Sunday, July 12, 2015: London
Loving London All Over Again...
Touchdown from Johannesberg, South Africa, occurs in London on a typical summer’s morning. It is dull, grey, dreary. But it is early in the day and we are optimistic things will change. On the plus side, it is neither raining nor is the city in the midst of the fiendish heat wave that gripped in a couple of weeks ago. We have a lot to be thankful for as we clear Immigration, pick up our baggage and make our way into the city—Tube to Holborn Station and taxi for just a couple of blocks down to Chancery Lane where we will be with my former Next-Door Neighbors, Tim and Barbara for the next week.
Sunday Mass at St. Etheldreda’s Church:
We have a lovely reunion with our hostess, Barbara, who is all dressed and ready to set out for Sunday morning Mass—part of her routine—to the Church of St. Etheldreda’s at Ely Place around the corner at Holborn Circus. My mind goes back to a few years ago when I had tried to find it for the first time and had ended up in every Anglican Christopher Wren church in the vicinity!
Fr. Tom is at the entrance (some things never change—he never remembers me!) greeting his faithful—and they are truly faithful. I see the same faces each time I come here for Sunday Mass: the lector who has remained a permanent fixture in the church for forever, her husband, Esther whose hat seems to date from Victoria times. But there are now a bunch of kids in this church—new blood, literally, has also moved in, and I am pleased to see families.
When Mass ends, we walk out with Barbara on to High Holborn. There is a new plaque and entrance to what looks like a tiny sports club called Bounce, where the game of Ping Pong (or Table Tennis) was invented in the early 20th century. It always amazes me how subtly London changes. Little touches, little historic markers—if there is a Paradise on earth for the history-buff, it is here, it is here, it is here!
Barbara goes off to Holborn Station to pick up The Times—it is also part of her Sunday routine and I have accompanied her on many an occasion. This time, we return to their flat, meet our host, Tim who is in-charge of getting brekkie organized. We are surprisingly full of beans and reject the idea of naps or showers. We will wait until the evening to rest. Breakfast is Continental--croissants and pain au chocolat with preserves and butter and coffee—all delicious! All very welcome!
Exploring Columbia Flower Market:
Without further ado, we decided to start our exploration of the city with a ride on the bus from Theobald’s Road to the Columbia Road Flower Market—a huge tourist attraction as well as a homing spot for ‘hoodies on weekend mornings. It has developed into the Portobello Road of Sunday Mornings. The last time I was in London (in January of this year), I had made a trip there—only to discover that the area is as dead as a Dodo on weekdays. I was determined to get a whiff of its attractions on a later trip.
That day was today—and we got many a whiff. Indeed long before we arrived at the market, we saw local folks carrying armfuls of paper-wrapped flowers and potted plants. When we did eventually get there, after a five minute walk from the bus-stop, we found make-shift stalls set up along the road. They were simply bursting with the freshest, most fragrant, flowers. It was like the Chelsea Flower Show—only less posh! At 11.00 am, sales were in full swing. Trading was brisk, prices were dropping. No vendor wished to take his fragile perishable treasures away with him. And people were buying. Had I not the constraints of US Customs plant life restrictions, I too might have been tempted to strike a deal.
As it was, I preferred to browse in and out of the lovely boutique-style shops lining both sides of the street that boasted one-of-a-king merchandise with a decidedly horticultural theme: garden shops, vintage clothing and jewelry stores, home goods with a delightful twist. All lovely. Meanwhile, buskers vied for our attention. A young woman who appeared to have belonged to Broadway, belted out a few jazz numbers to the accompaniment of a trio. There were eats and drinks: freshly-baked muffins & hot chocolate. Yes, Columbia Flower Market is a worthy place to spend a lazy Sunday morning. Buy an armful of flowers, watch the local English fall over them with passion and unbound pleasure, munch a few goodies, buy an antique set of cordial glasses or a vintage brooch with a flowery theme. This is very much a girlie place. This is very much a Rochelle Place. Llew coped as best he could, but when his long-suffering self seemed ready to depart, we left the place.
Revisiting the Geffrey Museum and Its Gardens:
In keeping with the home and garden theme, it was perhaps fitting although completely coincidental, that in looking for the bus stop on Hackney Road, I should realize that we were a hop, skip and jump away from the Geffrey Museum. It is one of my favorites and not one I visit often enough—its location far in the East End probably has something to do with this. Anyhoo…Llew had never been and I sold him on the idea. The day was still dreary—losing oneself in a museum seemed like a good idea. When I had last visited the Museum, it had been at Christmastime when the gardens had been closed. I was keen on this visit to explore them and how great an idea it turned out to be!
The Geffrey Museum used to be almshouses built for the destitute widows of the Worshipful Company of Ironmongers by Lord Geffrey whose sculpture adorns the extensive and rather lovely front lawns with their ancient spreading oaks. Dating from the early 1700s, the almshouses have been lovingly restored—a few are available for exploration on a ticketed guided tour…but to visit the 11 period rooms that comprise the museum and the period gardens behind them, entrance is free. I explained the concept to Llew and we began our exploration. He was fascinated as indeed is any visitor to this unique place. Starting from the 1500s, the Elizabethan Age to the Present (the 1990s), this Museum gives us insights into what the living rooms of the middle class have looked like through the ages. The plainness and simplicity of the Tudors is a stark contrast to Victoria excess. The reaction to it, seen in the Art Deco period, is just as interesting. In the 20th century home, we could recognize items we had grown up with: radiograms and Pyrex dishes. At Christmas, the Museum’s period rooms are decorated for the yuletide season with items appropriate to the epoch: cinnamon-pierced oranges for the Victorians, tinsel-trees for the plastics generation in the mid-20th century.
Outside, we took dozens of photographs. Once again, the contrast in gardening styles was made known to us: the herb gardens of the 15th century, the knot gardens of the 16th, the arbors and sheltered benches of the 19th century and the Gertrude Jekyll-style profuse herbaceous border for the 20th. There were fountains, garden sculpture and ornaments, stone and gravel pathways, brickwork walkways—you name it, this garden had it. It was the Chelsea Flower Show once again, in lovely vignettes or garden rooms of which we could not get enough. Llew was both charmed and delighted and I was pleased that he enjoyed it so much.
Off on a Mission to Buy a Replacement Cell..er Mobile..Phone:
My British cell phone had been stolen from my baggage when my bags were in transit about 10 days ago—probably at Heathrow. But I have never been greeted by such a sorry sight as when I opened my bags and found that every single item I possessed for traveling had been riffled through—and I mean everything. Each zippered pouch and container had been scrutinized—and because I am an obsessively organized packer, I was angry on finding how haphazardly my things had been left after the rummage. Virgin Atlantic Airlines will be hearing about this when I get back home. But my priority had been to assess if anything had been stolen: and it was my British cell phone that was the only item missing—and with it, all my stored contacts were lost too.
Long story short, I needed a new cell phone. It was time to take the Tube from Shoreditch (where the Geffrey is located) to Oxford Street where Sajjid, the Pakistani lad (now a fully-grown man ) who had helped me with the unlocking of my cell phone, so many years ago, was still around in his little souvenir shop. He directed me to the little places on Edgeware Road where he said I would find the best bargains. Long story short again, we finally bought a phone with the inevitable package from Carphone Warehouse—I will most likely waste most of the 1500 local calling minutes and 4000 texts I can use because I must do so within three months! Ha! Even if I call everyone I know in this country for three hours, I will not consume my calling time at all. Josh at Selfridges, where Carphone Warehouse has a branch in the basement, was very helpful, very courteous. He appears to be the only white chap in the electronics business in London. Almost all the salesmen we met were Muslims from the Indian sub-continent—and they are now wearing their religion on their sleeves: they uniformly sport a beard, some more trimmed than others. There has had to be instruction from a mullah in the last few months calling for this facial addition as I did not notice this—not even six months ago when I was last here. Either that or the beard is the newest accessory for young Indo-Pak males—I am seeing them all over the Tube and on the streets: crisp corporate attire (suits and ties) and the ubiquitous beard!
Pleased with my new cell phone which Josh supposedly set up for me, we stopped to do some routine London shopping on Oxford Street and were glad to find bargains: Dove Silken Glow Body Wash on a special offer (we stocked up). At Sainsburys, we bought yogurt and favorite cereal (muesli) for morning breakfasts. And then we were back at 7 High Holborn.
With showers and a change, we felt reenergized. A bit of unpacking followed as did catching up on email. We had been through an internet blackout for four days while on safari in Africa—there had been a build-up of email that needed attending to. While accomplishing all that, we could hear our host Tim cooking up one of his stunner meals in his kitchen. He is a chef par excellence and partaking of a dinner chez lui is always a pleasure.
Dinner and A Natter With Our Hosts:
Tim never disappoints and not long after, we were seated at the dining table with plates of pan-fried pork chops and chips placed before us. Mayonnaise made the rounds (if you fancied being Belgian) as did Sharwoods chutney (in lieu of ketchup). The pork was scrumptious—tender and perfectly cooked and seasoned. We ate well. Conversation, as always, was varied and fun.
But all good days must come to an end and we made our way back to our rooms ready to hit the sack with aplomb.
Our first day in London had been all we could have wanted and more. Tomorrow, it is our intention to spend the day at Henley-on-Thames: but much will be riding on the weather. We shall have to play it by ear.
Until tomorrow, cheerio!