Wednesday, 24 November 2010

National Gallery (again), Ceremony of the Keys, National Archives, Tea, Geffrye, St. Paul

On Monday morning, by this time it's 15 November and I'm slowly getting up to date, I thought I'd drop in on the National Archives. I caught bus line 65 at the South Ealing tube station and shortly crossed the Thames near Yew Gardens where I got off. I guessed which street to take, and when I passed a used book store I entered with the intention of asking if I was headed in the right direction. Assured by the owner that indeed I was, I spent a few minutes browsing in the store and purchased a used copy of a graphic guide to Wittgenstein's philosophy. Wittgenstein studied philosophy with Bertrand Russell at Cambridge University. Born into an extremely wealthy Viennese family, he volunteered for Austria in WW I, spent the end of the war in a POW camp in Italy, and, after promotion to Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge in 1939, worked as a hospital porter in London during the Blitz and later as a research technician in Newcastle. Along the way he saved the lives of his sisters by buying off the Nazis, who were considering throwing them into the death camps because of the their Jewish heritage. Ironically, he and Adolph Hitler attended the same school at the same time as youths; they were about the same age.

I found the Archives a few minutes after leaving the bookstore. A massive building that is closed on Mondays. Oh, well. (Sorry no pictures. Can't even download a picture from the web. Really cool building, though I doubt that Prince Charles likes it.)

The Kew Underground station was nearby so I took the tube to Westminster. When I emerged from underground I walked up Whitehall towards Trafalgar Square. The previous day was Remembrance Sunday, the day set aside in the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth to honor those who served in the military conflicts since WW I. We watched the ceremonies at Whitehall on television. A long parade with marching bands proceeded past the Queen and her family. Interspersed in the coverage correspondents interviewed active and wounded soldiers from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. For weeks we had seen many people wearing artificial poppies on their clothing, poppies they received after a donation to support those wounded in Afghanistan. At 11am the whole nation observed two minutes of silence. Then the Queen laid the first poppy wreath of remembrance at the Cenotaph in the middle of the street, followed by Prince Philip and the rest of the royal family each laying a wreath. One by one the heads of various arms of the military, government officials and political party leaders, representatives from important civilian services laid a wreath. The Prime Minister didn't have far to go because 10 Downing Street is right off this section of Whitehall. The base of the Cenotaph was soon covered with wreaths of poppies. They were still there when I passed by Monday morning.

Many people crossed to the middle of the street pay their respects.

This memorial is a few dozen yards from the Cenotaph. The women were also honored with wreaths.
The camera ran out of space, otherwise I would have taken more pictures. Of the Horse Guards, Trafalgar Square from Whitehall, and others

I don't know why I can't left align the text, but we're stuck with this.

I spent a couple of hours at the National Gallery, and at some point I may post some of photos of some of its paintings. I didn't get very far again. Somewhere in the 16th century. I'm proceeding chronologically.

(Note: In the last post I wrote that the previous Monday after visiting the National Gallery that I wandered through Leicester Square. Untrue. While I did stroll through the Gallery the previous Monday, today was the day I explored Leicester Square. Just want to keep the everything straight. You may not care, but I do.)

That night we went to the Tower of London to observe the Ceremony of the Keys. We had scored some tickets, which are free but hard to get. Only a limited number of people can watch the ceremony. We had to be there by 9:30pm, and it was pretty chilly. We had to get there a little early because Erika had the tickets for the SU students. While we waited one of the students entertained us by recounting how she and some other students had waited 28 hours in the freezing night air in Leicester Square for the world premier of the latest Harry Potter movie. They couldn't move from their spot or they would lose it. No peeing or eating for 28 hours. Freezing nights and windy. Benedict listened, I think, in disbelief.

The Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower has taken place for over 700 years, and without a single interruption for at least 300 years. The Ceremony involves locking the Tower up for the night. This, of course, is very important given that the Crown Jewels lie within its walls. The Ceremony doesn't take very long (you can read about at this link), but it is fun to watch such an old ritual.

The next day, Tuesday, I did make it to the Archives. The place was packed. There is a small museum, but that was practically empty. People were there to use the archival materials in the museum. I suppose most of them were doing genealogical research. But I was there for the museum. I wanted to see the Domesday Book. in the museum. When William the Conqueror had settled a little into England he wanted to know exactly what was going on in his new kingdom. He wanted to know who owned what property, what kind of property, and their livelihoods. To better control and tax the populace, you see. So he sent out a bunch of folks to find out. The Domesday Book is the result of all the information they collected. What's interesting about the book is that it has been used to settle property disputes even into the 20th century. So researchers can still rely on data recorded over 900 years ago in the 11th century. That's mind boggling.

There were other interesting things and exhibits in the museum, but that was the main thing I wanted to see. When I left the museum I found a path down to the Thames. I walked along the river on a very muddy path to Kew Bridge. Before I went on the bridge to catch a bus home, I noticed that there were several businesses located under the bridge. They were enclosed like regular offices. One of the businesses was a gym to work out in, and another was a car repair shop. Though I'd crossed the bridge several times, I'd never noticed the businesses under it.

That night Erika and Benedict attended a Brazilian dance performance. Frankly, by this time I'd had enough of 'cultural activities' and I stayed home. To recover from extreme cultural overdose. It must be noted that the dance performance received rave reviews from Erika and a thumbs up from Benedict.

By the next day most of cultural ennui had worn off. I was prepared for the next planned event. This time it was Wednesday afternoon cream tea. Erika and I met Benedict outside his school and immediately we whisked ourselves off to South Kensington.

We purchased a new digital photo disk for the camera, so now we were ready to shutterbug our way through life again. We were to meet in the Pavilion Restaurant at the Regency Hotel for tea. The hotel is on Queensgate, which is poorly pictured above. The reason I wanted a picture of this street is because it does have some pop cultural significance, at least according to one of the tour guides we had several months ago. A chap named Freddie Mercury lived on Queensgate while studying astro-physics at Imperial College, which is only a few blocks away. When deciding on a name for his band he adopted part of the street name, Queen. 'We will...! We will...! ROCK YOU!!'

But on to a more sedate and formal activity.
Benedict and I waiting for the rest of the SU crowd in the lobby. Prince Will and Kate had just announced their engagement, and of course everyone was simply in a tizzy about it.

We hadn't seen Professor Mike in a while. He showed us how to slather the cream and jam on the scones and bravely dare them to clog our arteries and do their worst. Sue Mennicki, director of SU's study abroad program, sits on the right. She's in town to make sure that all the students are still alive and more or less thriving. She seemed to be pleased.

On Thursday morning, the 18th, I met Erika and her students, along with Sue Kilfoyle, at the Geffrye Museum on the east side of London, one of the rare times we've ventured out of the west side. On the long bus ride from the tube station to the museum we passed the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital. My understanding is that only the Queen, or King, can bestow the title 'Royal' on an institution, so I found it interesting that a homeopathic hospital had earned that title. The bus unloaded me near the museum, and this neighborhood had a huge number of Vietnamese restaurants, leading me to conclude that this district has a large Vietnamese population.

The Geffrye itself was really fun. The building was once an alms house, but now it's main function is to show us moderns what middle class life was in earlier decades and centuries. There are about a dozen rooms furnished and decorated to resemble rooms in the 16th century onwards to the 1990s (we had a TV set just like the one in the 1990s room!). It was a fascinating peek into people's lives. There is virtual tour at the link above if you want to explore.

Friday morning Erika and I had tickets to see the inside of St. Paul's Cathedral. We were not allowed to take photos inside. You can see some photos of the interior at this link. There are numerous monuments to military leaders and heroes in the cathedral, but there are some devoted to those pursuing less martial activities, such as the poets John Donne and John Milton, the man of letters Samuel Johnson, and the artists Joseph Turner and Joshua Reynolds. Their names are more familiar, to me, anyway, than most of the military worthies honored with bravura statues. Way in the back there is small chapel "To the American Dead of the Second World War from the People of Britain'. A moving tribute that includes a book with the name of dead American servicemen. More in the middle of the nave off to the side and on a couple of pillars are plaques that list of every single bishop of London since 314, beginning with Restitutus. The ceilings are partially covered with beautiful mosaics that Jim Kilfoyle tells us were ordered by Queen Victoria because she thought the interior seemed too dark and needed some sparkle. This cathedral is the fourth named St. Paul to occupy this site, the first one built in 604. The structure it replaced at the same location was actually much larger than this one. Hard to believer. The previous cathedral burned down during the Great Fire of 1666 after standing several hundred years. This one was finished in 1710 and built by Sir Christopher Wren.

We climbed to the top of the dome, with a couple of stops in between, 365 feet above London. Here are some photos.

This is not the top of the dome, what part way up. The students are milling about, and the Gerkin and the other skyscrapers of the City are clearly within view.
A little artsy photograph.

These photos are from the very top of the dome. Above the is the Millennium Bridge. On the other side of the Thames you can barely see the old power station that is now the Tate Modern Museum. To the left, just out of view, is the Globe Theatre.
Looking west towards the London Eye and Westminster. By this time it was about noon and the sky was very hazy. You might notice a brown tinge of air pollution.
The haze is quite noticeable in the picture looking east. You can see the Tower Bridge and the ongoing construction of the Shard. St. Paul stands at what was once the southwestern edge of the old city of London, and the Tower of London, right in front of the Tower Bridge was once the southeastern corner.

After coming down from the dome we explored around the main floor some more, and then entered the crypt. The tombs of Nelson, Wellington, and tombs and more monuments to other heroes lie here under the cathedral. To my surprise, the poet William Blake is buried down there. Seemed a bit out of character.

One of the pleasures of London is that there are endless discoveries to be made and optic exposures to visual contrasts that stimulate the mind. It's a city with a mixed-up stew of ancient, medieval, very old, just plain old, and modern juxtapositions that keep on surprising, sometimes in a head-scratching way (where did that come from? does that really fit here?) but often in a way that fascinates and invites exploration. From the top of St. Paul's dome one can clearly see how much was destroyed during the Blitz because of the obvious new buildings--some dull, many daring and provocative--that have been constructed since.

This building is brand new, only opening a month ago. It stands right across the street from St. Paul's. Nothing could be more different in style or purpose. Where St. Paul's is a place of worship, a place to contemplate eternal verities, this new building, called One New Change, is a large shopping centre and office building, a temple to consumerism and commercial enterprise. While St. Paul's design is classic, One New Change is aggressively modern. Even its name evokes an assertion of momentum, connoting a manic restlessness endemic to contemporary urban life foreign, I imagine, to the more peaceful and slower paces in such places as Berwick in Northumberland and even more so in the village of Ubley near Bristol.
And yet the new building tries to accommodate the old, to even embrace it. We can see not only St. Paul but also St. Paul's reflection, giving us new ways to see something that is so familiar. Even after a few brief months in London St. Paul's has become a comforting sight, a frequent companion-in-passing as we've explored the city. Regular readers will note how often the Cathedral shows up in text or picture. Its presence has become almost a cliche. Here, in this view, we have something different.
Apparently One New Change fostered controversy from the beginning. Some have accused the building of unremitting ugliness, of offering too much contrast so close to one of London's most iconic buildings. Perhaps, but take the elevator to the roof and we see yet another view of the dome, unhindered by trees, unblocked by buildings. We can get closer with an unencumbered view than we can anywhere else. The developers are planning a restaurant on the roof. Imagine having lunch with such a grand view of such a grand cathedral.
The restaurant is not open yet. This bit of creative pastiche covers what will one day be one of the restaurant's windows. One can see the developer's desire to create a happy mix of the contemporary with older styles, and reminding us that the old ways did not make many people better off.
I decided to go home after this, while Erika explored some more. So she headed for Regent Street, one of the most fashionable streets in London. The Tudor building above houses Liberty, one of the most fashionable stores on Regent Street.
A detail from the Liberty shop.

Those old enough to remember the Sixties will remember that the fashion designers on Carnaby Street were the hippest of their time.

When Erika got back home we went out to Domingo's Spanish Restaurant on Northfield Avenue. It was ok, but nothing special.

On Saturday I accompanied Benedict to football and left him there to be picked up again by Jackie and Dominic to enjoy another afternoon of computer mayhem. I hoped to find the Famous Three Kings Pub today, but discovered that though I had the camera with me I failed to reintroduce the batteries after having charged them. So I decided to walk home, exploring along the way. What did I find? Behind Tesco Plus I discovered a Harrod's distribution centre and the huge studio and offices of the Sky network, a pay TV outfit. If you want to watch Premier League football, a subscription is a must. We don't have one, unfortunately.

Finding my way back to the Great West Road I popped into PC World, a store similar to Best Buy. And then I wound my way down to the Brent River, which was also used as the Grand Union Canal when canals were a major transportation spoke for freight. One of the placards along the river said that it's possible to walk all the way to Birmingham on the tow path of this Canal , about 135 miles away. I crossed the river/canal over a wooden bridge, walked through Boston Manor Park, and made it home after 2 hours of walking.

Sue Mennicke, the SU director for studying abroad came, and she and Erika went to Gunnersbury Park where they enjoyed the museum. I may have to check it out before we leave. That evening we ate at Papaya, the Sri Lankan/South Indian restaurant, and boy was my lamb curry good.

Sue spent the night with us and flew off to Texas Sunday morning.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Hi Franz

    [I posted this comment once but it disappeared so I have reposted it in two parts with, I hope, all typos corrected]

    As a Londoner I have found your posts very interesting and enjoyable. I found your blog through the Guardian - did you know about the mention?

    As I have a 9 year old son I thought I could recommend some places - but you've been so amazingly busy I am not sure there are any left!

    If Benedict wants something more active and meet other kids for a couple of hours, all the galleries and museums run kids or family activities at weekends and school holidays. The Science Museum and Natural history Museums are favourites - and you've found them!

    My son also enjoyed the digital studio in the basement of the British Museum:

    Round the corner is his favourite shop, Playin' Games, with all kinds of card and board games. 33 Museum Street WC1A 1LH. And close by is Forbidden Planet, his second favourite shop which does comics and similar. 179 Shaftesbury Avenue WC2H 8JR .

  3. /cont'd

    Tate Modern, next to the Globe, can be fun, especially the Turbine Hall. Cross the river towards St Pauls by the pedestrian bridge and turn immediately right. There you will find steps down to the foreshore which are always ope. if the tide is out you can beachcomb on the foreshore. You will easily find clay pipe stems which are at least 100 years old and may find old glass bottle top with corks, pottery etc.

    If it is a fine day take a boat down the river - there are many piers: . And if you are back in the summer you can take the steam paddle boat Waverely down the Thames towards the sea:

    Finally, if Benedict is into football take him to a big football match (I would suggest the family stand). The tickets can be expensive but an experience. There are several big teams in west London - QPR, Fulham and of course Chelsea.

    Hope this is useful and keep on posting!

    Best wishes