London this lovely city.
This calypso was going through my mind as we set off for London this morning. Little did I know that later in the day, we would hear Lord Kitchener’s performance on a Pathé newsreel. But that is getting ahead of ourselves.
Today was the day of the annual Hook Scouts fair on King Edward’s field, off Hook Road. You know, the field where the travelling community set up camp for a few days before the Epsom Derby. Liesel’s WI Group, the Hook and Chessington Branch, had a stall there. We went down with the chocolate brownies Liesel had baked for them to sell. We tried to help erect the tent, but the poles didn’t seem to be from the same set. So, reluctantly, we caught a bus towards Surbiton. While we’d been waiting for the other WI women to arrive, I’d walked around the field one final time. I gazed upon the playground where a young Jenny and a young Helen spent many happy hours.
I realised: today would be a day of reminiscence, of nostalgia, of remembrance. We’d been so caught up recently with all the packing and stacking, the boxing and coxing, that I hadn’t really thought about the enormity of the move we’re about to make.
In Surbiton, I suggested one final coffee at The Press Room: probably the nicest coffee around, and a nice place with nice staff. We’ve sometimes paid a coffee ahead, so that a homeless person can claim it later on. There’s a bell by the door which you can ring if you like the coffee. I’ve been too much of a coward to give it a go, but today, I applied a very light tinkle, there was a guy right next to it and I didn’t want to give him a heart attack.
This would be our final day in London before we move to Northenden. Lots of things to do, it was hard to choose. There was a march in support of the NHS. My favourite walk is probably along the South Bank. There was a food fair at Parsons Green. Then Liesel remembered there’s a temporary work of art in the Serpentine. Yes: In the Serpentine. I passed a lot of time in Hyde Park when I lived nearby in the 1970s, so I was more than happy to revisit one more time.
There seems to be a lot of finality here, today. I know we’ll be back as visitors, but it’s a strange feeling knowing that, after this weekend, London won’t be our home city.
We caught the District Line train at Wimbledon and got off at High Street Kensington, which is on Kensington High Street. By this convention, the next station along should be called Gate Notting Hill, but it isn’t, something that has baffled me since I first lived there in 1973.
We walked towards Hyde Park, and Liesel suggested walking up the road where all the embassies are, Kensington Green. I didn’t know if we’d be allowed to. I think in the 1970s, at the height of the IRA terrorsit campaign, we were probably too intimidated by the large numbers of police officers at the entrance to enter this road, so we never walked along it. Today though, a couple of armed officers, a barrier, several bollards and a sign telling us not to take photos did not deter us from walking up what turned out to be a nice, peaceful, quiet road, right in the heart of London. We tried to guess the embassies from the flags and we got most of them right: Israel, Russia, France, Norway, Finland, but we failed to recognise Kuwait and we don’t know whether the two crossed swords flag was Kenya or somewhere else.
But I was still too much of a coward to risk taking a photo.
We walked through Kensington Gardens, towards the Round Pond and we thought about visiting the Serpentine Gallery. The long queue put us off: no need to be standing around in the hot Sun when we could be walking around in the hot Sun! We crossed the road and had a quick look at the Diana, Princess of Wales, Memorial Fountain and lots of people were having lots of fun in it. One little boy splashed me and I was outraged. No, actually, I wanted him to do it again, but I didn’t say so!
Then we saw it. The London Mastaba. An almost pyramid-like structure weighing 600 tonnes constructed from specially made oil drums. And sitting right in the middle of the Serpentine. We considered getting a boat out so that we could get up close and personal but in the end, after lunch, we left the park and caught the bus.
On the way out, we passed the playground where I spent many a happy lunch hour watching the children play, when I worked in Knightsbridge. It was OK in those days to be a young, single, unaccompanied bloke in a children’s playground. Times, sadly, have changed.
Liesel was grateful for the bus ride, a chance to have a break from the walking. It was hot on the bus too, though, even though we sat at the back, on top, where we thought we’d benefit from maximum ventilation through the windows. It was hot ventilation. It was a hot day.
We disembarked at the British Library, a venue that we should have taken more advantage of over the years. There’s an exhibition commemorating the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the MS Empire Windrush.
Windrush: Songs in a Strange Land is on until October. It is fascinating, moving and in places makes you ashamed to be British. It’s not just the present Tory Government led by Theresa May that has created a hostile environment for migrants from the West Indies.
It was here that we heard Lord Kitchener singing his paean to London. It was one of many sound clips and films of poetry, interviews, reminiscence from and by the Windrush generation.
I looked around and noticed the wide range of people visiting the British Library, people from all over the world, some undoubtedly British, some visiting from overseas, but something you see all over London all the time. And my heart sank anew at the current state of western politics. Brexit and Trump are the dominating themes, both giving permission to the racists and fascists to be even more openly hateful than before. I can’t imagine anything worse than living and working in a place where everyone is just like me.
It was a bit cold in the room with all the sacred texts: old Bibles, Qu’rans, some books bigger than our suitcases, some of them really gorgeous, even if we can’t read the incredibly ornate writing, even when it’s apparently in English. Seeing works of art like this makes reading a book on a Kindle seem a bit underwhelming.
Another cup of coffee while Liesel spoke to her Mom then we caught another bus to Aldwych. We walked along the Strand, via Covent Garden, past Stanley Gibbons who sold some of my stamps a few years ago, and on to the Jubilee Bridge one more time. I had to take a picture of the view of course.
Waterloo Bridge. St Pauls Cathedral. The Shard. The Thames. The South Bank. London.
We caught a train to Kingston and dined at Stein’s, a German place. The vegan sausages and the vegetarian schnitzel were both off, so I had a cheese platter. It was nice, but there’s always too much cheese and not enough bread for me! It was filling though. And then we then caught the bus back home.
Altogether, according to the Fitbit, we walked over 9 miles today. This is much further than planned and indeed, much further than Liesel thought she’d manage with her piriformis injury. With exercise and physiotherapy, we’re hoping this problem will disappear over time, allowing us to walk much longer distances without discomfort.
Two more sleeps in sunny Chessington until we move away from the greatest city on Earth.