Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Towers, Gallows, Churches, Markets--Another Fascinating Walk

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

I am sorry to have to spend so much time analyzing the vagaries of my sleep patterns, but they never cease to amaze me. Throughout the winter, when most folks tend to sleep in, I was awaking at the crack of dawn--even before dawn had cracked, in most days, i.e. at 4 and 5 and 6 am! Now, when summer is almost upon us and light appears in the eastern night sky before 5am, I sleep curled up like a baby until 7 and 8 am!!! This is the weirdest thing and I have never in my life experienced anything like it. Much as I am delighted that I am finally sleeping long and well, I am also sorry to lose the several productive hours I had at my PC in bed long before the rest of the world stirred.

At any rate, I awoke at 7 today, read Potter for an hour, called my parents in Bombay and spent almost an hour on the phone catching up with them about so many things, then sat to blog about my day yesterday. This took me a good part of the morning and it was about 11. 30 when I got out of bed!!! Since it was too late for breakfast, I fixed myself a brunch (toasted parma ham and blue cheese sandwich with some good coffee) and got back to my PC right after that to call my cousin Blossom in Madras. That chat when on for ages, then emailing back and forth with Chriselle in the States (after a long chat with Llew in the morning--we're all about her wedding plans right now) and I found that it was about 4 pm when I finished all the things I wanted to do--most of which involved scheduling my projects for the next few weeks.

With time running out and my return to the States becoming imminent with every passing day, I feel pressured into completing all the items on my To-Do List as well as making time for my library research and for drafting the lecture that I have been invited to give to the international graduate students at Oxford in the middle of July! So you can imagine that I am beginning to feel as if I should make every second count--as if I haven't been doing that for the past one year already!

The end result is that I have almost given up the idea of doing the Homes and Gardens Tour that I had intended as I find that most of the places I want to visit are way out of the public transport tracks and would take me ages to reach if I used the National Express coach services. Instead, I have decided to try and see just a couple of the gardens that can be reached by local train lines from London (such as Sissinghurst and Wisley Royal Garden) and to see the estates and mansions that lie sprinkled along the Thames. When I am in Oxford, during the third week of this month, I shall find it easier to reach places in the Cotswolds and in Wiltshire and at that time, I can try to see Blenheim Palace, Kelmscott Manor and the Hidcote Manor Gardens. So major changes in plans for me mean that next week I ought to be able to spend a whole week at the British Library with documents that will aid my understanding of negotiations that were carried out between the officials of the departing British Raj and the representatives of the Anglo-Indian Association.

I am, in a way, relieved that I have modified my plans. Everyone thought I was idiotic to aim at so ambitious an itinerary and I can now see why. At any rate, with so many wonderful places to cover that are so much closer to London, it makes no sense to be spending long hours in coaches, stuck in traffic when I would rather be out on my two feet exploring the country. So with those alterations in my plans all set, I could take a shower, dress and go off to cover one more self-guided walk in my book--this one entitled "Wanderings and Wizards".

Wanderings and Wizards Walk:
There was much more than wanderings and wizards on this walk which turned out to be a sampler of sorts for it offered everything that the city of London has been known legendarily to possess--marvelous Wren churches, spooky graveyards, teeny-tiny tucked-away gardens, dim alleyways, atmospheric pubs and even a gigantic Victorian market--Leadenhall, so-called because its roof was made of lead and glass in the 19th century.

So, let's begin at the beginning: I started off at Tower Hill (took another old Routemaster 15 bus there--I will never tire of the thrill of riding in these relics from a past era) and arrived at the Tower Hill Underground Station from where I walked across Trinity Square Gardens to arrive at the Memorial to the members of the Merchant Marine Corps who gave up their lives for their country--and then to a far older monument--the Memorial to the many men and women who were beheaded from 1381 to 1747.

The Tower of London is right across the busy road and I could only imagine what the last minutes of these poor ill-fated individuals might have been like as they made the journey from their prison cells in the Tower to this spot. Beheadings and hangings were public spectacle in those awful days and people gathered in vast numbers to take in these gruesome scenes. It was in 1747 that the last person (80-year old Lord Lovatt) was beheaded--thank God for little mercies! The monument is a poignant reminder of the injustice that so many of them faced in their last few years (individuals such as Sir Thomas More, for instance, who died fighting for their beliefs, their faith and their ideals, as heroes not as cowards).

When one considers the circumstances in which they died, it is curious (and I do not see the humor) in a pub across the street that is named The Hung, Drawn and Quartered!--but this is British humor, I guess. This pub stands right opposite the Church of All Hallows By-The-Tower (where I attended a recent Sunday Eucharist service) from which Samuel Pepys, the famous diarist who recorded the details of the Great Fire of London of 1566, watched the city turn into a bonfire--a scene of great desolation. There is a bust to his memory in a small garden in Seething Lane opposite the church.

Just a few steps away is the churchyard of St. Olav's with its eerie stone gate that has three skulls and crossbones adorning its pediment. Apparently, these were designed to keep body snatchers away for it was not unusual for thieves to dig up fresh bodies right after they had been buried--these were sold to hospitals that needed them for the instruction of their student doctors as part of anatomy lessons. Inside, I found St. Olav's to be equally spooky and I took a quick tour of the place before dashing out again. Somehow, with all the ghostly tales that I am reading as part of these tours, I feel rather uneasy in spaces that have not another soul in sight. I do not want my own brush with any of London's ghosts and spectres, if I can help it.

Past St. Olav's, the tour took me to very narrow alleys and unlit lanes that must have been the breeding ground for thieves in the not-too-distant past. They were reminiscent of the novels of Dickens and it was only when I was back on the main thoroughfares that I felt comfortable again. Office-goers were hurrying homeward though it was only 4. 45 and I soon realized that with the newspapers reporting a strike by Tube staff starting this evening, they were eager to get home before they found themselves stranded.

I pressed on, however, arriving at the splendid entrance to Leadenhall Market, a truly magnificent piece of Victorian architecture. It is a trifle reminiscent of Borough Market and Spitalfields but its fresh coat of paint makes it seem somehow much more striking. Whether this face lift is owed to its use by Hollywood producers of the Harry Potter films or not, I do not know, but the location was the setting for the scenes in Diagon Alley and there is actually a shop front in vivid blue that was the entrance of The Leaky Cauldron pub in the film. I enjoyed pottering (if you will forgive the pun!) around the market and its many shops that appeared like cubby-holes in the wall.

Right past this antiquated building is another that stands in peculiar contrast to it--the building that houses Lloyd's, the British insurance firm. Only its building is like an industrial factory what with its steel facade, its glass elevators that ply along the exterior and its pipes that run the length and breadth of the structure. It reminded me very much of the building that houses the Centre Georges Pompidour in Paris, the location of the city's collection of Modern Art. As anyone who has been reading this blog regularly knows, this form of Modernism is not my cup of tea at all and I was glad to leave the premises, though I rather marvelled at its design.

That was when I arrived at a series of churches, one after the other, that stood in small patches of green studded with ancient grave stones. There was the Church of St. Peter Upon Cornhill and then the Church of St. Michael. I have, by now, seen so many churches on these walks, that I have pretty much entered and perused all of the work of Christopher Wren that exhibits his attempts to rebuild the main houses of Christian worship in the center of the city after the Great Fire.

By the time I arrived at Bank Underground Station, commuters looked deeply harried and I could see why. Trains had already stopped running and I abandoned my intentions of getting to the National Theater to try to exchange some tickets that I am currently holding. Instead I did the sensible thing and hopped into the first 25 bus I saw that got me safely back home where I spent the rest of the evening writing this blog, fixing and eating my dinner (Chicken Kiev with soup and toast with chocolate mousse for dessert), making transport inquiries online for my intended trip to Highgate and Hampstead tomorrow and reading some more Potter before I retired for the day.

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