Thursday, August 18, 2016

Clockmaker's Collection at Science Museum, Funny Girl at the Savoy and Walk in The City

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Morning Rituals:
     Don't even ask me where the morning flies. Despite waking early (to respond and send out email and check out websites of places of interest and how to get there), there is still a bit of a rush that sends me flying out the door each day. That was certainly the case this morning. Once I went on the Day Tickets website for possible matinee shows, I realized that the most feasible was Funny Girl at the Savoy. Comments stated that I ought to be there by 9.30 am to stand a decent chance to getting a Day Ticket.
     Well then....there was no time to lose. I rushed in for a shower, wolfed down my breakfast--toast with peanut butter and Nutella with coffee--and I was out. A quick ride to Embankment, then a change for Charing Cross, a hop into a bus for one stop and I was there at 9.20 am. with about 21 people in the line before me. Fortunately, I found a step right by my spot and down I plopped on it. (I am determined not to get plantar fasciitis this time--and already I have done more walking and standing that I am accustomed to). Hence, every opportunity I get to sit or take public transport (unless I am on a deliberate exploratory walk), I do.

A Pause in the Savoy Hotel:
     At 10.00 am, I got to the window, got a seat and did a mental dance!  (I mean how can you beat it when you get a ticket for a London West End show for 15 pounds and it is right in the first row?) Thrilled with myself, I stepped into the next-door Savoy Hotel to use the facilities. I love this place and after its refurbishment (I do not know what it was like before they took it on), it is everything one could desire. Someday, I would love to have Afternoon Tea in its gracious plaza with its giant birdcage in the center.

Convoluted Journey to the Science Museum:
     Pleased with the way the morning had shaped, my intention was to get to the Science Museum for a very specific purpose. I wished to see the Clockmaker's Collection which had moved from the Guildhall (where it had been housed till 2014) to this new venue. It would be a simple thing to take a bus (on what was a sunny day--perhaps too sunny as it was also very warm) to get to Kensington. But I had left my London map and bus route map at home by mistake. Also, I noticed as I walked along The Strand trying to find a bus-stop that ALL bus-stops were not in use and that there were no buses playing along the road at all. (It turned out that there were road works near Aldwych that causes a diversion of all buses to Waterloo Bridge). So, unwittingly, I found myself doing more walking than I desired as far as Charing Cross Station. There I hopped into the Tube for one station and got off at Piccadilly. I thought I would go in search of the UK Tourist Information Office that used to be off Haymarket. It stocked maps for the entire country and since I have my trip to Dorset coming up, I thought I would get some.
     Well, it was a wild goose chase. They have moved from there and the travel agency next door directed me to a commercial ticket sales place on Pall Mall (which was not what I wanted) so I trudged off there. When I realized I was at the wrong place, I went next-door to the Brazilian Consulate (fully adorned with Rio 2016 paraphenalia) and was sent to the Mall. No sign of the place there either but, by sheer chance, I reached the Mall Galleries--a very sweet gallery that was currently displaying crafts. The very helpful receptionist gave me the wifi password so I tried to look it up myself and found that there is no indication on their website of where they might now be located--it is possible they have no office any longer--just a virtual one. However, I did find that Visit London has an office off Shaftesbury Avenue but by then I had already walked much more than I had intended on a very hot day--it was not pleasant at all.
     So on to Plan B: I couldn't wait to get into a bus and get to the Museum. I had wasted enough time, energy and effort and it had come to nothing. When, at Admiralty Arch, I spied a No. 9, I jumped in and sailed away till Hyde Park Corner. From there, right outside Harrods, I got another bus (74) that plied down Cromwell Road and into it I went. It was 12 noon exactly when I found myself outside the Victoria and Albert Museum, where I sat on a bench and had a chat with my Dad. The line was very disturbed and our conversation was stilted, so I kept it short.
     At 12. 15, I began my walk along Exhibition Road to the Science Museum and finally got there at 12. 30.

Viewing the Watchmaker's Collection:
     The collection, on the second floor of the Museum--and it is possible to take the elevator and get there directly with no detours through a dozen other galleries--is small but very impressive indeed. There is everything a lover of clocks and watches would like to see plus a tremendous amount of historical information.
     The Collection belonged to the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers. London has several such guilds--there is even a Worshipful Company of Barbers! Most were really wealthy and purchased valuable real estate in The City of London (which they still own). The Clockmakers, however, were not as rich and never did own their own property in The City. Their meetings were held at the Guildhall where, from the 19th century onwards, their collection was held also. Two years ago, it was felt necessary to move it into a space that received more traffic--hence, the Science Museum.
     In a collection that is arranged chronologically, you learn a great deal about the earliest clocks--basically iron boxes with wheels and weights--there are a couple of these. Quickly, one moves along to the 16th century and the tall case clocks embedded in beautifully designed wooden cases. Once considered deeply valuable personal items, the aristocracy posed for their portraits with their personal watches made very prominent. As they became more fashionable, they became a decorative accessory--watches, cases, chains--became more and more elaborate. There are loads of examples of beautiful watches in metal cases studded with jewels, in enameled boxes, etc. There are also cases filled with keys--because if you needed a watch to work, you needed to wind it (and it was only in the twentieth century that the wrist watch appeared with built-in key!). There was a lot to read and a lot more to read if one really wanted to learn about them all. I was content skimming through the collection pausing by the more decorative ones, reading about the many worthies who contributed to the history of clock-making and designing chronometers, perusing their oil portraits, etc. Overall, it was a very fine collection indeed and but for the fact that I wanted to learn more about clock-making, I would probably not have ventured into the Science Museum at all.

Lunch at the V and A Café:
     One of my favorite places in London is the Victoria and Albert Museum (next door to the Science Museum) and while I do have my favorite sections in it (the Jewelry Collection, for instance) and my favorite pieces in there (the Victorian sculpture), one of my favorite places to sit in is the café--known as the Proctor, Morris and Gamble Rooms. So I resolved to walk in there, talk a seat and pull out my tongue sandwich (yes, I had found the time to make one before I darted out the door) and eat it while surrounded by the amazing ceramic tile work--on the ceiling, the floor and the walls. It is a splendid space and no matter how humble the lunch you choose to eat in there, it is elevated a thousand fold! I gave myself half an hour to munch my lunch and then I was off as I did not want to be late for my 2. 30 matinee show of Funny Girl.

Off to the Savoy Theater:
     A (No. 74) bus rolled in just as I left the Museum but by the time we were opposite Harrods, the traffic was so thick that it was going nowhere. I made the lighting decision to hop off it and into the Tube at Knightsbridge station and that was what I did. Ten minutes later, I was at Charing Cross station and on a bus for one stop to the Savoy Theater with at least half an hour to spare before the curtain went up.
     It was time to get into the Savoy Hotel to use the facilities again! And I found a comfy sofa in the lobby where I actually sat and had forty winks--my customary 20 minute power nap! Deeply refreshed, I headed at 2.20 into the theater and then spent the next three hours simply enthralled.

Seeing Funny Girl at the Savoy Theater:
     Everyone has seen the movie Funny Girl which catapulted Barbara Streisand to stardom. So this show was not really my first choice--because how can anyone compete with Babs, right? Well, I was sorely mistaken. Sheridan Smith who played Fanny Bryce (and of whom I had never heard) did a magnificent job. Although she cannot boast Streisand's voice and range, her acting was so endearing that she stole my heart away. She was well matched by her co-star, one Darius Danesh (who also became famous in the UK through reality TV shows) who had a great personality and a very good voice too. In addition, Mrs. Bryce (Fanny's mother) was superb. It is simply unbeatable--these seats I get in the first row. Yes, you have to raise your head because the stage is high...but you do not miss an expression or a word. Of course, I enjoyed all the famous songs from the show (Don't Rain on my Parade, Sadie Sadie Married Lady and of course, People) and they were excellently rendered. In the end, I was not unhappy that I chose to go to this show--mainly because there are so many shows on in London right now that I have already seen in New York such as Kinky Boots, Mamma Mia, Wicked, Jersey Boys, Phantom, etc. I need to turn now to the Globe and to the National Theater--but I need to find out if they sell Day Tickets as well.

Evening Walk in The City with Murali:
     It was at 5. 15 pm that I got out of the theater, used the facilities in the Savoy Hotel one last time and then jumped into a bus (the 23) going to Bank where I had made plans to meet my friend Murali after work at 6.00 pm. to start another planned Walk in The City from Frommer's Memorable Walks in London.
     Murali appeared at 6.00 pm and off we went. He knows the area really well as he has worked in this part of the city for years and was as maniacal about discovering its history as I am. Many years ago, he had scouted around with is wife Nina and together they had covered many impressive miles on their jaunts. It is always a pleasure to walk with someone who knows the place and its history and shares a love for it.
     We started off at the equestrian statue of Wellington, took in the Royal Exchange Building, the Bank of England Building and Mansion House. I realized that the phrase 'stock exchange' probably derives from the earliest trade in livestock. We walked to Walbrook to take in one of Wren's lovely churches--the Church of St. Stephen Walbrook that has an altar inside designed by Henry Moore--it was closed but both of us had visited it in the past. It is also known as the Samaritan Church as Chad Varah, one of the pastors in the 1950s, had created the concept of the Good Samaritans who come to the aid of people with suicidal tendencies to talk them out of it on the phone.
     Next stop was the Temple of Mithras, but that foundation of an ancient Roman Temple (which I had also seen earlier) has been lifted, stone by stone to another venue as there is a Bloomberg building under construction on this site). In fact, the entire area is one massive construction site--it is worse than Dubai. You see gaping foundation holes at what were formerly old buildings, you see dozens of cranes, you see cement mixers blocking narrow roads completely--it is simply amazing what it happening each day to the London skyline.
     We crossed the street to get to Watling Road where we found a sculpture of a Cordswainer--a leather worker. The word comes from 'Cordoba' in Spain from where leather was procured for the creation of leather goods. There is a Cordswainer Road too for the entire area along Cheapside was once a thriving market ('Cheep' is Old English for shopping or for Market--hence, Cheapside and Eastcheap, two places in this area) and it is the derivation of today's words 'cheap' and 'shopping' . We found Ye Old Watling Pub, designed by Christopher Wren. Murali informed me that Ye is Old English for 'The' and must be pronounced the same way. The upstairs formed Wren's office while he was designing and working on near-by St. Paul's Cathedral. There is a great view of the Dome from this point. On we walked along Bow Lane (one of the smaller, quainter streets in the area) to arrive at the Williamson Tavern--also very old, also quaint. There was a Gin Festival on and tomorrow there will be entertainers, etc. as part of it. Needless to say, gin cocktails will be available too.
     On to Milk Street and Wood Street we went (all named for the goods that were sold in them) to arrive at the Bust of Shakespeare at Aldermany which was really a tribute to Hemmings and Condell who had collected and published the First Folio of his works in 1623. They were both prominent members of the Church of St. Mary Aldermany (which was burned down during the Great Fire of 1666 and never rebuilt). I learned on this Walk that there were several more churches in The City that burned down and were never rebuilt. The Church of St. Peter off Cheapside and  the Church of St. Olav Silver Street were two others whose sites are marked today by plaques. We also took in Bow Church and its Courtyard with its sculpture of John Smith who set out in 1607 to find the New World from this parish. He is the one who is associated with Pocahontas and with the founding of Jamestown, Virginia.
     Close to the latter is a significant stop--the home was once occupied by the French writer named Christopher Mountjoy. One of his lodgers (for about seven years) was one William Shakespeare! In fact, Shakespeare was called as a witness in a law suit involving the Mountjoys that eventually led to their divorce. It is through Shakespeare's Deposition in this case that we learn a little bit about his life in London.
     From there, it is only a short hop to the remains of the Roman Fort which have, so far at least, been well preserved--until another Bloomberg comes along! At this point, we had walked for about an hour and decided to do the second half of the Walk at a later time. We walked back to Cheapside, Murali took a train home, I hopped into the Tube at St. Paul's and we parted. We have no idea when we will resume the Walk as he is out of commission for the next two weeks.
Dinner and Rest:
      I was famished by the time I got home and honed in greedily on my chicken tikka masala over rice with mixed peppers. I had rum and raisin ice-cream for dessert and again because I had no caffeine all day, I was sleep by 10.00 pm and off to bed a few minutes later.
     Until tomorrow, cheerio

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