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 Path√© 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.

Ozymandias

We were both, like, entertained by the year 11 lads on the bus who, like, were talking about the morning’s GCSE exam. They discussed Ozymandias and, like, all I could think of was Ozzy Osbourne. Then they briefly, like, talked about rhyming patterns, ABAB and AB whatever, and all I could think of was ABBA and how, like, I was looking forward to hearing their new songs later in the year. I bit my cheek so I didn’t laugh at their over-use of the word ‘like’, like.

But most of all, how glad we are not to be revising for, nor taking, exams and then discussing them afterwards and realising we’d missed out something vital and knowing we’d definitely failed? Very glad indeed.

And we’ll probably never know whether it was Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Ozymandias or Horace Smith’s they’d studied.

We were on the bus going back home having walked 5 miles to Kingston Hospital for an early morning appointment. A very nice walk, perfect temperature!

Later in the day, we met up with Helen and Steve and visited Helen’s Dad, Nigel, in hospital.

Two hospitals in one day.

Then we went to the Beefeater on Epsom Downs for a late meal. I opted for a so-called vegan burger and chips. It was very nice, with a pint of Guinness!

Two Museums

The Museum of London is onre of those places we ought to visit more often. We’ve seen the Roman artefacts before, and the state coaches, but there is a lot more on offer. On one of the lower ground floor, some of the exhibits are from ouyr own lifetime. I visited the then new Post Office Tower in 1966 and I still have the brochure from that visit. It cost 2/6d. They have a copy in this museum.

Post Office Tower.jpg
Post Office Tower brochure

The London Stone is usually hidden in a cage, at a bank in Cannon Street. While building works are taking place there, the London Stone is being exhibited at the Museum. It’s just a stone, yes, but there are so many stories round it, and it was good to see it close up.

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The London Stone

The other ‘main attraction’ is a small sample of the famous 130-tonne fatberg excvated a couple of years ago from the sewers of London. Not at all photogenic but we were pleased that there was no assault on the olfactory senses.

I used to watch Watch With Mother with my Mum half a century or more ago, and it was great to see some of the puppets here. If I remember correctly, the schedule was:

  • Monday – Picture Book
  • Tuesday – Andy Pandy
  • Wednesday – Bill and Ben
  • Thursday – Rag, Tag and Bobtail
  • Friday – the Woodentops

There’s nothing like seeing your childhood in a museum to make you feel old.

But being a museum exhibit yourself is a whole new experience.

The Museum of Futures in Surbiton is currently hosting the Wheels of Time exhibion, describing the history of cycling in the Royal Borough of Kingston.

This video talks about a couple of local cycling heroes.

Liesel and Mick attended the opening night of the exhibition which was very well attended. Mick’s mugshot is on the wall with a transcript of the interview conducted a couple aof weeks ago, about his experience of using a bicycle for his job as a postman. Snippets of the interview are available to listen to too, and are as embarrassing as you would expect. So embarrassing, I didn’t want to draw attention so I took a few photos with my phone, but not using the flash.

It was interesting to learn that there used to be a couple of tracks in the area, in the very early days of cycle racing.

A second visit is on the cards, not least so I can get some better pictures. If you can, go along and have a laugh at my bits look yourself.

 

Beast from the East 2

This weekend has seen the return of the so-called Beast from the East. The Russians are sending over their coldest wind again, resulting in more snow and a drop of ten degrees in temperature between Friday and Saturday.

But that didn’t stop me from going for a walk to Victoria Park, Surbiton today, to do something just a little bit scary.

I haven’t cycled in the snow for many years, possibly not since I had to for work as a postman. And on my own bike, probably not since I commuted into Kingston.

And I have never ridden a penny farthing. A kind of bike that Liesel didn’t even think was real until a few years ago.

But that all changed today: I had a go on a penny farthing. Around a snow-covered football field. Not a full-size, genuine Victorian one, but still high enough to give me cause for concern.

There’s a small stop half-way up the main stem, and you’re supposed to swing your other leg over and start pedalling straightaway. Well, I didn’t, and promptly fell over on the first attempt. With help, I got going and probably cycled between a quarter and a half a mile, being chased, I mean, followed by the bloke ready to catch should I fall off again.

Going along was OK, but stopping and getting off again was quite hairy. So, just like flying a aeroplane, starting and stopping are the difficult periods.

The event was to celebrate Cycling in Surbiton which was home at one point to a High Wheeler Race Track. Part of the Wheels of Time celebration of cycling in the Royal Borough – for which I partook in the interview last week.

Pauline and I were in Kingston a couple of days ago, following our two days in London. She wanted to see some ‘old things’. So I showed her a mirror.

Then we saw the Coronation Stone of course. And we spent some time in Kingston Museum which has some really old stuff.

Meanwhile, Liesel is counting down the days: just eight more with her current employer. Then our big adventure can really begin. We can deal with the practicalities of moving house while planning our gap year travels for real.

Springtime

The first thing I saw when I got up this morning was a spring. On the floor. Ah, a metaphor, I thought, Spring has arrived. And indeed, the sun was out, the sky was blue, it’s significantly warmer than last week and it was quite pleasant to walk around Chessington and Kingston today.¬†spring in bedroomBut it’s a bit worrying, finding a small spring. Where did it come from?

Well, the house continues to fight back against being taken to the knackers’ yard. In our bedroom, there is a built-in wardrobe. One of the doors hasn’t closed properly for years, not since the last time thse doors were painted. There’s a little catch that should click smoothly and keep the door closed. With a bit of a slam, the dried-up paint flaked off, and that door managed to close properly and satisfyingly.

Until today. The little catch has broken. The spring sprung loose and the rest of the plastic must have shattered. I don’t think there’s any way to fix it.

Unlike the stay at the top of the front door. I replaced that, after the estate agent had problems last weekend. So unless there’s (again) a very strong gust of wind, the front door should no longer swing open and bash into the window sill outside the fron room.

Probably tempting fate but the door bell is still working a week or so after I fixed it and sealed it in again, despite the snow and rain. Touch wood.

No more news on the home front.

“Wheels of Time” is an exhibition aiming to document the story of cycling past and present in Kingston upon Thames. An important part of this will be people that cycle as part of their job.

I was invited to be interviewed in my capacity of ex-postman. I used a bike for the job, and they wanted me to talk about it. So I visited Kingston History Centre in Kingston’s Guildhall for the first time where I met Alex, the Heritage Services Officer, and Jarek, who conducted the interview.

I don’t think I slagged off Royal Mail management too much for the decision to replace bicycles with trolleys. Big, fat, red High Capacity Trolleys. But it was fun to talk about why I liked the job using the bike, and not so much with the trolley. The changing nature of the job over the years, especially with regard to online shopping resulting in many more parcels and packets being delivered by Royal Mail, is I think not recognised by most members of the public. And dogs came up. Like the one that didn’t like the noise the bike made. Or the one that didn’t like my helmet.

The exhibition opens towards the end of the month and I’ll put more details up nearer the time. I think this is the first time I’ve potentially been a museum exhibit.

I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t cycle into Kingston today: it was quite nice outside but I didn’t want to turn up looking bedraggled, with helmet hair and stinky.

Oh, alright: it was too cold. I’m a wimp. Turning into a fair-weather cyclist.