Sunday, April 19, 2009

My fourth walk of the holidays

It's been a lovely day here in London, so H and I have been for yet another wonderful walk. However, rather than through the buildings and admiring great architecture, this walk was along the Bow Locks all the way to the Olympic Stadium. Like yesterday, this was another popular walk - there were about fifty of us - but it didn't feel as big as we all spread out over the tow paths and the parks. We passed the last pylon, standing majestically next to the main Stratford Road; we waited as a canal boat passed through one of the Locks; we admired the swan gliding on the shimmering canal; we took photos of the tiny purple flowers, the blue ones, yellow; we tried not to fall in the canal or push the cyclists in either. And all this in bright, warm sunshine, under blue skies. The walk took over two hours, and we finished in McDonald's. Well, we don't go there often!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Detectives' London

My third London Walk this holiday! This time we started at Green Park and explored the London of Miss Marple, Hercules Poirot and Lord Peter Wimsey, as well as the London of their creators, Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers. Once again, we saw amazing architecture, although this time I think a lot of it was Georgian rather than the Gothic look of the Royal Courts of Justice et al, and the guide, Jean, was fantastically fitting, a rather Miss Marplian character herself, with a great maroon hat and tartan waistcoat, and a piercing voice, which was only occasionally drowned out by the traffic. The group was the largest I've seen - I counted at least fifty of us, but on occasions it looked more like one hundred! A discovery for me was Audley Street, which had cosy looking coffee shops that I must return to, and my favourite sight was when we stopped at Brown's Hotel, possibly the inspiration for Bertram's Hotel that I read about recently. We also got to walk through Park Lane Hotel, where those enjoying their cream teas - which looked delicious, and were being enjoyed in elegant splendour - must have wondered about the fifty or so waifs and strays that wandered through.

And, two hours later, when we returned to Green Park, the sun was still shining, a glorious 5pm evening, so I went and sat on the grass in the park, which was wonderful. Another great day out in London!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Legal and Illegal London

Well, more of the legal than the illegal, I think, but without the latter there would not be the former, so both are important ...

I'm just back from another excellent London Walk, this time through the four Inns of Court, Lincoln's Inn, Gray's Inn, Middle and Inner Temple. This time we were guided by Angela (the link is a recording of Angela giving another tour, from the London Walks website). She had a good, dry wit. We started round the corner from Holborn Tube Station, in the second oldest square in London. Lincoln's Inn Fields used to be just that, fields, owned by the Templar Knights before the were disbanded. After some interesting history while looking at the picturesque buildings that surround the square - I think the first of their type in London - we walked through the beautiful gardens, where we learnt the not so beautiful origins of the word "gala" - a gala day used to be a gallows day, a day where people were being hung, a grand day out for all the family. The slightly more palatable Sir John Soane's Museum was also pointed out - I must go and visit that one day.

From there, we walked across to the Inns of Court, where we wandered from one to another, admiring and admiring, never ceasing to be uplifted and entertained, overcome by the ornateness of the architecture or the sublimeness of the gardens. We learnt about the process of being called to the Bar, or becoming a solicitor. We heard about some of the more well known people who have belonged to each of the Inns. We wandered through Staple Inn as well, one of the Inns of Chancery, and passed by the Temple Church again (closed this time). One of the most interesting stories explained the meaning of John Donne's famous line, "ask not for whom the bell tolls" - the benchers were people with a certain position in the law courts, and when they died, a bell would be tolled. Barristers (I think) would send a junior clerk to find out who had died, and therefore what position had become vacant. Another particularly exciting find was the Ede & Ravenscroft office, familiar from my graduation documents - they also supply gowns and wigs as well as gowns and mortar boards. Unfortunately no wigs were on show today, but Angela gave a vivid description of the legal dress worn by different types of lawyers.

Our two hour tour ended up at the Royal Courts of Justice. I went inside, and they really are beautiful - the architect always wanted to build a cathedral, but was never asked to build one, so when he was given the commission for the courts he decided this would be his cathedral. They are certainly soaring and ornate. Unfortunately there were no court cases in session, but it was interesting to look through the glass panels on the doors into the courtrooms themselves.

Then a walk through the rain, and back home again. Another great day, courtesy of London Walks!

Easter Holidays

Just a short update! Back home after a great few days back north with my family. In particular, it was lovely to spend some more time with my adorable nephew. He's at the age where he can sit up practically by himself, although he still likes to lie on his back and kick his legs in the air as well. He is starting to follow things with his eyes, like a red tomato ketchup bottle and a shiny helium balloon. He often looks quite serious as if he is contemplating something, but he has a lovely, cheeky smile too. We are still wondering about the colour of his eyes - sometimes they look as if they are hovering on brown, but at other times they seem to be a dark blue, so I think we'll need to wait a bit to see for certain. His nose is very cute. I took him out once by myself in his pram - no roads crossed that time! - and once H and I took him for a walk up the hill and round and down. I took him with my sister too. Nice to get out for a walk with him. Can't wait to see him again!

Also managed to visit all my grandparents while I was up, which was nice. They are all a bit under the weather at the moment. They are all in their eighties now, but that still seems very young! Hope they all get better.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Tour of Da Vinci Code London

Well, I’m on the train on the way north, but there is no wireless internet access on this route. So, I’m going to update my blog by typing this and copying it later. It’s Good Friday ... unfortunately I missed all the services by travelling. Had hoped to go to the Stations of the Cross this morning, but I had a dream that tired me out and I slept in. I dreamt my class - a music class, funnily enough, that I was sharing with another teacher - kept on going into cupboards, drawers and then rooms that they weren’t allowed to be in, so I had to keep running round after them, shouting, “Go away!” at the top of my voice, and trying to look the rooms before they could get in and unlock another door and thus get in by another way. It was extremely frustrating, and a perpetual struggle. No wonder when I eventually woke up I was too tired to do anything other than lie with my eyes closed for some time.

Yesterday I managed to go on one of the London Walks that I enjoy so much. I had hoped to go on two, one on Tuesday and one on Wednesday, both glorious days with bright blue skies, but I didn’t manage it - something about the holidays means that being allowed a lie-in is too tempting, then H and I have headed off for lunch meaning I’ve missed the afternoon slots. Anyway, I got myself up and out (well, it was a 2pm walk!) and down to Temple for a walk entitled “The Occult and the Da Vinci Code”, or something like that. It ended up being mainly the Da Vinci Code, in fact the occult was never mentioned at all, but it was very interesting nonetheless.

I arrived an hour early, so after a baked potato at the Temple Bar next to the tube station - nice little place, very friendly woman - I decided to do some exploring of my own first. I wandered up a picturesque little street and was amazed to find the beautiful gothic buildings of the Royal Courts of Justice. I’d never been before. Then I thought I should really take some money out, and the bank that I went into made me take some more photos. The walls were all tiled, and there was an oval protuberance which reminded me of a holy water stoup, which at first made me wonder if this bank had formerly been a church; however, the amphibian stone carved creature that lurked above this stoup seemed out of place in a church, and made me think more of a butcher’s or some such place. Very curious.

My wallet thus topped up, I wandered back along the Strand, and stopped to admire and take photos of two churches, situated in the middle of the road. One had two figures outside it; a man sitting drinking in the early afternoon, and another standing spouting forth on topics of the day. Neither made much noise, however, with the second being Samuel Johnson, immortalised in bronze outside the church of St Clement Danes, the RAF church. Two wing commanders or so stood guard on plinths at the front. The second church, I soon realised, was the renowned St-Mary-le-Strand, where many of the great and good discussed all sorts of matters during lunchtime debates. It was busy again that afternoon, with a Maundy Thursday Eucharist being celebrated, so I did not go in.

Having wandered in the drizzle for some time, I thought I should start back to Temple. As I wandered down a little street, I passed more places of interest. Aldwych Tube Station, proud and resplendent in its tubular tiles, proclaiming “Entrance” and “Exit” to all that passed by, but barred up ever since the little line that serviced it had been closed down. Then a little sign, quietly pointing the way to the Roman Baths - “Down the stairs and to the right”. I decided to investigate, although the bleakness and sombreness of the alleyway reminded me a little too much of crime fiction and murder haunts. I soon found the window that separated me from the bath, and as I bent down, I had visions of being pushed through the glass to meet a bloody end on the ancient Roman flagstones. However, I survived, and was able to admire the rest of the Strand Lane on which I now found myself.

I arrived back at Temple as the drizzle tried to decide whether to get worse or give up and whimper out. Already, ten minutes to two, there was quite a crowd of people, looking round furtively, anxiously, eagerly, as befits a group of people who want to discover London’s hidden secrets and are trying to work out if the leader of the group is one of the them, or if they have wandered into some secret society by mistake. A woman in a billowing red anorak cape stood in the middle, and I mistook her to be the guide; however, I did not approach her, simply keeping my eyes on her, wondering when she would whip out her London Walks guides with a flourish. As I waited, I noticed a woman next to me - a tourist from Singapore on a working holiday, as it turned out - leafing through her own copy of the guide, so I asked if she was waiting for the Da Vinci Code Tour. She was. As we chatted, another woman approached us. She, too, was looking forward to learning more about the occultish mysteries of London. As 2pm approached, a sombre looking man in a red anorak appeared, propelling himself forward by means of an outstretched hand full of guides. The crowd that had seemed to me to have dispersed as the rain had become briefly heavier now stepped forward out of the shadows of Temple tube station and bustled around him. Dark faced and sullen, the man took the coins and notes from the outstretched hands, and we wondered if this is what became of people who spent too long dabbling in the Da Vinci enigmas.

However, Richard the Third - for it was he - was a wise if solemn guide, and over the next two hours he recounted the journey of Langdon and Sophie - or Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou, if you prefer - from the floor of the Louvre, through the dash around Paris, greater France and London, all the way to the Rosslyn Chapel. We were impressed at the way he managed to summarise the twists and tales in the plot, and my question - “Do you think he really believes all this?” - became moot as he pointed out the mistakes of geography and place in the Da Vinci tale. We were shown both the places of interest in the book, told about encounters with the action in the film, and also learnt about the real life drama in the Dan Brown v Leigh and Baigent court case.

One of the first places we visited was the Temple Church. As we stood outside, we saw the symbol of the poverty of the Templar Knights, at first anyway, two knights sharing one horse. One part of the church is Roman, with rounded gables, the other Gothic, with pointed arches. The little courtyard had a tree in full blossom, although the skies overhead were slightly overcast. When we entered the church, I was surprised and delighted by the blueness of the interior. The long stained glass windows were mostly blue glass, which highlighted the blueness of the marble pillars, which reflected the blue hymnbooks laid out on the pews. The effigies of the knights were surrounded with many tourists, like myself on this occasion, snapping away and marvelling at the contrast between the crumbling stone and the smooth wood of the interior. As we sat down to listen to some more history, I was more taken with marvelling at the decoration than in listening to the tales of Sophie and Langdon. The Ten Commandments are in the middle of the nave, at the front, with the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed on either side. I wondered if that was because the knights had been in Jerusalem and had seen Jewish synagogues, which also have the Ten Commandments on display. Then, as we listened to Richard, the organist arrived, and began to play. Fortunately it was a quieter tune, but it seemed very fitting to be accompanied.

Our next stop was to be the building of the Department of Systematic Theology of King’s College London. However, this was one place where, as our guide pointed out, Dan Brown got his facts wrong. Apparently he places this building as being opposite the Houses of Parliament, but it is not there. Secondly, Richard pointed out the building that Dan Brown describes - but that is not the real Systematic Theology building. As we made our way to the correct place, we passed the Royal Courts of Justice again, and took photos of a dragon that protects one side of the City of London. We were on the border between the cities of London and Westminster. I also noticed a small plaque next to some brightly coloured windows, which announced that the building was the only surviving building on the Strand after the Great Fire of London.

The actual home of Systematic Theology is known as Norfolk Building. This is because it is housed in a listed building, originally Norfolk Hotel. It is a very pretty building with lots of ornate carvings, including the words “Norfolk Hotel” over the door. Nearby was the old abandoned Aldwych tube station. We learnt that it used to be the only stop on a line which only operated during rush hour, Mondays to Fridays. No wonder it was eventually closed down!

From here we returned to Temple, and, as advertised, like Robert and Sophie, we took a short tube ride. Next stop ... Westminster Abbey! Unfortunately (although understandably) we didn’t get to go inside - I will need to leave that to another day, next Friday perhaps? - but I was interested to learn that it was King Edward the Confessor who had the first Westminster Abbey built. He wanted to go on pilgrimage - can’t remember where to - but his advisers pointed out that he was ill and it would take some time to go on pilgrimage, so he should build a church instead. There was no room left in the city of London, so he built his church to the West - hence Westminster, the church in the West. Of course, it has taken centuries to build the church. In fact, there are carvings of Martin Luther King and Oscar Romero above one of the main entrances. So it’s not done yet! We walked round the back, near the entrance to the Chapter House - not a free entrance as claimed by Brown! - and as we learnt about the drama of the cryptex, a huddle of begowned Westminster choristers alligatored passed us to sing in the Abbey.

The riddle now unravelled, but we still had to see where one of the characters died. A quick wander down some roads - so busy looking and listening that I’m not quite sure where we went - and eventually we were in St James’ Park. I didn’t know they kept pelicans there. Very pretty and pink. Then my first view of Buckingham Palace in the few years that I have been living in London, away in the distance through the trees. While still admiring the palace, Richard told us about Duck Cottage on Duck Island - not named after the feathered creatures that live there, but after the gardener, Mr Duck.

I was then very interested to see Downing Street - even if it was only the back of the Street, on the way to Horse Guards Parade. And, two hours after we left Temple tube station, we arrived just in time for the Changing of the Guard! The soldiers were all very well turned out in their bright red jackets, long glossy black boots and golden plumed helmets. A large crowd had gathered to watch the ceremony, and we were not disappointed. Afterwards I went home, via Trafalgar Square and Charing Cross Station.

All in all, a wonderful excursion, and well worth the £7 plus tube fares. I would highly recommend anyone going on a London Walk - that was my third - and I certainly had a wonderful afternoon!

(And it’s now Thursday ... so this has taken some time to write. At least I’ve got wireless now and can upload it on the train south!)

Tuesday, April 07, 2009


Left H at the Library today and I went exploring. Found the statue of Gandhi at Tavistock Square, plus a post office box place that can send stuff overseas. Wandered through the university area, past Birkbeck and SOAS, then along road to British Museum, stopping frequently to take photos. Met a nice old man in the museum who was showing people old coins and other types of money. Handled 2000 year old money, including a Roman ring. Took lots of photos of other people taking photos. Also practiced changing my exposure - got some nice photos (I hope!) of people floating in whiteness. Then went back to meet H, where I had a huge pink fairy cake and some pear juice, before coming home and making a tasty beef stew.

Happy birthday to my not-so-little-any-more sister!

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Long time no write

It has been brought to my attention that I have not blogged here for two months. Which means you have not heard about our pleasant wander round the British Museum, our visit to the Byzantium exhibition or our trip to see the photographs at the National Portrait Gallery.

Don't worry, I am well and keeping busy - I've simply been trying to take a break from this blog and my computer in general - however I am busy elsewhere on the web. Should try to write more here occasionally though!

Now on Easter holidays - however, I have a revision session tomorrow, so I should really go and get some sleep now!