The story so far: we’re in London, now temporarily residing in a flat close to the South Bank.
We agreed it was probably too far to walk to Paddington Station this early in the morning, so instead we enjoyed a bus ride. Two buses in fact, changing in Oxford Street. Yes, Oxford Street, famous for Selfridges, John Lewis and the now ubiquitous Candy Stores.
Sarah wasn’t due to arrive from Exeter until about 10:30 so we passed the remaining few minutes at a coffee bar. Of course we did. In the station, I found the statue of Paddington Bear, from whom the railway terminus takes its name.
Liesel wanted to visit another clothes shop, but before setting off in the direction of St Christopher’s Place, Sarah forced us to sit down for another coffee. We hadn’t seen her since our visit to Exeter before Christmas, and to be honest, she hasn’t changed much.
It was a nice day for another long walk along the streets of London, but the sunny side was so much warmer than the other, shady, side of the street. And of course, it’s always good to explore places new to us.
I thought this dress would look good on Liesel, but no, we didn’t even go into this shop. It’s in an area called Hyde Park Estate, which I’d not heard of before, and, as I confirmed when I looked at the map, it’s not even that close to Hyde Park. Probably an invention from the tortured mind of an estate agent.
As the plaque says:
St Christopher’s Close
“From a forgotten backwater to one of London’s loveliest shopping streets” 18th Century- Originally known as Barretts Court after the local owner John Barrett In the 18th Century and early 19th Century the area became a slum, situated off Tyburn Street, now Oxford Street, which lead directly to the Tyburn Gallows at Marble Arch. The last public hanging took place in 1783.
19th Century – Redeveloped in the 1870’s for social housing under the patronage of Octavia Hill, joint founder of the National Trust, the street also included a variety of historic trades – lampmaking, chandlers, cheese-mongers, drapers and bookmakers. The Lamb and Flag public house became a favourite haunt for anarchists.
20th Century – While adjoining Oxford Street became the busiest shopping street in Britain, St Christopher’s Place declined and by 1987 there were many empty properties. A major modern office redevelopment was proposed with the buildings being demolished.
It was then that Robin Spiro, a somewhat unconventional property developer, appeared on the scene believing, against the prevailing trend, that demolition was not the answer and that a period, small scale, shopping thoroughfare could successfully preserve something of the past in today’s busy world. And so St Christopher’s Place was transformed into one of London’s loveliest shopping streets.
It really is very cute. And surprisingly quiet given its proximity to Oxford Street.
We thought The Hour was a whole shop. But it turned out to be just one rack of clothes in a larger shop. I left the women there to do their thing while I went for another solo wander. From Oxford Street, it would be so easy to miss the turning into St Christopher’s Place, it’s a very narrow entrance. And certainly, over the decades, I have always missed it.
I wanted to pay a quick visit, a pilgrimage even, to Hyde Park, where I spent many happy hours and days when I lived, studied and worked in London. The window displays in Sefridges are as good and creative as ever. The current theme is SuperFutures, Tomorrow in the Making.
Future generations came up with the ideas and concepts. What if we could control the weather? Well, I’d probably whinge about it a lot less, that’s for sure!
I wasn’t sorry to miss seeing the Marble Arch Mound, an unattractive £2,000,000 pile of mud, but I was sorry to see the state of the site now. I hope they’ll tidy the area up soon. Marble Arch, the place where I bought my first typewriter, where I spent too much time browsing in the Record and Tape Exchange and where we saw many movies in the late 1970s.
Over the road into Hyde Park, and specifically, Speakers’ Corner.
The Hecklers are as important as the Speakers on a Sunday or whenever there’s a ‘debate’. My main contribution, once, was to half-heartedly wave a fist at someone but I can’t remember what annoyed me so much. That was a long time ago.
I didn’t make use of the service, but I was happy to see the deck chairs out for hire on such a sunny day. This was close to the area where Liesel and I have enjoyed so much music over the years. The first concert we saw here together was Simon and Garfunkel supported by The Everly Brothers.
The lawn is being watered but so are some of the paths.
Liesel said she’d text me when she’d finished shopping. But after about three quarters of an hour, I thought I’d better make my way back anyway. I was excited to see a poster advertising Doctor Who: Time Fracture.
Doctor Who: Time Fracture, a ground-breaking immersive theatrical adventure, plunges you into the incredible universe of Doctor Who.
The Doctor needs you! The Universe as we know it is at stake – now is the time to step up and be the hero. For decades, in a quiet corner of Mayfair, London, a dangerous rift in time and space has been monitored by a group of loyal members of the long-thought-disbanded Unified Intelligence Taskforce – or UNIT for short. Until now they have managed to protect the people of Earth from the threat the rift poses but, weakened and beaten back as the Time Fracture grows out of control, they’re now close to defeat.
With 43 live actors and 17 different worlds to explore, take an epic journey across space and time, travel to exciting new (and old) places, confront menacing monsters and encounter ancient aliens – all while you battle to save all of existence!
Really exciting, right? So exciting, that I totally forgot about it until long after we’d returned home. And, it was fully sold out anyway.
Oh, here’s a surprise:
After meeting up with Liesel and Sarah, following a very successful shopping expedition, we gave consideration to lunch. We walked along Oxford Street towards a place that we know and love but instead, we ended up at Willows, on the roof of John Lewis.
We enjoyed a very nice, civilised meal in the sunshine, before, oh no, more shopping in John Lewis itself. I browsed the TV department and had a quick look at printers while Liesel and Sarah looked at shoes and handbags and other fascinating wares.
I can only look at TVs and printers for a finite amount of time before becoming overwhelmed. Technology is all so complicated these days. So I went out the back door of the shop intending to wait for the ladies in Cavendish Square. But I wasn’t allowed in, they’re setting up a funfair or something.
This lilac tree certainly stands out amongst all the London plane trees.
Time for another pilgrimage? Of course. We continued our walk along Oxford Street to Soho Square where we sat on Kirsty’s bench for a while after booting out the previous occupants. Yes, we should have brought flowers in memory of the late, great Kirsty MacColl, but we did play her song Soho Square and (quietly) sang along.
We said our goodbyes and left on buses travelling in opposite directions. Liesel and I dined at a restaurant near our accommodation, but what with the slow, uncoordinated and unprofessional service, not to mention the unwelcome visitors, we won’t be going back there again.
Our final night in London was uneventful. It didn’t take long to pack in the morning and to walk to Waterloo Station where I was delighted to look at a photographic exhibition. Another reminder that I really should take my real camera out sometime instead of solely relying on the phone camera.
I think I remember when comet Neowise was around, and that whenever I looked for it, I just saw clouds. I would be very proud to have taken a picture like this. Congratulations to Historic Britain Runner Up James Rushforth.
Comet Neowise over Stonehenge Comet NEOWISE passes over Stonehenge in the United Kingdom. It’s fascinating to think that this historic site did not exist when NEOWISE last passed the Earth. The comet is due to return in approximately 6,800 years, I wonder if the stones will still be standing? This is a single-exposure photograph taken early on the morning of July 2020. The orange glow is light pollution from the nearby villages of Durrington and Larkhill, and a passing lorry very kindly painted the rocks with light.
We caught a train to Chessington, a very familiar route of course, we lived there for so long. Walking past our old house felt very strange. It’s not our house any more of course, but after living there for 33 years, I can’t help be a little bit nostalgic. It’s none of my business, I know, but the carbuncle of a loft extension is just wrong.
Interesting to see that they haven’t replaced the windows that Liesel and I installed over ten years ago. And I was pleased to see that the tree planted in the street outside our house about 30 years ago is still thriving. As is our old lavender bush in the front garden, which will very soon take over the whole neighbourhood.
Round the corner and what a joy to see Dawn again after all this time. She had two years of massages to catch up on. That and a pedicure set me up for the day. She’s now working in a purpose built shed in her garden, although I’m sure there must be a better term than ‘shed’. I was treated first while Liesel went inside the house to work online for a couple of hours. And of course I went for a wander while Liesel herself was being pampered.
I bumped into my old postie mate Michael who seemed as surprised to see me as I was him. Duncan, our manager, has now retired. But I get the impression the job itself hasn’t improved. They’re discouraged from taking time off just because they have Covid.
What else is new in Chessington? Any yarn-bombing? Why, yes, actually.
The tile shop Versatile has moved down a couple of units. One of the many, many barbers in Chessington has moved from the station forecourt to North Parade. The party shop is now a, groan, mobile and vape store. Another hairdresser has become a tanning lounge. Good to see Jenny’s Café is still there though.
We caught a bus to our final accommodation on this occasion, the exciting Premier Inn at Tolworth. After dumping the bulk of our luggage, we ventured into Kingston.
This site has been under discussion for, what, 25 years? There were many inappropriate plans for over-development submitted over the years, so it’s good to see that, at last, the old and long derelict government land being developed. We need more housing. Signal Park has a selection of 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom apartments for sale or part-ownership.
Behind Tolworth Station, at the edge of the building site, look at the Crop-Ups, small planters for local people on the waiting list for allotments, growing all kinds of (to me) unidentifiable produce!
We realised the error of our ways as the K2 took us the long way round Berrylands and Subiton, before arriving in Kingston. We could have walked to the next bus stop for a bus that would go directly into Kingston. Where, bizarrely, we realised how much colder it was. The swans and flamingoes on the Thames here are huge, there must be something in the water.
We had dinner at Comptoir Libanais, one of our favourite Kingston restaurants. I say dinner, but really, it was mid-afternoon, and there were very few other customers inside. The food was, as always, delicious.
We wandered aimlessly around the town for a short while and I’m not sure this Futon shop was here before. As I said to Liesel though, it’s nice to have a spring sale, but shouldn’t they have a sale on the rest of the furniture too?
An early, relaxing evening reading and doing puzzles and listening to the radio and podcasts was followed by a good night’s sleep, thanks for asking.
We ventured, by bus, into Surbiton where we had a late breakfast at another favourite venue, Allegro’s. We had the place to ourselves. After the full vegetarian breakfasts, and filling our flasks with coffee from The Press Room, just round the corner, it was time to set off home.
Two trains, then, and two buses today. As the train passed by Vauxhall, I had to check that The British Interplanetary Society was still there and thriving. From Waterloo, we caught a bus to Euston, but decided to get off at Russell Square and sit for a while.
This young lady was having a very long telephone conversation with someone, husband or partner probably, but I suspect not a work colleague.
From Russell Square, we walked along the road to Tavistock Square. I think I already knew, but it was still strange seeing the juxtaposition between a statue of Gandhi, the man of peace and a memorial to the victims of the Hiroshima bombing.
There was music in the air too, which we finally tracked down to the sax player having a jolly good time.
And so, our short break comes to an end. Walk to Euston, train to Manchester, bus to Northenden, back to normal.
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?
We ventured as far as Dunham Massey for a lovely walk in the sunshine. So did a lot of other people. The queue of cars waiting at the entrance split into two, National Trust members keeping to the right. And yes, we VIPs felt very special as we overtook several ordinary people waiting to buy their tickets.
Some of the stags were bellowing, it must be that time of year again. Bellowing? To be honest, some of them sounded more like pigs squealing in pain. But maybe that’s an attractive noise to some of the less discerning females.
Liesel knows this as a straw flower, and it does indeed feel like it’s made from paper. We know it as salmon rose or Helichrysum brachteatum of course.
We had a few goes at this picture, trying to get the gorgeous burgundy red foliage in the background, but it still looks like my head is twice as big as Liesel’s.
In the evening we went out to a live concert. We hadn’t planned to, it was a spontaneous decision, something we should do more often maybe. Part of Manchester Folk Festival, we enjoyed the music of O’Hooley and Tidow supported by John Kelly and Lunatraktors. (*) We were back at Home, a venue which we quite like. O’Hooley and Tidow sing wonderful songs but the banter in between is just as much fun.
Still being cautious, we kept our masks on during the show and I think we will be doing so for a long time to come.
Our default walk along the river was exciting. We saw not one, but two herons, in different places. Well, it might have been the same one playing tricks on us, I suppose, but it’s nice to see they’ve (or it’s) come back.
We’ve been inundated with ladybirds during the last couple of weeks. They try to come into our living room and, sometimes, they succeed.
This little chap enjoyed walking around the snow-capped mountainscape that is my sock before being released and allowed to fly away home.
It was half-term this week and we were pleased to be able to look after Martha and William for a few hours. They helped decorate the halloween cookies carefully baked by Oma and they did quite a good job, despite ODing on the decorating icing and food colouring. Some of the results might not be biologically accurate.
Six-eyed bat, anyone?
I took William to the playground where we played and waited for Oma to bring Martha. They’re taking a long time, I thought, maybe they’ve got lost. I even wondered whether they’d gone to a different playground. But when they arrived, it turns out they’d been picking litter, as suggested by Martha. And luckily, we have the equipment.
William had problems with the litter-picker-uppers, the grips was a little too hard to squeeze. So he handed the stick back and and lifted his hands to his face, in the manner of binoculars. “What are you doing, William?” “I’m litter-spotting.” Well, it’s a very important job.
We picked litter as we walked home and two strangers expressed their gratitude to Martha and William for doing a good job. Strangers? Well, one was our local councillor, Mary, and she was with the manager of the local retirement housing facility, Boat Lane Court.
It won’t become a habit, but for lunch, we got chips from the local chippy. Jenny came to take the children to another play venue, and I was sure the amount of sugar consumed earlier in the day would keep their energy levels up.
Northenden Arts Festival is here. On the first afternoon, we saw Ali Davenport (*) read some of her own poems, mostly written during the lockdown. Members of the audience were invited to read their own poems and short stories too, and it was a very entertaining hour.
The second event we went to later in the evening was Plane Comedy. MC Colin Manford did a good job and he introduced two other comedians for our enjoyment, Dan Tiernan (*) and Mick Ferry. The show was sold out and the theatre felt crammed, but we kept our masks on and ourselves to ourselves. But we had a jolly good laugh at the comedy.
Yes, I managed half decent pictures of the men in the evening, but nobody needs to see my photo of the back of Ali’s head, no matter how artistic it is.
The Festival carries on all weekend and we have tickets for three more shows. So, five shows over four days.
Because we were looking after the children, we missed the weekly walk in Northenden on Wednesday. Sadly, Liesel missed the one in Wythenshawe, also led by Chantel (*), on Friday because she was at home, working. I joined it after taking the bus most of the way. I’d like to walk there and back, of course, but that means dragging myself out of bed a bit earlier.
The weather was ideal for observing rainbows, and here’s one as seen from our luxury apartment
What’s at the end of this rainbow? A stunning block of flats.
The radio show this week was all about Insults and Name-Calling. You can catch up here, maybe have it on in the background to ignore while you’re doing something useful.
(*) What’s that parenthesised asterisk malarkey all about then? This week, I introduced an occasional new feature into the show: Who did we see in concert this week? I play a track by each artist. Also, on previous shows, I have spoken to Ali, Dan and Chantel, so it’s good to see them in the flesh. I spoke with Ali briefly, but we were herded out of the theatre before I had a chance to speak to Dan, a former fellow Radio Northenden presenter.
I try to keep up to date with this blog but sometimes I forget to mention odd things. This is as good an opportunity as any to bring some very late news.
For a few weeks now, we’ve been using a new gadget in the kitchen. It’s an Instant Pot, an electric pressure cooker that has taken the USA by storm, according to the blurb. We use the inefficient electric oven far less often, and the meals are, so far, always delicious. It can perform several functions when in the more-than-capable hands of a fantastic cook such as Liesel.
When we were in Borough Market a few weeks ago, I think I forgot to mention that Liesel bought some Bienstich, one of her favourite German delicacies. Custard cake. She approached the stall with a plastic tub in hand, and the guy knew straightaway what she wanted. If you’re ever looking for gift ideas for Liesel, don’t forget Bienstich.
We had tortillas for dinner a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, the first batch were over-heated and discarded. When I picked up this lump of tortillas later, it felt really solid, like a paperback dropped in the bath. If you ever need a paperweight, let me know, and I’ll send the recipe.
Another Radio Northenden presenter, Hayley, and I met up for a coffee a couple of weeks ago. That’s the first time we’d met in person. Wasn’t this exciting enough to blog about at the time? Well yes, of course it was. I made notes and everything. But what’s the point of making notes if you don’t read them again afterwards?! Anyway, Hayley is lovely and we had a good chat and we know exactly how to fix all the world’s problems.
And finally, last week, our proud granddaughter was Gymnast of the Week.
She’s supposed to hand the trophy back after two weeks for the next recipient. I don’t know if she gets to keep it if she wins three times.
The Sun was out and after breakfast, I set off for Surbiton station. I’d checked, and all three local stations, Surbiton, Tolworth and Chessington North were a 25-minute walk from our Airbnb. I thought I’d go to Chessington, for old times’ sake. But as I walked through the door, a moment of panic set in. Suppose I missed the train? I’d have to wait half an hour. There’s a much more frequent service from Surbiton. So I turned round and walked there instead. Yes, I could have caught a bus, but neither Liesel nor I were yet convinced that travelling on buses was a good idea. Hang on, what happened to Liesel? Well, she was going to Woodmansterne to visit an old friend, Claire, whom we hadn’t seen for ages. The plan was that Liesel would meet me later on in London, at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
We debated whether or not to get Oyster Cards, as our old first generation ones might no longer work, but in the end, I just used my phone. It seems TfL work it all out nicely, so the daily fare is capped. All I had to do was remember to scan in and out. Quite a challenge for someone who hasn’t used public transport for well over 18 months. But quite exciting at the same time.
It was pleasing to see that most people on the train were wearing masks. And also nice to see that the train wasn’t packed. No standing, and nobody had to sit right next to a stranger.
Travelling into London felt so normal, despite the masks. More graffiti than I remember on the walls just before Wimbledon. Battersea Power Station is looking good, nice and clean, although harder to see now thanks to the many blocks of undoubtedly luxury apartments built at Nine Elms, close to the newly relocated US Embassy.
Waterloo Station was London to me, when I was small. A small part of me still thinks that the trains now operated by South Western Railways aren’t the genuine article. No, a real, proper train has the green livery of British Rail’s Southern Region, with slamming rather than sliding doors.
And so my long-anticipated walk in London began. Through the unusually thin crowds at Waterloo Station, past a lot of newly installed seating, very welcome I’m sure. I recalled the time most of the seating was removed to make space for ‘retail opportunities’ according to ‘public demand’, they fibbed. Down the stairs by the War Memorial and towards the South Bank. Beggars, Big Issue sellers, discarded Metro newspapers, some things never change.
‘We’re so glad to see you’. ‘We’ve missed you’. ‘Welcome back to our home’. These were the messages that greeted me as I climbed the stairs towards the Royal Festival Hall. I don’t usually speak to concrete infrastructure, but I did say it was nice to be back, thank you.
I also nodded at the bust of Nelson Mandela as I passed by and smiled at the sight of the Modified Social Benches. This is the sort of thing we love about London. Nothing wrong with being quirky.
Usually at the point, I would nip into the RFH to use their facilities, but there’s no need to go into more buildings than necessary. But we do look forward to seeing live performances here, and elsewhere, as soon as we can.
The second-hand book stalls under Waterloo Bridge were not open today. I’ve squandered many an hour here, looking at books and maps and other things that I’ve no real intention of buying.
Outside the National Theatre, I acknowledged Sir Laurence Olivier and tried to recall all the plays we’ve seen here. One day, I hope to return to see a young actor perform here: hello Lesley!
Lesley was a barista at Boxx2Boxx in Northenden, look out for her on a stage near you! Many actors while between rôles have to take temporary jobs, and another one was operating the coffee stall right outside the theatre. He was due to go to rehearsals later in the day, but meanwhile, he made me a fine cup of coffee!
Thank goodness Boris Johnson’s vanity project, the Garden Bridge, was never built, it would have ruined this stretch of the South Bank. I wonder if he’ll ever repay the millions of pounds he squandered on it?
The Post Office Tower stood proudly way over there on the other side of the river. I’ve only been inside a couple of times: once soon after I’d passed my 11+ exam. And once just a few years ago when, for charity, I climbed the stairs inside. They said it was 1,000 steps, but in the end, there were only 870, more or less. I’d trained by climbing the long staircase at Guy’s Hospital, near London Bridge, towards which I was now walking, sometimes at my own default, fast pace and sometimes slowly, to take in all the sights.
The promenade along the South Bank is known as The Queen’s Walk. Well, I’ve never seen the queen there, but I have seen David Bowie. Not the real David Bowie of course, but a sand sculpture of his image, created soon after his death in 2016. In fact, the stretch of the beach revealed when the tide is out has been used for sand sculptures for quite a while, some of them ridiculously extravagant, considering their transient nature. Today, however, there was no sculpture. In fact, the normally pristine sand has been covered with darker coloured gravel. Which is a shame.
It had rained quite hard the previous day (when we were at Polesden Lacey) and some of the Queen’s Walk was still flooded. The Great Flood of London? No, just a big puddle.
Every time I walk by the Bankside Gallery, I think I should spend some time there. But I never do. The piece of art outside lifts the spirits though. It’s a nice bit of competition for Tate Modern, a bit further along.
The buskers were out in force today, at least four along this stretch. One played an accordion, one a guitar, one a mandolin and under one of the road bridges, we were treated to a tenor performing On The Street Where You Live.
Liesel and I had thought about seeing a play at The Globe: we would be outside, after all. But in the end, we missed out on Twelfth Night and Metamorphoses. But still, what a cool building to find by the Thames. My daughter Helen and I saw Macbeth here twenty years ago and I still regret not going the following week too, when we could have seen Macbeth performed in Zulu: uMabatha.
I still wonder if The Golden Hinde is in the best location. There’s just too much going on all around it, you can’t view it well from the side. It still reminds me of the model I had when I was younger. I wonder what happened to it?
Southwark Cathedral is a good sign that we’re approaching London Bridge. I first visited this cathedral in about 2000 when the author Michael Arditti was promoting his then new book, Easter. I bought a signed copy for Sarah and when I read it, well, it was a bit more racy than anticipated. Liesel and I visited the cathedral, as tourists, more recently.
‘There are two things scarce matched in the universe: the Sun in Heaven and the Thames on Earth’. Such is the quote by Sir Walter Raleigh inscribed on the wall just round the corner from London Bridge. And looking out on the Thames at that very moment, I witnessed the passage of an Uber Boat. This service is run in partnership with Thames Clippers, and is not to be confused with a U-Boat, something far more sinister. Another item to add to the long list of ‘Things to do the next time we come to London’.
HMS Belfast is famous for, amongst other things, its forward guns aimed at Scratchwood Services on the M1. There was no sign of them being fired today, but there were a lot of people on board a very interesting ship.
Liesel and I did the tour of Tower Bridge a few years ago, including avoiding walking on the glass panels in the floor of the high level walkway. Obviously, you always hope the bridge will open while you’re watching, but you have to time it just right. No sign of it opening today. And I wish I could stop thinking of the Spice Girls’ bus jumping over the opened bascules in the fabulous film Spiceworld. All expense was spared on the special effects.
London City Hall is I’m sure a hive of industry, especially as the Greater London Authority will be moving to new premises by the end of the year. We’ve only been inside once, and enjoyed walking up the spiral slope.
Over the river is the Tower of London. Again, a place I first visited as a child (I still have the little booklet, priced 1/6d) and again since then a few times with various family members visiting from afar.
I was taken aback by the number of people walking across Tower Bridge. As a pedestrian, you’re meant to keep left, according to signage on the ground, presumably to assist in Covid-inspired social distancing. I think more than 50% of people were complying, but I didn’t want to hang around longer than necessary and count!
One happy couple were being photographed, and it was fun to watch a professional photographer at work. The bride and groom spent a long time arranging the veil to blow in the wind, which to be honest, was not being very cooperative. Of course, I’m making an assumption: maybe they were models, not a newly-wed couple. In any case, I think they wanted City Hall and The Shard in the background of their pictures. Ah yes, The Shard, another place we should visit one day but £25 just to ride up in a lift seems a bit excesive.
I strained my neck looking up at the glass floor in the overhead walkway and felt a little queasy. The thought of someone falling through and landing on my head… Or me falling over backwards into the water below…
A quick check on my phone confirmed that I still had time to walk to the V&A, but I could always catch a bus if necessary. From now on, I would remain north of the river.
There’s a small section of an old Roman wall near the Tower, a reminder that in the past, Liesel and I have joined several organised walks around London. Nearby, there are paintings decorating the walls of an underpass. One of the portraits, by Stephen B Whatley, depicts Anne Boleyn, someone to whom I am distantly related by marriage, I recently discovered.
Tower Hill was my station of choice when I worked in the City, in Crutched Friars, to be precise. Lunchtime entertainment was sometimes provided by the Metropolitan Police Band. Today, it was mostly visitors milling about. I remembered where the public toilet was but I’d forgotten it cost 50p. Thoughtfully, they’ve installed a change machine so I changed a nice crisp £10 note for a pile of £1 and 50p coins. 50p for a pee though, that really is taking the p. On the other hand, I now had some loose change to throw into a busker’s hat, should I encounter another one.
This part of London is a fabulous mix of old and new architecture. Old stone churches and glass and steel office blocks. Through a small gap, along a narrow road, I spotted the Monument, the one that commemorates the Great Fire of London. We’ve climbed this edifice a few times, I have certificates to prove it.
It would have been nice to stick to the Thames Path, right next to the river, but there are several places where you have to deviate, thanks to building work. The smell of chlorine probably came from the swimming pool inside Nuffield Health Fitness and Well-being Club. If not, then maybe I should have reported a dangerous chemical leak.
The Queenhithe Mosaic tells the story of London right from its early days. This is a terrific work of art, 30 metres in length, and what a shame it’s so far off the beaten track. This is one of those things you can look at for ages. Yes, it too is on the list for a return visit.
My collection of photos of sundials continues to grow. Polar sundials aren’t very common, so I was pleased to find one. The lady sitting next to it offered to move, but I told her to stay put and add some scale to my picture.
Over the river, beyond the Millennium Bridge, sits Tate Modern. I wanted to go in today, but you have to book online. In this I failed abysmally. The booking site must work, there were plenty of people in there, but I struggled. It kept telling me about the need to book in advance, but I just couldn’t find the actual place where I could actually book an actual timeslot. Sometimes, I despair at my own incompetence. Although, bad web design is a factor here, I’m sure.
Neither did I go into the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral for a coffee, although I was tempted. I’d only had one so far today despite passing 101 coffee bars and vendors.
Looking south over the river, I caught my first glimpse of the London Eye. I didn’t feel the need to go on that again, but who knows, maybe we will if any future visitors are interested. I did have a dream once that it very slowly fell over and into the river but fortunately, each of the 32 capsules automatically converted to lifeboats.
And then over the river, I spotted the Oxo Tower. I’ve never ventured beyond the craft shops on the lower floors but I do recall one story related by a former postman colleague. Skip this paragraph if you’re under 18. Andy was very gleeful one day and if he told us once, he told us a dozen times that the previous evening, he’d taken his wife up the Oxo Tower. I know, I know. Then he asked us all whether we’d ever taken our wives or girlfriends up the Oxo Tower. Sorry if you’re having your tea.
I passed by one of the dragons that guards the City of London and entered the City of Westminster, walking along Victoria Embankment.
Near Temple Station, I found another sundial. It’s not much use though. Not because it wasn’t sunny enough, but flowers have grown over the useful parts.
Earlier, I said that Waterloo Station was London for me, when I was small. Everything else was a bonus, including Victoria Embankment, and it was occasionally my job to lookout for Cleopatra’s Needle, the obelisk guarded by two sphinxes facing the wrong direction. The obelisk was completed in 1450 BC and presented to the UK in 1819 by the ruler of Egypt and Sudan, one Muhammad Ali.
As usual, when I pass by or walk over Waterloo Bridge, one old earworm rears its head, Waterloo Sunset by the Kinks. I was still humming the tune to myself as I approached St Martin’s and Trafalgar Square. Ah, Trafalgar Square, that would be a good place to stop for a coffee, I thought. Not today. The whole square was cordoned off, probably being prepared for a future event. I was delighted to see the new work of art on the fourth plinth though. I couldn’t get close enough to read the plaque, so this is from The Greater London Authority website:
Heather Phillipson’s vast physical and digital sculpture tops the Fourth Plinth with a giant swirl of whipped cream, a cherry, a fly and a drone that transmits a live feed of Trafalgar Square. Entitled THE END it suggests both exuberance and unease, responding to Trafalgar Square as a site of celebration and protest, that is shared with other forms of life. The live feed of Trafalgar Square picked up by the drone’s camera is visible on a dedicated website www.theend.today giving a sculpture’s eye perspective. (Good luck with that, I couldn’t get it to work.)
As I couldn’t walk across Trafalgar Square today, I walked around. This was when I acknowledged that I was on a giant Monopoly board. I’d just passed The Strand, here’s Trafalgar Square, I’d narrowly avoided Whitehall and was about to walk along Pall Mall.
There’s a new lion here too, between the Square and the National Gallery. It’s the only member of the Tusk Lion Trail that I saw on this occasion, a nice colourful beast. Maybe we’ll have an opportunity to hunt down some more lions on this trail one day.
Nelson watched over me as I crossed the roads and I was pleased to see the so-called diversity street crossing signs are still being used. They were installed for Pride 2016 and haven’t been replaced. Instead of a green man, when it’s finally time for you, a mere pedestrian, to cross the road, you see a couple holding hands, or maybe two male or two female symbols ♂️♂️ ♀️♀️ but green of course!
The Athenaeum is a lovely building to see, the home of a private members’ club that I haven’t been invited to join yet. I also passed by the back door of St James’s Palace only identifiable by the presence of two bored-looking but armed police officers. I found my way through to Green Park which was all but deserted. Even the squirrels sauntered across the paths rather than scurrying as they usually do. In the distance to my right, The Hard Rock Café on Piccadilly, but no, I wasn’t tempted to deviate for a coffee there either. In fact, I might still have a grudge against them. We tried to book a table once and they told us we couldn’t. Then, when we turned up, we couldn’t get in because it was fully booked. You should have booked, they said.
Hyde Park Corner is a nightmare whether on foot, or in a car or bus. It had to be negotiated though. I smiled when I saw Wellington Arch: I’m proud to say I cycled under it in 2005, naked. Here’s a link so some photos… oh no, sorry, I just remembered, I’ve closed that particular account. One day, I might repeat that most enjoyable bike ride around London. Not today though, I didn’t bring my bike.
Today’s long walk was taking place on Liesel’s birthday so as I walked by The Lanesborough, I wondered whether I should book afternoon tea. But then I remembered we probably wouldn’t have time. Plus, of course I wasn’t dressed properly for such a venue. We have had tea here before, though: I remember being slapped on the wrist when I tried to pour my own tea.
Knightsbridge was busy, but there was no avoiding it. I was surprised that the big street sign called the area Scotch Corner, especially since the shop after which it’s named, The Scotch House, hasn’t been there for years. I worked in the area for six years, and I was disappointed to see that the sandwich shop where I bought my breakfast after a long nightshift, Crumbs, has gone and been replaced by something far inferior.
But this pub, Tattersall’s Tavern is the first and only venue where I have consumed eight pints of beer in one sitting. That was after a very long shift at work, and in the end, just me and Bob, the manager, were leaning against the bar.
Harrods doesn’t change. Once, I went in to buy a pair of shoelaces, without success. Today, the window announced a coffee bar on the ground floor. That’ll be different, thought I. So I walked through. Do you think I could locate this coffee bar? No. Instead, I carried on and found a coffee at Steps Coffee Haus, across the road. Well, I just felt sorry for them, that their pop career hadn’t worked out. Tragedy.
Also at Harrods, many years ago, I met Ffyona Campbell. I often think of her when I’m on a ramble. She walked around the world in the ’90s and signed a book for me. The following week, Naomi Campbell was going to be signing the book that she ‘wrote’, even though, as it later emerged, she hadn’t even read it! On the other hand, it turned out Ffyona had had to ‘cheat’ in USA to keep up with planned media appearances, which is a shame. It must be painful to be extracted from The Guinness Book of Records like an unwanted, rotten, decayed tooth.
This is busy London, lots of pedestrians and lots of traffic, and I was torn between feeling imposed upon and just enjoying being in this vibrant city. I recognised some shops, but many were new to me, and the architecture is wonderful of course. Don’t ask me to describe the various styles, but when I see a new build that doesn’t fit in, I do wonder which developer bribed which councillor. Cynical? Me?
I reached the V&A just a few minutes before the agreed meeting time. This was when I received the dreadful news from Liesel that she’d only just left and would be quite late. I had both our tickets on my phone so I forwarded them to Liesel, telling her to use the second ticket, I’d use the top one. Yes, I could have waited a while before going in, but my bladder couldn’t.
In the end, although our electronic, timed tickets were checked by a person, neither was scanned electronically, so we weren’t in any real danger of being refused admission.
When Liesel arrived, I was sitting in the quadrangle with a nice cup of coffee and a large baguette, soaking up the Sun. Before I’d left this morning, Liesel had predicted that I’d walk over 20,000 steps. No way, José, I said. But she was right. At this point, the pedometer displayed over 23,000 steps. Liesel bought some (late) lunch too after which we went inside to look at some exhibits.
I quite liked the French Globe Clock, I think it would look very nice in our living room. But mostly, we looked at and admired the wrought and cast iron items. Why? I think we found ourselves going to galleries with the fewest people. In one room, a couple were dancing to the music in their heads.
Breathless is a collection of silver-plated brass instruments squashed by one of Tower Bridge’s 22-tonne lifting mechanisms. Who comes up with these weird ideas? In this case, one Cornelia Parker from Cheshire.
As it was Liesel’s birthday, it was her choice of places to eat out. She remembered a Japanese restaurant somewhere near the Southbank Centre, so we set off back along Cromwell Road, Brompton Road and Knightsbridge. Yes, I was retracing my steps, but it was a first time for Liesel to be walking along the A4. The A4! And yes, we could have caught a bus, but apart from the traffic, it really was a pleasant day for walking in the city. After crossing the glorified roundabout that is Hyde Park Corner again, we veered off to walk by Green Park, along Constitution Hill.
Of course, as tourists, we were perfectly entitled to take a selfie with Buckingham Palace in the background.
The Victoria Memorial was shining brightly in the early evening sunshine, and, what’s this? A new innovation in London transportation? A man was walking along the road, in a giant metal wireball, a steel zorb. We don’t know why, but he did say he was doing this for ninety days.
The Mall was much more busy than we’d anticipated, disappointingly so, really. I have fond memories of riding onto The Mall after my 100-mile Prudential Bike Ride back in 2014, in the aftermath of Hurricane Bertha. I dream of being fit enough to do so again.
I’ve been to the ICA, the Institute for Contemporary Arts, for a few events over the years but so far, Liesel’s missed out. Yes, it’s also on the list of places to visit one day.
Eventually we crossed the Golden Jubilee Bridge, again admiring the London Skyline to the east, beyond Waterloo Bridge. I resisted the urge to take a picture, since I already have several hundred. Unfortunately, the Japanese place has been replaced by a very stinky burger joint. So we went down to Wagamama for a very civilised meal. Plastic shields separate you from other diners, and I wonder whether they’ll keep these once the pandemic’s over? Or will we once again be forced to sit next to strangers on the bench? And you now pay by scanning a QR code on the menu, going to a website, typing in your table number and payment details. I’m not (usually) criminally minded, but I did think about entering somebody else’s table number, someone who perhaps has only ordered a couple of cheap drinks so far.
We walked back to Waterloo Station and returned to Surbiton.
I’d walked over 17 miles by this point, and while I didn’t say so at the time, I was quite relieved that Liesel had parked the car at Surbiton Station! The thought of walking back to our Airbnb after sitting down for half an hour on a train somehow didn’t appeal.
After a fairly good night’s sleep, we returned to the city. And we should have known it wouldn’t be straightforward. There’d been an ‘incident’ and all the trains were delayed. Sitting on a stationary train was the perfect opportunity to finish the book I was reading: Bitterhall by Helen McClory, so good, I gave it a 5-star review.
Later than planned then, we walked from Waterloo, along the river to Borough Market. We passed a couple of the same buskers as yesterday, and I was able to hurl some coins at them.
We were pleased to see that the Southbank Centre’s undercroft is still being enjoyed by skateboarders and graffiti artists: in fact, we caught one in the act. Also, being a bit later in the day, the book stalls were all out under the bridge, but we wasted no time browsing, we had a market with food to get to.
We acquired a picture of ourselves with St Paul’s Cathedral in the background thanks to a helpful pair of ladies who noticed that I was pretending to struggle taking the obligatory selfie.
We ate our way around Borough Market: the best chips we’ve ever had, a very cheesey cheese straw, a tasty spinach muffin. The market was nowhere near as busy as we’ve seen before, but someone talking on the phone said it was absolutely rammed.
One market’s not enough, so Liesel suggested visiting Spitalfields Market. It was a good excuse to walk along some long-neglected city streets. The Monument was gleaming in the sunshine, another selfie opp, of course.
On the way, we walked through Leadenhall Market, one of our favourites, which in contrast, was much, much busier than we’ve ever seen it. Possibly because in the past, we’ve only been here on a Sunday. The bars were all open and full of city workers probably talking shop, definitely speaking loudly, a sign of normality if ever there was one, although of course, the spectre of Covid was never far away.
Who would think that a big lump of red, molten, plastic bottles could result in such a fabulous work of art? Tatiana Wolska, that’s who. What looks like a big red balloon, in the shape of a small human, floats above us in the market, competing with the very decorative star-studded ceiling.
We found more Sculpture in the City in the form of Orphans, geometric solids made from orphaned paintings, those left behind by deceased people and unwanted by their heirs. Bram Ellens is responsible for this one, which is outside, exposed to the elements, so I hope it’s OK. I’m sure the artist knows what he’s doing.
We sat down for a break in the courtyard in front of Lloyd’s Register of Shipping in Fenchurch Street. This is just round the corner from where I once worked, in Crutched Friars, a strangely named street that we didn’t quite get around to re-visiting on this occasion.
In this courtyard is a lovely sculpture, a mirror-polished stainless steel ship, with water running down and over it, very refreshing. The office workers returning from their lunch breaks paid it no attention as they made their way upstairs, some in more haste than others.
Our wander continued, passing the site of Petticoat Lane Market, which is only open on Sundays. Lilian Knowles House was new to us, as was Donovan Bros Paper Bag shop on Crispin Street, what a quaint area. The shop was closed, but I wanted to buy some paper bags just to see if Donovan or his brother would put them in a big paper bag. And a good reminder that despite living in or near London for forty years or more, there is still plenty to explore.
We like these strange, old places, but some new ones are quite pleasing to the eye too. Of course, it was a nice sunny day today, I wonder if looks as good on a gloomy wet day?
The first thing that drew my attention in Spitalfields Market was a bronze representation of Mwashoti, an orphaned male elephant rescued a few years ago. He is just one of the Herd of Hope roaming the market, drawing attention to the plight of orphaned elephants.
The second thing I noticed was the second-hand hat stall. One day, I might decided to go for a 1950s titfer, but not today. We just walked around the market, a vibrant, colourful emporium. Yes, there was some tat, but a great place for people who collect, inter alia, old vinyl records. I had a quick browse, finding some David Bowie bootlegs that I’d not seen before. Tempted? Of course I was.
It was someone’s birthday and as she posed for photos with a cake, she was surrounded by some of the most colourful, costumed friends you could imagine. They were more than happy to have their photo taken by us more sedately dressed weirdoes.
Liesel was delighted to find Humble Crumble, a stall that she’d read about, selling pies. I think this is just one factor that later led Liesel to suggest that Spitalfields is her new favourite market in London, knocking Borough Market off the top spot.
Dogman and Rabbitgirl with Coffee is another delightful sculpture that we admired just outside, before setting off to bus stop J.
Yes, after discussion, we decided to, gulp, mask up and take a bus back to Waterloo, our first bus ride since, as far as I can remember, before the first lockdown. I didn’t even use my Old Fart’s Bus Pass (or whatever it’s called) because, well, I just forgot I could.
Fleet Street, Hoare’s Bank, The Royal Courts of Justice, Waterloo Bridge: what a fascinating, very nice, evocative bus ride.
From Waterloo, we took a train to Kingston, and this concludes two days in our glorious capital city. It was an itch that I feel has been well and truly scratched, but there are plenty more things to do and see, including theatre visits and other live performances – in London and Manchester.
We look forward to travelling on the underground again. Liesel had taken the tube from Wimbledon to South Kensington yesterday, but I totally avoided it on this occasion. Before moving away from Chessington, I had planned to visit every one of the stations on the London Underground system. It might happen one day. We were a week too early to visit the 21st century’s first new ones though: Nine Elms Station and Battersea Power Station Station, both, bizarrely in Zone 1.
Let me paraphrase Lord Kitchener:
London is the place for me London this lovely city You can go to Didsbury or Manchester, Wythenshawe or Northenden But you must come back to London city Well believe me I am speaking broadmindedly I am glad to know my Mother Country I have been travelling to countries years ago But this is the place I wanted to know London that is the place for me.
A big week in mickandlieselsanticsland – it was a big birthday for Liesel. We celebrated by going to the seaside, not once, but twice.
The car park was full, but the beach is huge, so although there were pockets of people, it was easy enough to find our own space. Luckily, we’d arrived early, because by the time we left, there was a very long queue of cars waiting to get into the car park. The final Sunday before the ‘Rule of 6’ restrictions kick in, maybe. Or just a Sunday.
These shapes are a result of small stones and fragments of shell on the beach, combined with the angle of the Sun and the wind direction. At first glance, it reminded me of some old Babylonian cuneiform writing, all those little triangles.
We had a nice long walk along the beach. The wind was borderline acceptable, quite strong but not cold. Nonetheless, for protection, I was walking along the beach with a finger in my ear like a really intense folk singer.
On Monday, lots of flowers arrived, so I was up and down stairs like an old, wheezing yoyo [edited]. The bell rang, I ran downstairs, thought it was weird because I’d ordered flowers from Interflora, not M&S, then I thought maybe Interflora uses M&S round these strange northern parts. Plus when Liesel opened the box, I thought, those don’t look like the flowers I’d ordered! The attached card revealed that this bouquet was actually from Helen and Steve. My flowers arrived a couple of hours later, I’m glad to say. And a third one from Pauline, Andrew and Rob in New Zealand arrived a little later. So far, my birthday card hasn’t arrived, which is embarrassing and very disappointing: I should have just handed an old one over in the first place. but I didn’t want to go into a shop and buy one, so I ordered it online. Oh well, there’ll be another birthday next year.
Early on birthday morning, we had a Zoom call with Jenny, Liam, Martha and William here in UK, and Helen and Adam in Australia. Martha and William sang Happy Birthday, blew out candles and ate cake. (Later in the day, William wanted to sing Happy Birthday again, but I think the main attraction was more cake.) Liesel opened her presents and it looks as though she’ll be busy for the next several weeks doing a 2000-piece jigsaw puzzle (a collage of photos of our grandchildren and our adventures, put together by Helen), and making cheese (a great idea, Jenny)!
Later on, it was good to have an online chat with Sarah in Exeter too.
We returned to Formby, and even though it was much later in the day this time, it was far less busy. Everyone’s back at work and at school now, hastening the second wave of Covid infection, presumably
We had a fantastic picnic lunch of samosas and veggie sausage rolls. The wind was less strong today, too, so overall, we had a very pleasant time. The tide was a long way out, so if there were any jellyfish around, we didn’t see them.
It was a hot day, and possibly the last really hot day of the year, if the forecast is anything to go by.
I could have made a cake, I could have gone out and bought a cake, but Liesel made her own cake, a small but perfectly formed chocolate cake. Somehow, we made it last three days. Very nice, very tasty.
We walked around the local area again a few times, visiting the river, and Fletcher Moss Park. We don’t know if our herons have migrated at all, but we haven’t seen them all week.
The Autumn colours are really coming out now.
We talked about these tall trees. Are they conifer? Or are they dancer? Answers on a postcard please!
One morning, we went out really early, the ground was covered in dew, our feet got wet, but we saw some beautiful sights.
So, the title, Mandelbrot Extinction. Any ideas? No, nor me. I woke up one day with the phrase buzzing around my head like a fly trying to get out of a room with no windows. I assume it’s the only remnant from what must have been a very interesting dream. I googled the phrase, of course I did, and there is nothing. My strange nocturnal mind has invented something brand new. At least I have a name the next time I form a rock band.There used to be a game to play on the internet: enter two random words into Google and try to get exactly one result. Googlewhacking! Well, once this blog has been published and the web crawlers have done their job, maybe Mandelbrot Extinction will be a successful Googlewhack, bringing you right back here!
Friday in Northenden was big. Up Your Street was an opportunity for local businesses to highlight their wares. Thankfully, the weather was kind, and Palatine Road and the surrounding area was very busy. Dan McDwyer and a couple of singers from his Youth Choir, part of The Choir Project, provided the entertainment outside Salutem.
As well as playing keyboards, singing and conducting his singers, he was broadcasting on Radio Northenden. And yes, it was good to see Radio Northenden in the list of participants.
Liesel and I had a fantastic breaded halloumi burger in The Northern Den, highly recommended! We met Sanny and Katie from Radio Northenden there, with (baby) Byron: he sometimes gatecrashes his Mum and Dad’s shows. It felt strange talking to people, in a restaurant, outside, because after six months of lockdown, of course, it is strange.
Before walking up the road to Up Your Street, I presented my own regular show on Radio Northenden. Because it was her birthday this week, Liesel picked all the music and there were some lovely messages from family and friends too. Due to bad planning on my part, I had to leave out a couple of the songs, and many of the stories I’d planned ended up on the cutting room floor. And now, they’ve ended up here, in this very blog. Here comes a tarted up version of the ‘script’ for Liesel’s Birthday show. Tarted up? I’ve fixed the many typographical, grammatical and punctuational errors and I’ve left out all the adverts for, and references to, Up Your Street – if you missed it, you missed it! Listen here for two hours of fab and groovy music.
Mort Stevens and his Orchestra – Theme from Hawaii Five-O Dave Matthews – American Baby
We’ve seen Dave Matthews Band in concert a few times, with Liesel’s cousin Andrea, and Steve. And just like Whispering Bob Harris, we can’t understand why they’re not bigger here in the UK. At one show, Liesel was approached by a stranger. Liesel thought he was a ne’er-do-well, a random stranger. But no. He was only Dave Matthews’ guitar player, and he was here, at Andrea’s behest, to give Liesel a guitar pick.
Queen – Radio Gaga
I saw Queen support Mott the Hoople at Hammersmith Odeon. Liesel didn’t, on account of being a mere toddler at the time. Embarrassing. Mott the Hoople played a long set, they wouldn’t leave the stage, and the curtain came down in front of them.
U2 – Bullet the Blue Sky Dolly Parton – Coat of Many Colours
Nope, neither of us have seen U2 nor Dolly, live.
Delighted that Liesel chose a David Bowie song, almost without prompting. You may remember the video for China Girl ends with a passionate embrace on a beach. Well, Liesel and I spent part of her birthday at Formby [see above], walking and picnicking, rather than rolling around in the surf: the tide was too far out.
David Bowie – China Girl
Liesel’s celebratory birthday meal this year, after our day at the seaside, was fish and chips from the Church Road Chippy. Sadly, they had no cheese and onion pies for me this time, so a bit of a let-down.
Unthanks – Magpie
We’ve seen them just once in concert, at the newly renovated Roundhouse in London.
Martha Tilston – Survival Guide
We’ve seen Martha probably more often than any other single artist, at various venues around the country. [Most recently]
Billy Joel – Piano Man
We’ve seen him in concert once, great show, Piano Man, Uptown Girl, Scenes from an Italian Restaurant. He invited his guitar player Mike del Guidice to sing a song. He performed Nessun Dorma and of course we sang along. Well, until security intervened.
Neil Diamond – I am I said
We wanted to see him in concert a few years ago, but the tickets were far too expensive.
Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto – Desafinado
That’s another song that I murdered while learning to play the saxophone.
Shanukh Khan and Sapna Awasthi – Chaiyya Chaiyya
I was doing all the Bollywood moves there, screwing in light bulbs, picking cherries from trees. I can’t do the pigeon head movement though. From the 1998 film Dil Se.
Adele – Skyfall
One of those songs that took a while to grow on me after being played on autorepeat on a radio station that I couldn’t switch off, when I was at work. [Chessington Delivery Office]
Gordon Lightfoot – Rainy Day People
We saw him on his first visit to the UK after a 30-year absence. He still has a great voice and some timeless songs
Bill Withers – Ain’t no Sunshine
One of Liesel’s favourite songs. Bill Withers’ first job was making toilet seats for Boeing airlines. He wrote this song during that time.
Pink Floyd – Another Brick in the wall
We haven’t seen Pink Floyd but we’ve been close. We once cycled from Bakewell to Buxton, along the A6, in the rain, as it was getting dark, an experience that Liesel doesn’t need to repeat. The reward was seeing a Pink Floyd tribute band at the Opera House. We only had time for a bag of crisps for dinner that evening. [We’d been told that buses between Bakewell and Buxton have bike racks on the front. They don’t.]
A better experience was watching Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, in Hyde Park in London. He performed Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety. I found it it incredibly moving. I don’t think Liesel quite understood why me and other fans of a certain age were in tears. That’s how powerful music can be.
Sister Sledge – We are Family Simon and Garfunkel – 59th Bridge Street Song
We saw them at a reunion gig in Hyde Park, our first outdoor show together. Liesel was slightly intimidated by the size of the crowd, so much so, that she wouldn’t even let me go to the toilet by myself. The show was good but I don’t think Paul and Art made eye contact once, which is quite sad. The support act was The Everly Brothers.
We saw Wynton Marsalis at a late night concert many years ago, maybe it was one of the Proms that year. And we can hear a version of that song on Amy Lamé’s 6 Music show each week as she tells us what delights we can look forward to. Amy is also big fan of Christine and the Queens. During a recent interview, I wondered whether they shouldn’t just get a room.
Christine and the Queens – Christine [Baz Luhrmann (Quinson Tarver speaking)- Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen – not played because I was running out of time] Duran Duran – Ordinary World
We nearly saw Duran Duran in concert several years ago, we had tickets, but sadly illness overtook us.
Rick Braun – Nightwalk
We saw him in concert at Pizza Express in London. We had a table right at the front. Rick left his trumpet on the stage, easily within reach. Tempted to have a go? Of course I was, but Liesel said No.
Bic Runga – When I see you Smile
We were lucky enough to see her in concert a couple of years ago, in a vineyard on an island off Auckland, New Zealand, what a beautiful day, she really made us smile.
James Taylor – Steam roller [Swear word beautifully edited out, if I do say so myself]
Of course we’ve seen James Taylor on stage! Just the once.
We’ve also seen REM: at Twickenham Stadium. They played their music, not rugby, of course.
REM – Man on the Moon Frank Sinatra – Young at Heart
Have we seen Frank in concert? Yes, if a holographic projection counts. ‘He’ was accompanied by a live orchestra.
[Dave Matthews – What would you say? – not played, no time] Elbow – Grounds for Divorce PS Yes, I was surprised at how many of these artists we’ve seen perform in concert over the last 16 years or so together. What an adventure! We can’t wait for live shows to start up again.
Editors’ note: In the previous blog I should have mentioned that we store non-frozen and non-food items in the freezer. This is due to the lack of storage space here in the luxury apartment compared with our previous mansion. Yes, the nuts survived the deep freeze and, who knows, maybe their temporary frozen status enhanced the nut roast that we subsequently enjoyed for Thanksgiving! Using pots and pans straight from the bottom drawer of the freezer works ok too, you just have to remember to triple the recommended cooking time.
We missed out on breakfast at our b&b in order to meet up with Rosie, our friend from Law School all those years ago: instead, we had breakfast in Kingston. I took my leave, leaving them for some girl on girl action, that is, a shopping spree in Kingston. I wandered through the Bentall Centre on my way to the station. It’s all very pretty in there and on this occasion, I didn’t even notice the stench of Yo! Sushi!
I wondered why so many people were standing around looking down onto the lower ground floor, aka the basement. The security personnel were having a hard time removing people from the stairs. As if this futile exercise wasn’t entertaining enough, we were soon treated to the sound of some music and a troupe of dancing girls.
I still have no idea what they were promoting but I don’t think it was The Apostrophe Protection Society. In some very sad new’s, the campaigning group closed down this week, in the face of laziness and barbarity. There are many apostrophe’s in the world, but far too many are just in the wrong place. Read all about it.
Liesel enjoyed her time in Kingston today: not too busy, not too crowded, not too Christmassy, it was just right. She returned to the b&b before going out for dinner in Dorking. She met a group of friends for a Chinese meal, and they spent several hours slagging off talking about their common former employer.
If I ever go missing, one of the first places to look for me, if you can be bothered, is London’s South Bank. I am drawn there like an apostrophe to a grocers list of ware’s.
On this occasion, I walked as far as Tate Modern, halfway across the Millennium Bridge and back again to Waterloo. It’s very photogenic, the people are fascinating to watch, the weather was kind and, tempting though it was to over-indulge, I only stopped twice for coffee.
The man who makes these sand sculptures is obviously very talented. And every time I see him, he seems to have acquired more and more buckets. We take photos, throw our donations down from the embankment, and every so often, he goes round and collects the coins that have missed the buckets.
Another chap with too much time on his hands (says the chap spending far too long writing this stuff) was outside Tate Modern blowing bubbles. Or waving a magic bubble wand with dozens of holes to produce bubbles on an industrial scale. Everyone loves bubbles. I didn’t throw coins into his bucket, I didn’t want to affect the solution’s surface tension and thereby, the integrity of the soap bubbles. Also, sand sculpture man had gathered up my last few pennies and buttons.
I spent a happy few hours in the gallery, looking at the exhibits and then writing in a nice, quiet corner with a power point that, unfortunately, proved not to be connected to the electric supply.
The last time I saw Fons Americanus, it was still a work in progress and covered by a big, big dust cloth. Today, I walked around it a couple of times: it’s well worth paying a visit as there are so many small, sometimes funny, details. Here is the artist’s own description.
I accepted the invitation to Explore Materials and Objects. The first item was a carpet mounted on the wall, on which people had drawn pictures and written text, some funny and some very informative, such as this dodgy-looking URL:
And yes, when you first see Jauba out of the corner of your eye, you think it’s a person standing there. Then you realise it’s a collection of textiles carefully formed into a solid object.
I passed some time in the Drawing Bar where I did find working power points, so I was able to charge up my phone. There were some funny pictures but the strangest was probably this dodgy-looking URL:
You can see this one in all its glory on Flickr: scroll backwards and forwards too so that you can see that a wide range of talent carefully avoided the place today.
While I was the gallery, darkness fell and this was the cue for William Blake, or at least, one of his final paintings, to be projected onto the dome of St Paul’s. This was best viewed from the Millennium Bridge and it was encouraging to see so many people standing around, admiring the image.
Walking back to Waterloo, I was reminded how lucky we are that the so-called Garden Bridge was never built. We would have lost all these beautiful trees.
I made my way to Dorking and walked along the High Street to the Chinese Restaurant where Liesel and friends were still fully engaged in conversation. So much hot air inside and condensation on the windows, but it was good to see Holly, Sandra, Imogen and Di, albeit briefly.
On our second morning, Liesel and I did have breakfast at the b&b in Ashtead before we returned to London for another day of capital fun and frolics.
Covent Garden is full of Christmas cheer but the Tiffany’s display was a bit OTT, we felt!
We split up in order to cover more ground more quickly but I soon found myself escaping from the crowds in order to listen to a tenor singing Nessun Dorma followed by a wonderful group playing Pachelbel’s Canon.
It was cold and clear today, ideal for a lot of walking. Covent Garden to Seven Dials to Chinatown to Regent Street to Old Bond Street.
There were many people shopping in what might well be the shopping capital of the world. You get charged 20p for a plastic bag in supermarkets but it seems that if you can afford to shop in posh, expensive shops in the West End, you can collect as many plastic bags as you like, bigger, thicker and much more substantial that the 20p ones from Sainsbury’s. We looked in some windows at all the stuff we don’t need.
In Piccadilly, we caught a bus for a couple of stops. You can have too much of a good thing, looking but not buying! We easily found our venue, The Harold Pinter Theatre in Panton Street. Before we entered, though, we ate Thai food just over the road.
Sir Ian McKellen is celebrating his 80th birthday by performing his one-man show at 80 venues around the country and now, at this theatre 80 times. We were very lucky to get tickets, but even from the Royal Circle, we had a good view of the stage.
Gandalf, Widow Twankey, all his top roles were reprised, including several Shakespeare characters. In fact, all 37 plays were mentioned, some quoted extensively. The show runs until January 5th, 2020 and we would both highly recommend this nearly three hours of pure entertainment.
We walked back through Trafalgar Square, very disappointed to see that the annual gift of a Christmas tree from Norway hasn’t yet arrived. But how exciting to see so many pop-up food stalls outside the National Gallery: I bet the pavement artists and the gravity-defying Yodas love that!
The third morning in Ashtead found me adding Maltesers to my bowl of cereal. Just another, healthy, one of my five-a-day.
Today, we headed in a south-westerly direction: to Salisbury. The trip included several miles of the worst road surface in the universe, the M25 between Leatherhead and the M3. Loud and bumpy and loud. If our car had square wheels, it wouldn’t have been any louder. Why everyone doesn’t stop to check that their car tyres haven’t been ripped to shreds is a mystery.
Approaching Salisbury, we nearly drove into a very low-flying Chinook helicopter. There are military bases nearby, but I didn’t realise they operated so close to the city.
Another mystery is how our friend Sarah approached us from behind at the railway station while we were still waiting for her train to arrive!
Never smile at a crocodile, so they say, but we had to smile at this one in Salisbury. Young children walking along, two by two, holding hands, in their hi-visibility vests, escorted by teachers in plain clothes. We smiled because earlier, we’d seen another school party where it wasn’t the children but the teachers in hi-vis safety gear. We wandered around the city, had a coffee and lunch at Boston Tea Party, and caught up on all the goss.
It must be at least fifty years ago but at the Guildford or Surrey Agricultural Show in Stoke Park, when a certain politician stepped back and stomped on my foot. Yes, I was physically assaulted by a future Prime Minister, Sir Edward Heath. I was reminded of this incident today when, close to Salisbury Cathedral, we came across a blue plaque in his honour.
In this shot, I was trying to get the ‘red star’ and the crescent Moon closer together, but the city conspired against me: I couldn’t walk far enough back, there were too many buildings in the way. I can sense Liesel’s eyes roll as I write that: she crossed the road and waited for me not understanding that even a failed artist must do what he can.
The drive back to Ashtead was uneventful and we drifted off to sleep imagining what manner of breakfast would greet us in the morning!
Two nights in a b&b not a stone’s throw away from the A3 was no problem. We’re still not sure whether we’re in New Malden or Tolworth or some no-man’s land in between. A perfect night’s sleep was only disturbed by encroachments onto the wrong side of the bed and the occasional walk to the facilities.
Liesel spent the day in Chessington and Surbiton with Dawn, then Helen, then Rosie. Beauty treatments (not that she needs any), coffee (always welcome), shopping (not sure that was necessary) And I wasn’t there to observe, participate nor spoil her enjoyment. Liesel got rid of me at Surbiton Station from where I took the train and spent the day in London, doing my own thing.
I walked from Vauxhall Station to Tate Britain to view the Mark Leckey exhibit. On the way, I resisted the urge to go and help the mudlark on on the beach by Vauxhall Bridge.
I think he had a metal detector and he was closely examining something of interest.
At Tate Britain, I was delighted to spend time looking at the works of William Blake. His art and poetry have influenced generations, and whenever I’ve come across it, I’ve enjoyed his etchings, paintings and poetry.
There were far too many items on show here to take in, in one visit. But all his most famous works are here, and the captions explaining his work were just the right length. I was surprised and pleased that so many other people were here too, even if they did sometimes block the view: he’s a popular chap.
Unusually for an artist of his time, at least he made a good living. And I think overall, he was a good, well-intentioned man.
While at the Royal Society last night, I looked out for a portrait or a statue of Sir Isaac Newton, but if there is one, it’s probably behind the scenes, away from the public gaze. However, here at the Tate, I did find William Blake’s painting of Newton doing trigonometry, as we all do, in the nude.
His book, Jerusalem, was on display, a long sequence of finely detailed pictures with very small, very hard-to-read, text.
I then found my way to Mark Leckey: O’ Magic Power of Bleakness. There were fewer people here, in a dark room, which was a lifesize replica of one section of a bridge under the M53, where he played as a child. I stood and sat in various places, near the wall, in the middle, on a seat. But the fast moving, old video footage, cut together in, to me, a random manner, just didn’t tell a story. I threw away all my old VHS tapes when they became unplayable. Maybe I should have spent time turning them into some incomprehensible form of art, too.
I walked along Millbank towards Parliament Square, and as I got nearer to the Houses of Parliament, I noticed the increasing number of police officers. Some in pairs, some in larger groups, some standing outside buildings of interest, some looking like they’d rather be anywhere other than standing around in their hi-vis glory.
As usual, there are building works and there’s a long section where the now covered walkway has hemispherical mirrors installed on the ceiling. A perfect photo opp, I reckon.
College Green was full of tents and radio stations and TV cameras, plus a few police officers. Parliament Square was roped off, ‘to avoid damage’ to the grass. A very large police presence, but the only trouble-maker I saw was standing all alone, opposite the Houses of Parliament. He gave me a thumbs-up for taking his picture but I’ll save him from embarrassment here.
Whitehall itself is closed to traffic, probably because the XR crowd is occupying the road by Downing Street. There was some chanting, maybe only half-hearted because, as I wandered by, they were having their lunches.
Overhead, a helicopter provided the throbbing, monontonous soundtrack to my walk. I wonder how much CO₂ has been generated by police cars and vans and helicopters because of the perceived threat from Extinction Rebellion rebels?
There were more police in Trafalgar Square again but I didn’t see any in Leicester Square. So I started a riot in Leicester Square. No I didn’t.
I spent some time in the National Portrait Gallery, but again, I was unable to find the national portrait of myself. That would have been a much better selfie of the day. The blue cheese and salad ciabatta was nice but blimey O’Reilly, the onions were strong.
Over the road, I crept into the crypt of St Martin’s for a coffee. I was going to write there (I brought the keyboard) but in the end, I decided I would prefer to be out in the sunshine.
Liesel had sent a message that it was raining in Surbiton. My gloating was shortlived, though. By the time I emerged from the so-called ‘dead centre of London’, carefully avoiding the Christmas Shop, it was raining here, too. I walked through the subway to Charing Cross Station and, as I’d hoped, by the time I reached the Golden Jubilee Bridge, the rain had stopped and the Sun was out.
I did do some writing in the Royal Festival Hall while waiting for my evening entertainment. A few other gorgeous young people were here: typing, reading, working, making their coffees last as long as possible. I glared at the so-called assistant who tried to remove my cup while it was still half-full. Writing and watching people in London is a great way to pass the time.
Lemn Sissay is a wonderful poet and he was at Queen Elizabeth Hall to talk about his new autobiographical book, My Name is Why. It’s the story of his being brought up by foster parents. How does a government steal a child and then imprison him? How does it keep it a secret? He spoke about his experiences and was interviewed by Samira Ahmed. A fascinating story, a scary one.
As Chancellor of the University of Manchester, he is, in a way, my daughter Jenny’s boss. So I was very polite when I met him and bought his book afterwards.
So, in the space of a week, I’ve shared space with a Poet Laureate, a Nobel Prize winner and a University Chancellor. I have undoubtedly inhaled some of their exhalations, so I hope I’ve absorbed some of their talent. So far, all I have is a bit of a sore throat.
You can never have enough of London, so the next day, I joined 999,999 other people in one of the largest marches ever, demanding a People’s Vote on whether we should leave the EU with the latest deal or to remain in the EU, after all. It was a good-natured protest and, in contrast with the last couple of days, I saw very few police officers on the route. As usual on these occasions, there were some very funny and some very clever placards and banners.
It’s called a march, but mostly is was a slow, slow dawdle, an amble, a shuffle, and every so often, I stopped or put on a faster-paced spurt. My lower back was very grateful. I wondered what would happen in Whitehall when we People’s Vote shufflers encountered the Extinction Rebellion protestors, but they must have been scared away.
The grass on Parliament Square will need some TLC now: the Keep Off signs were ignored today. On the screens, I watched Patrick Stewart and Sadiq Kahn give their speeches.
I missed all the other politicians’ speeches as I tried to get away. Westminster Bridge was inaccessible, so I had to fight against the tide all the way back along Whitehall. I took advantage of those people with battering rams: buggies, wheelchairs and bicycles. That was the most uncomfortably claustrophobic I’ve ever felt for such a long period.
Even the Golden Jubilee Bridge was packed today. I was glad to get back to Waterloo Station where, in the comfort of Carluccio’s, I met a most wonderful woman. Liesel had been along the South Bank to Tate Modern: she doesn’t like the slow pace of a protest march either, really.
But what a fabulous couple of days in London: it’s great being able to be this spontaneous.
The only disappointment is that, on the march, I didn’t meet the lady who’d accosted us in Didsbury last week. I did meet someone I haven’t spoken to for 20 years, though, almost to the day. Mark Ellen, writer, broadcaster, magazine editor and I last met at a meeting to discuss Saving GLR, the then threatened BBC radio station for London, and still, probably my favourite radio station of all time. He remembered the occasion, probably not me, and I was so taken aback so see and speak with him, I didn’t take a picture until he had walked away. And that photo is never going to see the light of day because it is so bad. You’ll just have to imagine Mick and Mark, bffs.
We have plans for later in the week, so we swapped our Grandchildren Day with Nana’s and Papa’s, the other grandparents.
After breakfast, we took William to Chester Zoo again.
He always likes seeing the elephants and rhinos and giraffes but today, he particularly enjoyed the puddles. Walking through, running through, jumping in, gazing at and studying astutely.
Autumn colours are beginning to appear, brightening up what might otherwise be a dull, grey season: fifty shades of grey clouds.
We let William dictate the pace and the direction, most of the time. One distraction from the puddles was a well-placed rock which he is just a wee bit too small to climb, on this visit. But he tried. He also had a go at the equipment aimed at 4-year olds. We lift him on, he realises he can’t quite reach or manage, he asks for help and we lift him off again. It’s the only weight-lifting we do each week, no point in going to the gym, really.
I collected Martha from Nursery, making sure not to forget her bag like we did last time, d’oh! She told us about her day, in a very limited way. She didn’t say what it was, but I have a hunch she did have lunch as well as a mid-afternoon snack.
Manchester rain washed our windows overnight and in the morning, wished us well on our long drive south. It was the day of Nigel’s funeral and we left early. Don’t mind being late for my own funeral, but it’s just rude to be late for someone else’s.
We made good progress until, of course, traffic came to a halt on the M25 near Cobham. Literally, stopped: a complete standstill. All four lanes. Or was it five at that point? But we never found out why. Twenty minutes later, just as suddenly, we all started moving again. Weird.
To celebrate, we found a gang of eastern Europeans in Leatherhead, who hand-washed our filthy car, for a reasonable fee. They did a good job: so much so, that we no longer recognise our own vehicle in the car park.
We arrived at Randall’s Crematorium a bit early, as did many other people. We didn’t want want to crash the wrong person’s funeral, but, we didn’t see anyone we recognised loitering in the car park either. A lady came over eventually and asked if we were here for Nigel’s funeral. It turns out, she and Liesel have spoken on the phone in the past.
A quick service at the crematorium was followed by a longer memorial service at Christ Church, Epsom Common. We’ve driven, walked and cycled past this church many time over the years, but this was the first time we’d ventured inside.
And what a gorgeous church: the stained glass windows especially. The place was packed, a wonderful sight: Nigel was very much loved.
After the service here, we moved onto Leatherhead Golf Club: another place we’ve bypassed many times but never visited. We chatted with old friends Jan and Lucy and Peter for a while. Helen and her brother Stephen were being taken care of by the wider family
RIP Nigel, a wonderful generous, kind friend.
In the evening, Liesel and I dined at Riverside Vegetaria in Kingston. Ritchie, the owner was there and, as usual, asked after the girls, Jenny and Helen.
He told us that next month, the resaurant will be 30 years old. To celebrate, he’s offering a 30% discount on food. We hope to be back! Even if you’re not a veggie, you’ll find something here to whet your appetite! Highly recommended and award-winning restaurant. (We have not been paid for this advert.)
We’re staying at an Airbnb located between New Malden and Tolworth, on the A3. Well, on the sliproad right next to the A3. An awkward b&b to drive to, but it’s OK, we can hear the traffic of course, but it’s not as intrusive as we feared. The only thing I didn’t like inside was the unpleasant smell that Liesel assured me was beef being cooked to death. Well, whatever it was, either those fumes or something else today caused my brain to generate some weird and wonderful dreams overnight. If only I could remember the plotlines.
Despite the light, early morning drizzle, we drove to Richmond Park hoping for a walk. But the precipitation persisted so persistently, I didn’t even bother to take a picture of the animals having their breakfast: a photo that would have been captioned ‘Rain, deer’.
And so to Surbiton, specifically to the Press Room for a coffee, and very nice coffee it is, too. The car park at Surbiton Station was full. Not a single parking space free. We took our custom and our car to Wimbledon instead where we caught the District Line train to Embankment. A long ride, yes, but perfect for reading a book on my Kindle with the new battery that I installed last week and which is still holding a good charge.
We walked up Villiers Street and on to Trafalgar Square. We were taken aback by the number of police officers standing around for no obvious reason: certainly any Extinction Rebellion protestors had moved on, with just a few Buddhists sitting on the stone stairs, saying their prayers.
We walked through the National Gallery, delighted to find Messengers, a new artwork by Bridget Riley, painted directly on the walls of the Annenburg Court.
Several minutes’ study revealed no pattern to the dots, the messengers, the clouds, the angels. But it was a major achievement not to fall down the stairs while looking.
St James’s Park was also entertaining: squirrels running up visitors’ legs, young children feeding the ducks and gulls and being harrassed and harangued for more food, geese seeing how long they could hold their breath under water.
At least, on this occasion, we didn’t come across a heron with a duckling struggling in its throat. No need to see that again.
The pelicans were as content as usual, on their rocks, in the middle of the lake. I think they’re real, but we never see them eating or even fishing.
We passed by the Athenaeum Club in Pall Mall, a stunning building with its Doric portico, statue of the classical goddess of wisdom, Athena and the bas-relief frieze, a copy of the Parthenon’s in Athens.
We found our way to The Royal Society, our venue for the evening’s entertainment.
One of the first online courses I took after retirement was about Graphene and other 2-Dimensional Materials. It was fascinating but very technical. It’s 15 years since Graphene was discovered and tonight, ladies and gentlemen, we attended a lecture given by one of its Nobel-prize winning discoverers, Konstantin (Kostya) Novoselov. I was very interested and Liesel was happy to have a kip, if the opportunity arose. In the end, I attended to the talk avidly while Liesel chatted with her friends on Whatsapp!
Some of the slides were very detailed: far too much information to take on board in a few seconds. Interesting that as with most new materials, apparently, the first use is in sports equipment, tennis rackets, racing cars, bikes and boats for instance.
Schaffhausen Institute of Technology in Switzerland is the base for a lot of graphene based research. It’s close to the Rhein Falls, near the German border. One of its leaders, Serguei Beloussov (SB) also spoke tonight and he said the location of SIT was far more attractive than the University of Manchester, the home of our own National Graphene Institute, can’t think why!
After the lecture, we walked back to Embankment, caught the tube back to Wimbledon and drove back to our b&b. Tonight’s odour wasn’t as offensive as last night’s, and it didn’t seep into our room, thank goodness.
After a day babysitting, it’s advisable to have a good night’s sleep and maybe a lie-in. This is exactly why I booked an early train to London. The real reason was the relatively cheap fare, of course. The bus that took me to Gatley Station carries on to Stockport. I could have done that and joined the train there rather than riding all the way into Manchester Piccadilly. Oh well, we’re still new here and still learning the ropes.
It made sense to go straight to my Airbnb in Kingston to drop off my heavy bag. Not that heavy, but no need to lug it around more than necessary. It was a relatively cheap b&b too, so a relatively cheap weekend away altogether!
First on the list was to revisit the Press Room Café in Surbiton which was closed last time. Delighted to see it’s now reopened, and equally good to see the staff haven’t all been replaced or refurbished too drastically. The coffee was very welcome but, again, I chickened out of ringing the bell, by the door, on the way out to tell them so.
After sitting on buses and trains most of the day, it was liberating to go for a walk, now. So, I set my controls for the River Thames.
As I joined the riverside path into Kingston, I was accosted by a very nice lady. She’d walked from Kingston and was disappointed that the path deviated from the river at this point. She was hoping to get to Hampton Court. I explained that she was on the wrong side of the river. We walked into Kingston together, swapping stories about our families. Hers involves India and Birmingham and the recent sudden death of her husband. Her name’s G’day but I’m pretty sure it’s not spelled that way.
Within a swan’s wingspan of Kingston Bridge, we shook hands and bade farewell, she turned round to walk back towards Surbiton.
I visited John Lewis where, as I passed through the TV department, two partners asked if they could help. I didn’t say that I was only there to use the facilities. Which, in the end were closed, so I had to visit the Bentall Centre too.
I was taking this picture of the butterflies when an (even more than me) elderly gent said I should have been here when all the umbrellas were up there. Oh, when was that? A few months ago, he said. I didn’t tell him I’d seen such displays of brollies in more exotic locations than Kingston’s Eden Centre, but that didn’t matter, as he’d already shuffled away.
As planned, I met Helen and Steve at the Allegro café in Surbiton. The owner wasn’t in tonight so we didn’t have to explain our recent, long absences. Pizzas all round and I had a Peroni for a change. It’s always good to catch up with old friends, and some of us are really old, now, with frequent reminders of our own mortality.
Back at the b&b, I met my host, Jenny, and her young daughter whose name wasn’t Ermintrude, nor Peppa, nor Jehosophat, nor Pickle, nor anything else I suggested.
In the morning, as invited, I helped myself to breakfast before catching the bus to Chessington.
While all this was going on, Liesel was buying shoes in Anchorage so I think I win that one. On the other hand, daughter Helen was at the Intercontinental Resort Hayman Island, in the Whitsundays, and I have to say, the photos are stunning, so either it really is a gorgeous location or they have the best Photoshoppers in town!
With perfect timing, I hopped off the bus in Chessington and bumped into Michael the postman, who hasn’t aged more than about 22 years since I last saw him 18 months ago (only kidding). I thanked him again for continuing to forward mail that is still sent to our old Chessington address, although it is now a mere trickle, a rare drib and drab.
Peter and Janet can no longer easily tend their own garden but their neighbours are very kind, helping to keep the weeds under control and the grass cut. Peter invited me to join them for lunch which was kind: they usually go out for lunch these days and while the meals may feel boring and repetitive, having a reason to leave the house has to be a good thing.
We dined at Las Iguanas which has a menu of meals from south America, both meaty and veggie. I had an Argentinian beer, Rothhammer Real Golden Ale which was very acceptable.
We walked towards the station and I left them shopping at Waitrose while I took the train into London. I changed at Clapham Junction, catching an Overground train to Shadwell, somewhere I’ve not been, I think, for 40 years.
The artwork was variously funny, thought-provoking and just a little intimidating, although this may be because I was the only visitor at the time. It was a pleasure to meet the organiser, curator, whatever, Kelly.
My best buddy(!) Salena Godden, who I met on a march last year, is here on video, reciting her poem, Red. It is worth watching, here.
The gallery is close to the Royal London Hospital, where Sarah trained and worked for over a year back in the late 1970s. I found her old residence, but the statue of Edith Cavell wasn’t to be seen: I wonder if I just misremembered? Maybe I was thinking of this royal personage
There is a blue plaque for Edith Cavell on Whitechapel High Street, but it’s currently hidden behind the hoarding surrounding the building works.
Whitechapel Market is just as busy and colourful as I remember: the fruit and veg displays are a work of art and the clothing is so much brighter than typical western offerings.
Looking west, the skyline has certainly changed over the years: you can see The Gherkin and many other new buildings. I thought about walking in that direction, but a bus came along and forced me to climb aboard.
Sight-seeing from a London bus is one of my favourite things: I just have to remember to get off somewhere useful. This time, I ended up near Tottenham Court Road, from where I walked to Waterloo.
Me and my aching feet went straight to bed and I read about half a page of my book before drifting off.
After breakfast, I started walking towards Chessington. The plan was to catch the first bus that came by. Even though there were people waiting at most of the bus stops, I didn’t see a bus. I just kept walking to the next stop. In the end, I was off the bus route.
I didn’t see a single bus until I reached Hook Library and there was no point in catching that one, it was going in the wrong direction. So I continued south, towards the World of Adventures. Not only did I get my 10,000 steps in by 11am, I was bang on time at my destination!
Stella and Ian shared their coffee and battenburg cake, and it was good to catch up on their news too. I mean, they shared with me, not just each other, that would be weird. Their family day out at Chessington World of Adventures the previous day reminded me that, yes, one day, I suppose we’ll have to take Martha and William there!
The train journey into Waterloo was uneventful, other than having to change trains at Wimbledon. Still, on the bright side, it wasn’t a replacement bus service, I suppose.
It was the final day of the Kiss my Genders show at the Hayward Gallery on the South Bank.
For me, the main problem with all this gender fluidity mallarkey is using the correct pronoun, he, she or they. I don’t want to upset or annoy someone by getting it wrong. The people I spoke to here, albeit briefly: I think I got away with ‘you’!
I didn’t recognise many of the names, but Marc Almond is one of my favourite singers.
Del LaGrace Volcano seems like a fascinating character: they “have possessed and been possessed by a multitude of names, bodies and identities”. And the rest of us just plod on unchanging, never mutating nor migrating.
There was probably more to the film Looners, by Jankyn van Zyl, than I realised. In other words: I didn’t get it.
But I found The Memorial Dress quite moving. The names of 25,000 known victims of AIDs-related illnesses have been printed onto a black ballgown. It slowly rotates as you watch.
Outside, I strolled along the South Bank for a while, while my over-stimulated mind calmed down. The tide was out and so were the mudlarks. Some are very scrupulous, minutely inspecting every item that isn’t obviously just a plain old rock or stone.
Obviously, I have no idea what treasures these people found today, but there’s a small display of photos showing the types of artefacts found over the years, things lost in or deliberately thrown into the Thames over many centuries.
I’m so pleased Liesel made us dispose of the human thigh bone we found on the Thames foreshore a few years ago.
It’s strange being in a stranger’s house while they’re there, even as a paying guest. Before getting up and potentially getting in their way, I waited until Mum had fought her daughter to get ready for school and then leave. Other people’s cereal choices are always interesting. Small, bitesize Shredded Wheat with raisins glued in plus a few Cheerios, today. Not the ideal start to the day if I were about to embark on a long bike ride, so it’s a good job I wasn’t.
I rearranged the magnetic letters on the fridge into a small message of gratitude before making my way to London, to the Tate Modern.
Very light drizzle accompanied me as I walked along the South Bank. The Royal Festival Hall is closed for a few days so I had to miss out on my usual natural break there.
Today’s show which I’d pre-booked was at Tate Modern. Olafur Eliasson In Real Life. This exhibition runs until January and is highly recommended. It’s fun, funny, clever and the perfect depiction of an imaginative soul with too much time on his hands!
Conveniently, I was able to leave my big bag in the cloakroom all day for a mere £4 donation. There’s a tip for anyone travelling to or through London.
This exhibition is well laid out, the map actually makes sense, which isn’t always the case.
The Blind Passenger is a 39-metre long tunnel filled with fog. You can’t see more than a few feet in any direction. And while it’s easy to shrug off the warnings about possible claustrophobia, when you’re in the fog and all you can see is yellow, all you can smell is something slightly sweet and all you can hear are the squeaky doors and the other visitors trying to be quiet, it is a little bit spooky. Then you blink and you’re surprised by how thick, solid, heavy and purple your eyelids are. Maybe that’s just me.
The Moss Wall is made from Reindeer Moss. You’re not supposed to touch it but I think most people look around to make sure nobody’s watching before reaching out and having a quick, soft touch.
The Big Bang Fountain is a water fountain in complete darkness but every few seconds, a flash of white light illuminates the water. Every flash is a momentary, white Rorschach test. A map of the lower 48 states. A jellyfish. A brassiere. A bull with big horns. A bald man.
Your Uncertain Shadow is responsible for one of the images used in publicity for this show.
If you haven’t been yet, go to this exhibition. Every item is interesting in one way or another.
I walked outside for a while, braving the slight drizzle.
The Ship of Tolerance will be here until early October. Each picture is drawn or painted by a local school-child.
One item on my bucket list relies on my (infinitesimal) musical ability. One day, I want to glue two old woks together, bash them about a bit with a hammer then take this contraption busking. Well, someone’s beaten me to it. He was sitting and playing outside the Tate and, to be fair, he was making a rather nicer, more melodic sound than I would have.
Liesel and I have seen The Merry Wives of Windsor in the past, at Stratford upon Avon, and Dame Judi Dench was the big name on that occasion. This play is being performed this evening, nearby, but I would be on my train home by then. So, to compensate, I joined a rather large tour group in the Globe Theatre, just along the river from Tate Modern. The guide was Italian, of course, but it was a fascinating tour. It included sitting in two different parts of the auditorium to watch the rehearsal for tonight’s performance. Out of context, it wasn’t obvious whether the fits of giggles were part of the script or the actors just making each other laugh.
After watching a play, you’d want to acquire some props in the shop and reenact some of the more exciting scenes. But sadly, you’re not allowed to.
Back in the Tate, I spent some time in the drawing room. It’s actually the Bloomberg Connects Drawing Bar and you can have a go at drawing pictures on the screens which then get displayed and posted to Flickr. My drawing skills are on a par with my musical ability, but I enjoyed creating a special message for my beloved all those miles away.
There are thousands of other such drawings, so start here and look around.
You can see my more overtly political offering here!
Blackfriars is a lovely, modern station, straddling the river. I caught the Thameslink train to St Pancras from where it’s a short walk to the British Library. There, I tapped away at the keyboard with all the other young and studious people.
And from there, a short hop, skip and jump to the ever-congested Euston where I began the long ride home: two trains and a late, late bus. In the bookshop, the sight of this outfit brought me up short. I know it’s from a novel, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and it’s publicising the sequel, The Testaments, but, whoa, that was unexpected.
Two trains and a bus, he said. Huh. The first train was over ten minutes late which was enough to mean missing the second train. So, a quick taxi ride it was instead, to round off a wonderful weekend.
These few days in London and Kingston, between two Grandchildren Days, was a good opportunity to catch up with old friends, visit some old haunts and explore some new ones. Taking such a late train home the night before an early rise is something not to be repeated too often, however!
Well, it really was, and while the rest of Charles Dickens’s introduction to A Tale of Two Cities is without doubt, beautifully written, it doesn’t apply to our gap year experiences. Long may this feeling of travelling, exploring and enjoying life, continue. Even though we are back home, back to normal and back to a certain amount of responsibility, we are looking at everyday things with a refreshed set of expectations. Great Expectations, you might say, if you wanted to acknowledge to enjoyment and entertainment provided not only by Charles Dickens, but by Tasmin Archer, many years later.
Living in Northenden is indeed slowly becoming the norm. The holiday feeling still persists, even if we do miss the temples, castles, crocodiles, wombats, kiwis, lizards, bullet trains, mangoes and sumo wrestlers.
Helen arrived from Australia, failing in her duty to bring some decent weather. It was quite cold and damp when we returned, and sadly for Helen, the weather hadn’t improved much since then.
Helen and Jenny needed some peace and quiet so they could enjoy their massages. We looked after Martha and William, always a joy but always exhausting. The advantage of being grandparents is, we can hand the children back later in the day, apologise for feeding them too much sugar, and leave the parents to fix the damage caused.
We visited the Northern Den café where Martha asked for “A babyccino with marshmallows, chocolate sprinkles and a Flake bar on the side”. Well, no chocolate sprinkles here, nor a Flake: this child is more familiar with Costa’s offerings. And then, while looking for Flakes in the nearby Tesco, Martha spotted the Kinder eggs so that’s what we bought instead. Martha walked home with hers in her right hand and William’s in her left. She enjoyed her molten chocolate, William slept through the whole episode.
Later on, we all had pies at Jenny’s, yep, more pies. Who ate all the pies? Well, I’m trying!
We’re still moving in and before we unpack the last few dozen boxes, we need storage space. That means shelving. A sales rep came round from one of the big bespoke furniture manufacturers, measured up roughly and gave a rough estimate of more than twice our anticipated budget. Instantly, we translated the amount into so many flights to exotic, interesting places. We’ll get shelving installed, but from somewhere more reasonably priced.
Another visitor was the lady who will make Roman blinds for both our living room windows. She was very pleasant and friendly and made us realise how brusque the shelf person had been.
Helen and Jenny took William and Martha out. Both children are very curious about the world. Martha demonstrates this level of interest by asking questions. William’s method is to take things apart. Sometimes, those thngs can be put back together again, but not always. RIP one of our Red Nose Day Comic Relief Red Noses, rent asunder.
Liesel and I went into Manchester to collect our valuables from the Safe Deposit box. This included some cutlery which we needed, as we didn’t otherwise have enough for everyone to eat with, at the same time. Yes, we were invaded by the children, their parents and their Aunt Helen from down under.
Hooray, I did some DIY. As ever, all jobs took three times longer than they needed to, but I got there in the end. We can now hang mugs up in the kitchen. We have a much better storage unit in the bathroom. And the light fitting in the bathroom looks much better. Such a shame, then, that the light bulb we had won’t physically fit inside the globe. Add ‘slightly smaller bulb’ to the shopping list.
The weather was slowly improving and it was a pleasant walk back home from Didsbury one morning, along the Mersey.
There were spots and even larger patches of blue sky by now. I donned my hat at times to protect the top of my head from actual beams of sunshine.
I walked past some bindweed happy that my 30+ year war against the stuff in my Chessington garden was now over. And yes, I lost.
I’m very happy for other people to continue the bindweed wars if they wish, but I’m more convinced than ever that it will one day take over the whole planet.
Myra came up for the weekend, that’s Sarah’s mother, Martha and William’s Great-Granny. We planned to collect her from Stockport station but due to ‘an incident’, trains weren’t stopping there. So we went to pick her up from Manchester Piccadilly. This was no problem but Myra’s ticket was for Stockport so the electronic barriers at Piccadilly wouldn’t let her through. Nor anyone else with the same ticket. Why they didn’t just open the barriers and let everyone through, I don’t know, they just carefully opened the barrier for each passenger, one at a time, very slowly.
Back at Jenny’s, the shouts of ‘Great-Granny’ echoed around the house: we think they both just like saying the words!
In the garden, Martha did several roly-polies, insisting ‘They’re not head-over-heels, Grandad’. I had a go myself, just the once, but, er, I didn’t want to belittle Martha’s achievement: no problem with the disorientation I felt at all, oh no.
In the evening, we went to the Istanbul restaurant for dinner. The food was great, the service was good, the waiters seem to like young children, and we confirmed that William is a fast learner.
William drank the last of his ice cream from the bowl, following the example just set by his Grandad (me), to all the other grown-ups’ consternation and dismay. I’m just glad I didn’t lick the bowl, which was my first inclination.
We took Myra to her hotel for the night and collected her in the morning. But she was locked in her room. Once released, it transpired that she had just not pulled the heavy door quite hard enough. Hanging out of the window to get someone’s attention was the best she could do, as there was no phone with which to call Reception.
We watched Martha and William swim really well, before driving over to Dunham Massey, a National Trust property not too far away.
It was good to see that Myra and I weren’t the oldest objects here: the oak tree is over 500 years old.
It was a gorgeous day for a walk around the gardens. Martha and William sniffed the flowers, admired the bees, ran around, and scootered around while the rest of walked at our various, individual speeds.
We found a nice little bridge over a stream, ideal for playing Pooh Sticks, so Martha gathered up a few sticks and twigs. Fortunately, the disappointment wasn’t too bad as all the sticks just got stuck in the sludge where the stream used to be. William had no idea what was going on, he just wanted to jump in, I think.
The flowers were very pretty and as usual, I took too many photos of the bright colours. Despite the labels, I can’t remember the proper scientific, or even the common English, names for these yellow and purple blooms.
Some flowers have so many different names. though, in various parts of the country, so I could probably make something up and nobody would know.
When we dropped Myra off at Stockport station the following day, we were surprised and delighted to encounter some frogs.
This is all to celebrate Stockport’s Giant Leap into the future. Maybe we’ll find more frogs in the city centre on another occasion.
Meanwhile Helen flew off to Edinburgh on a purple aeroplane. Her flight back was on a disappointingly plain white plane. She is the last to have been nearly blown over by the strong wind up on Arthur’s Seat: Sarah and I in the early 1980s, Jenny while she was pregnant. Liesel is looking forward to the experience.
Liesel and I had a very pleasant trip to Ikea. She pointed out that the first route she learned to drive when she moved to the UK was to a branch of Ikea. History repeats itself. The first route she knows here in the north is the way to Ikea.
Helen was kind enough to cut our hair, as well as Jenny’s, Martha’s and William’s. Liesel and I stayed for lunch before going into Manchester. The International Festival began with a Yoko Ono installation.
In Cathedral Gardens, thousands of people rang Bells for Peace, as requested by Yoko via video. Some of the ceramic bells had been hand-made at workshops during the last few months. Yoko asked us to talk to each other, to talk to the trees and to name the clouds. Well, we were underneath one great big, grey cloud, 100%, so that raised a small laugh.
From Manchester to London, then. This has been the longest period I can remember without visiting our wonderful capital city, since I first moved there as a student nearly half a century ago.
The drive was much more pleasant than anticipated. The roadworks on the M6 have finished. Oh, hang on, no. They’ve just moved further along. We did miss the long purple sausage that used to live on the central reservation during the construction of the so-called ‘smart motorway’.
The first port of call was to visit my periodontist Emily in West Byfleet. Teeth cleaned and polished, I joined Liesel with Helen and Steve in the garden of the nearby Plough pub. (This is our friend Helen of course, not daughter Helen, she’s still up north with Jenny.) I couldn’t eat or drink with a numb and tender mouth but that didn’t prevent me from salivating.
We went to Claremont Gardens, probably the closest National Trust property. It was a good place to let my mouth thaw out and to walk around dodging the goose guano. I told one of the geese that I hoped I would be able to eat soon. He said he’d keep his feet crossed for me.
A black swan swam over and said “G’day, mate” and for a moment, I was back in Australia.
Steve and I walked around the lake while the ladies, well, Liesel and Helen, sat on a bench for a chinwag, a natter. A great opportunity to take pictures as if I were visiting a strange place for the first time.
I think we were both waiting for someone to fall out of a boat, especially one of the more obviously unbalanced ones, but we were disappointed.
The lake is home to mallards and coots as well as the swans and geese. But even where the water was clear, we didn’t spot any fish. Helen’s Dad, Nigel, who lives in Ewell, had very kindly offered to accommodate me and Liesel for a week so we rubbed our hands while planning how best to pester him.
A long anticipated visit to an exhibition in London dragged us out of bed quite early. Something we really didn’t need to see as soon as we left Waterloo Station was a seagull tucking into a struggling pigeon. We had been in London with Helen and Steve the day we witnessed a heron swallow a baby duck too. Coincidence?
The British Museum was hosting the Edvard Munch exhibition, Love and Angst. As an artist, obviously he was a tortured soul, that’s a given, but he produced much more than The Scream. I for one was hoping for more examples of that work, but there were just two versions here, buried in the middle of the display, potentially easy to miss.
He liked red skies, but ladies’ long, red hair, he found threatening. Probably the saddest painting was The Sick Child.
His 15-year old sister, Sophie, died from TB, and his Aunt Karen is mourning. Karen had looked after Edvard and his family following the earlier passing of his mother.
We caught a bus to the British Library to see some imaginary maps, based on real maps of old London, old New York and other old maps of old cities. I also found a new book to add to my Kindle list.
Every time I see what he achieved, studied, deduced, created, invented, I become more convinced that he must be a time-traveller from the future. He wrote backwards, from right to left, an unintended side-effect of his journey back through several centuries, I suspect. His scientific mind was way ahead of its time.
His study of water flow and rivers, on its own, is a solid body of work, even now. Not that water is solid, but you know what I mean.
For the first time, I wore some VR, Virtual Reality, goggles. I didn’t think this technology and my eyesight would be compatible, but this gentle introduction worked well. I was ‘walking’ through an imaginary city with hundreds of skyscrapers, blue sky and the Moon. I held on to the cable so I was tethered to real life, just in case I walked too far and collided with a real wall.
Surbiton beckoned. I had an appointment with my optician. While there, of course I had to visit my favourite coffee shop, The Press Room.
Well that wasn’t planned very well. It’s being refurbished and I had to postpone my coffee until later in the day. I met up with another old friend, Marie, in Orpington, for lunch. Oh, and for a coffee. I hope she visits us up in Manchester soon.
On the way back through London, I bit the bullet and did one of my least favourite things. I went shoe shopping. For sandals, to replace the old ones which have apparently acquired a slightly cheesey tang after walking around the tropics for several months.
From Wikipedia: [On the fourth plinth, there is a] recreation of a sculpture of a lamassu (a winged bull and protective deity) that stood at the entrance to Nergal Gate of Nineveh from 700 B.C. It was destroyed in 2015 by Isis, along with other artefacts in the Mosul Museum. [Michael] Rakowitz’s recreation is made of empty Iraqi date syrup cans, representing the destruction of the country’s date industry.
Yes, of course, I had to walk through Trafalgar Square. It, together with Waterloo Station, was London, to me, when I was very young. But I am so pleased I found the rest of the wonderful city later on in life.
And so to Chessington, our own ‘hood, the place I lived for 33 years. It hasn’t changed much, but, ooh, there is a KFC where my old favourite caff, Unique, used to be.
The massage from Dawn was very welcome and well-timed as I had cricked my back somehow a couple of days ago. Afterwards, it felt much better, thanks, Dawn!
Over the last few weeks, I’ve experienced more medical consultations than I’ve had hot dinners. Two hearing tests, bowel cancer test, blood pressure check, ECG, optician, periodontist, prescription renewals and a quick examination of ‘the warty thing’ growing on my leg. (Plus a haircut of course, thanks very much, Helen!) The main lesson that I learned from all this (apart from ‘don’t get old’) was: modern day scientific nomenclature isn’t as rigid, precise nor robust as it once was.
After Liesel and I had been respectively beautified and fixed by Dawn, the plan was to visit a showroomy place in Crystal Place to look at shelving suggestion. Liesel likes it, but I wasn’t so keen, just looking at pictures online. Unfortunately, the showroom was closed today. Instead we visited John Lewis in London’s Oxford Street. We found the same kind, String Shelving, spoke to a really helpful assistant, and yes, I am now a convert. It looks better in the flesh, with real things on the shelves, not so stark and industrial.
We also had a quick look at all the loudspeakers and other hi-fi components to replace the 30-year old system that we discarded when we moved house, since most bits didn’t work anyway. It’s quite exciting, buying new stuff for a new home! Who knew!
We had a Chinese takeaway at Helen’s house, while watching sport from Wimbledon and from the Tour de France. We drove past our old house and it seems to be occupied by a family of Japanese warriors. There are Samurai swordy things in the window.
With grim inevitability, we noticed that our erstwhile neighbours are still parking their cars in the shared drive. Not our problem any more.
We were pleased to catch up with Stella and Ian for coffee and cakey things, in their garden, in the sunshine, in Chessington. Their bathroom is being refitted and that’s a noisy process, but it will be great when it’s finished.
On the way home, I got out at Hook Parade shops to buy something. I visited Hook Café in the library. The owner’s doing very well. He recognised me, thought I’d won the lottery and emigrated!
We dragged Helen out of her house and took her to Hampton Court, where we admired the Rose Garden, the kitchen garden and had a late lunch. It’s an obvious thought, but I think for the first time since we returned, a month ago, I consciously registered just what a brilliant, beautiful, interesting, fascinating and historical place England is. I think living here, we just take it for granted much of the time.
By mistake I tried to enter the children’s playground without a ticket: it must be a new attraction. I did like the nearby guard dog though.
While Liesel and Helen went off to Tesco, I walked to Kingston along the Thames tow path.
It was a pleasant walk in the Sun, not many other people about, but as we’d seen at Hampton Court, there were plenty of bees and butterlies.
I saw an animal run across the path, too big to be a mouse, but I don’t think it was a rat, there was no tail to speak of. I communed with the blackbirds and robins too, but tried not to disturb the bicycle having a rest.
We’d all planned to meet up later on for an evening meal. Queen Anne watched as I sat in Kingston’s Market Place and wrote some words, enjoying the sunshine, watching people, not seeing anyone I knew from the olden days.
She doesn’t really look like Olivia Coleman who portrays her in The Favourite but here was another tenuous link back to New Zealand, where we saw the film with Pauline and Andrew.
At Riverside Vergetaria, there were six in our party, Helen, Steve and Nigel, Liesel, me and our Helen. Ritchie, the owner, seemed pleased to see us again after all this time.
I walked to Epsom while Liesel drove Nigel to hospital. The old market here is currently a building site and judging by the angle of the Sun, I was here at about a quarter to midday.
After a brief writing session in the library, I decided to visit the South Bank for a wander. Congratulations to the graduates from the London Business School who were gathered in and around the South Bank Centre, taking photos and looking gorgeous and justifiably proud.
It was great being back here, walking by the river, looking down on the beach, trying not to make eye contact with the street entertainers who were later, sadly, moved on by the police. I found an unoccupied bench, sat and wrote for a while. I think I’ve sold the idea of using a stand-alone keyboard connected to a phone by Bluetooth to a very nice young lady who asked.
The Turbine Room at Tate Modern has been home to many interesting installations over the years. It was empty today, though, unless the two small children running around were both, appropriately, named Art. Sixteen years ago, we lay down here and basked in fake sunshine and fog, an installation called The Weather Project, by Olafur Eliasson. There’s currently a retrospective show of his work here at Tate Modern. His latest idea is to bring in a million white Lego bricks with which we are invited to build future cities.
The seagull that ate the pigeon a few days ago was back. This time, he caught a pink fish from the Thames and proceeded to chow down here, on the beach.
This is why we love nature so much.
It’s good to see they’re still selling second-hand books underneath Waterloo Bridge by the BFI. The skateboarders and cyclists are still having fun in the Undercroft, below the Royal Festival Hall, a facility that was under threat a few years ago. The Spread Riverside is a Street Food Market, open five days a week, with every kind of street food you can imagine. I’ll definitely be back. I had a small pie today, natch.
We drove to Salisbury to meet up with Sarah, a friend who used to live close by but moved to Exeter some years ago. Salisbury is a good midway point to catch up.
We sat in the Cathedral refectory for over three hours, eating, drinking but mainly talking about our travels.
Salisbury is a busy little town, despite its recent reputation for attempted political assassinations.
In the grounds of the Cathedral, people were resting, playing, sunbathing and picnicking but there were also some works of art. They’re all interesting to look at but it was difficult to view them without something in the background to spoil the view. An old gothic building is OK, but boring old semi-detached houses not so much.
Maybe ‘art critic’ is not the career for me: that last sentence was written with far too much snobbishness!
We spent the night at The Talbot Inn Hotel in Ripley. A hotel named after Mick from The Style Council in a village named after the heroine from the Alien films: how cool is that?
We stayed on the top floor of this old coaching house, in a room complete with sloping floors, very low ceiling and beams. This is where Lord Nelson and Lady Emma Hamilton became ‘good friends’. In fact, our room was named Horatio.
No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. Yes, we were being watched and the Martians did soon invade the Earth. We humans won The War of the Worlds, of course, and one of the Martians has been displayed in Woking as a warning to others.
There’s also a statue of HG Wells, the author of the book as well as a pub named in his honour. Why Woking? We were here to have breakfast with Rosie but the short drive from Ripley was greatly extended by the difficulty in finding a parking place.
We broke our fast, I felt rotten eavesdropping on Rosie and Liesel talking shop, but so pleased to be well away from office politics.
The drive to Polesden Lacey was quiet, and followed some roads where I have often cycled in the past. We met up with our friends Sandra and Fred, their dog Clyde, Sandra’s Mum Carol who celebrated her birthday yesterday as well as Liesel and Sandra’s former colleagues Vicky and Diane.
One day, Liesel and I will go inside the house at Polesden Lacey, but again, we just went for a walk around the grounds. Last time I was here with Sandra, ten years ago, I did my back in and was off work for three weeks, a personal best for me. I also missed a Mott the Hoople reunion concert at Hammersmith Odeon where I’d seen them in 1973, supported by Queen.
The rose garden and the lavendar were very aromatic and my sneeze organs began working overtime. The gardeners here though do a really good job.
And so, after an ice cream with Helen and Steve back at Nigel’s house, Liesel and I set off for home, hoping to arrive before the Sun set.
Success! What a great drive: we didn’t stop at all, there were no traffic jams, no hold-ups, straight up the motorways, then straight up the stairs and then straight to bed.
Since we’ve been back in England after our adventures overseas, many, many people have told us how well we’re looking and how happy we seem. That is all undoubtedly true, though I for one find it hard to take compliments. I don’t know how to respond when someone says they’ve enjoyed following the blog: all I can manage is a weak, embrarrassed ‘thank you’.
But this morning as we watched Martha and William swimming, I was again reminded of my own inadequacies. Three-year old Martha has, voluntarily, swum further under water than I have in all of my 29 long years on the good Earth. Driving home from swimming, we were overtaken by this gorgeous pair. I think William was, by then, fast asleep in the back!
The rest of the day consisted of writing, washing, watching cricket and cycling on TV, and relaxing after a fun-packed week down south.
Cricket? Yes, we’re proud to say we witnessed the England Team win the ICC Cricket World Cup for the first time in a nail-biting finish against New Zealand, in a game during which a couple of very obscure rules were revealed. Marvellous! One of England’s top players is Joe Root. His One Day International number is 66. So the back of the pyjama top he plays in says ‘Root 66’. Wonderful!
Cycling? Yes, one week into the Tour de France and we’ve caught up. No Mark Cavendish nor Chris Froome this year, so I guess we’re rooting for Geraint Thomas again.