One of my favourite things is shoe shopping. No, hang on, I mean: one of my least favourite things is shoe shopping. But today, Liesel took me to REI and we bought me a new pair of hiking shoes. I tried on two pairs, both fitted ok and were comfortable, so I chose the ones that were 0.5 grammes lighter. And $30 more expensive, of course.
I’ll never forget the day, nearly 44 years ago, when I went out with Sarah, one of our first dates. We were with Sandra and Nick, on one of their early dates. The thing is: we walked the length of London’s Oxford Street, along one side, back along the other, visiting every one of the 19 shoe shops and shoe departments in department stores, Sarah and Sandra trying on shoes in most of them. And we returned to shop number 1, where a purchase was made. Despite this, Sarah and I married a few years later. By comparison, today’s shoe shopping expedition was a breeze.
No. I was tempted to show you a picture of my new shoes, but unless there’s a real clamour, that’s not going to happen!
Instead, here is a shop that we didn’t go into, even though I thought a hash brownie would go very well with a cup of coffee.
In the afternoon, we went to watch Asa play soccer, at the arena in Kincaid Park. It was raining, so we dressed appropriately and took umbrellas with us. Unfortunately, it was very windy too, so the umbrellas spent most of their time being inside out.
The pitch was astroturf and surrounded on three sides by bushes and who knows what beasts were taking shelter there. The game was football, but it mostly seemed to be the blue team kicking the ball into those bushes and the white team going on safari to find and retrieve it.
I went for a wander, with a view to taking some spectacular photos, get some steps in and oh, alright, I’ll admit it, to try and find somewhere more sheltered from the wind.
The really tragic news is that my Fitbit battery died and I lost three hours of data, which is probably about 50,000 steps, or 25 miles. I might be exaggerating.
In the evening, we went to Jyoti’s for dinner. It was a houseful. I’d met Suvan and Kayla before, of course, and Una. But this was the first time I’d seen Pam on this trip, and the first time I’d ever met Melanie, although I’ve heard a lot about her.
Sorry, there are no photos of the food which was all delicious, Pam’s cauliflower, Jytoi’s chole, Melanie’s kale, Liesel’s cucumber, Jyoti’s rice and koftes.
We watched la Vuelta on TV, despite the uninspiring commentary, before bed.
Living in a new place or maybe the air quality or the different impurities in the tap water has affected my dreams. I wake up with a feeling of, that was fun, that was strange or that was exhilarating or whatever but with no recollection of what it actually was.
Saturday morning though, I remembered enough for it to make some sort of sense. Hah: a dream that makes sense? That’ll be a first.
A boy was seeking attention by repeatedly knocking on our door. He was about 13 or 14 years of age. He claimed to be a cycling champion in his age group. But he wouldn’t give us his name. We met his Dad at the gym. He’s been discharged from the Army, he said. While chatting, he was plucking the odd hair from his chest, the waxing wasn’t 100% effective. He didn’t seem to be all that proud of or supportive of his son, which we thought was a bit of a shame.
At home, we looked up ‘cycling champions’ and we found a photo of the boy straightaway. He went by the professional name Mex Tex and that made sense, his shirt had had the word Mex embroidered on the chest.
The next time we met his Dad in the gym, we said we’d found his son on the internet but weren’t sure of his real name. He blanched. He said that he was trying to keep a low profile and that was why he’d changed his haircut and was attempting to alter his whole appearance.
He said that he’d tried to impress on his son the necessity to change his appearance too. But so far, all he’d done was to change his name to Mex Tex, a ridiculous name.
We asked why it was so importent to look different and he blanched again. He told us that he wasn’t discharged from the Army, he’d deserted, and if he was caught, he would be shot.
That’s when I woke up. I would love to see the movie.
The weather had changed. It was raining when we woke up and it was still raining after breakfast. Even after a nice, long chat with Roseanna, we didn’t really want to go out.
I’m not generally one to knock religion, but as I walked up the stairs, I very nearly knocked a picture of Jesus off the wall. Oops!
We stayed in our b&b until noon and set off for Covent Garden for a coffee at the London Transport Museum. The plan was to meet Helen and Steve and watch the end of the Prudential 100-mile bike ride and the professional race afterwards. But the weather was unreliable. Instead, we walked along the Strand and over the Millennium Bridge again (no Bob Marley today), to the Southbank Centre. It’s Chorus Weekend, and we enjoyed listening to some choirs in the Riverside Terrace Café.
In fact, I joined one. Yesterday, I’d turned down the opportunity to learn some Spanish dance steps outside the National Theatre. My two left feet would have stomped too many other people. Today, though, we members of the public were invited to form a choir, learn and perform a song. I can’t sing for toffee, but I reckoned I wouldn’t cause anyone any actual physical damage. And someone said, once, a long time ago, that we should all do something scary every day. Well, this was my scary thing today.
First we had to do some strange choreography, though. Moving feet, stamping, kicking out, waving arms in the air, not my thing at all. Fortunately, this did not form part of the eventual performance.
The lesson was led by a guy from The Choir With No Name. Another member, Brian, sang bits of old songs while we volunteers joined in. Lazy Sunday Afternoon was fun. ‘’ello, Mrs Jones, ‘ow’s your Bert’s lumbago?’ he sang. ‘Mustn’t grumble’ three of us responded in an old lady’s voice!
We learned the Emeli Sandé song ‘Wonderful’. It contains a variety of whoas, woahs, oohs and other woah-oohs. Three part harmony, and I was with the lowest of the three, bass baritones, tenors and me. Whoa, oh, Whoa, oh, we ain’t falling under. Whoa, oh, Whoa, oh, we are full of wonder.
The final performance was helped out by a professional singer doing the solo parts, thank goodness. The thought occurred though that I’m glad to be leaving the country tomorrow, before I’m arrested for offences against the musical arts. If you ever come across a bootleg tape of The Riverside Terrace Café Choir, you can choose to leave it where it is or acquire it and I’ll sign it for you!
We were joined by Helen and Steve for another farewell. We watched and sang along to the West End Musical Choir, still in the Riverside Terrace Café.
Afterwards, we went to Giraffe for our last supper in England for a while. The rain was still on and off and the farewells were again a bit emotional adding to the precipitation.
Monday morning arrived after a very fitful sleep, I got up 99 times to visit the loo, I think. Liesel, once she drifted off, slept quite solidly until it was time to get up. I set my own alarm this time, thanks, Martha, but in the end, I was up
well before it went off.
No time for breakfast at the b&b, we packed, repacked and left for a packed tube train to Heathrow. Butterflies were kicking in so thoughts of a really big, substantial breakfast dissipated and I just had a vegetarian sausage sandwich.
Red sauce, brown sause or no sauce at all? No, no and no: I had Tabasco. Liesel had eggs.
We have bulkhead seats on the plane, so we have plenty of legroom, but unfortunately for us, on this Boeing 787-9, the toilets are in the middle, not at the back. Right near us. As I type, we’ve just entered Canadian airspace. It’s dark on our righthand side but still bright out of the other side.
Going back to cycling again. Geraint Thomas did win the Tour de France, the first Welshman to do so, and a very popular winner too.
We’re off! After a couple of rather hectic and busy days in Northenden, we are now in London for the weekend. The journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step. And today, although not planned, we walked just short of 20,000 steps. I feel fine but Liesel’s piriformis is a PITA still.
We think we’ve done all the last minute jobs that need doing when you go away from home for a while, but I keep thinking of things. Did we turn off all the devices? Computer? TV? Internet? Yes, yes and yes. Windows all closed and locked? Yes. Gas turned off? We don’t have a gas supply so that shouldn’t be a problem, but it still crossed my mind.
When we go abroad for a break, whether short or long like this one, we ask each other, do you know where the plug adapters are? No. Of course not. They’re all together in a small basket somewhere. But we’ve moved house, and they could be anywhere in the spare room and its 99 boxes, crates and piles of stuff. Oh well, we’ll just have to buy a new one, or two.
In between overseas trips, we sometimes come across the collection of plug adapters and we wonder why we have so many. Funny, that.
Yes, we have our passports and our tooth brushes, thanks for asking. Anything else is a bonus. Each of our backpacks weighs 9.9 kg, 11 lb, which we hope will satisfy the airlines’ limits. Plus, we each have a ‘handbag’. And that’s it: we are travelling very light.
On Thursday, before serious packing ensued, we joined Jenny to watch Martha and William swimming. Both were great and very happy in the water. But trying to undress William when he’s all sweaty is not very easy. Babies aren’t supposed to have temperature control, but he was having a jolly good try! After her swim, all Martha was interested in was a snack. Fair enough. We had coffee and a snack and Martha had a babyccino with bonus, unexpected marshmallows on top. Not sure her Mum was too pleased about that!
After lunch at Jenny’s, we went home and sweltered in the sweltering heat, yearning for, craving for, almost begging for a thunderstorm.
Everything, packing, printing stuff, moving around, was hard work. No, not a lot got done.
On Friday, we drove to Jenny’s and handed over the car key plus keys to our flat. She has been volunteered to pay a visit every few weeks to check everything is hunky dory. Our car will blot the view from the children’s playroom for a while, but I think they’re too little to worry about that, for now.
Here’s today’s obligatory ‘Martha’s brilliant’ paragraph. There’s a map of the world on the wall of the playroom, carefully hand-painted by Liam. When asked where Grandad and Oma are going on holiday, she points to Alaska, says ‘America’. Where does Auntie Linda live? Also America, but she points towards New England. Auntie Helen? Australia and she knows where that is. Unfortunately, England is hidden by a decorative leaf but she knows that’s where we all live.
She noticed that the blue of Greenland (I know, weird) was the same colour as the blue key on her toy piano. ‘I will get down, show you which one blue is’, she said, a 10-word sentence. She expands on ideas too. Mummy was packing for a trip, and she asked Martha to ask Daddy for his PJs. ‘Can I have your PJs, Mummy wants to pack them’, she said.
William is good fun too. He’s just turned eight months, and is a wriggler. He now crawls at full speed, blink and you’ll miss him spotting the smallest scrap of paper on the floor, or making a beeline for the cables near the TV. His head is magnetically attracted to the coffee table, that’s where he chooses to do most of his rolling over and sitting up. He understands a lot, can make a lot of noise but despite my best effforts, I don’t think ‘Grandad’ will be his first proper word.
We had lunch again with them all before we left. We had no car, now, so we walked to the bus stop. But I hadn’t anticipated such an emotional parting. Suddenly, the enormity of going away and leaving this lovely family behind hit us. We’ll talk to them and even see them online of course, but not for a long time in real life.
We had a sorbet on the way home as it was still very hot out, and we caught the bus the rest of the way. Last minute jobs all ticked off. A rubbish night’s sleep with some happy but forgotten dreams preceded an early rise.
Last night was the fantastic sight of the longest duration lunar eclipse this century. Not for us in the UK though where the clouds won. I had a quick look out of the window and could see there was no point going outside for a clearer view.
Everything was turned off, unplugged, locked and bags zipped and strapped. We left. We bade farewell to our new home and set off on our adventures. What a strange feeling. It still feels like we’re on holiday living in a new place, never mind going away for an actual holiday.
We took the bus into Manchester, walked to Piccadilly Station, caught the train to London Euston. It rained en route but not for long. In London, a bus to Kings Cross and then the Piccadilly line to Northfields where we are staying in an Airbnb for a couple nights. I realised what a good idea this was: if we have forgotten something important, there’s a sporting chance of being able to go home and pick it up. Hope we don’t need to, though.
Roseanna, our host, is very nice and friendly and knows how to make her guests feel welcome.
After a rest, we got the tube back to Leicester Square: Roseanna advised us that a bus, while more pleasant, would take far too long to get there.
It was cooler now, with a nice breeze to ruffle our hair a bit: Liesel’s more than mine, of course, since she has much more. We visited some tat shops looking for a specific item of tat, ‘a souvenir of London’, so to speak. But I remember the song of that name by Procol Harum, and we don’t need that sort of souvenir!
We stopped for a coffee and a snack at what we thought was a Japanese place. Nope: it’s Turkish. An easy mistake to make. We can recommend Simit Sarayi.
We walked towards Piccadilly Circus then to Trafalgar Square. Today was the day of Ride London, when a lot of otherwise busy roads are closed to motorised vehicles so that cyclists can have a go. And what a pleasant sight that is: we were slightly envious when we saw lots of families riding by St Martin’s in the Field.
We wandered through Charing Cross station where they were playing Pink Floyd’s Shine On You Crazy Diamond, for some reason. Then over the Millennium Bridge. ‘Bob Marley’ was singing one of my favourite songs, No Woman, No Cry. And, for the first time ever, after giving a busker some cash, I received a fist bump. Rasta.
On the South Bank, we decided not to walk on the beach.
Liesel called her Mom while I had a wander and tracked down an apple. Yes, still got to have an apple a day.
We then walked along as far as and up onto Blackfriars Bridge where we waited for a bus. Not a sign. I looked at the app on my phone and it said there wouldn’t be one for at least half an hour. So we walked on, towards Kings Cross. A young Chinese girl had been waiting for the bus too, so we told her there wouldn’t be one for a while. We saw her several times on the way, also walking towards Kings Cross, or thereabouts.
There is a newly opened branch of Mildred’s and we were lucky enough to get a table straightaway. The original branch in Soho, where we’ve been a few times, is always packed and busy. And so was this new one. The food, all vegetarian and often vegan is terrific. We came away sated. Another recommendation for visitors to London.
Sitting next to us was a girl in a yellow skirt and her friend. She could talk the hind legs off a donkey and chose to do so, very loudly. Even the couple sitting on our other side kept giving her looks. No idea what she was blabbing on about, really, something about work, I think, but she didn’t waste a lot of time and energy breathing in. As they were getting ready to leave, I looked at Yellow Skirt’s friend. She had aged about thirty years in that time and looked bored stiff. Maybe it was her mother all along. It was noticeably quieter in the restaurant after they’d left.
A short walk to Kings Cross again, Piccadilly line again, back to our accommodation. The lighting in our room isn’t that bright but I can just see the keys on the keyboard. Liesel’s reading, listening to some music and nodding off.
Night night, Sooty, night night. No idea where that came from.
When we first decided to move away from Chessington and from London, I came up with a few different ways to mark the occasion. Some were more successful projects than others.
1) While out on my daily (-ish) walks, I decided to walk along every road in Chessington, Hook and Malden Rushett one more time. This would retrace all the roads I’d walked along at least once while delivering mail over the previous ten years. The rule was, I had to start at home or finish at home; I couldn’t get a lift to some remote part of the south of the borough, walk around a small block and then get a lift home. In fact, in the end, the only time I got a lift was when Liesel dropped me off at the southern tip of Malden Rushett on her way to work and I walked all the way home, including offshoots such as Fairoaks Lane and West Road. I think in every other case, I left home, walked a few miles, at least 10,000 steps usually and then back home. I completed this project in just a few months. Easy.
2) I thought it would be interesting, challenging and fun to cycle along every road in Chessington, Hook and Malden Rushett in one go, on one single day. But after a bad experience with blood pressure medication leaving me short of breath, riding a long distance became, if not impossible, certainly something not to be attempted lightly. So, this is a fail, so far.
3) One thing I’ve always wanted to do is ride on every line on the London Underground, visiting every station at least once. I started this in 2000 when I was working in London, short rides at lunchtimes, longer ones at the end of the day. Unfortunately, Sarah died before I finished this, so I lost interest and this project was shelved. Well, 16 years later, I thought I’d start again. I did visit Brixton on the Victoria Line soon after David Bowie died, to see the mural and the flowers left by mourning fans. I rode the Victoria Line to Walthamstow at the other end. One line completed. And that’s it, I’ve not pursued this project, even though I have plenty of time. One day, maybe …
4) There are 32 London Boroughs plus the City of London. I thought it would be good to visit each one, to actually visit a destination or venue in each one, not just pass through on a bus or a train. How am I getting on? Here’s the list:
Royal Borough of Kingston – This is where we lived, worked, shopped, took children to school, so we I can definitley tick this one off
Bromley – I visited my friend Marie in Orpington a few times.
City of London – We visited the Tower of London, Tower Bridge and more
City of Westminster – Covent Garden, Hyde Park, Tate Britain, all visited many times
Camden – Camden Market and London Zoo are just two venues
Richmond upon Thames – Richmond Park, Bushy Park, Richmond Theatre and I worked in Isleworth for a short period
Merton – Wimbledon Theatre and Wimbledon Common
Sutton – Nonsuch Park and the shops
Croydon – Fairfield Halls and the college where I had some OU tutorials and non forgetting Ikea and CostCo
Kensington and Chelsea – I went to Uni here, lived here, Holland Park, Kensington Town Hall, the old Commonwealth Institute, Biba, Kensington Market, Kensington Gardens
Hammersmith and Fulham – lived here, Shepherds Bush Empire, Bush Hall
Wandsworth – Battersea Arts Centre
Lambeth – Southbank Centre, National Theatre, Old Vic and Young Vic Theatres
Southwark – HMS Belfast, Tate Modern
Tower Hamlets – Tower of london, Tower Bridge, Royal London Hospital where Sarah trained and lived for a year
Hackney – Stoke newington Church Street: Andi’s
Islington – Union Chapel, probably our favourite venue in London
Brent – Wembley Stadium and Wembley Arena
Ealing – lived in Acton for three months, and we’re staying in an Airbnb place here before we fly off to Alaska
Hounslow – Heathrow Airport from where we fly off to Alaska
Lewisham – Horniman Museum
Royal Borough of Greenwich – The National Maritime Museum, probably my favourite museum, Greenwich Observatory, the Millennium Dome (now the O2 Arena)
Bexley – Dad took me and Pauline to visit his old haunts in Welling, 50 years ago
Barking and Dagenham – I visited the Dagenham Ford Motorworks when I was at school
Newham – ExCeL Exhibition Centre, Olympic Stadium
Waltham Forest – Olympic Velopark
Haringey – visited my Dad’s Uncle Charlie before he passed away in 1979
Barnet – we visited Golders Green recently
Hillingdon – Heathrow airport spans two London boroughs and the country of Surrey, and we used to stop at Yiewsley when driving from Peterborough to Guildford, before the M25 was complete
Harrow – nothing
Enfield – nothing
Havering – nothing
Redbridge – nothing
Not too bad, then just missing out on four and I admit, some of the historical ones are a bit of a stretch!
5) Cycle on every page of the old Surrey Street Atlas. I did this once in the 1990s, a good way to force myself to go on long bike rides to the extremes of Surrey. Again, I was part way through a second pass on this when Sarah died. It would be nice to be fit enough to have another attempt but as I mentioned above, I am a bit, maybe unjustifiably, scared to attempt very long rides because of my breathlessness issues.
There are also some ideas that I discarded as being a bit too ambitious:
Ride every London bus route
Ride every Overground line, every DLR line,
Cycle the length of the Thames from the source in Gloucestershire to the estuary at Dartmouth or maybe beyond. I’ve ridden it all, in stages, from Walton on Thames to the Thames Barrier in Greenwich, plus a short section near Oxford.
We’ll miss London and Surrey and Chessington but moving away is an adventure and it will be fun coming up with similar, equally silly plans in Northenden or Manchester or Greater Manchester. Any ideas are very welcome!
London Bye Ta-ta is a song recorded by David Bowie just over 50 years ago, and, unbelievably, rejected by the record label!
Thursday was a busy day. The base of our new bed was delivered by a nice man from John Lewis and his grumpy junior partner. Liesel and I literally made the bed, thank goodness the instructions were fairly straightforward.
The mattress on top, lots of storage below, we were set for a good night’s sleep. The bed we left behind in Chessington kept us off the floor, but the last vestige of comfort disappeared ages ago. Liesel will say it’s never been comfortable, but it was OK when it was brand new, last century.
The other exciting event was the installation of our Internet connection. While Liesel was out taking loads of rubbish to the tip and returning an item to Ikea, I spent a couple of hours trying to get online.. So many usernames and passwords and so many places to enter them and over and over again it didn’t quite work. Every time the solid red light showed on the router, a puppy died. Such a palaver: it should just be plug in and go, by now, surely, in the 21st century? Eventually, it worked. Another one of those occasions where I have no idea what I did differently on the last go compared with several previous attempts.
How wonderful to hear Liesel come back home, walk in and say, “My phone’s got a wireless connection!” Just like that. After all that blood, sweat, toil and tears, her phone picked it up instantly. I think Liesel thinks I was sitting there while she was out, smoking my pipe, drinking Scotch and watching TV.
Online and in bed. Almost back to normal!
No lie-in though because on Friday, we went to London for the day. We joined the Women’s March to protest against Donald Trump’s visit to London. Liesel made her own placard, plenty of reasons why he is unsuitable to be a President, even if democratically elected by Russia.
The Virgin Train to Euston was packed: people were standing or sitting on the floor, all of which is unaccepatbel when you’re spending £60 or £70 to travel. I’ll know next time. If the online booking system doesn’t give me the option of reserving seats, it’s probably because they’re all taken. I think the system should say explicitly that all seats are taken, then at least you have the option of travelling later. But, standing for over two hours on a train was the worst thing that happened that day.
We made our way to Oxford Circus where we joined a large crowd of women, men and many others. The main focus of attention was the Baby Trump inflatable balloon that flew above Parliament Square for a couple of hours in the morning. Unfortunately, we’d missed that, but we did see the Baby before it embarks on, presumably, a world tour.
We walked, slowly, down Regent Street, Piccadilly, Haymarket, by Trafalgar Square, down Whitehall to Parliament Square. The idea was to “make some noise” and sure enough, lots of people were banging their saucepans and shouting and chanting. Some of the placards were very funny, and most people were quite happy to have their photos taken. Liesel’s placard was snapped too by many people. We met quite a few Americans who were following the advice from the US Embassy to “keep a low profile”. Really? Not a bit of it, the consensus was that this advice was ridiculous.
One highlight of the day for me was meeting Salena Godden, top poet, great performer, who I’ve been following on Twitter for a while and whose work I’ve enjoyed since hearing her on Radio 4 in the early days of Saturday Live.
We met up with Helen and Steve close to the Winston Churchill statue. Steve and I wandered off at times to hear the speeches, small the substances being enjoyed by others and to take more photos. A young lady approached Helen and Liesel and asked them to distract her child while she was strapped into the buggy. Helen and Liesel, neither of whom have extensive experience of child-rearing!
Some of the 70,000 of us on the Women’s March drifted away, but many joined in the other, bigger march which numbered 250,000 at its height. Meanwhile, Helen, Steve, Liesel and I walked through St James’s Park where we were greeted by the sight of a heron (hooray!) chomping on a duckling (not so nice). He looked very pleased with himself afterwards.
We enjoyed a coffee and a late lunch before walking to Waterloo. We caught a train to Earlsfield as Liesel had an appointment with her physiotherapist: a good idea after standing on a train for two hours.
The climate of hate in the UK is getting closer to home. Liesel’s physio, Emma is Australian. So is Emma’s partner. He too is a physio and his application to have his working visa extended has been rejected. He has to leave the UK within a couple of weeks. He’s going home to Australia. Therefore, so is Emma. So we are losing two top, well-qualified medics because it’s government policy, pretty much, to deter foreigners.
It felt strange, after a day in London, to be coming home in a northerly direction. But at least we gots seats on this train, even if I did have to run to find them!
Saturday morning, I listened to Saturday Live live for the first time in ages. It was being broadcast live from Mousehole, where Sarah and I enjoyed our honeymoon in 1979.
Saturday afternoon, we enjoyed a big family gathering at Jenny’s. Liam’s parents Alan and Una were there, as well as his sister Andrea and her daughters, Annabel and Emily. It was a lovely, sunny day so we spent most of the time in the garden, forgetting that England were playing in the World Cup 3rd place play-off (they lost).
Sunday was another early morning: Martha’s swimming lesson this week began at 9am. She did very well as usual. We saw William swim in the afternoon too. It’s wonderful that they both enjoy it so much in the water. And in between, Helen offered to cut our hair, so we all had a trim. That grey stuff on the floor after she cut my hair? I have no idea what that was or where it came from.
In the evening, we had a lovely Indian takeaway, from Coriander in Chorlton. This was in part to mark the occasion of Helen’s departure today (Monday) to the old ‘hood in London to visit friends and to attend a couple of weddings. By the time she returns to Jenny’s, Liesel and I will have gone, departed, set off on our Travels….
Yes, suddenly, we have less than two weeks to do all the admin that needs doing, to tell all outstanding bodies our new address and do whatever you do to a place before locking up and leaving it for several months. How many Es in eeeek?
Today for me was a lesson in patience, being kept on hold for ridiculous amounts of time, being told I didn’t need to register online accounts only be end up registering anyway because there was no alternative and then, being kept on hold for ten minutes only for the call to be cut off at exactly 5 o’clock. But the good news is, this evening, someone came round and gave us actual cash for some of our old packing boxes.
This calypso was going through my mind as we set off for London this morning. Little did I know that later in the day, we would hear Lord Kitchener’s performance on a Pathé newsreel. But that is getting ahead of ourselves.
Today was the day of the annual Hook Scouts fair on King Edward’s field, off Hook Road. You know, the field where the travelling community set up camp for a few days before the Epsom Derby. Liesel’s WI Group, the Hook and Chessington Branch, had a stall there. We went down with the chocolate brownies Liesel had baked for them to sell. We tried to help erect the tent, but the poles didn’t seem to be from the same set. So, reluctantly, we caught a bus towards Surbiton. While we’d been waiting for the other WI women to arrive, I’d walked around the field one final time. I gazed upon the playground where a young Jenny and a young Helen spent many happy hours.
I realised: today would be a day of reminiscence, of nostalgia, of remembrance. We’d been so caught up recently with all the packing and stacking, the boxing and coxing, that I hadn’t really thought about the enormity of the move we’re about to make.
In Surbiton, I suggested one final coffee at The Press Room: probably the nicest coffee around, and a nice place with nice staff. We’ve sometimes paid a coffee ahead, so that a homeless person can claim it later on. There’s a bell by the door which you can ring if you like the coffee. I’ve been too much of a coward to give it a go, but today, I applied a very light tinkle, there was a guy right next to it and I didn’t want to give him a heart attack.
This would be our final day in London before we move to Northenden. Lots of things to do, it was hard to choose. There was a march in support of the NHS. My favourite walk is probably along the South Bank. There was a food fair at Parsons Green. Then Liesel remembered there’s a temporary work of art in the Serpentine. Yes: In the Serpentine. I passed a lot of time in Hyde Park when I lived nearby in the 1970s, so I was more than happy to revisit one more time.
There seems to be a lot of finality here, today. I know we’ll be back as visitors, but it’s a strange feeling knowing that, after this weekend, London won’t be our home city.
We caught the District Line train at Wimbledon and got off at High Street Kensington, which is on Kensington High Street. By this convention, the next station along should be called Gate Notting Hill, but it isn’t, something that has baffled me since I first lived there in 1973.
We walked towards Hyde Park, and Liesel suggested walking up the road where all the embassies are, Kensington Green. I didn’t know if we’d be allowed to. I think in the 1970s, at the height of the IRA terrorsit campaign, we were probably too intimidated by the large numbers of police officers at the entrance to enter this road, so we never walked along it. Today though, a couple of armed officers, a barrier, several bollards and a sign telling us not to take photos did not deter us from walking up what turned out to be a nice, peaceful, quiet road, right in the heart of London. We tried to guess the embassies from the flags and we got most of them right: Israel, Russia, France, Norway, Finland, but we failed to recognise Kuwait and we don’t know whether the two crossed swords flag was Kenya or somewhere else.
But I was still too much of a coward to risk taking a photo.
We walked through Kensington Gardens, towards the Round Pond and we thought about visiting the Serpentine Gallery. The long queue put us off: no need to be standing around in the hot Sun when we could be walking around in the hot Sun! We crossed the road and had a quick look at the Diana, Princess of Wales, Memorial Fountain and lots of people were having lots of fun in it. One little boy splashed me and I was outraged. No, actually, I wanted him to do it again, but I didn’t say so!
Then we saw it. The London Mastaba. An almost pyramid-like structure weighing 600 tonnes constructed from specially made oil drums. And sitting right in the middle of the Serpentine. We considered getting a boat out so that we could get up close and personal but in the end, after lunch, we left the park and caught the bus.
On the way out, we passed the playground where I spent many a happy lunch hour watching the children play, when I worked in Knightsbridge. It was OK in those days to be a young, single, unaccompanied bloke in a children’s playground. Times, sadly, have changed.
Liesel was grateful for the bus ride, a chance to have a break from the walking. It was hot on the bus too, though, even though we sat at the back, on top, where we thought we’d benefit from maximum ventilation through the windows. It was hot ventilation. It was a hot day.
We disembarked at the British Library, a venue that we should have taken more advantage of over the years. There’s an exhibition commemorating the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the MS Empire Windrush.
Windrush: Songs in a Strange Land is on until October. It is fascinating, moving and in places makes you ashamed to be British. It’s not just the present Tory Government led by Theresa May that has created a hostile environment for migrants from the West Indies.
It was here that we heard Lord Kitchener singing his paean to London. It was one of many sound clips and films of poetry, interviews, reminiscence from and by the Windrush generation.
I looked around and noticed the wide range of people visiting the British Library, people from all over the world, some undoubtedly British, some visiting from overseas, but something you see all over London all the time. And my heart sank anew at the current state of western politics. Brexit and Trump are the dominating themes, both giving permission to the racists and fascists to be even more openly hateful than before. I can’t imagine anything worse than living and working in a place where everyone is just like me.
It was a bit cold in the room with all the sacred texts: old Bibles, Qu’rans, some books bigger than our suitcases, some of them really gorgeous, even if we can’t read the incredibly ornate writing, even when it’s apparently in English. Seeing works of art like this makes reading a book on a Kindle seem a bit underwhelming.
Another cup of coffee while Liesel spoke to her Mom then we caught another bus to Aldwych. We walked along the Strand, via Covent Garden, past Stanley Gibbons who sold some of my stamps a few years ago, and on to the Jubilee Bridge one more time. I had to take a picture of the view of course.
Waterloo Bridge. St Pauls Cathedral. The Shard. The Thames. The South Bank. London.
We caught a train to Kingston and dined at Stein’s, a German place. The vegan sausages and the vegetarian schnitzel were both off, so I had a cheese platter. It was nice, but there’s always too much cheese and not enough bread for me! It was filling though. And then we then caught the bus back home.
Altogether, according to the Fitbit, we walked over 9 miles today. This is much further than planned and indeed, much further than Liesel thought she’d manage with her piriformis injury. With exercise and physiotherapy, we’re hoping this problem will disappear over time, allowing us to walk much longer distances without discomfort.
Two more sleeps in sunny Chessington until we move away from the greatest city on Earth.
With less than two weeks to go before the move, Mick and I have been working hard to pack the house, recycle stuff we don’t need or simply don’t have room for, and cleaning after each room is complete. My expectation is that come move day, we will be relaxed and rested enough to make our four to five hour drive to Manchester bearable.
All this to do and what did Mick want to do yesterday? Go into London to take part in the People’s Vote march against Brexit. I wasn’t too keen to spend the day with over 100,000 people, walking slowly, potentially kettled by police, and no place to take a comfort break. But then it occurred to me that if we were going into London for the march anyway we could stop by the sofa store and inspect the sofa I’ve been researching for months! Ah ha, finally getting Mick into the store would be a feat. Funny enough, he agreed, so I blister proofed my feet and off we went before breakfast.
We forgot it was Ascot and the scene at Waterloo Station was lovely. A plethora of men in tails and top hats, ladies in heels, hats and dresses waiting for their train to take them to the races. We watched them from the upper level of the station, and when their train was called they galloped for their platform. ‘They’re off’ I cried. The spectacle over, we made our way to Tottenham Court Road.
Mick was a trooper providing his opinion on sofa stuffing and fabric, after he’d had breakfast and a latte of course. Unfortunately, the cost ended up being £200 more than I anticipated and we took a few minutes to discuss where we could make adjustments when it occurred to me that this was the first piece of furniture I’ve purchased in over 25 years, longer for Mick, and it may be the last. Why should we settle for something that wasn’t exactly what we wanted for the sake of £200! We bought exactly what we want and it should be delivered to the flat the day after we move it.
The People’s Vote march wasn’t difficult to find, almost everyone (but us) were dressed in blue and yellow. These same people also brought packed lunches and water. Why hadn’t we, because we’re often clueless in this respect. We did get a couple of stickers to add to our lapels and spent the next two hours with people from Wales and Yorkshire, walking very, very, slowly. The atmosphere was very positive and it was fantastic to see such a wide age spectrum represented. Eventually we came to a standstill and our need for food, water, toilet and a place to sit down won, so we caught the first bus we could and ended up in Golders Green and the ‘Abbey Road’ which had a bunch of silly tourists standing in the middle of the road obstructing traffic. .
It was a lovely day, we bought our first grown up sofa, and felt proud to be marching for Europe. There is not a lot we can do to help with our grandchildren’s future, but we can protest their options being taken away from them, and we did.