Thursday, July 2, 2009
Chiswick and Wimbledon
With my friend Amy in town, I resolved to complete the last walk in my book Frommer's 24 Great Walks in London. Now were I planning to do it with anyone else, I might have abandoned the idea. But Amy is such a sport and perhaps the most uncomplaining person I know. The heat was gruelling and the humidity intense in this horrendous heat wave we're going through --most unusual for the UK. I always used to say to my American students: "There is nothing more beautiful than a summer's day in England" Well, I might have to re-think this because when I was a grad student here, I do not remember going through a single day in July or August without a light cardigan. I do not ever recall being able to wear shorts or a T-shirt (forget about a tank top). I really do finally believe that there is such a thing as global warming when I go through sweltering days like this in the UK because there were simply non-existent twenty years ago.
A Riverside Walk in Chiswick:
Anyway...I took buses that got me to Richmond and I arrived at Stephanie's place at 11. 30 am. Amy was waiting for me in the skimpiest pair of shorts you ever did see! Good for her! If I had legs that good, boy, I'd be wearing a pair like that in a heartbeat! So, another bus ride later (the 190), we arrived at Stamford Brook Underground station from where our walk began. It was entitled "The Chilling Streets of Chiswick" and it took us directly to the Thames embankments which have different names along different stretches (Hammersmith Embankment, Chiswick Mall, Upper Mall, etc). A Mall in this context is not a shopping plaza but a corridor of sorts (like, I suppose, Pall Mall in London).
Lunch at the Black Lion Pub:
It was only a few blocks before we passed St. Peter's Square with its Georgian homes adorned with giant eagles, lions, urns and stately Ionic columns and lovely garden (though the lawns look terribly dry and uninviting) and arrived at The Black Lion Pub where we were both ready for a meal. In the beer garden at the back, we settled down with a bottle of Bulmer's Pear Cider (so welcome on this blistering day!) and found ourselves entertained by a waiter who kept abbreviating the word "Pleasure" to "plej" much to Amy's amusement. In fact, she kept thanking him every two seconds just to hear him say "plej"--and she has decided that she will add this charming new coinage to her vocabulary!
Well, we ate delicious brie and cranberries on crostini with salad and a hearty ciabata sandwich made with goat cheese, sesame seeds and fig relish and they were gooooood! In fact, it was so marvelous to sit under the shade of those spreading trees munching our meal and catching up that I had half a mind to abandon our pursuit. But then I figured, I might as well tick one more item off my list and get it done.
So, an hour later, off we went again,this time walking towards Hammersmith in error--we weren't concentrating on the directions (gabbing too much as we always tend to do) and were almost at Hammersmith Bridge before I realized we'd done something wrong. But, as often happens in London when you wander down an unintentional path, you arrive at some place astonishing and we arrived at Kelmscott House, London home of William Morris and the base of the William Morris Society!!!
Now this probably was meant to be as I had been so keen to see Kelmscott Manor in Oxfordshire but had abandoned that plan when I discovered how impossible it was to get there by public transport. So here I was in Morris' London water-front home! The lovely lady who acted as guide invited us inside and we saw some of his original designs on the wall (for what later became his famous tapestries) as well as his printing press (he founded one with his other Pre-Raphaelite pals at Exeter College, Oxford, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones and named it the Kelmscott Press). There was loads of photographs and the original rush-seated chairs that once belonged to him in the house. Well, after spending a few minutes chatting to the lady, she suggested we walk further down river and arrive at No. 7 Hammersmith Terrace, home of Emery Walker with whom Morris was very close and whose home has been retained as a receptacle of the philosophy and ethos of the Arts and Crafts Movement.
Mansions and Gardens of the Thames and St. Nicholas Church:
Off we went passing by the most beautiful mansions and gardens fronting the Thames until we did find No. 7--only to discover that it could be toured in small private groups with a guide at a cost of 10 pounds each. Well, we did not wish to be dissuaded from our goal, so we continued until we arrived at medieval St. Nicholas Church whose squat square blue clock tower easily proclaimed its age. It is in this churchyard that the railed Georgian tomb of the painter William Hogarth might be found. We reverentially encircled it and then walked around the church hoping to get in--only to find it closed.
On we went to Burlington Lane, then crossed the busy roundabout by the subway to arrive at the vast grounds of Chiswick House--only to find it closed for renovation as was also Hogarth's House next door. So in terms of getting into a house on both occasions, we were thwarted in our plans, but we did enjoy the cool and shady grounds of Chiswick House. The heat called for another drink and we, therefore, made our way to The George and Devonshire Pub and walked just past it to what might be London's smallest square (Chiswick Square) which has buildings dating from the 15th century on three sides (one of which is called Boston House). It was very picturesque indeed.
Arrival at Wimbledon:
Back at the bus stop, we made connections to get ourselves to Wimbledon where our friends Stephanie and Wendy had tickets for the game and where we'd made plans with them to have dinner. The bus rides gave Amy and me a chance to see the Thames-sides hamlet of Putney as we rode right through it, talking nineteen to the dozen!
At Wimbledon Station, we got off and began exploring the area. The station was crowded with office commuters returning home and getting away from the frenzy of the tennis tournaments. I wanted to be a part of that frenzy so off we went into another bus that took us past pretty Wimbledon Village to the tennis courts. We had to descend down Wimbledon Hill past the gorgeous homes and gardens of the area which Stephanie informed me is one of the most expensive zip codes in the city.
The Excitement of the Tennis Tournaments:
The crowds and excitement began long before we reached the courts themselves. People were already starting to leave though a match between James Blake and a Russian was on in Court Two. Now James Blake is my 'homie' as he is a product of Fairfield, Connecticut, and we consider him our 'home boy'. Llew and I had watched him at the US Open Tennis Matches, a couple of years ago, on Center Court, when he had made his return to professional tennis for the first time after his long bout with shingles.
Amy and I were unable to get in, of course, as we did not have tickets, but we did get a wonderful sense of the fun and vibrancy of the matches, the excitement of the crowds, their sense of competition and fun as we walked by the gates and the walls and the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum. It is possible to take a guided tour of the site and perhaps I shall do that when Llew gets here, but for the moment, we were happy to enter into conversation with a Nigerian security guard who was heading off for the beginning of his night shift and was so delighted that Amy was an American that he wanted to "swallow" her because he loved the country so much--though he has never been able to get a visa to enter it!
Drinks and Dinner at the Fox and Dog Gastro Pub:
Well, when we'd taken a few pictures and imbibed the spirit of Wimbledon tennis, we climbed up the hill again, took another bus to Wimbledon Village and arrived at the Fox and Dog Pub where Stephanie had made a dinner reservation for us for 8. 30 pm. Amy and I lingered in a few retro and vintage stores ( as this is a passion we share) and then found our way to the pub where we settled down gratefully with another bottle of Bulmer's Pear cider.
About half an hour later, Steph joined us with her Australian date Chris and another friend Wendy and we made our way to our table where we had a really delicious dinner--Amy and I split Fish and Chips and a Butternut Squash Linguine with goat's cheese and toasted pine nuts that was rich and heavy but delicious. More Pear Cider did the rounds as we all chatted with Chris whom we were meeting or the first time and then it was time for me to take the Tube and get back home after what had been a terrific day with my pals.
I was so pleased that Amy had squeezed in two days with me in London (work commitments in New York had prevented her from staying longer) which allowed us to catch up and discover parts of the city that we had never seen before.
It was about 11. 30 am when I went to bed and resolved to spend the next few days doing some serious work as I really need to get to the library as well as continue drafting my lecture.