arriving right at 9:20 when we were told to assemble. The group walked to Shadwell station and boarded the DLR for Canning Town. Our guide for the walk was Alan, an artist who knows the area well. It's not easy to reach Trinity Buoy Wharf, as it's always been an isolated spit of land between the River Lea and the Thames. Alan told us that part of the area had been called Bog Island in the 19th century, and of the 140 kids who attended the local school, 100 shared the same surname.

When we got to the wharf, we were met by David, who works for TBW and was there to give us a tour of the lighthouse, normally only open at the weekend, where there's a sound installation of Indian bowl music that's on a loop that will not repeat for 1000 years. The narrow steps up to the top of the lighthouse were a bit scary, but worth the anxiety as the views were great -- the O2, Canary Wharf, and parts of Poplar.  Instead of the usual free tea and cake back at Wilton's at the end of the walk, we were encouraged to make a donation to the lighthouse and to purchase something at the little caff (the one where Jen, Jane, Malcolm and I had lunch last year). Kathy and I got food and tea, and we were joined by an older gent who was on the walk. Quite a talker he was, and we ended up getting a late start back to Canning Town. The walk was a good fun, and Kathy and I will do it again next year.

The Jubilee line took me from Canning Town to Green Park. A short walk from there, I met my friend Judy at the Royal Academy to see the Ai Weiwei exhibition. It's popular exhibition, and a bit crowded, but no school kiddies. Photos were allowed (Judy said that Ai Weiwei encourages people to photograph his work and post it on social media) and happily I didn't see one single selfie stick. I'm not sure if the sticks were expressly banned or if the RA just draws a crowd that isn't obsessed with selfies.

We then took the 14 bus to the Victoria and Albert, got some lunch nearby, and walked up to the Serpentine Gallery and this year's Serpentine Pavilion. We both agreed that this year's pavilion is a good one. I liked it better than last year's pod, but not as much as the cloud pavilion in 2013. We had a good time taking photos before checking out the exhibitions in both of the galleries.

Next, we strolled back down Exhibition Road to the V&A to see the Tower of Babel. (I'll add a link when I get home, or you can Google it in the meantime.) The artist spent two years on his bicycle, photographing shops -- from chicken shops to nail salons to hardware stores to fancy places like Harrod's -- and then worked with ceramicists to transfer the photos onto 3-dimensional ceramic blocks. The shops, some 3000 of them, were then stacked in a hierarchical tower, with the lowly ones at the bottom and the chic boutiques at the top. The individual shops are for sale on his website, starting at 95 pounds and going up to several hundred pounds each. Judy saw a man who was choosing several of them to purchase. I'd love to have one, but I think cost and logistics are prohibitive.

After a sit-down, Judy needed to head back home. Since Roger was going to be out at Sadler's Wells, I figured I'd do some of the Friday Lates (many of the museums stay open late on some or all Friday evenings). The Natural History Museum's lates is the last Friday of the month, but I had just enough time before closing to walk around inside for a bit (I'd never been in, but had seen it in photos and movies, most recently in Paddington Bear). Then I went to the Science Museum next door -- the Media Space, which is generally of interest only to adults, stays open till 10 on Fridays. I saw two photography exhibitions. The first was a large exhibition of the work of Alec Soth, an American documentary photographer. He takes large-format photos of American people and landscapes. In style, his landscapes were portrait-like, and his portraits all told something of the time and place that the people inhabited. Somewhat distressing and depressing, all beautifully done. I also saw an exhibition of the photos of Julia Margaret Cameron, who did portrait photography in the mid-nineteenth century. These were also moody and evocative.

My energy was fading, so I nixed my plan to go back to the V&A for the Fabric of India exhibition and/or back to the Serpentine Pavilion for some night photos. Instead, I got the tube and the a bus back to the Harrow Road, picked up some soup and rolls at the Coop, and went back to the flat for dinner, another episode of Outnumbered, and sleep.

£1.25 donation to the Trinity Buoy Wharf lighthouse (all the change I had at the time)
£3 bagel with hummus at the caff
£6.30 for the Alec Soth exhibition
£4 for my dinner food plus Hobnobs and Gingernuts to take home with me
27,223 steps, 11.67 miles

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Gallery, gallery, gallery, cuppa, gallery, walk, walk

I just walked in the door after a very long, full day and I have to be up and out early tomorrow, so this post will be brief. My day, distilled down to the essential info, included:
  • The Photographers' Gallery: Burden of Proof exhibition. Very interesting, often powerful, though the bit about the Shroud of Tourin could have been left out.
  • Got take-away lunch from a place in Newman Street called Caffix, where everything they have on offer costs 1 pound. Got quinoa salad and curried lentils and chickpeas -- yummy. Ate sitting on a sunny bench in Soho Square.
  • White Cube Gallery: exhibition of textile art, including quilts, embroidery, some carpets and a couple knitted pieces. A mixed bag.
  • Walked up The Mall, saw the tacky Queen Mum memorial and the grave of Giro the German dog.
  • National Portrait Gallery: Faces of Britain exhibition. Really well curated and well worth seeing.
  • Tea and catching up with Barbara. Lovely time, as always.
  • Wallace Collection: old masters, old furniture, old china, old armor. I liked the room with all the paintings of Venice.
  • Roamed around, got two samosas in the foodhall at Selfridges, walked through Grosvenor Square (ugly American edifice) and Mount Street Gardens (a beautiful, peaceful spot with benches, palm trees and birds) and up to Cavendish Square.
  • Guided walk: Sherlock Holmes in Marylebone with Jen as our guide. A very well-planned, interesting and amusing walk that kept us moving, pondering and deducing the entire time. 
  • Beer with Jen and Malcolm and a few others who came on the walk.
  • Bakerloo back to Queen's Park. Knackered. Good night.
£2 for lunch
£2.90 for samosas
£10 for Footprints of London walk
31,773 steps, 13.64 miles (I believe that's a personal best)

The Magnificent Seventh

It was a bit misty yesterday when I walked up to Queen's Park for the 10 a.m. mat class at the Pilates studio, but it had stopped by the time I finished class. I checked the weather report when I nipped back to the flat to change my clothes, and the forecast said rain would be ending by 11:45. I also checked Citymapper, which said that the earlier signal failure that was disrupting service on the Circle and Hammersmith & City lines was cleared. Both were wrong.

I waited nearly 15 minutes on the platform at Westbourne Park and took the first eastbound train that came along, unfortunately a Circle line train that got me only as far as Liverpool Street. But the walk from there to the Whitechapel Gallery wasn't really that much further than had I gotten the H & C to Aldgate East, and I ate my peanut butter and jelly sandwich along the way.

At the gallery, I looked at some of the Emily Jacir exhibition, entitled "Europa" -- I saw parts of the large section on the assassination in Rome of Palestinian writer Wael Zuaiter by Mossad agents in 1972, and  "stazione" (something she did for the 2009? Biennale in which she added Arabic lettering to the names of many of the vaporetto stops in Venice as a way of highlighting the connections between Venice and the Arab world -- the work wasn't completed because it was deemed too controversial or dangerous or something). I also saw part 1 (three more parts will come over the next year or so) of Arabic art from the collection of the Barjeel Art Foundation -- modern works (1900-1968) by artists from Egypt, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine. In the small children's gallery was a bittersweet exhibition called "The Name of Fear." A Brazilian artist had asked London school kids to tell her what they feared, and she made a series of capes of fabric and other materials, with lettering spelling out the fears such as "strangers," "the end of the world," "nightmares" and "biscuit crumbs."

When I left the gallery, the mist had returned, but I was still optimistic that it would pass. But it was my optimism that passed, for it was coming down steadily by the time I reached Brockley station and my walk to the gates of Nunhead Cemetery was a soggy one. There I met up with David and Janie, who for the second year have very generously accompanied me as I tick off another of the Magnificent Seven cemeteries. Nunhead sits on a hill, with a view of the tall buildings at the Elephant & Castle visible in the distance, framed by the trees and the cemetery gates. There's a lovely ruin of a funeral chapel (not quite as creepy as the one at Abney Park) and winding, tree-lined paths around the (mostly) Victorian gravesites. The gloomy day certainly made for an atmospheric stroll among the headstones. We found a couple of the noted memorials -- one to the nine boy scouts who were drowned in boating accident on their way to a camping trip in 1912, and the other a massive tomb in a Greek or Turkish style (David will know, as he recognized the shape) of someone named John Allan. So now, I've done all seven of the great Victorian cemeteries. It's taken me only ten years to do it!

Damp and in need of refreshment, we then headed for the Ivy House, a nearby pub that was saved from developers when locals had it declared a community asset and developed a share-based funding scheme in order to purchase it. I'd heard an episode of the Londonist Out Loud podcast about the pub, which was a popular music venue in the 70s and 80s. Ian Dury, Elvis Costello and Joe Strummer all played there. Just as we were walking to the pub, a line of about 30 school kids and their minders marched up the pavement and right in the pub door. We followed. The kiddies were headed to the back room with a little stage where they took part in an after school program of arts and theatre. We got 1/2 pints and crisps and settled into a booth in the other back room, a room with booths, tables, dark wood paneling and a fireplace (not lit, alas). Soon, some girls about 10 years old came into that room for their dance class. It was great to see the pub being used to fill the needs of the community in this way. I'll have to listen to the podcast again, but I seem to remember that different adult groups meet there during the day. The pub really functions as the community's living room, something we'd never see happen in America, unfortunately.

By the time we left, the rain had stopped for good and it looks like I'll have good weather (cool but dry) for the rest of my visit. Thanks again to David and Janie. Next year, we'll go to Highgate.

£15 for Pilates class
80 p for two biscuits on my way to Westbourne Park station
18,961 steps, 7.91 miles

Tuesday, October 06, 2015


Up until now, the closest I'd ever gotten to Venice -- or to Italy, for that matter -- was the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas with the fake canals and gondolas. The real Venice is much better.

We arrived from London at about noon on Saturday, and were met at arrivals by Cia-cia, who would be our shepherd at various times throughout our stay in Venice. Cia-cia is a retired river taxi driver, who is a great friend of the parents of one of Roger's students. He picked us up at the airport in his friend's water taxi and dropped us off at the Arsenale vaporetto stop, where we were met by the young woman who showed us to the flat that Roger had rented for our stay. It was a 2-minute walk to the flat in Calle de Pestrin, in Castello and very near the venues for the Biennale where we planned to spend a lot of time looking at art (weird, edgy, inexplicable, all of the above). Anyway, Cia-cia will return in this story and will be a central figure in our Venetian experience.

So, on Saturday afternoon, we mooched around the Arsenale venue of the Biennale. Some of the art was cool, but a lot of it seemed pretty pretentious and selfindulgent. I was just happy to actually be inside the Arsenale and see the architecture of the place, which is normally inaccessible except during the Biennale. This is where, for centuries, the great ships of the Venetian navy were made by incredible craftsmen.  At its peak time of operation, there were 16,000 skilled craftsmen working in the Arsenale, turning out a boat a week.

I really wanted to see the Jewish Ghetto more than almost anything in Venice, so that was our destination for Sunday morning.  First, we bought 2-day vaporetto tickets and headed up the Grand Canal. A short walk took us into the ghetto, where we saw the 6-storey houses (because the area was so confined, there was no where to go but up, and even then families had to sleep in shifts for lack of room) and the oldest pawn broker shop in Europe (or the world, I forget which). The pawn broker was Banko Rosso, which issued red receipts for goods, hence the term "in the red."

From there, we wandered along various canals which were blissfully devoid of tourists until we reached Fondamenta Nove vaporetto stop, where we got the water bus to San Pietro and then walked down to the Giardini venue of the Biennale. More weird, edgy, inexplicable art, but a few things were incredibly cool. Stay tuned for photo evidence, which will eventually turn up on my Ipernity photo site. Just as we were leaving at around 6 pm, we got caught in a torrential downpour, which turned out to be the only truly crap weather we had. We waited out the worst of it back at the flat, where I used the hairdryer to dry off my only pair of slacks, until the rain let up and we wandered out for dinner, finding a lovely trattoria near the flat.

Monday was our day on Cia-cia's speed boat, being shown around wherever we wanted to go, all as a treat from Roger's student's parents. Cia-cia and his co-pilot Tony met us at 10 at the dock by San Giorgio Maggiore. We boated from there to Murano, where Roger and I got out to visit a glass foundry and to mooch around the island for a little bit. The next stop was Torcello, where we saw an amazing Byzantine church with a huge mosaic depicting the last judgment. Then, on to Mazzororbo for an incredible three-course al fresco lunch -- sardines, risotto, sole, eel, lots of prosecco, dessert and espresso. Roger and I staggered from there over a bridge to Burano, were we gawped at the multi-colored houses and then met the boat for the ride back to San Giorgio.

I can't believe that we had room for more food after that lunch, but we did venture out in the evening to a great place for pizza. We had enough strength to stop in St Mark's Square for a bit before our exhausted, sated bodies fell into our beds beds back at the flat. During the night, I was attacked by mosquitoes and woke up with blood blotches, but thankfully no hangover.

Today -- our last day -- Roger and I each went out early to explore on our own for a bit. I wanted to find the spiral staircase at Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo. I reckon I hadn't walked five minutes from the flat before making a wrong turn. Instead of going west, I found myself at the magnificent entrance to the Arsenale, which was east of where I started. A happy mistake, for sure, because I got to see the lions that guard the entry.  Somehow, I made my way back westward, finding the church of San Zaccaria (I didn't go in because early mass was going on) and then to St Mark's Square, where I found Roger. We worked our way in the direction of Palazzo Contarini, but Roger decided to head back on his own, perhaps not trusting my ability to find it or just how cool it would be to see. I zigged and zagged, found some signs, and then found the Palazzo as the rain started to fall. But I got my photo op and the satisfaction of mission accomplished.

Cia-cia then picked us up in the water taxi at the Arsenale vaporetto stop and delivered us to the airport in plenty of time for the return flight to London. Did I see all that there was to seen in Venice? No, not by a long shot. But I saw some of the iconic places, wandered off into places where few tourist venture, and had a great time. I will return.

250 euros, including lodging, meals, Biennale, vaporetto 2 day ticket, etc.
About £44 for Gatwick Express for Roger and me
£32.10 for 7-day travel card on my Oyster card when we got back to Victoria Station today
Saturday -- 19,731 steps, 8.18 miles
Sunday -- 22,110 steps, 9.11 miles
Monday -- 20,225 steps, 8.33 miles
Tuesday -- 14,645 steps, 6.13 miles

Friday, October 02, 2015

I'm Baaack

Here I am, back in Blighty. I've brought my bluetooth keyboard.  It's  pain in the arse to type on, so I reckon my blog posts are going to be shorter than they've been in the past. This is all because I don't have unlimited access to the desktop computer at Roger's flat, but that's a whole 'nother story and I'm not going into it.

I flew over in steerage on British Air and spent at least an hour this morning in the immigration queue at the UK border. But once I cleared that, it was easy-peasy to grab my bag and get on the tube to Paddington via Hammersmith (I hadn't changed there before, but opted for a route with step-free access). I topped up my Oyster card at the news agent on Praed Street (because it was a step-free alternative to the in-station machine), got on the #36 bus, and was at Roger's flat about 9:45 am, too late to take a Pilates mat class, but plenty of time for exploring.

My adventures today took me to some new places and some old. I took the 187 bus to somewhere in Maida Vale and walked down through Lisson Grove. My first stop was the old aeroworks factor (now luxury flats, natch), which is a lovely art deco building. As I was snapping photos of the facade with the fantastic deco airplanes and Egyptian deco columns,  a nice middle-aged gent in a high-vis vest saw me with my camera and chatted me up about the building and how very few people even notice it.

The next stop was another new-to-me destination -- Church Street. I mooched around the street market and the antique shops before getting a sandwich at Tesco Metro, which I ate in a nearby park. Then on to the Lisson Gallery for an interesting gallery show called Fieldworks (link to come when I figure out how to do that with this keyboard). At Edgware Road, I went in search of the Joe Strummer Subway (found it) and the Subway Gallery (no luck there, I think it's closed). From there, the number 18 bus took me to the Wellcome Collection, one of my all-time favorite places for interesting, albeit strange, exhibitions. This one was by Alice Anderson, who explores how we make memories through her use of fine copper wire to "mummify" various mundane and/or iconic objects, such as a Mustang car chassis, plasma tv, various tools and electronic devices. I thought about doing an hour stint helping to mummify stuff with wire, but decided I needed to push on.

The Crypt Gallery in St Pancras Parish Church was my next stop. On my way there, a German or Dutch couple asked me for directions to their hotel in Tavistock Place, and I was able to help them out. The exhibition was kinetic sculpture/installations that came to life -- with lights, gunfire noises and Germanic (Nazi?) voices -- and made a lot of racket. Things in that gallery space are always hit or miss. I'd say this was somewhere in between.

Pushing on, as my aching back was improving from Advil and arnica, I went to King's Cross Station in search of Harry Potter kitch for my Pilates instructor's 6-year-old son. I thought I'd just be able to walk up to platform 9 3/4 and take a snap. No! There was a queue of at least 50 people, waiting for their photo op. I waited at the side for the interval between two selfie-seekers and got a quick photo. Next, I managed to get in and out of the shop with a Griffendor patch in less than 5 minutes. Online pre-shopping is the way to go.

Why I decided to push on from there, rather than doing  hasty retreat back to Maida Hill, is beyond me. I was drawn to a structure behind King's Cross that said "Viewing Platform" on the side. The views were of all the development -- tons since I'd last been there. I was hoping to see the gasometer being reconstructed, or where the swimming pond is, but if they were there, I couldn't find them. What I did have was a nice chat with a uni student from Tanzania who is studying fashion at University of East London. They have Fridays off for sports day, but he and his mates were exploring the town instead.

Now I'm back at the flat and about to eat dinner.

£25 to top up Oyster
£1 for lunch
£5 for Harry Potter patch
20,876 steps, 8.59 miles