Wednesday, October 19, 2016
A Rather Unusual Morning:
I awoke as usual--about 6.00 am. and did some blogging in bed. I caught up on email and then got a text from the realtor to say that the photographer would be arriving at 9.00 to photograph my flat for the rental market. Well, there was no time to lose. I jumped out of bed, washed, prepared some breakfast for myself--muesli with honey yogurt and coffee--and waited for the bell to ring--which it did at exactly 9.00. Aaron, the photographer, arrived and while be busied himself with his tripod and camera, I ate my breakfast and sat down to work--to proofread one of my chapters. He was gone by 9. 35 and I got ready to leave--I decided to shower in the evening as I need to shampoo my hair and did not want to get out with my hair wet. It wasn't long before I was at the Tube station getting my Oystercard registered in case of loss (which meant another happy encounter with the Anglo-Indian clerk Clayton) and was on the train heading to NYU.
A Busy Morning in my Office:
I have no idea where time flew except that I was hard at work by 11.00 and worked till 3.00 pm with just a short break for my soup and sandwich lunch which I ate in the Faculty Lounge--where I met another colleague, Phillip Woods, who gave me his card. Since he teaches Multi-cultural Britain, we had a lot to chat about. Then I was back at my desk, culling through the memorabilia I have accumulated and cutting it down to size. I also received an invitation to give a talk to the students and faculty during one of their Lunch Time Talking Points session--we have zeroed in on November 8--which means that the first week of November is going to be crazy busy for me with invited lectures. Still, I'm not complaining. This was the whole point of being in London as a Research Fellow and discussing my newest research and my forthcoming book.
Off to the Museum of London Docklands:
All of this week, I have been trying to go to museums in London that I have not covered so far. It began with Dr. Johnson's House, continued with the Guildhall and today, I decided to go to the Museum of London Docklands. It is a hike to get to its location on the DLR (Docklands Light Railway) which probably explains why I have never ventured there before. It took me about 45 minutes to get there from Bloomsbury on the Tube--but arrive there I did. It is always a thrill to reach this curve of the Thames: the lovely glass and concrete skyscrapers of Canary Wharf always excite me and the newness of the whole area is a sharp contrast to the age and history of the rest of the city.
Exploring the Museum of London Docklands:
If you have never been to this museum, don't saunter there...run! It is fantastic. I simply cannot believe that I have never seen it before. And it is free to boot! Built on the river Thames, in one of the original and old buildings that make up West India Quay (which is also the name of the DLR station from where you can walk a few meters to it), built in 1800, you will be absolutely enthralled from the moment you step into its doors. I had thought I would be done in about an hour and I could not have been more mistaken. There is SO much to see. If you stop to read all curatorial notes and watch every film, you could easily spend a day there and not get bored.
You start on the top (third) floor and work your way down. Upstairs, you get a brief history of the place. Three buildings--all identical--were built from 1800 till 1807 to handle the new maritime trade that developed when Britain acquired an empire. Ships plied across the globe bringing and taking goods from the colonies to Britain and to other countries that were key manufacturers--such as China which dominated the tea trade. Measuring scales, wheelbarrows, carts, hooks and other implements used to facilitate the movement of goods in baskets (tobacco), sacks (sugar) and wooden crates (all other items) are numerous. So many relics of this era are on display together with information about how the weighing, stamping, documenting, etc. was done for the British were compulsive record-keepers. Customs and Excise then stepped in and information pertaining to that whole process is explained.
There is simply loads of information on how shipping companies grew, how labor was used at the docks (including information on the lascars who came from the Eastern colonies), on the development of this entire area as habitation increased around St. Katherine's Dock, Wapping, Limehouse, The Isle of Dogs, and all the way up to Greenwich. There is also a wealth of information about crime that developed through gangs of thieves that stole from the warehouses and the horrible punishments meted out to them: from hanging to being left to rot in iron cages (giberts?) as examples to other prospective thieves. There was also information about gangs that went about getting young men drunk then grabbing them and throwing them on ships where they became used as forced labor. If they rebelled on board, they were whipped with 'cats' (cat 'o nine tails).
There is a whole section about the growth of sugarcane in the West Indies, the development of the sugar industry and the use of slaves. Indeed the section on slavery in Britain was most enlightening and it amazing to discover that London was the second largest 'port' after Liverpool that 'processed' slaves--from arrival to sale to dispatch. It was deeply heartbreaking and I was appropriately disquieted by this entire section that had on display such things as slave shackles, chains, etc.
On the second floor, one goes into the 19th century. The best part of this floor, in my opinion, is Sailor Town--a reproduction of the kind of segments of the city that grew around the shipping trade. This area is similar to the reproduction of Victorian England that we see in the Museum of London and which makes it one of my favorite parts of this Museum in The City. You walk through extremely dimly lit streets that are lined with smoke-darkened bricks and enter shops or peer into them: there is an interesting Exotic Animals shop (with snakes and parrots and even a camel inside!). There is a Bar (at which dock workers and sailors lost most of their salary as soon as they received it), a general store, etc. If ever one wanted an idea of what it was like living in the proximity of the huge trade that drove the empire, here it is.
This floor also has tons of information on World War II and the manner in which the Docklands were targeted by Nazi bombers for destruction. If you blew up the docks, you blew up the very lifeline of the British economy--Hitler knew it and his military went after this area during the blitzkrieg in horrific ways. There is wonderful footage from those days available on a large screen and it left me spellbound. Similarly, there are loads of pictures, articles, letters, etc. of that era from ordinary people working in the docks who carried gas masks to work and needed to use them at short notice.
It is hard to believe that the Docklands area thrived all the way up to the 1960s. In the 1970s, however, maritime trade changed as 'container' shipping took over the world requiring deeper harbors and greater dock space. London's trade moved to Southend-On-Sea at the mouth of the Thames estuary where trade flourishes today. Canary Wharf was created and the journalistic, banking and financial industries moved there and the area fell into a new use. Declining warehouses were converted into the expensive yuppie waterfront housing of today and one building of the three West India Quay buildings was (thankfully) converted into a museum so that the significance of this part of the city and the primary role it played in its economic development will never be forgotten.
By this time, the Museum was near to closing time and I had to get going. I have to reiterate--this museum was a huge surprise to me and I would gladly go back and take another look at it (if time ever permitted).
On the DLR back home, I changed to the Central Line at Bank and was home before 7.00 pm when I had a shower and shampoo and then sat down to dinner: ravioli in a creamy bottled tomato sauce with flaked fish, lettuce salad with corn and peas in a balsamic vinaigrette and chocolate ice-cream for dessert. I watched a bit of TV as I munched and then called it a day at about 10.00 pm.
Until tomorrow, cheerio...