It was like, the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of, like wisdom, I suppose, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, y’know? It was the season of, like, Light, it was the season of Darkness, man. I can’t even. I mean, it was the spring of hope, it was, like, the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had like nothing before us, we were all literally going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way — in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its, y’know, noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, like, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. Know what I mean?
Can you imagine reading a whole novel written by a Generation Z Charles Dickens? Well, if the two young ladies chatting away on the bus nineteen to the dozen, talking about their upcoming exams and so much more, have anything to do with it, this will become the new normal! Actually, it was a very entertaining discussion, even if we oldies couldn’t keep up with every single cultural reference. After alighting from the bus, we trudged to Manchester’s Piccadilly Railway station where we officially began our few days away, down south, in London. It was our first visit by train since well before the first lockdown, and since Virgin lost the franchise to Avanti West Coast.
My first panic attack occurred as we waited outside the station. I wanted to take a photo of something, but the message flashed up on the phone: Camera Failed. Oh no. Why? No idea. Turning the camera off and leaving it for a few minutes before turning it back on fixed the problem. By which time, I’d lost interest in whatever I was eyeing up for a picture.
Fortunately, we’d booked seats, but the train was crowded because an earlier one had been cancelled. Why? Because a plastic bag had lodged itself in the overhead cables and needed to be removed. I visualised a man up a ladder with a long stick, insulated against the 20,000 volts or whatever.
So, other than our train being oversubscribed, the journey was uneventful. Sadly, we mask-wearers were in the minority. We caught a bus to Waterloo Bridge and descended to the South Bank, where our first lunch or brunch was a small donkey. Well, a burrito. We had a little visitor, which we think is a one-legged, adolescent pied wagtail.
Our first accommodation was at a Premier Inn and of course we went to the wrong one first. But, it didn’t matter, I enjoyed seeing some paintings by Salvador Dalí.
We dropped off our bags at the correct place and then set off for a longer walk back along the South Bank. The sites are interesting but then, so are all the people. We resisted the temptation of walking on the beach, but there were quite a few people down there. Sad to see Pieminister has gone from Gabriel’s Wharf, but we didn’t help their business by not visiting for years and years.
We enjoyed some Afro Cuban music thanks to these buskers near Blackfriars Bridge. Neither of us had any cash on us, so thank goodness these, and most other, street entertainers now have the means to accept donations electronically.
We continued along the South Bank, via Hay’s Gallery, the Golden Hinde, Tate Modern, though not necessarily in that order. The newly-wed couple near Tower Bridge seem very happy.
After crossing Tower Bridge, when again I was disappointed that it didn’t lift while I was on it, we walked by The Tower, thinking about the poor people who were taken in through Traitor’s Gate over hundreds of years. You can easily guess which treacherous group of people we would like to see taken in and be severely dealt with right now.
And you know how they used to keep wild animals such as lions in a menagerie at the Tower? Well, they still do!
As we walked by, we noticed a strange vessel docked next to HMS Belfast in the Thames. From the northern bank, we could see it was in fact Le Champlain, a relatively small cruise ship. Will we ever go on a cruise? Never say never, but I think we’re more likely to join a small ship such as this rather than the small cities that cruise around the oceans.
We walked back over Waterloo Bridge and found these legs out on display.
I felt a bit miffed that my own lallies, on display for everyone’s pleasure, had some competition. I couldn’t find a plaque explaining this unusual work of art, and I certainly don’t know where the top half is.
As the Sun went down, we ate our evening meal then walked back to the correct Premier Inn where we had a really good night’s sleep. Quite right too, after such a long walk.
In other news, we noticed the numbers on the clock faces of Big Ben, The Queen Elizabeth Tower, have been painted blue. That scaffolding was up for a long time for a spot of paintwork, so we can only assume more extensive refurbishment has gone on behind the scenes.
In the morning, we walked along the road a bit and sat outside for breakfast, almost in the shadow of the London Eye. No, we weren’t tempted on this occasion, although the lack of a long queue was quite unusual.
We didn’t expect to see red squirrels in London, in Jubilee Gardens, and we certainly didn’t anticipate seeing a blue one.
Again, the opportunity is there for a quick, electronic donation, no need to dig around in pockets seeking old coins and buttons to throw in a hat.
We witnessed this young man practicing his parcours skills.
I was going to have a go myself but, er, oh yeah, Liesel said not to, well, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. We found our home for the next two nights, an Airbnb just a couple of minutes from the South Bank, behind the National Theatre in fact. We have a flat to ourselves, and given the location, we’ve decided to move in permanently.
Another day, another long walk. This time, we crossed Waterloo Bridge again and headed towards Covent Garden. The usual market stalls weren’t there, it was more of an Antiques Fair. All sorts of old jewellery, crockery and even old photos of perfectly ordinary people. I didn’t recognise anyone, of course, but what a shame, there are probably families somewhere who would love to have those pictures back.
Liesel wanted to visit a clothes shop, Gudrun Sjödén, in Monmouth Street, near Seven Dials. I thought she’d be inside for about 10-15 minutes. Oh no. She didn’t appear again for well over an hour, having received such good and personal service inside. Go on then, Liesel, give us a twirl, show us what you bought.
I wandered around in ever increasing circles, finding lots of interesting places. I’m not really related, but it’s always good to check up on the dance shoe shop bearing my name.
A lot of London is undergoing building work at the moment, so it doesn’t all look its best. Someone who’ll never be forgotten though is David Bowie. He appeared in one form or another in at least four different shop windows over a couple of days.
The other thing that there’s a proliferation of in London (and elsewhere) is Candy Stores. Not good, old-fashioned, English sweet shops, but American-style Candy Stores selling all kinds of American sweets, Hersheys, cereals and probably chemiucals that aren’t legal in the UK. I’m so glad that Liesel isn’t interested in giving her custom to any of these places. But there are so many. Nearly as many vape shops too. Gone are the days when empty premises are taken over by betting shops or charity shops.
This pillar has seven sundials at the top, which is an amazing coincidence given that it’s located at Seven Dials.
Just off Monmouth Road, there’s a small courtyard, Ching Court, which I had no reason to visit. But I did, and came across this wonderful expanse of colour which the people who are lucky enough to live here gaze upon every day.
We’re in London so of course we thought about taking in a stage show or a concert. But we didn’t, partly due to concern about Covid still, and partly through not quite getting around to booking tickets. One of the strangest and most unexpected shows on offer was this one:
London’s most wanted musical. Spoiler alert: does it end in a hail of 88 bullets?
Nor did we engage in spectating at any sports events, except this one.
These horses weren’t running very fast, and when they pulled up at traffic lights, the race was declared a dead heat.
I visited Forbidden Planet, the old science fiction and fantasy bookshop, but nowadays it’s more about collectables from the various franchises, Star Wars, Doctor Who, Star Trek, Marvel comics and more. Interestingly, one of the outlets in Seven Dials Market, where Liesel and I had a late lunch, has borrowed the name.
Liesel’s been looking for books by a particular author for a while. Let’s walk up and down Charing Cross Road, we decided, it’s all second-hand book shops. Well, not any more it isn’t. Candy stores and vape shops are common amongst other new emporia. Foyles is still there of course and just a couple of the old bookshops. But none had what we were looking for.
We wandered through Chinatown where they haven’t taken down the new year’s lanterns since February, so it still looks bright and vibrant.
It began to rain, so we ducked into the nearest available shop. It was the M&M shop in Leicester Square. We bought something for the grandchildren but, most importantly, we stayed dry.
Tonight saw the premier of the new film Downton Abbey: A New Era. Well, our invites must have got lost in the post but that’s just as well. Sorry to say, but the red carpet was being put in place, and, between you and me, it’s a bit tatty, held together with duct tape. I hope it didn’t become too squelchy in the rain.
Next stop for a coffee was the crypt at St Martin’s in the Field.
Again, my wife curtailed my creative urges. Plus, I didn’t have on me the necessary marker pen. But I wanted to change the name of the bishop on this sign from Wah to Pigeon.
And speaking of pigeons, Trafalgar Square is so much better without them. I know in the olden days, my sister especially took great pleasure in feeding them but times change.
Earlier, I mentioned Big Ben and didn’t provide a photograph. Well, here is one.
This chocolate model is in a shop window, with a sign telling us not to touch it. Well, we didn’t touch it, but while Liesel distracted the shop staff, I had a jolly good lick.
Oh yes, another new fashion in London seems to be leaving old pianos outside shops, whether suitably decorated or otherwise.
The end of the day saw us returning to out Airbnb flat for a good night’s sleep. Well, eventually. The children upstairs must have been jumping off the top of the wardrobe or something, and we half expected them to come through the ceiling to visit us. Once they went to bed though, it was nice and peaceful. Even the traffic outside wasn’t too bad, apart from a couple of motorbikes.
I’m so glad I recorded this week’s radio show last week, there’s no way I would have found time to do it here in London. It was on Wythenshawe FM 97.2 on Friday afternoon at 2, as usual, but feel free to catch it here.
And don’t panic, there is still plenty more to come from our few days in London. Friends! Shops! Nostalgia!
On Tuesday morning at 1.37, our ghosts were haunting the pharmacies of Northenden. A payment to the value of a prescription was taken from one of our cards. Fraud? Looks like it. Was the pharmacy bovvered when we reported the incident on our return? Not really. The solution was to take £9.35 in cash out of the till and give it to us. No paperwork involved. We’re grateful that we’re not out of pocket of course, but come on, that’s not how you address issues of apparently fraudulent activity. In an unusual move on my part, I tweeted a (rare for me) negative tweet about this situation. What happened next?