My world in random order

Today is officially Squirrels-Gone-Mad Day. I know you might have been expecting a Royal Wedding post from this heaving city because nothing much else seems to be happening here at the moment. People are camping outside Westminster as we speak to get a glimpse of the family-that-is-not-boring and the couple-who-are-also-not-boring as they get set to tie the royal knot on Friday. But squirrels captured my attention today; they just did.

As I walked to my bus this morning, I decided that the squirrels in our ‘hood had gone nuts. Firstly, I saw a squirrel scurrying towards the water as I crossed the dock. There was no tree in sight and, I know it’s been a bit warmer here, but I didn’t realise squirrels liked the water. Although I saw no towel or swimming cap (health and safety considerations, of course), I think my squirrel friend was going for a squim.

Then, when I walked past a row of weeping willow trees, a couple of squirrels rushed past me and scurried up a tree. I heard a crinkling sound and then saw that one of the squirrels was carrying a large, crumpled-up piece of paper in its mouth. I watched it as it ran to the top of the tree, towards a nest. (Do squirrels have nests?) I thought maybe the squirrels just wanted to do anything to take their minds off this royal madness all around them; it was their equivalent of sticking their fingers in their ears and going “la-la-la-la-la-la”! I know the feeling.

My version of doing that is to share a few more of the things that I love about life in London and, in so doing, to keep the attention away from the you-know-whats.

1. Sir John Soane’s Museum

A glimpse inside Sir John Soane's museum (via

Friends of ours told us about this little hidden gem in the heart of London. Sir John Soane was the Royal Architect (sorry for using the “r” word) in 1806 and, according to his website, began “to arrange the Books, casts and models in order that the students might have the benefit of easy access to them and proposed opening his house for the use of the Royal Academy students the day before and the day after each of his lectures. By 1827, when John Britton published the first description of the Museum, Soane’s collection was being referred to as an ‘Academy of Architecture’”.

We visited this Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Field near Holborn in central London a few weekends ago. We stood and waited our turn to enter the hushed and hallowed halls of this building that was home and house to both a family and an exorbitantly large collection of stuff. The number of visitors to the house at any one time is limited to about 20, as space to move is at a premium. I had to put my handbag into a plastic bag and hold it in my hand, to avoid the risk of knocking over artefacts that are stood and stored everywhere; all cameras and laptops were surrendered at the front door and no photography permitted. No washing machines either.

When we got the nod, we stepped into a surreal world of compulsive collections of artwork, furniture, paintings, statues, stained glass, casts, architects’ models and history. Our eyes stood out on stalks, our senses were overloaded and the abundance of assembled heritage from every corner and age of the world just about blew my mind. The house itself is a fascination of levels and sunroofs and alcoves and cellars and nooks and crannies. Every available surface and space is filled with another piece of art.

The “monk’s cellar” at the bottom of the house is home to a collection of Egyptian art, including a sarcophagus, complete with hieroglyphic engravings as well as a wooden mummy case. A cellar-level courtyard hosts the final resting place of “Poor Fanny” whose inscription on a massive headstone tells of a greatly revered personality, laid to rest in pride of place. I asked one of the staff members who “poor Fanny” was and was surprised to learn that “she was, madam, Mrs Soane’s dog”.

We were ushered into a high-ceilinged room whose walls were lined, from floor to ceiling, with paintings. The door was closed behind us and a white-gloved curator proceeded to talk us through the profusion of artworks that covered the walls. He talked with perfect comedic timing through a series of William Hogarth paintings, A Rake’s Progress, and then described the provenance of each other gem hanging from the walls, or should I say, cupboard doors, as they opened to reveal a further collection of artworks lining the inside of the doors and the real wall behind the doors. The opposite “wall” was also so composed, with one difference: the doors opened to reveal another set of doors which then opened on to an open space above the monk’s cellar, where Soane’s model of the Bank of England stood proudly for all to see. We all gasped and applauded.

The rest of the house brought with it equal numbers of surprises and sensory treats; it certainly requires a second and third visit and you can be sure that we’ll be back to discover more.

2. Charity in London

I work for a small charity that does remarkably big work in London. I never cease to be amazed at the level of dedication to our work that I see all around me every day, and the pace of change that results from passionate and focused campaigning.

Ten days ago, we stood on Tower Bridge and cheered on the 100 or so runners who joined the 36,500 others to run the London Marathon 2011 in our charity’s colours towards a goal of raising some quarter of a million pounds for us. It’s far and away our biggest fundraising event of the year, which makes sense: the London Marathon is, I am told, the “biggest fundraising event on the PLANET”.

The elite women. The green-vested speedster on the right ran in what was her second marathon and won in just over two hours.
From the sublime to the ridiculous: these ladies stopped their running and took photos of each other on Tower Bridge.

Each person running for us had a reason to run for us: to raise funds for world-class research that might change the course of his four-year-old son’s life; to run in memory of her nephew who died 15 years ago, aged 16; three university students who ran because their mate is in a wheelchair and he’s an awesome guy; brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, friends – all honouring someone close to them and supporting them in this amazingly tangible way. There are no more words.

3. Endless eavesdropping opportunities

Last week, a woman sat behind me in the bus on the way to work. She arrived at her seat mid-conversation on her cell phone. She had a slight accent, and from what I could overhear, she was whingeing about someone; female I think.

The conversation continued in a monotone and then I heard her say, “But you know what? I’m really worried about the herpes.” I then began to wonder what kind of a weekend she’d had, exactly, and began to understand why she was so irate with this other person.

“Everything else is okay, the shoes and everything, it’s just the herpes. And I’m really worried. I don’t know what to do about it.”

I was about to move seats, when I realised I was heading off down the wrong track.

“You see, the thing about the herpes is that … well, it’s more like a veil than a herpes. You see?”

She was talking about a “hairpiece”.

4. Riding along the Thames

I am quite proud of myself because I can still ride a bicycle. Well, ride might be too generous a word. I can stay upright on a bicycle and not fall off. Just.

Easter Saturday was a beautiful, sunny day with a light breeze. My husband and I set off on our newly-sorted bikes to enjoy a little ride along the edge of the Thames. I haven’t been on a bike for about 30 years but, as they say, it’s just like riding a bike. I managed to stay pretty much balanced and didn’t wobble myself to a complete standstill.

Thank goodness we didn’t ride in traffic, just along the Thames footpath, and I mostly managed to avoid hitting any pedestrians. For a short distance we rode on a road with traffic and I discovered a have a unique instinct: instead of fight or flight, I have my own response: act like a complete idiot. Fearing being knocked over by a car, I do the sensible thing when I hear it approaching: I ride towards it.

I don’t think that approach will lengthen my life, but I’ll stay off the busy roads just in case. It is also a bit of a challenge riding a boy’s bike that is slightly too big for me, but I’ll get over it. In fact, I did! And the uncomfortable saddle. And the handlebars that seem designed for gorilla-length arms. But you know what? The freedom of riding along in a gentle breeze, alongside my best friend and along the edge of a raging river that’s been churning and flowing since time immemorial, made me feel alive and unbeatable.

Until I hit a cobbled path and riding over it was like being aboard a jackhammer at full throttle. It wasn’t a pretty sight.

This post has felt a bit like Sir John Soane’s museum – nothing really makes too much sense; it’s filled with bits of this and bits of that and peppered with randomness and collections of thoughts and observations, with nothing really to hold them all together except that they all come from me. I don’t think there’ll be people queuing for a viewing of my thoughts but you never know; this is London, man, and people here are crazy.

Sunshine signing off for today!


40 thoughts on “My world in random order

  1. Hello stranger! It’s been too long since your last post.

    Squirrels live in tree hollows, I think. Never knew that about swimming.

    Glad to have you back.

    1. Hello Tilly – I’ve really missed writing and reading other blogs. I’ve been absent, and I don’t even have a sick note. Oops.
      I thought squirrels lived in tree hollows, but this one was definitely heading up towards a nest. Hey, London is so cosmopolitan that the squirrels hang out with the birds and line their nests with paper. 🙂

  2. The herpes/hairpiece story is hysterical, Sunshine! Also, glad to hear you can still ride a bike. I can as well, until you put me in the middle of heavy Hanoi traffic–then I do, less well, shall we say!
    Fun post, my friend,

    1. I laughed to myself when I realised my mistake with the herpes story – it was really funny! Glad I’m not alone in being not-great on actual roads on my bike! haha!
      Thanks – glad you enjoyed this, Kathy! I’ve missed writing and reading – will really try to catch up soon.

  3. Hi Sunshine, I’ve missed hearing from you. I loved the herpes story. Hilarious! The only time I like to ride a bike is when there is no traffic at all. I always feel like there’s a giant target on my backside, and cars are behind me just waiting to take me out! It’s weird, I know!

    1. Thanks, Darlene – I’ve missed being in the land of blog, so it feels good to be back! The herpes story made me laugh too! I think I feel the same way as you do about riding in traffic!

    1. Thanks, Wendy – I miss you too, but hope to be a bit more present in both reading and writing again. I thought you’d like the Soane museum – it’s worth a visit. I was just cheering at the Marathon, so it wasn’t work for me – but work is pretty busy and fun. I’ll check out your biking story – exactly a year ago, how funny!

  4. Good to hear from you again, and good to see a non-wedding post! My daughter has mentioned in her blog that for some bizarre reason, she is always seeing tourists take photos of squirrels in London. You would never see that here.

  5. Oh, Sunshine. How nice to catch up with you and your many lovely adventures.

    A marathon. Wow. Your picture made me feel like a little chicken baby loser because today I ran for three minutes, two times, and THOUGHT I MIGHT DIE.

    Glad those running in your colors did not.

    hang in there–I guess some young-uns are getting married…soon.
    boy, do I remember Di’s wedding…this one, though…I don’t really have much interest in…
    My daughter, though…she wants to watch the whole thing.

    blessings! Thanks for checking in with us!

    1. Thank you, jane – good to connect with you again too! I think you’re amazing to run for three minutes twice – that’s about six minutes longer than I run, so you are my hero!
      Yes, I remember Diana’s wedding clearly too – where do the years go? Blessings to you too.

  6. I wondered where you’d gone! Honestly, given the amount of press the royal wedding was getting last week, I assumed it had already happened, but you’re suggesting the buzz will only grow worse? Yikes! P.S. “Herpes.” Ha!

  7. Missed reading about your adventures, Sunshine — welcome back! Loved your story of the squirrel and the museum — what a fascinating place to look around!

  8. Squirrels are a bit nuts around here lately trying to figure out what season this really is. Last week we had a black squirrel in our tree. It was quite a rare sight. I didn’t grab my camera soon enough to catch anything other than a black moving blob.

    So nice to hear about your busy world even if you feel your thoughts are not connected. It felt more like a conversation with a good friend.

    Blessings, Jeanne

    1. Thanks, Jeanne – I write like I talk, so I’m glad this felt like a conversation!
      A black squirrel? Wow, I’ve never even heard of those – that must have been an interesting sight.

  9. That museum looks like a treasure cave stocked by an ancient dragon or some other magical creature! And I think you can see from the comment chain that we are queuing up to find out about your adventures, random or otherwise.

    1. You’re right, Patti – a treasure trove from another dimension! So fascinating and mind-boggling at the same time. Thank you for being interested in my adventures – I appreciate that so much!

  10. Wonderful post! Doesn’t seem random a bit to me; that’s the way mymind words best, as my children constantly remind me 🙂 (and I think randomness has a definite sense of charm about it) The Soane Museum was my favorite in London, second to the Tate. I could walk there from work and get back (late) after lunch hour. What’s the artistic term–horror vacui? They did manage to fill every single space–so many treasures to see. Thanks for the memory!

    1. Ah, I’m so glad we speak the same language: random! How wonderful that you know the Soane Museum – I don’t know that term, but I’ll need to find an excuse to practise using it now!

  11. Perhaps the paper the squirrel carried was his/her…dare I say it…Royal Wedding Invitation! And the herpes/hairpiece, well, what can I say really, but hahaha!

    So happy to be caught up on the goings on in your world. I always love your stories and adventures. ♥ Diane

  12. Sunshine, it is time that you started a travelling journal….. to sell to people on thei rway to London. You are discovering so so much, you would be able to point all of this out. I am sure it would be rather refreshing versus all the commercial stuff.
    You sound like you are loving it.

    1. We are having loads of fun – it’s such an adventure discovering more and more to this amazing city. Thank you – I’d love to write a book about it all, and a few people have suggested I do just that. Where to start, where to start?

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