Our exploration of this crowded city continued yesterday and took us to an area in the west of the city, known as Little Venice. In glorious late summer sunshine, we walked along the edge of this junction of two canals and marvelled again at a hidden treasure presented to us by the Big Smoke.
We travelled along the Bakerloo line as far as Warwick Avenue – yes, the very title of a song by Welsh singer, Duffy – and followed the finger boards to Little Venice in south Maida Vale. According to Wikipedia, the area is believed to have been so named by the English poet, Robert Browning, who lived in the area from 1862 to 1887. Browning’s Pool (pictured above), the junction of Regent’s Canal and the Paddington arm of the Grand Union Canal, bears further testimony to the influence of the poet in this area.
We walked along the perimeter of the junction’s triangle, originally known as Paddington Broadwater when the junction was created in the 1810s, and enjoyed a lovely picnic lunch in Rembrandt Gardens. Artists’ studios on the east side of Browning’s Pool were demolished and replaced by this small park in 1975, so named to commemorate the 700thanniversary of the founding of Amsterdam, the ‘Venice of the North’.
Apart from having been home to Browning, Little Venice has been home to short-story writer Katherine Mansfield, playwright Christopher Fry, novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard and Icelandic singer Bjork. It is also home to the Canal Cafe Theatre, the Puppet Theatre Barge and the Waterside Cafe.
After our picnic lunch, we took the waterbus – a long boat – from Little Venice, eastwards around Regent’s Park, and on to our final destination of Camden Town. A delightful crew of a Scotsman and an Englishman instructed us in the health and safety guidelines for climbing safely into the boat, and then assured us that any marriages officiated by the captain on the 50 minute journey would only last for the duration of the journey. Just as well; the narrow seats were well uncomfortable.
Our boat ride along the canal took us through the Maida Vale tunnel, a 250 metre long tunnel built in 1812. Architecture that ranged from the majestic to the common lined the canal as we wove our way past the London Zoo through to the heaving market town of Camden.
Another outstanding day in this beautiful city of surprises.
As the actors withdrew, they left the wooden stage strewn with roses. They bowed and bade farewell not only to an adoring audience but also to a run of almost four months of All’s Well that Ends Well. Night fell on Shakespeare’s open-air theatre, and I was spellbound.
Sunday couldn’t come quickly enough. We’d booked to go and see the last performance of this Shakespeare comedy at The Globe Theatreon the South Bank in London. We met up with our friends at a great Turkish restaurant next to the Thames River, and enjoyed a relaxing late afternoon meal before wandering down the South Bank – under a beautiful summer sky – ahead of our planned feast of Shakespeare.
According to their website, The Globe Theatre is a faithful reconstruction of the open-air playhouse, first built in 1599, where Shakespeare worked and for which he wrote many of his great plays. It is an outstanding and totally special venue. The courtyard of the theatre complex is paved with stones that bear the names of benefactors to the beloved project of American actor, Sam Wanamaker, whose dream resulted in this amazing theatre project overlooking St Paul’s. He caught the vision to recreate Shakespeare’s theatre, on his first visit to the UK in 1949; he died in 1993 and the theatre was officially opened by Her Majesty the Queen in 1997. His life’s work breathed life into this modern-day shrine to Shakespeare.
I love that The Globe Theatre describes itself as being “designed with the 21stcentury in mind. An additional exit, illuminated signage [health and safety is king in the UK], fire retardant materials [Shakespeare’s own theatre burnt down in two hours during a 1613 production of Henry VIII, when some stage cladding caught alight], and some modern backstage machinery are all concessions to our times. The reconstruction is as faithful to the original as modern scholarship and traditional craftsmanship can make it, but for the time being this Globe is – and is likely to remain – neither more nor less than the ‘best guess’ at Shakespeare’s theatre.”
The season runs annually from April to October, and features productions of Shakespeare’s work, and the work of his contemporaries and modern writers. We were four of the 350,000 audience members annually who experience the ‘wooden O’. We sat in the gallery, while many stand “as a groundling” in the yard, just as they would have done 400 years ago.
The tickets for the standing area – where peasants would have stood centuries ago – cost a fiver and, honestly, if I’d been 20 years younger, I would have done that. However, we’re not 20 years younger, and nor are our friends, so we all sat in the relative comfort of the gallery on wooden seats with the luxurious addition of hired cushions. I felt sorry for that poor dear old lady who stood in the bard’s mosh pit and clutched on the corner of the wooden stage for, what seemed, dear life. She also appeared to droop lower and lower as the play went on.
Before the play began, the actors came on to the stage, singing, and we were welcomed to the theatre. The play was set in France, so one actor engaged us in a lesson in basic French: “les telephones portables?” he ventured and, with wildly flailing arms, shouted, “Non! Les cameras videos et les cameras flashy-flashy ou non flashy-flashy? ABSOlument pas! Parapluies? [here he mimed an umbrella opening up] PAS du tout!” He closed his lesson with, “D’accord?” before apologising to anyone in the audience who might actually be French-speaking. And then the play began.
It was a delightful play and the actors were fabulous. They took us on a typically fast-paced romp through mistaken identity, cowardice, lust, war, greed, miracle cures, covetousness and that rarest of elements: true love. Each character carved his place in the creation of the tale, and they took us along for the hilarious ride.
As dusk fell over the open-air theatre, and pigeons landed on the stage roof, the play grew ever more complicated (ingewikkeld, as you would say in Afrikaans). Inevitably, all the knots were loosened, true identities revealed and each character predictably came face to face with himself. And, as the play drew to a close, all was indeed well that ended well.
An actor stepped forward and reminded us that as the play ended, the King was again a beggar and all the actors had resumed their own identities. He thanked us for our patronage, and with that the actors began their closing routine. They stepped forward in time to the live music, they whirled and they twirled in dancing delight, they screamed and they laughed and they stamped and they clapped. The audience watched in adoring, reflected enchantment and soon, as the actors disappeared behind the scenery, it was just the roses that remained on the wooden stage.
I’d heard that The Globe was amazing. I had no idea just how special it would be. I’m hooked and I can’t wait to experience another evening enjoying the bard’s art there. Our red box has a few more tickets in it and London – once again – has revealed another jewel in its formidable crown. What a privilege.
The more I get to know London, the less I realise I know of this city heaving and overcrowded with history. And the more I get to know the city, the more I love living here for now.
My New York blogging buddy, jacquelin, told me about Postman’s Park, just behind St Paul’s. I met up with my husband one sunshine-filled lunch time last week, and we walked across the London Millennium Footbridge over the Thames, towards St Paul’s Cathedral – a sight that still takes my breath away – and we walked around the massive and awe-inspiring church to this little spot:
This little spot is interestingly one of the biggest parks in the City of London. It was built in 1880 on the site of a churchyard and burial ground of St Botolph’s Aldergate. Named as it is because it stands on the former site of the General Post Office where postmen often sat to eat their lunch, Postmans Park is also home to a sheltered wall commemorating, as something of a protest against the upper class, ordinary people who lost their lives heroically trying to save others. G F Watts, the painter (1817 – 1904), came up with the idea and he commissioned Doulton to create the hand-lettered tiles to honour the otherwise unheralded and unnamed heroes.
In a similar vein, one of my colleagues showed me this little site just down the road from our office. Known as Cross Bones, this is an unconsecrated burial site, going back to medieval times, for “single women” and paupers. (“Single women” was a euphemism for prostitutes, known in the area as “Winchester Geese” because they were licenced by the Bishop of Winchester to work within the Southwark area known as the Liberty of the Clink.)
According to Wikipedia, the Liberty of the Clink lay outside the jurisdiction of the City of London, and as a result became known for its brothels and theatres, bull and bear-baiting. The age of the graveyard is not known: John Stow (1525 – 1605) wrote about it in A Survey of London in 1598, and by 1769 it had become a paupers’ cemetery for the poor of St Saviour’s parish. It is believed that about 15,000 people are buried there.
When the London Underground planned the construction of its Jubilee Line through the area, between 1991 and 1998, archaeologists found this overcrowded graveyard with bodies piled on top of one another. Test showed the deaths to have been caused by anything from smallpox to TB, Paget’s disease, osteoarthritis and Vitamin D deficiency.
The find captured the attention of local community members who created an informal group – Friends of Cross Bones – to campaign for a permanent memorial garden on the site, which has also become the site of annual Halloween festivals – held every year since 1998 – marked by processions, songs and candles.
We arranged to meet in Marylebone at 10h30 Saturday morning. I set off early from my home in south east London, caught the tube, fought my way through the thronging mass of tourists outside Madame Tussauds and walked down a quiet side street to our deli meeting place. The moment we met, we were instantly friends. Lovely to meet you, Renee from Life in the Boomerlane!
Renee had flown in from DC to spend a week in London with her daughter. She said her daughter found it weird that two blogging buddies from opposite sides of the world were going to meet up for breakfast. I guess, if you put it like that, it was kind of weird. But, despite the fact that we had the novelty of communicating verbally – no laptops to hide behind – we talked like old friends. Nearly three hours went by at lightning speed.
We started off talking about writing and blogging and things we knew we had in common. It wasn’t long before we were talking about everything else and laughing and joking and pointing out interesting people in the deli! I guess that’s what we have in common. We love life, we love people, we love noticing things about others, and we love telling stories.
What a wonderful morning it was, what a lovely person you are, and such fun it was to meet you, Renee. See you next time you fly over this way and until then we’ll continue to chat in the cyber world. LOL.
I couldn’t have imagined it happening, but just over a week into my new job and I have another memory to throw into our red box. I’ve also seen a few sights I’ve not seen before, and overheard a conversation that enlightened me about the expressions of young love. As far as first weeks at work go, this one’s been pretty good, thank you.
I can’t get enough of the fact that I work so close to the River Thames. Any opportunity I get, I take myself down to the water and walk and walk and watch and enthuse. Last Monday lunchtime we launched our walking club from the office: we walked down to the river, walked over the London Millennium Footbridge towards St Paul’s Cathedral, and then walked along the far side of the river as far as Blackfriars Bridge and back to our office.
Bright blue sky and weak sunshine provided a perfect backdrop for the walk. I couldn’t stop looking all around me, soaking in everything that makes London such an amazing place to be. City workers in dark suits sat dotted on benches all along the edge of the river; some eating sandwiches, some reading newspapers, some just sitting and thinking. Runners paced past us in both directions, and tourists were everywhere with cameras in hand capturing the London-ness of the day.
Seated on one of the benches was a musician playing a didgeridoo. I so wished I’d had my camera with me to document such a unique sight – I’ve seen a didgeridoo player in a tube station before, but never out in the waterside sunshine. I was riveted.
Another day I walked the other way along the river, and sat in front of The Globe (Shakespeare theatre) to eat my lunch. I was surrounded by tourists, office workers and schoolchildren all out to enjoy an outing in the chilly sunshine. I walked past a group of primary schoolchildren seated on the riverside wall, with pencils and sketch pads in hand, and they were all drawing pictures of the Globe Theatre. I then walked past a headless statue that was attracting much photographic attention, and many foreign students gathering together to visit the Tate Modern art gallery.
I wrote last week about the conversation I overheard on the bus, and I continue to hear funny things said on the buses almost every day. I enjoy the commute as I have not only a stunning walk to my bus stop, but the ride gives me an opportunity to read, although when I hear something that fascinates me I find it hard to concentrate on my literature. I have just finished Bridget Jones’ Diary, so my eavesdropping has occasionally taken a back seat!
On Thursday, I volunteered at a big fundraising event organised by the charity I work for. They run a calendar full of such fundraising events, and this was their inaugural Sports Quiz evening held at world-famous cricket ground, Lord’s. It was a black tie event, and the draw card for the evening was the presence of a number of British sports celebrities, including cricketers, rugby players, athletes, swimmers, a famous sports broadcaster and a certain Scottish manager of one of the most successful premier league football sides in Europe.
My colleagues were surprised that I had volunteered to help at an event in my first week! Perhaps they don’t know that I suffer from a hereditary condition known as FOMO (fear of missing out) and I am mad about sports. Put those two together, and you literally couldn’t keep me away from Thursday night’s event!
It was such fun and it so didn’t feel like work; the hardest part was running around in a little black dress and high heels. The former England rugby player who hosted the evening and ran the auction was brilliant – so funny and entertaining, it was like being at a comedy show; his banter with fellow sportsmen was fabulous and so well received.
I listened and laughed and watched and took in as much as I could as I ran in and out of the function room and did what I was told to do. I loved every minute of the evening, and was glad to share a cab ride home just after midnight. My aching feet were relieved of another walk to the tube station.
So, seeing a tiger in a tree on our walk to church this morning was nothing too out of the ordinary. We’ve come to expect the unexpected in London; it’s constantly filled with surprises and as for this week, it was good. Really good.
So until I have the chance to write a decent post about this new chapter in my life, I’d like to show you the view I had as I feasted on my lunchtime sandwich next to the River Thames today. I do love London.
The studio we visited on Friday evening (Applaud … Now!) was in Hammersmith, an area of London we’d not visited before. We had a short time to walk along the edge of the River Thames before going into the studio and we discovered what an amazing area it was. Walk with me …
The Hammersmith Bridge across the Thames is an outstanding, imposing and quite formidable piece of engineering work. My friend who used to live in Hammersmith told me it had a fascinating history, so I checked it out. Thanks Wikipedia!
The original Hammersmith Bridge was built in 1825, as the first suspension bridge over the Thames. By the 1870s, the bridge was struggling under the weight of the traffic that passed over it, particularly the 11,000 or so who crowded on to the bridge to watch the University Boat Race in 1870. A temporary bridge was constructed, while a replacement bridge was built.
The replacement bridge, built on the original pier supports, was designed by well-known civil engineer, Sir Joseph Bazalgette (he also designed the Cathedral of Sewage in London’s east end – I’ll write about that in a future post) and it was opened in 1887.
Several times, the IRA have attempted to bomb it – once unsuccessfully in 1939 when an alert member of the public noticed a smoking, sparking suitcase on the bridge and went over to open it and throw the suitcase in the river. It exploded in the river, a few moments ahead of a second bomb that went off further down the bridge. In 2000, an IRA bomb exploded on it and put the bridge out of commission for two years.
Here are a few views of the bridge, which spans the River Thames between Hammersmith and Barnes (my husband took these amazing photographs):
I had a quick stop to take a phone call:
We walked further along the River and came across another boat suburb:
And some webbed residents:
We loved this walkway to a pub, called The Dove:
We walked past amazing old houses along the edge of the river. I was fascinated to walk past a house with the sign “William Morris Society” outside it. My friend, Wendy, over at Herding Cats in Hammond River updated her blog theme last week, using a William Morris design as her background. I’d never heard of him (blush) so it was such a coincidence to discover Kelmscott House which was his residence from 1878 to 1896. This is the only photo we took of the house:
We saw a hopeful glimpse of spring against the dusk sky:
Our walk came to an end and we headed back to the studio to become part of the TV audience. There are so many sights to see in London and each new one overwhelms me. I can’t imagine ever tiring of that feeling.
I adore this city that I currently call home. It is huge, terrifying, impersonal, beastly, cold, heaving and aloof. And I do battle with it for all the same reasons. But heck, London does historical and iconical (is there such a word?) in ways that take my breath away. Walk with me.
Feeling the way I did over the weekend, we decided to continue our “exploring London” adventure: St James’ Park was next on our list. A ten minute tube ride took us into Westminster, and as we emerged from the tube station, we stared into the face of London. We see this face often, usually from the other (south) side of the Thames, but it was so exciting to feel so close to the beating heart of this compelling city.
This is what we saw first:
The London Eye, now known as the EDF Energy London Eye (can you cope?), opened in March 2000 as a “metaphor for the end of the 20th century and time turning into the new millennium”. It was designed by husband and wife architect team, David Marks and Julia Barfield, and took seven years to build. About 3.5 million visitors pay (around £18 per adult, £10 per child) to go up in the Eye each year, and it is said that from the 135 metre height of its revolution, you can see up to 40 kilometres in all directions. We went up it in July 2000, and it was pretty awesome, even from the safety of the bench in the middle of the pod (I have a thing about heights!).
And looking the other way, this is what we saw:
Big Ben is the largest four-faced chiming clock in the world, with each dial being just less than 50 square metres. There is a special light above the clock faces that, when illuminated, lets the public know that parliament is in session. The clock ticked for the first time in May 1859 and has rarely stopped. I was interested to hear in the media recently that Big Ben was losing time; it might conceivably have lost one second. I wonder how many people used that fact for being late for a meeting?
We walked down Birdcage Walk, and found ourselves in St James’ Park. We saw a few glimpses of spring, with some cherry blossom trees showing a hint of bloom. The London wildlife enjoyed the attention of Park visitors, and many posed obligingly for the camera (animals, that is, not visitors):
This was another reminder that we were in London:
At the far end of the Park, we caught a glimpse of an amazing crib: Buckingham Palace.
When the Queen is in residence, the Royal Standard flies on the flagpole on top of the Palace, otherwise the Union Flag flies in its place. The raising and lowering of the correct flag is the job of a flag serjeant. I’m not sure you can see in the photo, but the Union Flag is flapping the breeze; I think that’s why we weren’t invited for tea.
So, back towards the River, passing this en route:
We bought ourselves some sandwiches and sat on a bench next to the River, with this view, to have some lunch:
We had fun after lunch taking photos of each other with the London Eye in the background. If we got the angle and the zoom just right, the London Eye looked like a perfect halo around our saintly heads. We giggled like children as we took the photos, and kept grabbing the camera from each other to try something new.
We walked back across the River, and had one last glimpse of this before we caught a bus home from Waterloo:
Ah, this day was good for my soul. It reminded me of why we chose to come here, and the awesome and scary adventure that is London. Perspective is a fine thing.