London is the place to be

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.

Compromises

With less than two weeks to go before the move, Mick and I have been working hard to pack the house, recycle stuff we don’t need or simply don’t have room for, and cleaning after each room is complete.  My expectation is that come move day, we will be relaxed and rested enough to make our four to five hour drive to Manchester bearable.

All this to do and what did Mick want to do yesterday?  Go into London to take part in the People’s Vote march against Brexit.  I wasn’t too keen to spend the day with over 100,000 people, walking slowly, potentially kettled by police, and no place to take a comfort break.  But then it occurred to me that if we were going into London for the march anyway we could stop by the sofa store and inspect the sofa I’ve been researching for months!  Ah ha, finally getting Mick into the store would be a feat.  Funny enough, he agreed, so I blister proofed my feet and off we went before breakfast.

We forgot it was Ascot and the scene at Waterloo Station was lovely.  A plethora of men in tails and top hats, ladies in heels, hats and dresses waiting for their train to take them to the races.  We watched them from the upper level of the station, and when their train was called they galloped for their platform. ‘They’re off’ I cried.  The spectacle over, we made our way to Tottenham Court Road.

Mick was a trooper providing his opinion on sofa stuffing and fabric, after he’d had breakfast and a latte of course.  Unfortunately, the cost ended up being  £200 more than I anticipated and we took a few minutes to discuss where we could make adjustments when it occurred to me that this was the first piece of furniture I’ve purchased in over 25 years, longer for Mick, and it may be the last.  Why should we settle for something that wasn’t exactly what we wanted for the sake of £200!  We bought exactly what we want and it should be delivered to the flat the day after we move it.

The People’s Vote march wasn’t difficult to find, almost everyone (but us) were dressed in blue and yellow.  These same people also brought packed lunches and water.  Why hadn’t we, because we’re often clueless in this respect.  We did get a couple of stickers to add to our lapels and spent the next two hours with people from Wales and Yorkshire, walking very, very, slowly.  The atmosphere was very positive and it was fantastic to see such a wide age spectrum represented.   Eventually we came to a standstill and our need for food, water, toilet and a place to sit down won, so we caught the first bus we could and ended up in Golders Green and the ‘Abbey Road’  which had a bunch of silly tourists standing in the middle of the road obstructing traffic.  .

It was a lovely day, we bought our first grown up sofa, and felt proud to be marching for Europe.  There is not a lot we can do to help with our grandchildren’s future, but we can protest their options being taken away from them, and we did.

Dublin again

Two days in Dublin’s fair city and yes, the girls are pretty. The city itself though will look a lot prettier once the referendum is over and the big ‘No’ and ‘Yes’ posters are taken down. At Heuston Station, we apologised for not being able to vote as we were just visiting, but we assured the ‘Yes’ campaigners that we were on their side, for what it’s worth.

When we first went to buy tickets for Kilmainham Gaol Museum, the only timeslot available was for 5pm, so we decided to buy tickets for the next day instead. Managing the queues to get inside to join the queue to buy tickets was a tough job. Dave coped quite well, though, even turning a group of six away who would not get in this day.

It would be easier to get into this gaol by committing a criminal offence, I thought.

No? Dave the queue handler wasn’t too impressed by this throwaway line either.

Today we retuned and after a quick coffee (but no cake) in the café, we joined a group of about 40 in the holding cells. Pat was the guide’s name. He showed us around the old gaol, telling us about its history and indeed the struggle for Irish independence. There was a lot of history here that I certainly didn’t learn at school. Sometime it’s hard to be English when you learn how we treated peoples from pretty much everywhere else on the planet. Plenty of tragic stories to be told, here.

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The museum, as is often the case, had too much to digest in one visit. Lots of documents and photos.

Just down the road and through the park is the Irish Museum of Modern Art. Its design is based on Les Invalides in Paris. I noticed a sundial and the following dialogue took place:

Mick: Looking at the sundial, I reckon it’s about ten past twelve.

Liesel: But the Sun’s not even out.

Mick: So? Not bad, though, my Fitbit says is 12:02.

Sundial at IMMA

Temple Bar is a famous name and we spent some time in this pub two days running. On the first occasion, there was a small band playing Irish folk songs and other songs. Today, there was a solo performer, also singing Irish folk songs as well as songs by Cat Stevens, Johnny Cash and George Harrison. On both occasions, we heard about Molly Malone and about The Belle of Belfast City.

Cornucopia was a good find, a veggie restaurant on Wicklow Street. So good, we went there twice, too. The weather was OK both days, not a lot of sunshine, not much of the predicted rain either, but today was very close, very humid, and we were flagging by mid-afternoon.

Our main mode of transport has been the Luas Tram network. The signs and announcements are all in two languages, and after a while, you get a feel for the Irish words. Some are similar to English, some are similar to French and other langauges, but nearly always, by English standards, there are far too many letters in Irish Gaelic words! It’s easy to love the Luas Tram Rad Line with colourful station/stop names such as Blackhorse, Goldenbridge, Bluebell and Red Cow.

It’s usually taken us to and from our b&b in Tallaght, to the south of Dublin, but I don’t know if we would have chosen to stay here if we’d known its etymology: plague pit.

But today, after our meal at Cornucopia, we caught a 49 bus, knowing it would cross a tram line at some point, where we could change. But, fortuitously, it took us all the way to Tallaght, and a ten-minute walk later found us back in our room, preparing for our early departure tomorrow, listening to the radio and looking forward to a good night’s sleep.

Emerald from the bus
Emerald from the bus

Dublin

In Dublin’s fair city
Where the girls are so pretty
I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone
As she wheeled her wheelbarrow
Through the streets broad and narrow
Crying “cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh”
Molly Malone Statue
Molly Malone Statue – we did not stroke her boobs, although it seems many people have done so

Well, Molly Malone wasn’t the first person we saw in Dublin. Not the tenth, not the hundredth. There are thousands of people in Dublin, more than we’ve seen in the last 10 days or so. We’ll get used to the crowds soon enough, but it’s a bit of a shock to the system after having the Irish countryside and the roads pretty much to ourselves for so long.

Sadly we missed the great event of the day, but as we drove through Foxford on our way to Dublin, we noticed that they were setting up the world-famous Goat Fair. By the side of the road, we saw goats, chickens, rabbits and other food waiting to entertain the people.

The drive to Dublin was far easier than we’d expected: we dropped our bags off at the new b&b, returned the hire car, and spent the afternoon walking around the capital city. It was a beautiful day, we’ve been so lucky with the weather, on the whole.

We found St Stephen’s Green and had a lie down under an oak tree for a while, watching people, trying not to rest our eyes too much.

We read about the royal wedding, Harry and Megham, the American preacher, the dress, the choir, the crowds, but we were very happy where we were, thank you. Mrs Beckham (see previous post) was there, not really enjoying the ceremony, apparently.

Thanks again to Catherine and her beautiful family for putting up with us over there in Ballina for the last few days. That’s Bally-nah, not Balleener, like something you’d get out of whales. She and her husband, Fionn, whom we first met last night, ran a half-marathon this morning and it’s a shame we couldn’t stay to cheer them on. Or join in.

We’re now in Tallacht, south-west of the city, and it’s quiet here (apart from the motor bike) and the view to the south is pretty good considering we are so close to the city.

The good news is, we found the missing binoculars, in exactly the same place that we’d found a wallet that went missing for a couple of days. There is some kind of gravitational anomaly under that driver’s seat: someone else’s problem, now!