Wednesday, 15 December 2010

The End

Very early Friday morning we're catching a plane to Stuttgart. From there a train will deliver us into the loving embrace of Erika's family. We should be in Oberkochen by noon or early afternoon. So we haven't gone to many places this week in preparation for our departure. Erika did spend the afternoon yesterday with Suzie in Covent Garden. And Benedict stayed home on Monday and Tuesday with a cough and feeling some soreness here and there. The fast London life style may have finally gotten to him.

He did make it to school today. He didn't have to be there until late morning because he and some other members of his class went on a field trip. They went to see a pantomime, similar to 'Jack and the Beanstalk' we saw a couple of weeks ago, in Hammersmith called 'Dick Whittington and His Cat'. I know a little of what it's about, and Benedict tells us it was very funny. Good songs, lots of jokes. It's a traditional English story/legend nominally based on a real person from the 14th or 15th century. I could Google it, but I've had enough of that. The kids got to the theatre on the tube. Hammersmith is the next stop after Acton Town, the tube station down the street from Acton High School, and that's how they returned. No school buses. It was well after dark by the time Benedict came home. Just for your information, the sun doesn't rise until 8am and it sets before 4pm. It isn't much fun getting up in the dark.

Benedict told me this joke this evening. If you live in the UK or have been following the county's politics you'll get it. Otherwise you won't. Sorry.

Q: Why did Nick Clegg cross the road?
A: Because he said he wouldn't!

It's very funny. Really.

This is my last post, and I suppose I ought to have something fitting to write about, such as our reactions to our experiences, our impressions of London and England., and such. But I won't. It'll take too long and be too boring. Let me just say that it's been an incredible experience and great fun, most of the time. It's been a pleasure writing for this blog. It's taken much more time than I anticipated, but in years to come when we want to remind ourselves of what we did while in London this account will help us remember the places and the people who have had such a wonderful and positive impact on us. The effort will have been worth it.

And if any of you are still reading and keeping up with this very subjective account of our time here, thank you for your loyalty. In early November Suzie nominated London Stories when The Guardian's travel section was looking for City Travel Blogs. The paper selected London Stories and we were in the paper and on their web site. After the publicity, a huge spike in readership occurred, followed quickly by an almost as rapid falling off. Looking at the statistics page for London Stories one doesn't see a Bell Curve; one sees a Bell Nail, so steep and swift was both the increase and decline in readership. A few, however, have remained, and a special thanks to them for reading although we've never met. Of course, I expected readers in the America, the UK, and Germany. I informed friends and relatives there whenever I published a new post. Amazingly, there are also readers from Mexico, Australia, Brazil, Estonia, Poland, Czech Republic, Ireland, Spain, Hungary, South Korea, India, Iceland, Ghana, Canada, Denmark, Netherlands, Italy, France, Finland, Argentina, Japan, and a few more. So a big hug and thanks to you, Suzie, for my 15 minutes (seconds?) of fame.

And a big hug and kiss for Erika, who took at least 80% of the photographs and put up with the hours I spent writing this thing.

We could easily stay in London another 6 months and not exhaust what the city has to offer. There are places worth visiting we didn't get to: the Imperial War Museum, HMS Belfast--a retired warship turned museum floating on the south bank of the Thames, the Tate Britain, the Gaguin exhibit at the Tate Modern, several more plays, a return visit to the Museum of Natural History to visit the Darwin Center, Osterley Park, Richmond Park, Chiswick House, a tour of Fuller's Brewery, London Transport Museum, the new Olympic park being constructed in East London for the 2012 Olympics, the Thames Tidal Barrier, Banquet House, Oxford, Avenbury Henge. And that's just off the top of my head and doesn't include what I've forgotten or haven't yet learned about.

And though I know where it is, I didn't find the Holy Grail I sought a few weeks ago when I became lost and ended up at Heathrow and Hammersmith. Time now to reveal the Grail, though it remains distant from my grasp. It is, of course, a pub. Not just any pub. The name of this pub is Famous Three Kings Pub, and it's in West Kensington. My goal was to take a picture of the placard outside the pub picturing three famous kings: Henry VIII, I believe (which means I'm not sure) James I, and most importantly the grandest and most famous king of all, ELVIS!!!! You see we still have much to do should we return.

Thursday it's supposed to rain, and some forecasters predict light snow Friday morning. Others predict freezing temps but clear skies. I hoping the latter are right.

If I get around to it, I may do a post or two after returning to Texas about our time in Germany. But don't count on it.

Meanwhile, a Happy Christmas and Merry New Year to you all.


Monday, 13 December 2010

Windsor with Kate and Chris

We're coming into the last furlong of the home stretch here in London, and I'm flagging a bit and giving up some ground. Looks like I'm going to place, though. Erika is heading down to the wire in fine shape leading by a neck and gaining. Benedict is loping along, biding his time and content to finish in the money.

Nephew Chris and his wife Kate spent our last weekend with us. Quite a treat to see them. They drove in from Bristol from a lovely house they've been fixing up the last few years. Good thing they only have a couple of details to finish as they're expecting a baby in February. Kate looks great. They arrived around midday Saturday and after a bit of lunch we piled into their car and headed to Windsor, only about a half hour west of us.

The Thames
Windsor is a huge castle that is one of the official residences of the queen. It overlooks the Thames from a high point above the river and is one of the fortresses begun by William the Conqueror to protect the main approaches to London. It's the largest occupied castle in the world, and none other has been occupied continuously for as long. The castle has been added on to over the centuries, and today is pretty much as it was in the 19th century. As with all the royal palaces, its history over the nearly millennium of its existence provides a microcosm of English history.

The day was overcast but a bit warmer, relatively speaking.

Sign post outside the castle. Eton College is right across the river.

The commercial strip across the street from the castle is dominated by chain food restaurants. See the MacDonalds? There is also a Pizza Hut and Starbucks and British chains. There were also some ritzy and posh shops.
One of the large arcades lined with restaurants and shops. You might notice the clock is about to strike three.

Following behind Kate, Chris, and Benedict outside the castle walls.

Here are in front of the castle gates. We had just discovered that in the winter months that the castle closes at three and decided that we must return on Sunday. The castle is much bigger than we expected. It must be at least 3 times larger than the Tower of London.
There is some serious security around the palace.
A steam locomotive on display in one of the arcades.

Chris and Kate.

We decided to relieve our disappointment with a couple of pints at a local pub. We then headed back to Ealing and dinner at our favorite Thai place in the Forrester. We had a lovely evening chatting and telling anecdotes and getting to know one another better.

The next day after brunch Chris drove us all back to Windsor and we were able to get in. We're grateful to Chris and Kate for suggesting we visit Windsor, otherwise we wouldn't have had the opportunity to visit. Had we been on our own we would have taken the train, which seems to involve taking the underground to Paddington RR Station and then a regular train to Windsor, a project that might have taken close to half a day to accomplish one way. None of us were prepared for the what was available for the public to see, however.
The above photo is still the exterior of the castle. You'll have to look at one of the photos online to get the feel for how large the complex really is. As you can tell, it was a much sunnier and cheerier day than on Saturday.

Windsor is the home of the oldest chivalry order, the Knights of the Order of the Garter, begun by Edward III in 1348. The origins of the Order are cloudy, even to the exact date of its beginning. The full membership is limited to only 24 knights, not including the monarch  who heads the order and appoints new knights, and member of the royal family are also appointed members although not among the 24 full knights. The monarch may appoint people to be Stranger Knights. Among such members are foreign sovereigns. St. George, seen here slaying a dragon, is the Order's patron saint. The spiritual home of the Order is St. George's Chapel at Windsor.

The moat partially surrounding the castle. It serve primarily as a garden.

The Round Tower. The Queen's standard flies, a bit limply on this day, from the flag staff indicating she is occupying the royal apartments on this Sunday. When she is not present at the palace, the Union Jack hangs dolorously instead.

The staffs held up by the creatures on the heights of the Chapel function as effective lightening rods as well as decorative details.

These are photos of the exterior of St. George's Chapel, the spiritual home of the Order of the Garter. Unfortunately the chapel is not open to tourists on Sunday. We were very disappointed. It's said to be one of the best examples of late medieval Gothic architecture. Here are online photos of the chapel, too few of them of the interior. Ten monarchs are buried here, including Henry VIII and Charles I. Here is a timeline of the College of St. George and the Chapel that includes a few photographs of stain-glass windows and interior spaces.
Outside one of the gift shops. If you like, you can get small crowns to decorate your Christmas tree.

The first stop within the castle was the Drawing Gallery. The gallery was lightly lit and the art, which was primarily drawings, is often rotated to protect them from damage to light exposure. The Royal Collections, which holds over 1700 drawings, supposedly contain the largest collection of Da Vinci drawings in the world, and  we saw several of them, and drawings by others (these are samples from the collection, not necessarily what was on exhibit). There was also a special exhibit of the photos of the queen as a young girl along with her sister Princess Margaret, parents George VI (the subject of the current film about how he overcame his stuttering) and his Queen Consort Elizabeth, and QE II's children too. Prince Charles looks as priggish as a four year old as he does today. Still, when angry protesting students pelted his car last week while the Prince and the Duchess of Cornwall were on the way to a night at the theatre one of them, heard yelling 'Off with their heads', was attacking the wrong target.

We visited the Queen Mary's Doll House, which is probably the biggest and best I've ever seen. The house is built to 1:12 scale, and everything little thing within it is built to scale. Tourists are not allowed to photograph inside the castle, but perhaps you can get an idea of the detail from this photo. Mind you, this photo only shows one side of the house. Each side is just as carefully crafted with garages, servant quarters, the queen's bedroom, etc. Craftsmen and the best artists of the 1920s helped to put this together. Phenomenal.

From the Doll House gallery we flowed into the main state apartments. More armour (Henry VIII really was obese), fabulous swords and other weaponry, gifts from leaders from around the world when the empire was at its height, as well as absconded treasures from India and other corners of the old empire. It gets a bit tiresome to pronounce another collection of stuff as fabulous or fantastic or brilliant. Why am I surprised that a royal palace holds incredible works of art? I should take it for granted by now. I should be surprised from now on if a palace did not contain extraordinary works of art. The paintings at Windsor alone are mouth watering. Never mind the the stately rooms, the solid silver table and mirror frame. Forget about the tapestries and rugs. Ignore the sculpted heads of Nelson, Churchill (both Winston and his ancestor John, the 1st Duke of Marlborough, who won the crucial Battle of Blenheim in southern Germany to save Vienna from assault by France's Louis XIV during the Spanish War of Succession), Wellington, various other monarchs and military leaders. I lost count of the ceramic dining services.

The Royal Collection numbers over 7000 paintings and it's distributed among the various royal residences. That's staggering. It's one of the largest collections in the world. What would rival it? The Vatican? The queen does not own the art; she merely holds them in trust for the state. The state actually owns the collection, but since the queen is the head of state it seems she's the de facto owner if not owner de jure. There are Rubens, Rembrandts (the fourth self portrait we've seen in our gallery hopping), Canalettos, Van Dycks, Raphaels, Holbeins at Windsor alone. On the walls of one large room, the Waterloo Room, which was being used by the Eton College Orchestra as they rehearsed for a performance that night for their parents (so I heard; might the queen be eavesdropping from her apartments that night?) hung at least a couple of dozen portraits by Thomas Lawrence of the monarchs, military leaders, diplomats, and a pope who together ganged up on Napoleon to finally defeat him at Waterloo in 1815. In the center, of course, is Lawrence's portrait of Wellington. (The loss of life at this battle was so severe the Duke commented: 'Next to a battle lost, the greatest misery is a battle gained.')

What was at first was a great tragedy, a fire in the palace in 1992 that severely damaged about 20 percent of the castle, turned into an opportunity to restore many of the rooms to their original state of glory using traditional and modern craftsmanship. The results are magnificent.

What a treasure to experience something special. Again.

Perhaps if we come again we'll be able to cross over the Thames and see what Eton College, seen here in the middle distance, looks like. After all, the Duke of Wellington allegedly said, 'The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton'. Sadly, there were no organized sporting games at Eton during his three unhappy years there and the quote seems to have been attributed to him after his death. According to rumour, that quote may have been meant more literally than it seems. Did Eton own the land the battle was fought on? Perhaps not, but the current Duke of Wellington collects 100,000 pounds in annual rent from farmers near Waterloo in Belgium who work the land granted to the original Duke by the King of Holland in gratitude for the Duke's victory..
The guard marching in the quadrangle to relieve a soldier on watch. I don't think those are old muskets the guard is carrying.
Members of the Eton College Orchestra in the quadrangle leaving the palace after rehearsing in the Waterloo Room. Prince William of Wales, second in line to the throne, is a graduate. And who knows, perhaps one of these young men is a future prime minister. Nineteen English prime ministers, including the David Cameron the current prime minister, attended Eton.

That's definitely not an old musket.

After dinner in the shadow of the old castle, Chris drove us home through heavy traffic on the M4. An accident caused us to crawl along. When we finally made it home we enjoyed a final cup of tea with Chris and Kate before they returned to Bristol.

A note: Last week many people in England remember the anniversary of the death of John Lennon exactly 30 years earlier. It was a very big deal here.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Science Museum and Freud

Sunday morning we had heat and hot water again. Sunday afternoon we escaped from our small cottage for the Science Museum in Kensington.
This is the outdoor skating rink by the Museum of Natural History, which is next to the Science Museum. The recent cold spell helped open several outdoor rinks around London earlier than usual.

This is the fourth visit to the Science Museum for Benedict and me, the second for Erika. We started with the special exhibit on Psychoanalysis: The Unconscious in Everyday Life. There were books, art works, and objects from Sigmund Freud's collection of small antiquarian statues. Though interesting, I wondered whether such an exhibit belonged in a science museum given psychoanalysis' tenuous--some would say non-existent--relationship with the scientific method. Whatever loose criteria the museum poo-bahs established that allowed psychoanalysis to squeak in as a science, would the same criteria permit an exhibit on Marxism? After all, Marx and his followers believed his work was scientific, at least in the sociological and economic sense. But hardly anyone agrees with that point of view anymore.

We next decided to start at the top of the museum, on the 5th floor and then the 4th floor. These floors were tiny compared to the floors in the rest of the museum, but they both contained a wealth of materials related to medicine. The exhibit on the 5th floor explores the history of medicine, especially its art and science. The exhibit begins 4000 years ago in the period of Ur and written cuneiform tablets. It covers the Egyptian period with large casts of Egyptian wall friezes illustrating the medicinal practices of the ancient Egyptians. There was even an Egyptian toilet seat. Perfumes and oils used by the Egyptians for health purposes were also shown. This brought to my mind the book I bought in Edinburgh about the herbs and spices used by the Egyptians for relieving health ailments. The exhibit proceeds through the Greek, Roman, and medieval periods, and in the 16th century shows books called 'herbals' that describe and explain the various uses of herbs as medicinal remedies. In one of the cases there is a basket woven of clove, which was thought to ward off the plague. That reminded me of the story of the thieves who wandered through Marseilles in France during the plague and robbed the dead without contacting the disease because they rubbed essential oils on themselves, thus protecting them. (Product Placement Alert!) Young Living's blend of essential oils called Thieves is based on this story and others like it.

We also discovered that electrotherapy for mental illness was first tried in 1740 using static electricity. There are also presentations of medicine in other traditions, such as Chinese, African, Aryuvedic, and other non-Western approaches.

The 4th floor gave us Glimpses of Medical History consisting of dioramas illustrating various medical procedures through the centuries such as cataract surgery in Persia in the 11th century (often, though not always, successful), ship board surgery on an English war ship in the 18th century, various stages of dental care and surgery, and childbirth in a Victorian home. There is a reconstruction from the original materials of an early 20th century apothecary shop--what we call these days a pharmacy.

On the same floor is a small psychology exhibit.

On the third floor, taking up only a relatively small patch of space, is the Launch Pad. The Science Museum devotes part of the third floor to allow kids (and adults) to play around with about 50 exhibits involving electricity, magnets, water, weights, mirrors. and more. We spent the most time here and it was the most fun.

Also on the 3rd floor is the King George III Collection of 18th Century scientific instruments. We Americans tend to regard him unfavorably because he was king of England during the American War for Independence. But his collection of books serves as one of the foundations of the British Library, and his collection of instruments is significant. Painted on the wall in the rear of the gallery is a copy of a portion of a painting hanging in the National Gallery, Derby's An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump.

After a visit to the Science Museum's gift shop, we walked the few blocks to Knightsbridge and Harrods. We wanted to see the windows of the store. This Christmas the theme in the windows revolves around the story of Peter Pan. Apparently a new movie about the boy who never grows old will soon be released.
As far as the window displays are concerned, I can't decide whether they are poshly decadent or decadently posh.

A few blocks farther down Knightsbridge is one of Harrods' main rivals, Harvey Nichols. Their window displays, I'm afraid, are beyond my understanding. Do aliens celebrate Christmas?

It's been a quiet week for me. Erika and Suzie spent a few hours shopping and hanging out at Brick Lane in East London on Tuesday.

On Thursday Erika and I went to Hampstead in North London to have breakfast with Janine, CAPA's theatre instructor. After a delightful conversation and eats Erika and I looked for the Freud Museum. The day was a little warmer than earlier in the week with temperatures soaring to above zero. 
The area looks very prosperous with many detached homes and what once were detached homes are today subdivided into flats.
A lovely stature of a ballerina in front of one of the homes in Hampstead.

We found the museum and explored the house in which Sigmund Freud spent the last year of his life before his death in 1939 after being essentially run out of Vienna by the Nazis. Several of his siblings were not so fortunate; they died in concentration camps. After his death his daughter Anna continued to live in the house until her death in 1982. She was also a major theoretician of psychoanalysis, particularly with regards to children, and accepted patients in her second floor study. Sigmund Freud's study on the first floor remains as it was at his death. He managed to take most of his large library, furniture, and huge collection of artifacts from ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome to England with him. The Science Museum borrowed some ancient antiquaries, and their absence made no dent in the collection. Following only psychoanalysis and tobacco, his greatest interest was archeology, which he compared with psychoanalysis in the sense that archeology strips away historical and cultural mysteries while psychoanalysis peels away unconscious mysteries. Also in his study is his desk and, most famously, his couch. He still accepted patients in the last year of his life.
I went home to be there in time for Benedict to arrive from school. Erika stayed to explore the shops in Hampstead and Camden.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Dead Egyptians, Pantomime, Freeze Out, Carols, Gingerbread Houses(?)

We gave Benedict a snow day on Wednesday. Not his school--us. Figured he deserved it after staying up very late for 'Romeo and Juliet' the night before. It took quite a while to get home after the performance. And snow did lay on the ground, as you can see in some of the pictures below. Of course, just because he had the day off school didn't mean he could just kick back. So off we went to the British Museum to behold a special exhibit of the Egyptian Book of the Dead.

On the way we stopped to take pictures in front of this building about a block away from the British Museum. Bertrand Russell lived in one of the flats here about a hundred years ago. The years listed on the plaque (1911-1916), however, were years he taught at Cambridge. Perhaps this was his London address. Interesting that the last year listed, 1916, was the year Cambridge released him from teaching because of  his active anti-war activities, for which he was imprisoned in 1918. Fifty years later he was briefly jailed for protesting the Vietnam War. He was in his nineties by then.

The special exhibit for the Egyptian Book of the Dead exhibit is located in what used to be the British Museum's reading room, in the center of the museum. Karl Marx spent much of the last thirty years of his life studying, reading, and writing here. Bertrand Russell's grandfather, John Russell, was prime minister when Prussia tried to extradite Marx around 1850. The prime minister, being an ardent defender of free speech, refused to hand Marx over. Politics seems to be be in the family's blood. One of Bertrand's sons was a distinguished historian of 17th century Britain and a force to be reckoned within the Liberal Democratic party, and a grandson, who is the 6th Earl Russell, is today a Labour party politician.

The Book of the Dead exhibit explained the purpose of the Book. People important and wealthy enough had scribes write a version of the Book specifically tailored for their journey through the underworld. Spells, selected from a collection of about 200, written by scribes in hieroglyphics and pictures of creatures painted on the papyrus for the purpose of protecting and safely guiding the dead to their final goal of eternal life in paradise, which looked a lot like the Nile Valley. (Here is a short review in the Daily Telegraph.) What was spectacular were the number of papyrus scrolls in the collection and how well preserved they were despite some of them being more than 3500 years old. A few of the scrolls were quite long, one of them 35 meters in length. There was at least one mummy still wrapped in cloth in its coffin. Lots of jewelry and amulets and other funerary objects displayed in the cases.
When we finished going through the special exhibit we wandered around the rest of the museum. A copy of the Rosetta Stone, which Benedict is hugging, is in the Enlightenment Gallery, which used to be the King's Library and housed King George III book collection now in the British Library. We wandered through the galleries of African art and textiles, collections of items from North American and Mexican natives, and listened to a short presentation on the history of money in the money gallery.
Snow fell in our back yard on Thursday and Friday, stranding many people on the roads and trains. Students continued to protest the sharp fee increases for attending colleges, the English cricket team came roaring back to tie against the Australians in the first test match for the Ashes (if you're American, please don't ask--I don't know either), and the country was outraged at FIFA for denying their stronger bid and awarding the 2018 World Cup to Russia. From what I could tell, the British media were more outraged at the denial of America's bid for the 2022 World Cup than the Americans were. Qatar? Really? Air conditioned covered stadiums that haven't been built yet? There's something rotten in the state of Switzerland.
People are unreasonably proud in living somewhere where there are four distinct seasons instead of the monotonous blending of seasons as in Texas and California. At least until they get stuck in their cars miles from home and it's a freezing long walk because the trains aren't running. Makes Spain and Italy look awfully good about then, doesn't it?

Friday evening Benedict and I braved the rush hour horde and the bitter cold to meet Erika at a theatre in Hackney called the Empire Hackney. Normally from our house the trip takes a little over an hour. But not on this evening. We left an hour and half before curtain time at 7pm, thinking that would give us some cushion, but I was wrong. Our Piccadilly Line train was unusually slow, the Victoria Line train we transferred onto at Kings Cross was incredibly packed, and I chose to take the overground train the last bit, and we would have been on time for the scheduled start of the performance but something, probably the snow or cold, delayed the train and we waited 20 minutes until it arrived. By then a large crowd gathered on the platform waiting for the train. And then it was absolutely packed. I shoved Benedict onto the carriage, and I had to really push passengers so I could squeeze in. My usual mild mannered approach would have left us on the platform as well, waiting who-knew-how-long for the next train, and we were already late for the 7pm curtain. A few people were left standing on the chilly platform; no room on the train.

As it turned out we arrived only a few minutes late. Erika worried about us, but couldn't call us on her mobile and my call to her didn't go through because her phone ran out of battery juice. Fortunately for us the performance didn't start until after 7:15.

We saw what is called a pantomime. But not, for you Americans, the kind of pantomime in which the performers act out their parts silently. English pantomime refers to a very broadly played musical comedy with lots of dancing and audience participation ('Look behind you!' 'What?' 'Behind you! Look behind you!'). The story is usually based on a nursery school tale, in this case 'Jack and the Beanstalk', making it a family-friendly experience. The main role is usually a man playing the role of a woman, in this case Jack's mother, Daisy. I'm embarrassed to admit that I didn't know that Daisy was played by a man until the following night He had me fooled. Either he was that good or I'm that naive. It's probably the latter since Erika and Benedict figured out she's played by a guy. Be that as it may, the humor was topical, ad libbing encouraged, and the choreography bright and sassy, and the songs mostly familiar pop and show tunes. Great, great fun.

It took about an hour to get home on the crowded Friday night trains. We were in for a surprise when we got there: no heat or hot water. The boiler stopped functioning. Fortunately the house is well insulated, so it remained fairly warm. Saturday morning I called British Gas and they couldn't send out someone until Sunday. This left us with a dilemma. My nephew Chris and his wife were coming to spend the day and night with us from Bristol. However, the house would only get colder. I managed to get hold of Chris and we agreed that it would be better to postpone their visit until this weekend. Better to not take any chances as Kate is pregnant had a slight cold.

We didn't want to stay home and freeze, so Erika contacted the Kilfoyles. She arranged for us to meet them after the late afternoon caroling concert at St. Martin in the Fields.

That's what we did. But tickets for the caroling concert were not available online. We took off early afternoon for the church to find out if any tickets remained. The posters above are on the fence outside the church indicating the different musical performances during the Christmas season. The box office is in the crypt area under the church where a cafe sells various refreshments and substantial fare. A small glass case in the crypt held displays of nativity scenes showing examples from different countries. A couple of tables held different models of the church itself. Kids occupied several large folding tables where they made brass rubbings. They placed paper over a brass plate etched with the figure of a knight, horse, or famous king/queen, and then rubbed a wax crayon over the paper, resulting in a reproduction of the brass plate on the paper. Very cool.
We had about an hour before the we needed to seat ourselves for the caroling. We spent that time going across the street to Trafalgar Square and visiting the National Gallery. In the photo above Benedict and I are at the steps of the St. Martin in the Fields heading toward Admiral Nelson's column on the square.
The snow had pretty much melted, though as you can tell it's still cold. These folks were in front of the National Gallery passing out information.
The last time I was at the Square, this fountain was empty and being power washed. It was about 3pm, and the day was dark and dreary. Here you can see down Whitehall all the to Westminster and Big Ben.
The local council, I suppose, set up this Christmas tree, a nativity scene, and a giant menorah on the Square. We spent about an hour inside the National Gallery finding and looking at the paintings featured in the book Benedict recently read called 'Framed'. That way, if he re-reads the book he'll know what the paintings look like. I think I had links to some of the paintings in an earlier post. Being a Saturday there were no student groups in the gallery. But there were lots of people admiring the art.

The caroling at St. Martin in the Fields lasted about an hour. The audience sang along with the choir on some of the songs, and on others the choir performed on their own. Our seats were in the loft and we didn't have a view at all, really, of the choir. But it wasn't necessary to see them as we could hear very well. The organist played the organ up on the loft at the rear of the church, and interestingly the choir sounded a tad behind the organ. I think that's because of the distance between the organ and the choir. When the organist hit the keys, the choir heard the sound a split second later. As far as the choir was concerned, though, they were on the beat. By the time the choir's sound reached back to us at the rear of the church where we heard the notes of the organ at the same time they were played, the choir was an additional split second behind the organ. For me, it made the combination of the two sounds a little off beat, enough to notice.

Einstein's special theory of relativity in action.

Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed the concert. Many families were there, including very young ones whose full-throated participation even when there was no singing added rather than detracted from the charm of the performance.

We met the Kilfoyles outside after the concert. They live within walking distance and they had invited us to dinner. Down to the river we strolled, across the Thames on a pedestrian bridge, along the banks of the Thames through a German Christmas market, past the National Theatre where we saw 'Hamlet' a few days earlier, and soon inside the Kilfoyle's cozy warm house, hands embracing a beer and praises of gratitude escaping our lips for saving us from a freezing night in our own boiler-less home.
Suzie had bought some fixings for the kids to build cookie houses.

Benedict's completed cookie and candy house.

The architectural designs of John and Sarah.

After completing the tasty architectural masterpieces, time for a game of Monopoly. Looks like there were already some sticky negotiations occurring even before the bank has distributed the cash.

We had a delightful evening of food and drink and talk, and Jim and Suzie generously offered to put us up for the night. We decided to spend the night in our house. Approaching the house near midnight I was reminded of the accounts of the mountain men of the Rockies who trapped in the snowy mountains and one would sometimes come upon a cabin in a white meadow where he would gratefully take advantage of the firewood to thaw for a night or two. Except we didn't have any firewood.

All was well after Sunday morning. The man from British Gas came first thing and we were back in the bosom of civilization.