London Day Four

Another full day; a sleeping bag too big for its stuff sack. We got to Alex at Starbucks just below Barclay’s corporate headquarters at the ‘Wharf’ (a colloquialism reserved for those who work there) on time and it was great to see him and catch up. Not surprising to me he has made the transition from senior Army bloke to banker type (it’s all ethical you know) with ease and is doing well. We exchanged all our family news but, as it was his coffee break and with our outside slot verging on chilly in dull sun with a supporting cool wind, we didn’t spend anywhere near enough time on the detail. There will be a next time.

Alex

Alex

To get to see Alex we had taken the train from Abbeywood to Greenwich and walked under the Thames using the pedestrian tunnel and then north across the Isle of Dogs. What, at one time, must have been a rough area is now a cross between farmland and Hampshire village. There’s a big (listed Grade II) parkland covering much of the area. But before you know it you’re among the

one view within 'The Wharf'

one view within ‘The Wharf’

Millwall docks, all of which have been transformed into luxury apartments, posh eating establishments and offices. Canary Wharf is so much more than a few high rises. Indeed, after seeing Alex we stopped for a picnic on another quay just north of the main towers. As we sat and munched away at pate and bread you could sense the hum of money moving its way into, through and out of the many banks and investment houses that dominate this small, chic city. It’s a never-ending ‘ker-ching’ of a place which deservedly has had a bad press, but probably contributes more taxes to the upkeep of the NHS than any other equivalent piece of ground. So we mustn’t complain.

'Ker-Ching'

‘Ker-Ching’

We now had about six hours to kill before we were due at Peter and Karen’s for supper. We took the DLR to Bank and then the tube to Tottenham Court Road. C has this gap in her Big Fat Italian Wedding wardrobe – no appropriate hat. Sure she has hats: a bike helmet, ski helmet, summer straw hats, winter fleecy

Oxford Street at it's best

Oxford Street at its best

hats, but no BFIW hat. We did Oxford Street, which was an experience. Those department stores with specific wedding hat sections were just(!) beyond the sort of money we wanted to spend, and probably wouldn’t survive the Easyjet experience. The plethora of accessories shops majored on ‘fascinators’…..not really her. The rise of these decorative hatpins is understandable for younger women, but they’re probably not quite right for the whole ‘C goes to Italy for a Catholic Wedding’ thing. Bless.

But what was interesting about Oxford Street is there are thousands of people buying stuff and lots of fashion on display. But somehow in the maelstrom of clothing consumerism what people buy doesn’t seem to be what people end up wearing. Unlike Paris or Milan where the general shopper scores a 9.7 on the elegance scale, London hasn’t quite caught up with ‘the look’. Even though over half of the shoppers must have been foreign, and by genetic pool have more fashion sense than anyone born a Brit, it was a drab Tuesday afternoon in London. The sun may have been out to sharpen the colours, but the folk just missed that opportunity to look good. Ok, in our current state we’re hardly elegant, but whilst London architecture has emerged from a period of discolour and dullness, the overwhelming feeling of fabulousness has yet to make an impact on the public who have as much fashion sense as an old folk’s home. Come on London!

no pornographic references please

no pornographic references please

We had tea in Trafalgar Square where the arrival of a large French Cockerel on the fourth pillar was a mystery. It’s by German artist Katharina Fritsch and will be on display for eighteen months. Boris Johnson unveiled it and couldn’t help but make phonographic references to it, and, apparently, it’s a symbol representing power and regenration. We both saw: big blue French cockerel, the Gallic blue in particular completing the assumption. It’s great, big as a bus, but clearly the French taking over the square. It’s as irreverent as the poppies in the moat are intensely serious, so worth a visit. The National Galley next which was, as always, fab. We didn’t do it anywhere near enough justice, but C had a good look at her fave, Stubbs’ horse and we both spent sometime pondering Michelangelo’s cartoon.

Michelangelo - so special it has its own little room

Michelangelo – so special it has its own little room

Still with time to spare we crossed the river and sat near Tommies and listened to Emily Lee, a lyrical folk busker who did a great job of entertaining us and everyone else who stopped by. You can stream her original music from Facebook or similar – just google her. Worth a listen.

Emily Lee – our own personal early evening entertainer

We them ambled west down the south bank to Peter and Karen’s new flat in Peninsular Heights. Just a stone’s throw from Westminster and on the ninth flour, this shortish tower block sits on a curve in the river that gives those with the right balcony probably the best view in London. (Karen tells us that Peter Stringfellow. Tommy Steel and Jeffrey Archer all share the same view just from different floors…) My photo doesn’t do it justice, but trust me, it’s something else. There was a v pleasant crowd of us for supper, with a couple of Peter and Karen’s international friends and their daughter Sarah and her friends. It was a grand way to finish the whirlwind that was London and, having slurped their red wine (there’s a theme emerging here) we took a late(ish) train back to Abbeywood.

the view...

the view…

So, off to Dover today to meet up with Richard and Caroline, and then tomorrow onto Brindisi for the BFIW. We have no idea what to expect and C still hasn’t got an appropriate hat. Oh well…she’ll have to stick a flower in her hair.

Simon and Garfunkel

London Day Two

It was a straight forward itinerary: train from Abbeywood to Charing Cross, a short walk to Great Russell Street to C’s cousin’s (Eva) house, church, lunch, walk to the Tower of London to see the poppies and then London Bridge train back to Abbeywood. Reading that seems to make it a fullish day, but in the end we squeezed the life out of Sunday – wrung it dry.

Eva lives just opposite the British Museum

Eva lives just opposite the British Museum

Eva lives with her two children directly across from the British Museum. It is a lovely spot: central without being centric; bustling without being busy. Charing Cross to her house was a calm walk, too early to be inundated with tourists, but late enough to catch the incredibly complex peeling of St Martin in the Fields bells – so called because originally it lay between Westminster and the City, in a field. You would never believe it. We came with a couple of backpacks of washing (bless Eva) and C quickly got to work with loading whilst Eva prepared a roast rice chicken dish with more garlic than Buffy got through in six episodes. We made her local church, the recently renovated St George’s of Bloomsbury, in good time (it’s a five minute walk away) and I spent the next hour contemplating the purpose of religion, which I get, against its need for associated dogma, process and icons. The three of us took up this discussion over a delicious lunch (don’t come near me until next

Eva

Eva

Christmas) with Eva standing firm on the need for something like the church to offer ‘tradition’ to many people who, unlike us – her Dad was also in the Army – have had it ingrained. I take her point, but I remained unconvinced that Jesus would have really seen the need for sung prayers, incense distributed willy-nilly, fancy uniform, bibles kissed and responses quoted verbatim, all in his name. None of us disagreed with each other, we just never came to a consensus.

I wish I'd been allowed to read books in church...

I wish I’d been allowed to read books in church…Eva’s two

As well as covering the usual ‘catch up’ topics, Eva had managed to recover some v old family albums from her mother. These were both charming and hilarious, the books protecting many photos of soldiers with big moustaches

marvellous

marvellous

purposefully maintaining our Victorian conquests as far east as India and south as South Africa. C’s (and Eva’s) Grandfather and Great Grandfather were among those posing for the camera. After Georgina’s passing out on Friday that now makes it five generations of us near related lot taking the Queen (or King’s) shilling. Fabulous.

We left her about fourish and walked the three miles to the Tower of London to look into the moat and see the ceramic poppies sewn there to commemorate the centenary of the start of World War One.

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They hope to have nearly 900,000 poppies in place by Armistice Day in November. One poppy for each British and Commonwealth soldier killed in the Great War. They must be close to the total already as they are everywhere. It is a moving sight, but also a piece of genius by the person who had the big idea and the designer who has helped pull it off. The poppies fall from two tower windows and the resultant spillage is a clear blood red against a vibrant green turf – we were lucky to see it against an oblique afternoon sun. I took scores of pictures, and, as words don’t really add much I’ll just throw out a couple:

But that was not all. The walk from Eva’s took us through the City with its array of new, comically misshaped, ridiculously named mini-skyscrapers, turning what was once just the lonesome NatWest Tower into a mini-manhatten. St Pauls looked resplendent with it’s white stone, dark shadowy pillars, copper green dome and gold trimming, also enhanced by a falling September sun. On the

walkie talkie…

other side of the river the Shard, so big it is part of every panorama, hid the sun for as a long as it could, but popping out from behind the building it was as photogenic as Cheryl Cole. Standing on Tower Bridge the whole place looked new, clean, sharp and exciting. I did a lot of London in my late teens when I was a newly commissioned Army Officer strutting my stuff about town – with a youthful arrogance that I disdain now. It was a grubby city, dark and unwelcoming. Today’s mix of old and new has been executed brilliantly and with the river providing the artery between the three hubs: Westminster to the City and onto Canary Wharf, and with the inbetween bits either tastefully new, or gracefully renovated, it has to be one of the very best cities in the world. I couldn’t stop taking photographs…

St Paul’s, the Gherkin and the Cheese Grater

walkie talkie

walkie talkie

ancient and modern

the shard

[there’s discussion between the two of us as to the benefit of my editing…we’re, as yet, unconvinced.]

We got back pretty exhausted and resorted to beans on toast for supper – it was easy and allowed us to recover, prepare some stuff for today and reflect on a full but rewarding day.

Today we meet up with two of C’s old girls (Elaine and Katherine) on Blackheath for a picnic and then we’re going to Lucy’s (one of C’s ex- deputies), taking the makings of supper with us. Cycling again…we’re going to need a holiday.

London Day One

London never ceases to surprise. I was listening to a R4 programme the other day and a chap wrote off London as too up itself, too expensive and no longer catering for the ordinary folk. Sure we didn’t hit the centre yesterday, but our East End cycle ride was a treasure of sites and sounds. Everything we encountered, other than a cup of coffee, was free. So yah, boo sucks to you R4 this time.

We were due to meet Heidi at her place (with boyfriend Oren – hope I have spelt that right) in Bethnall Green for lunch. The weather was overcast to the extent that everything had that damp feel, but bikes it was yesterday. We aimed to cross the Thames at Woolwich and then head through Canary Wharf to the Regent Canal, turn north and pop out at Bethnal Green. All in time for lunch!

I knew it would be quite a cycle, but when we got back late in the afternoon it was thirty-one miles all told and we knew we had been on a bike ride. But, as well as meeting up with Heidi and Oren, we did see and do some stuff.

Woolwich - surprisingly not Anthony Gormley

Woolwich – surprisingly not Anthony Gormley

First they have revamped Woolwich since the Royal Artillery move out of the barracks some years back. It’s all v posh and as we approached the Thames we stumbled across what we thought was another Anthony Gormley. The group of rusting steel men were straight out of Gormley’s pallet, but having checked when we got back they are by a chap called Peter Burke. The group is called ‘the assembly’ but I have to say it’s all v Dr Who; all zombie and intense – certainly enough to scare small children and most dogs.

no cycling please

no cycling please

Next we took the Woolwich pedestrian tunnel under the Thames. We actually cycled past the red-brick rotunda that is the entrance to the tunnel. We only found it because an Indian (blithely guessing at ethnicity, sorry) jogger stopped and asked me what was I looking for? I told him, and with the generosity of ten men he said ‘follow me’ and jogged us round to the building, walks in with us and gave us some history about the tunnel as well as the ferry which runs above it. I’m not quite sure where that sort of helpfulness comes from, but if he continues in that vein he’ll be doing St Peter’s job for him when he gets there. I hope he remembers me when it’s my turn – “I’m the idiot who couldn’t find the entrance to the Woolwich tunnel”. It does seem odd to have a small tunnel for a few foot passengers so far out of town. Why here? Anyhow it was perfect for us, though, and whilst there were clear signs stating ‘no cycling’, everyone else was, so we broke fourteen by-laws and pedalled through.

not so pleasurable now...

not so pleasurable now…

Westward bound we came across the entrance to the ominously named ‘London Pleasure Gardens’ which, now deserted, had lost a lot more than their pleasure from where I took the photo. I also managed to snap a different shot of the

no longer a white elephant

no longer a white elephant

Dome – sorry to bore you pictorially, but I am loving the snapping. It seems a long time ago when everyone (that is everyone) was having a go at Tony Blair for, what was then described as, the white elephant of the millennium. And yet today it stands absolutely an icon of East London and now a huge draw for musicians and groups. Well done him and his team. I love it and, if you’re on the South Bank you can cycle all the way round it. Talking of cycling, Boris Bikes have proven to be an integral part of London life. We saw scores of people of them pedalling away…

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We stopped for a coffee at the Prospect of Whitby pub, reportedly the oldest riverside pub in London. Not many years ago it was geographically in the thick of the British newsprint business at Wapping. When, after a struggle with the unions, Wapping was closed down the Prospect survived and it is now surrounded by well-to-do flats and houses. Coffee wasn’t cheap, but I guess rates are pricey. But it was good to visit part of the London establishment.

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The Prospect

We made it to Heidi’s just about on time and it was great to meet up with her again and be introduced to her boyfriend, Oren. They have a lovely flat and, in Heidi’s own words, we were presented with a grown-up lunch. She’s in fine form and now training to be an RE teacher. Apparently C and I are part of the genesis of that, which was nice of her to say. Oren, an English/Israeli, came to England once he turned twenty and now runs an internet focused company –

Heidi and us

Heidi and us

improving access to businesses from search engines. He’s a well travelled man, and, as he was telling us an anecdote about a trip to India to attend a ‘catching rainbows’ festival, I was abruptly reminded that whilst we might think our attempt at Stage 3 is ‘alternative’ we really don’t even know how to spell the word. Must try harder in this department!

On the route back we decided to take the Woolwich ferry which is free. We were amused by a couple of Nigerian men, all dressed in West African finery, who were on a visit to London and taking photos of everything. I suggested I take a photo of the pair of them on the ferry, which they loved…..during which one of the men took a photo of me taking a photo of them. Bless. I did manage to get this photo of the Thames Barrier.

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Home via a dog-leg into Thamesmead to forage at Morrisons. Back at the site we were all being entertained by a local Caribbean party with music designed to bypass your ears and thump its way into your soul. Thankfully for the ageing population of the campsite, they turned the volume down before midnight.

Off to see Eva today for church and then lunch. She lives opposite the British Museum. I think we’ll take the train.

Till later.