Monday, 29 November 2010

A Skipped Play, Another Play, and Art (Oh, and Beckham)

I forgot to mention that on the day (18 November) Erika and I visited the Geffrye Museum--the place with rooms furnished in different periods--Susie, who was with us that day, offered me a ticket to a performance of Shakespeare's 'Twelfth Night' that night at the Rose Theatre in Kingston. Jim was taking his Shakespeare class to the performance and she preferred an evening at home. Never having seen the play I accepted her ticket. I still have not seen the play. The production was a kind of parody of the play that retained the most important plot elements and characterizations. The stage was set up for a rock concert with microphones, guitars, keyboards, stand up bass, amplifiers. The cast sang, danced, dragged audience members on stage, ordered and distributed pizza to the audience, camped up the characters, and generally had a very good time. The production was really funny, and for those familiar with the play it was probably even funnier. There were moments that might have skirted the edge of self-indulgence, but it was really very funny most of the time. The company somehow edited Shakespeare's play down to 90 minutes while still capturing its essence.

Before the play Jim and I walked through the Christmas Market on Kingston's public square. What struck me as unusual about it is that on one end a booth sold German sausages and saurkraut, and on the other end a booth sold German steaks, and in between them stood a busy temporary pub.

Going home on the bus after the play a class of primary students--about 10-11 years old--got on the bus in Richmond, took over the upper deck, and rode all the way to Ealing. I don't know what they were doing in Richmond, but they were still in their school uniforms and were accompanied by their teacher and one or two parents. Naturally, livinging in Ealing every ethnic group was represented. They got off in Ealing near the Catholic primary school, so I assume these kids attend that school. What struck me is that it was already after 10pm when they got on the bus and that, for what seemed like more than 20 kids, there were no more than three adults to supervise them. I wondered if the kids could sleep in the next morning before going to school.

I got off the bus one stop later at the South Ealing tube station. Instead of walking home directly I took the 30 second ride on the tube train to Northfield instead.

During the week of 22 November I made three visits--on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday--to the the National Gallery in order to finish seeing all the paintings. Each visit took at least two hours as that was about all I could tolerate physically and mentally. After a couple of hours my feet and back ached and I wanted to take a nap. The Gallery has over 2,000 paintings in its collection. They're not all shown, but sometimes it seems like it. If you have a couple of spare hours you can explore the collection here. If you want to, you can get almost an entire course in art history from the online resources alone.

On Tuesday night of that week Erika and I attended a play called 'Yes, Prime Minister' at the Gielgud Theatre near Piccadilly Circus. The theatre used to be called the Globe until the Shakesperean Globe opened, and then this Globe was renamed in honor of the distinguished English actor, John Gielgud. The play is a very, very funny politcal satire. Spot on! as the locals might exclaim.

On the way to the National Gallery this Beckham-sponsored ad demonstrates his still potent marketing influence despite the relative decline of his football abilities. I couldn't resist taking this picture because he has become a kind of iconic figure. Plus the buses are really cool.

This statue of the George Washington stands in front of the National
Gallery and supposedly the soil beneath it is from America.

This is the church of St. Martin in the Fields. I attended a noon concert here the previous
week. It stands across the street from Trafalgar Square.  At the left edge of the photo you
can see the statue of George Washington in front of the National Gallery.

Trafalgar Square from the National Gallery portico looking down Whitehall.

Admiral Nelson and Big Ben, which is basically at the end of Whitehall.

This fountain would be emptied and cleaned a couple of days later.

Cleaning out the fountain.

 A restaurant down the street from Trafalgar Square.
I've been reading one of Benedict's books call Framed: The Perfect Crime...It's a Work of Art by Frank Cottrell Boyce. Though set in Wales it involves the paintings in the National Gallery, and about a dozen of the paintings play important roles in the story's plot. One of the tasks I set out for myself was to find these paintings in the Gallery so I can bring Benedict here and whisk him through to show him those paintings in particular and some of my favorites. I'm unable, or perhaps more accurately unwilling to take the time, to figure out how to copy the paintings to the blog. If it could be done easily I'd have at least two dozen paintings.

Oh, well, here are some links to the ones I like, some of which are mentioned in Benedict's book.

This painting, from 1501, is remarkable for its detail:

In Edinburgh at the Scottish National Gallery we saw a self-portrait of Rembrandt at age 54. Here there are two self-portraits, at age 34 and 63.

The painting stolen by the characters in Framed:

My favorite Van Gogh at the Gallery:

I could add many more, but this should be enough.

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.

Monday, 22 November 2010

National Gallery, Wimbledon, Cautauld Gallery, Tower of London, Canary Wharf

On Monday the 8th of November I decided to spend a couple of hours in the National Gallery of Art. After nearly 3 months in London I would finally visit one of the great art museums in the world. We've passed the museum several times because it's on Trafalgar Square, though we never entered it.

I exited the underground via a different tube station, St. James Park, instead of Piccadilly Circus or Charing Cross. It's a bit farther away, but I wanted to walk through St. James Park again and up the Mall. One of the first things I saw after coming out into the street from the tube was Scotland Yard or, more accurately, New Scotland Yard. I would have taken a picture, but I forgot to take the camera with me. I didn't know this was its location, and I was kind of thrilled to see it, having read so many English murder mysteries and watched more than few English movies. A few minutes later I was in the park. It was practically abandoned. A cold drizzle must have inspired others to forego any outdoor activities, even walking through the park. Even the many birds that I saw with the German contingent the previous week went into hiding.

I walked across the park to the Mall, which is a grand avenue linking Buckingham Palace with the Admiralty Arch near Trafalgar Square. I walked up the Mall to Trafalgar Square. Because of the cold drizzle, there were remarkably few people on the square this morning, the least number I've seen.

I passed the statue of George Washington in front of the museum and entered on the lowest level. I found the galleries with the oldest paintings and started appreciating. After a couple of hours I'd only made it through the 15th century and I was tired of appreciating. After a bite to eat in the museum's cafe I went across the street to St. Martin in the Fields for a free noon concert. A violinist and pianist played short pieces by Mozart, Bach, Elgar, and several others. Very, very good. The entire concert lasted only an hour. Although the church isn't that big it was almost filled. Perhaps many of them came into the church to escape the rain. Then I spent a couple of hours in the National Portrait Gallery, which is right behind the National Gallery of Art. This is where the major portraits of important figures in English history and culture--various King Henrys, King Edwards, Queen Marys, Queen Elizabeths, King Williams, King Georges, and princes, princesses, earls, dukes, generals, admirals, colonels, etc.--are displayed. When it was time to go home I decided to walk to Piccadilly Circle, but somehow I ended up at Leicester (pronounced 'Lester') Square. Oddly, Italian restaurants bordered both sides of the path toward the Square. And on the Square I found a Mexican restaurant. And an underground station that put me on a train toward Ealing.

The next venture came on Wednesday with a quick trip to the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. The village of Wimbledon is a leafy, expensive suburb with plenty of people hovering and hurrying around the tube and train station. The pace of London's manic activity proceeded at a slightly more genteel rate here. The houses were much larger and there were fewer immigrants, as far as I could tell, on the streets. A bus dropped my off at the tennis centre and I spent almost two hours enjoying the tennis museum.
This fellow, as I recall (I forgot my notebook), was the equivalent of someone who would run a present day pro shop. Only in his case the shop was, I believe, at Hampton Court some 200-300 years ago. He strung rackets and gave lessons to the royals and their hangers on, teaching them real tennis. Real tennis was played indoors--several people played on the indoor real tennis court at Hampton Court during our visit there--and this fellow was apparently one of the best players. Henry VIII, before he fattened up, was supposed to be a very good real tennis player. Perhaps the king's athletic prowess was exaggerated. Perhaps his opponents feared the consequences they may have suffered should the king lose.
The game as we know it, officially Lawn Tennis, didn't arise until a little after the mid nineteenth century right, invented near this very spot. Visitors to the museum can see how tennis rackets and tennis fashion changed over the years, and how the game in general has changed. Many other paraphenalia dotted the display cases.
These cups were the original trophies awarded to the winners of the tennis championships.

And these are the trophies awarded to player today. The winning women receive the plate while the men get the trophy. I tried to get a photo of the ghost of John MacEnroe talking about the game and its players, especially his opponents, in the men's locker room, but it didn't come out. Still, that was very cool.

Center court. The low-lying sun prevented a good picture. This is holy ground for anyone who has played tennis seriously. The equivalent of Wembley Stadium for tennis fans. What a treat to see it.
The entrance to Center Court. I was too late to take the tour of the grounds, so I was unable to see any of the other courts. The statue under the Centre Court sign is of Fred Perry, the last male UK winner of the Championships who won a couple of times in the 1930s. One of the strongest UK challengers to come along with a real chance of winning is the Scotsman, Andy Murray. I had a bit to eat in the cafe, including the traditional strawberries and cream. The visit was quite a treat.

On Friday I returned to the Cautauld Art Gallery with Erika. I had been there, recall, with Benedict and we rushed through it. Erika took a picture of the staircase in the muesem. We made our way through the various galleries more slowly than in my visit with Benedict. In a couple of hours we were able to see and enjoy almost everything in the museum without feeling rushed or overwhelmed by the sheer number of masterpieces. Since we didn't attend on a Monday morning when admission is free, we didn't have to elbow our way around or feel as if we were in anyone's way. A lovely day.

For lunch we ate at Thai Square. Erika explored some more while I went home to wait for Benedict to get home from school.

After Benedict's football practice on Saturday--by this time it's the 13th of November and I'm catching up to date--we went to the Tower of London. Benedict and Erika missed the trip there with the German contingent the previous week, and we spent a couple of hours there. In addition to the fabulous Crown Jewels we also saw parts of the Tower which served as residences to the kings and queens of England.

Re-enactors gave visitors a clue as to what life was like in 12th and 13th centuries when Tower's construction began. We also visited the White Tower, which held the castle's armoury, including the armour of the kings of England over the past 500 years, the various types of weapons used by knights and infantry, and how to use them. Very, very cool. Henry VIII's armour was huge so one can easily see how obese he was. It looked like two of me could easily fit into it. It's unlikely that he played much tennis when he got to be that size.
 A crossbow resting in one of the Tower's residential rooms. Many people were imprisoned in these walls, and many of them managed to carve messages in the stones. If I heard correctly, some of the prisoners hired someone else to do the actually carving.
We arrived too late to go on any of the guided tours with a yeoman like this, but he graciously posed for a picture. About 150 people, like him, live in the Tower. Undoubtedly this makes it easier to protect the Crown Jewels.

We stayed in the Tower until we were kicked out. After a cup of coffee at the Starbuck's at the foot of Tower Bridge, we then walked across the Tower Bridge to the south bank of the Thames. We walked along there for a bit, eventually finding a place to eat, walked across the Millenium Bridge towards St. Paul, and went back home.

On Sunday afternoon we found Canary Wharf. What used to a major shipping dock in East London has been transformed into a large planned urban space filled with skyscrapers that house offices of some of the major financial players in the world. What was most remarkable was that on a Sunday afternoon the place was practically empty. Bizarre. The first time in London that we didn't encounter scads of people hustling here and there. Despite that, all the restaurants were open, though unattended. Hundreds of tables and chairs set up outdoors--though this was not a good day to have a meal under the skies since there was an occasional rain drop.

The camera didn't work that afternoon, but here are some images of the Wharf. It is truly spectacular.

Our main goal that afternoon was to visit the Docklands Museum, part of the Museum of London. The Docklands Museum main focus is on the development of shipping and the history of the various docks that merchants used for their trading vessels. The exhibits begin with the Romans and move forward. As far as I can determine there are no longer any shipping docks within London, but it was shipping that transformed London into the major trading port of not only England, but arguably of the world. Fascinating history.

We topped off the weekend with a birthday party for John at the Kilfoyle's house near Waterloo Station. He turned 10. We enjoyed ourselves so much we didn't make it home again until very late.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Getting lost, and Wembley Again

Later that morning, the Saturday morning of Erika's mom's departure with her grandchildren, I accompanied Benedict to his football clinic, for lack of a better term. Normally we took a bus along the Great West Road, but that morning we missed it. Knowing how long it sometimes took for another bus to appear on Saturday mornings we elected to walk to the football facility. It only took about 25 minutes as we walked briskly on the chilly chilly morning, and this turned out to be the correct strategy since not one bus heading in our direction passed us. Four buses went in the opposite direction in that time. We were about 15 minutes late, but everyone else also appeared late so one could argue, rather lamely I suppose, that we were on time.

One of the boys whose acquaintance he'd made at the football club, Dominic, asked that he, Benedict, join him at his computer club after football. Dominic's mum, a very nice lady named Jackie, had offered to pick up Benedict along with her son after football, ply them both with some lunch, and then drop them off at the computer club for a few hours. Seemed like a jolly idea to Benedict. So that meant I had a few hours to myself and I endeavored to find a pub that we had passed on two occasions on different tour buses called the Famous Three Kings. I wanted to photograph the placard hanging outside the pub. Oh, and enjoy a pint with my pub grub for lunch.

As events transpired that morning and afternoon, I never did find the pub. I did, more or less, figure out its location, however. But time ran out before I could drag my bedraggled carcass to where I believed it to be as I needed to be home by 4pm to greet Benedict. Erika had plans for her own adventures that day. Quite good a good one, actually.

The whole story of my wandering aimlessly about southwest London some may find amusing, and please indulge me as I reveal some of the rather embarrassing details. After I dropped Benedict off I hurried back to the Great West Road. I remember that we passed the pub in the vicinity of Fuller Brewery, the only beer brewery remaining in London. I believed that the pub and brewery were on the Great West Road between my location and Heathrow. Mind you, I did not investigate Famous Three Kings pub's location anywhere; I simply assumed I was right. Ah, the self-destructive capacities of the male ego. Will we never learn?

While waiting for the west-bound route H91 bus, I took the following photographs.

This intersection is called Gillette Corner after the structure, the Gillette Building. The Gillette Building lies at the western terminus of a series of art deco buildings on the Great West Road called 'The Golden Mile'. If I can manage it I may yet product a photo essay of the art deco buildings on this stretch of road. Built in the 1930s the Gillette Building was, until just a few years ago, the European headquarters of the Gillette Company. It contained both offices and manufacturing facilities. Around five years ago offices and manufacturing moved somewhere to Eastern Europe and Gillette sold the building to a group intending to turn it into a hotel.
This art deco gem is just a couple hundred yards from Gillette Corner. I don't know what became of its original purpose prior to its becoming the Syon Clinic.
A couple of contemporary buildings. I had to wait quite some time for a bus to come by, so I took these photos.
I had never ventured farther west than Gillette Corner on the Great West Road. We passed the Osterley tube station. On this weekend service on the Piccadilly line was disturbed for maintenance work, and the section between Boston Manor tube station and Hammersmith (which included our local Northfields station) was closed. Passengers from Heathrow were shepherded off the tube at Osterley, one stop before Boston Manor, onto large coaches which drove them along the Great West Road to the Hammersmith tube station. My bus was a double decker, and as usual when going somewhere new on such a bus I sat upstairs to see the world better. Most of the buildings along the road itself were very nice homes. Eventually a more south Asian flavor emerged along the road. After a few miles the bus turned off the Great West Road and after about a mile the H91 bus line ended at the West Hounslow tube station on Bath Road. Behind the station a parking lot (car park, actually) held a very busy and varied flea market. Almost everyone at the market and on the very busy street--cars seemed backed up for miles going in either direction on the two-lane road--were Indian. I found another bus heading west on Bath Road (it really does end up in Bath--eventually). Traffic going west was easy going, but going east looked like a nightmare. When the bus came to a roundabout and began going to Heathrow on the Great Southwest Road (the continuation of the Great West Road with a different name) I knew I was going in the wrong direction. I got off the bus in the middle of nothing, really. I had to cross the busy road and hop over a short barrier without benefit of a cross walk--the nearest one was several hundred yards away--to get to the bus stop on the other side. I noticed an underground train passing parallel to the road. The Piccadilly line to Heathrow Airport. I got on the next bus and got off at the roundabout. This is what I saw:
We had passed this Tudor-style MacDonalds on the bus tour. The guide had told us that pubs doing poorly sometimes become fast food restaurants, and that's what happened here I was happy to encounter it again though I would have preferred the pub I searched for. See the picture on the middle gable? My guess is that the name of the pub used to be something like 'The White Night'. The interior theme is MacDonalds Moderne. It might have been more appropriate if it looked like the Tudor kitchen at Henry VIII's Hampton Court. I ordered a milk shake for sustenance despite the pervasive wind and chill, and then found a bus heading west on Bath Road. The traffic going east was horrendous, especially east of the roundabout. Going west was a dream. Except that after a couple of miles the road passed through a small canyon of hotels with which I was familiar. Benedict and I had been on this part of the road during our journey to join Erika and the SU students for the guided bus tour of London oh so many weeks (months?) ago. These were hotels for travelers using Heathrow. I was practically on top of the airport.

By this time I was ready to give up, go home, and take a nap. ('When the going gets tough, the tough go napping?') Recall that the traffic east bound on Bath Road just before and especially after the roundabout barely moved. It would take forever to get home. I was standing at a bus stop for east-bound buses. Many bus stops have maps of the bus lines in the area. I studied the map, wondering if there were an alternate way to get home when I noticed a tube station at Hatton Cross, the one Benedict and I emerged from that day on our way to the tour bus. A plan formed in my mind. The Piccadilly line was partially closed, but it was open to Boston Manor, only a short walk back to the house. I would take a bus the to Hatton Cross, take the tube to Boston Manor, walk home, and avoid the gawd-awful mess on Bath Road. The bus to Hatton Cross didn't stop where I was standing, so I walked to the bus stop I needed about 400 yards up the road, got on the next one, and relaxed. The route took us along the absolute eastern edge of the airport landing strips. Minutes later I was on the train out of Hatton Crossing, heading home, running next to the Great Southwest Road and right past the spot on the road where I crossed it to get to a bus stop.

But then I heard over the loudspeakers that riders wishing to continue to Hammersmith (remember that the Piccadilly line was closed for repairs between Boston Manor and Hammersmith) needed to get off at the Osterley station and board coaches that would cruise along on the Great West Road and drop them off at the Hammersmith tube station. Hmm, I thought. There's still time. It was only a bit after one o'clock. Maybe I could take the coach to Hammersmith and the H91 back on the Great West Road, stopping at the Famous Three Kings Pub for my picture of the placard (skipping the pint, to my regret), and maybe there would even be time to take some shots at some of the other architectural wonders on the Great West Road. At the last moment I jumped off the train at the Osterley station, waited patiently for about 15 minutes to get on a coach (the line was long, but a steady procession of private coaches kept us moving slowly....slowly....slowly), found a seat, and enjoyed the ride. Yes, indeed, we did pass the Fuller Brewery, but not the Famous Three Kings Pub. I must have missed it. I'll see it on the way back.

Hammersmith is much closer to the Thames than it seemed on the maps. From the coach it looked like there is a pleasant area to stroll along the river. But not today. Hammersmith is a major transportation hub. A huge underground and massive bus station unite to spiral people out to wherever they want to go in west London and beyond. The developers wisely put a major underground shopping mall amidst this very large confluence of transport options. But my interest was not in shopping. (Is it ever?) Before finding the bus I needed I had to get at least one picture of this building:
This building is simply called The Ark. I had to climb up a small wall adjacent to a busy street to get this picture. ('Whot's that bloke doin' up thair? Shou'dn't we call som'un'?) In some ways it's an architectural marvel although I've been told that it stands empty because of some structural defects, such as leaky plumbing. That more or less horizontal strip in front of the building is the Hammersmith Flyover. Click here for better images.

I find where to get on the H91, if it ever shows up. When I finally do I'm surprised it doesn't get on the Great West Road after leaving the station.. Instead it turns down King Street and pass the King's Mall Shopping Centre. We're inching along a major shopping avenue. Fascinating stores, even a German bakery. But surely we'll soon turn off and head to the Great West Road. But we don't. We pass Ravenscourt Park. We've picked up a little more momentum. Stamford Brock comes and goes. Still a fine street. By the time we reach Turnham Green the street has changed it's name to Chiswick High Road, which is just as well as we're soon in Chiswick, with its police station and the bus moving at a better clip when we're not stopping to allow passengers to enter and exit. It's shortly after the Gunnersbury tube station that the road enters a roundabout and comes out on the Great West Road. By this time the brewery, and presumably the pub--my Holy Grail--are behind us. At this point I could have gotten off the bus and taken some pictures, but time was running short. I got off at Windmill Road, missed the connecting E2 bus, and started walking home, passing through a park hidden behind the terraced homes ('terraced' means the houses have two stories). I made it home 15 minutes before Jackie and Dominic dropped off Benedict.

The next day, Sunday 6 November, Dominic joined us as we took the hour-long bus ride to Wembley. Benedict missed the tour with his cousins the previous week, and he wanted to see the stadium too. It was windy and chilly. Note that Benedict is only wearing a shirt and sweat shirt. He argues he's warm enough. His mother does not agree.

Benedict and Dominic give their condolences to the West German goalie who witnessed the controversial English goal in the 1966 World Cup helping England win it second World Cup. Well, Germany has won three World Cups, so there.
Our guide by the trophy case.
The American football markings have largely worn off since I was last there.
Perhaps the Roman influence is greater than I thought.

The replica silver Football Association cup.
We were made for each other. See how it matches my hair?
Benedict and Dominic in the home locker room.

Looking up at the Royal Box. The recently engaged Prince William is President of the FA and presents the cup.

Dominic and Benedict prepare for questions from members of the press.

The Wembley Arena with the Wembley Arch arcing behind it.
After lunch at a place designed as an American diner and owned by an Indian family and serving less-than-ideal hamburgers, we caught the bus for the hour-long ride home The area around Wembley is heavily Indian. We passed a large Hindu (we assume it was Hindu) temple, lots of Indian restaurants, shops selling colorful saris and dresses. Most Londoners tend to wear dark, dreary clothes. The color in this district is a welcome contrast.

The day was a success.