Imagination was given to man to compensate him for what he is not, and a sense of humor was provided to console him for what he is. - Oscar Wilde
Animation, Art, and Other Shiny Things
I’m rather torn on leaving London. It’s a diverse and vibrant city packed with arts and music and food. It’s an international city in every sense of the word. On the other hand, it’s also jammed full of people. Given my discomfort when things get too peopley, I’m kind of glad to be traveling out of the density. Granted, we are going to hit a few places that aren’t much less closely packed.
The week-long visit was wonderful, in my opinion. The people were quite nice, and we saw so many things that I’d only dreamed of seeing and did things I’d never thought I’d be able to do! Visiting the ravens at the Tower of London, visiting one, if not the, pre-eminent museum in the world, walking through Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, seeing (from afar) Buckingham Palace. We did so much! I am rather disappointed that we didn’t make it to Highgate Cemetary, though.
If that weren’t enough, we’d planned in a few off-the-beaten-path stops such as the Novelty Automation Museum, the excursion to find Hodge the Cat’s statue, the time spent watching a glassblower at work, and the visit (by river boat!) to Batteresea to see the power station from the Pink Floyd album cover Animals. Those were icing on a very large cake.
And then there were the serendipitous things we tumbled across; the Banksy-inspired street art by Tanksey in Southwark, Chinatown’s gates and lion, and the memorial to Prince Albert across from Royal Albert Hall. (I was not prepared for that one. I stood in awe for a few moments when I first saw it)
Were I to note any negatives about our time there (besides the heat the first few days) it would be the hotel. The gentleman at check-in was blase and dismissive, the young lady later that day and next morning was borderline surly, and noone bothered to mention that the keycard slot turned on the light/power for the room. (to be fair, though, that sort of system sounds to be pretty usual here in the UK) The bathroom tap was trickling or a fire hose, it took me until yesterday to figure out how to access channels above eight on the tv, and it was only this morning after my last shower before we left that I got an inkling on how the shower controls might work, although I can’t test my theory now, of course. I will, however, give kudos to the housekeeping staff. We didn’t see them until we were going down to check out this morning, but they cleaned and remade our room daily to perfection.
Between the people, food, and sights, it was an incredible experienc. I hope we can find some way of coming back someday.
So off to Salisbury and the old stones.
Observations from day six: ‘Mews’ are converted carriage houses.
You can say ‘fuck’ on tv.
Today was our last full day in London before we head out on the train tomorrow to Salisbury, so we tried to wrap up a few things and just wander as we did it.
The first order of business was laundry. We’d packed fairly light with only one large bag, a carry-on, and a day-pack. Compared to our DC trip a few years ago, it felt like we’d only brought a few strips of cloth and a deck of cards. We’d sent the large case (and part of our laundry) up to Birmingham with Young Master Crow yesterday, so we only had one large load to do. Rather than opt for the closest laundrette, we traveled up to the Holborn district next to Queen Square Gardens to a little laundrette with good reviews. And we found those good reviews to be well merited. Between helping us with the machines, and directing us to a local coffee shop while our clothes took a spin, the gentlemen running the place were fantastic.
Dropping off our refreshed clothing at the hotel, we bussed to the Tower of London for the second time to hopefully catch up with the Ravenmaster and see if he would inscribe our book. Unfortunately, once again he was off duty. No matter, though, we visited the ravens and said hello to George again.
George is the newest raven to the treachery. A collective of ravens is also called an unkindness, or conspiracy. I would say they’re not as hard core as a murder of crows, but besides being about twice as large, they are grumpier and more bad-ass than any crow I know, and I’ve known several. Anyways, George is the first raven hatched at the Tower in the last 30 years and was born on April 23rd, St George’s Day ergo the name.
Now, Mrs Crow and I are smokers and the wife was running out of cigarettes so we searched up tobacco shops. On a Sunday it is surprisingly difficult to find one open, but we did find one within a few miles. Grabbing the tube at Tower Hill we set off for Bond Street. Of course, when Mrs Crow asked which stop we needed to get off at I replied “Street, Bond Street”. You have to grab your juvenile entertainments when you can…
When we did arrive, despite my phone’s best efforts, I was rather horrified to find us back at the very posh Selfridges and in the press of masses of humanity so we rethought our choice of tobacconist (to save ourselves several quid and my sanity, which is in dire peril most days anyways) and made our way towards Picadilly Circus station.
Remember what I mentioned about my phone’s directional abilities? Yeah, we walked a half block the wrong direction. In fact is was a bit more than a half block and we happened across a small shop selling cigarettes. With Mrs Crow sated for a bit we set off in the complete opposite direction my phone directed us to find Piccadilly. Of course, it was the correct way.
The serendipity came around in the form of a large gateway we spied down a side street. It was a classic Chinese entrance gate leading into Chinatown.. We all know I’m a fan of the art and such, so it was a facinating stroll through seeing how Chinese style mixed with English architecture. Eventually we made it to Piccadilly station, no thanks to my phone, and wended our way back to Lambeth and our hotel.
We’d found a wonderful little pub right next to the hotel last night (Pub Love @ The Steam Engine) that serves the most incredible burgers so we ate there again this evening. I love spicy foods and they have a burger called The Sombrero covered in hot sauces and jalapenos that is to die for. As I age, however, the spicy heat that I love is not loving me. That noted, I would still eat The Sombrero nightly even if I did die for it.
Well, tomorrow is the train and Salisbury. Time to pack it up and in for the evening.
Observations from day five: We have not seen any under-arm crutches like in the states. The forearm-style are what’s used here.
Sidewalks often have little metal disk-shapes evenly spaced along. It took me until yesterday to realize they were sawed off and ground down metal fence posts.
We have not seen one youngster with saggy pants. Very few logo’d shirts either.
English cigarette packs have some rather graphic pictures of cancer patients. Be aware.
Today spanned the worlds of art, literature, and music – pretty much in that order.
My son came down from Birmingham to spend the day with us and quite the day it was! We met him up at Waterloo train station and scooted over to the Thames where Mrs Crow and I had our first Scotch Eggs. Yeah, I’m hooked and I am very curious as to why they haven’t caught on in the US. If you’re unfamiliar, they’re a mostly hard-boiled egg wrapped in meat or veg and encased in a breaded shell then deep fried. Awesome eats!
Continuing down the canal-side walk we stopped into Tate Modern Museum. Young Master Crow is much more the afficianado of modern art than I am, but we did find many of our likes and dislikes aligned as we toured the collections.
It was a short jaunt further Shakespeare’s Globe. It’s a reconstruction of the Elizabethan era Globe Theatre and presents one or more plays daily. Quite the space and the gift shop actually has some pretty cool stuff! Including a Shakespeare Insult Generator, but of course you lot of panderly nook-shotten quatch-buttocks would just use some online one rather than a real book. So sod off you bunch of sneaping swag-bellied stock-fish.
On the Thames side of the path from the theatre (see what I did there? I almost have an accent, eh?) is a river bus pier. Mrs Crow and I were looking forward to taking a river bus and as we had planned to visit Battersee to visit the power station there it was the perfect opportunity. Why would we want to visit a power station you ask? The title of the post should be a big clue. We weren’t able to get the perspective the album cover had as I’m fairly certain the building has been removed since, but despite the groans from Young Master Crow, and an indulgent ‘oh, alright’ from Mrs Crow, we recreated the cover the best we could.
To round out the day with YM Crow we had a nice up-scale pub dinner and rode an overground train for the first time back to Waterloo station. It was great to spend the day with the kid in London and we’re looking forward to a few more days with him when we hit Bristol and Brum (that’s Birmingham to you yanks. uh, us yanks) next week.
Observations from days three and four: The cell phone folders favored by older Americans are nearly ubiquitous here.
Toilets tend to have buttons rather than handles.
There are medians on most busy streets and pedestrians regularly cross to there in defiance of the crossing signals.
In many hotels, you must slip your room key into a little slotted thing on the wall or the lights won’t work. They go off when you remove it. (it took me literally ten minutes to figure that one out)
(This post was supposed to go up yesterday evening, but I couldn’t get the pictures to upload to WP. Appears to have beeen a problem with my phone, so apologies)
Well, it wasn’t really a visit, but we did wave at the Queen when we stopped at Buckingham Palace this morning.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people in one place at one time as there were surrrounding the front gates and circle in front of the palace. Not being a people person, we stayed at the edge of the crowd and didn’t risk the press of folks watching the changing of the guard but we did see the tops of their furry hats so that sufficed well enough. I must say that the place really lives up to it’s regal reputation. The gilded ironworks and statuary were very impressive. On our way out we passed through the Royal Gardens, a beautiful space, and saw a black swan!
From there we bussed over to the Royal Albert Hall. Though we didn’t take the tour, we did hit the gift shop, and the building exterior itself is quite impressive. We didn’t find any holes in it, so the question posed by the Beatles remains unresolvd by us. Across the street on one side is the Royal Academy of Music and apparently today was graduation day so the stairs and sidewalk between were full of frocked students.
On the other side of the hall is Kensington Gardens and looking upon the Royal Albert Hall is an immense monument to Prince Albert himself. Commisioned by his wife Queen Victoria and opened in 1872, the memorial is incredible, with the canopy reaching up 176 feet. Prince Albert himself is gilded and, with the lights at each corner, must be an amazing sight at night.
We took our time strolling through the park up towards Padddington and I fell in love with the green space. We saw ravens, magpies, various ducks, and plenty of swans in the lake that splits the gardens. It is truly a gem in the middle of London and I would spend a lot of time there if I lived here.
When we finally made it out into Paddington on our way to find the Padddington Bear sculpture near the station, we came across a barber’s shop. Now that would be quite unusual for me to mention as I’ve had hair past my shoulders for nearly 30 years and am probably more wary of hair clippers than a dentist’s drill.
It happens, though, that before we left Seatttle I decided to get a bit of a trim to hopefully keep the hair out of my face while we travelled. Well the lady who cut it did a butcher’s job and I came out looking like the litttle Dutch Boy. I bore it and thought that I might get it recut when we were here. And so we pass Headcase Barbers and the chair called to me, not to mention that the very name seemed to be appropiate to my situation and sensabilities.
Inside the shop we met a rescue greyhound and the barber was a delight! So now my hair is shorter than it’s been since I was in the service and I really quite like it. Mrs Crow likes it as well and she’s the one that has to look at me the most, so there you go. And no, I will not post before and after pics (this is a quality blog after all) but suffice it to say the floor was littered with 8-12 inch locks of white hair by the time he was done.
Finally at Paddington station we were slammed back into reality in the form of waves of tourists and travellers (and I say that with a straight face and a smidge of self-awareness). We never did find the bronze of Paddington Bear, which is probably lost amidst the construction expanding the station, but we did find a blue-flocked version underneath a bridge next to the canal.
Escaping there we bussed on to Harrod’s to marvel at 250 quid t-shirts and other things that would require a mortgage and sat in the adjoining square to listen to a rather good guitarist shredding it while wearing a set of Oculus VR goggles.
To get back to the hotel we took the tube for the first time. It was a two-train trip, but the signage to find the connection was excellent and other than packed carrriages (it was rush hour after all) the trip was very easy.
It’s rather warm here in London – 81F today. Here we were expecting low 70s at best for our stay and it only looks like it will get hotter tomorrow before cooling off for the weekend.
In any event, it was a packed day for Mrs Crow and me and we really only went to two places.
First off we bussed over to Clerkenwell near Red Lion Square Gardens to Novelty Automation. When investigating our trip, the place looked interesting and a bit fun. Boy was I right on the latter!
It’s a small space with several automated games. These are not your ordinary games, but ones designed and created by a couple of wonderfully twisted minds. Hand made, they are often surprising in odd and funny ways. I won’t give away the surprises, but I found myself laughing through the entire time we were there. They run on tokens you purchase at the register and the games include loading a nuclear reactor with fuel rods, a two-player divorce game where you pull apart a house (Mrs Crow won that one) an Alien Probe where you probe the alien, a ‘relaxing’ get-away easy chair, a frisking machine, a battle of nerves with an attack dog, bicycle pong (where you cycle backwards and forwards to move the paddles), and my favorite, an altered pachinko game rigged as a Hadron Collider where I won an official embossed Nobel Prize.
At least I think it’s official, she embossed it right in front of me. When you’ve collided enough hadrons, you take the balls up to the counter (and get any awards you deserve) and load the balls into a small hopper on the counter, hold a switch, and the balls travel via a conduit across the ceiling and back into the game. Almost as fun as the game.
After a quick lunch we wended our way to the British Museum. While they weren’t terribly impressed with my embossed Nobel Prize, they did have an amazing collection. Being one of the premier museums on earth, we kind of expected that, but it was awe inspiring none-the-less. Since we’d burned a bit of day at Novelty Automation (and a bit of shopping) we only had about two hours and spent most of it in the China exhibits on the third floor. I have a thing for Chinese art and I was like a kid in a… well, Novelty Automation arcade.
On the way out we also spent far too much money at the gift shop that rings the central structure in the Great Court. It’s a circular shop with a couple cashier stations along the way. Had we kept walking the circle we undoubtedly would’ve just kept picking up new things on each circuit. Fortunately Mrs Crow directed me to a cashier early along or I would’ve just kept going. Money well spent, methinks.
The British Museum is one of those places like the Smithsonian where you really need to allot several days to it to do it justice. It’s huge, awe inspiring, and well worth any time you can cadge for it.
Impressions after Day Two: To drivers, the lines on the road are merely suggestions.
Fire hydrants are underground.
The ground floor of a building is floor zero.
You must describe your coffee, and even when you ask for a ‘long black’, it might be instant.
Some trucks and busses tell you when they’re turning left.
Contactless payments using ‘wallets’ on your NFC-enabled phone is ubiquitous, except, of course, at the British Museum.
Well, another day tomorrow. I think we’ll go count the holes at Royal Albert Hall.
We took our first big foray into London today and used the bus (and our feet) quite extensively. To get between spots Google Maps worked very well, however perhaps because of the close together building, or more likely that my phone dislikes me, the little cone that shows which way you are facing most often faced the other way about. It was so consistant that it became a bit of a joke between Mrs Crow and I that we would start every journey walking a half block the wrong way.
We got an early start this morning, and since most of the things we wanted to see didn’t open for a few hours, we decided to find the statue of Hodge the Cat in Gough Square. This was an adventure, not only due to the whims Google was having with my direction cone, but also because London is a bunch of warrens all stuck together.
Hodge lived in the late 18th century during a time when cats weren’t held in the best esteem. His roommate, one Samuel Johnson, was a rather prolific writer of the time, and was quite fond of the cat Hodge for whom he would go out and get oysters for this “very fine cat indeed”.
Anyways, we did find it back amongst the buildings in a wonderfully secluded square, where we sat a while, got pictures, and I was sure to leave a penny in the oyster shell sculpted next to the cat.
From there it was off to Twinings Tea shop. Long and narrow, it’s quite the posh shop full of tea bags and bags of tea as well as some old tea and cofffee making equiptment. We bought a bag of hand-sewn balls of green tea from China.
One thing I was sure to ask was the proper pronunciation of “Twinings”. Some folks at home pronounce it ‘twin-ings’ and others ‘twine-ings’. The latter is correct so now I won’t flop between both any more.
Along our travels around Westminster we spied the Court of Justice and a rather impressive statuary in the middle of the road containing a statue of Queen Victoria and topped by a Griffon.
Eventually we ended up at Leadenhall Market for lunch. That is an impressive place! This partially covered Victorian-era market is full of clothing stores and restaurants. The place we ate at was stocked witht cured meats and cheeses. It was located in a section that was built for butchers and fishmongers with rows of iron flat-bars above the storefronts where metal hooks were set for hanging sides of meat. Above our eatery hung large cloth bags containing pork haunches with the hooves sticking out of the top of the bag. The architectural details of the market are beautiful.
From there we walked down to the Thames and along to the Tower of London. Now, normally I would probably been happy to miss it. Mrs Crow wanted to see the Crown Jewels, and that’s okay, I guess, but I wanted to see the Ravens. Having grown up with crows in the house (my mom still has one that can’t be released for health reasons) the Tower ravens were a must see.
And you couldn’t miss them, they are huge! Quite a bit larger than the ravens I know in the pacific northwest. I was hoping to talk to the Ravenmaster, who wrote a book recently My Life with the Ravens at the Tower of London, but apparently he had the day off and we got the raven talk by a fellow Yeoman Warder. May stop in to the Tower again before we leave to see if Mrs Crow can see the jewels (there was an immense queue!) and I can maybe see the Ravenmaster then.
To round out the afternoon we walked across the Tower Bridge. (you know, the one that everyone calls the London Bridge which is actually a different, and much more mundane one) and walked down into Southwark to find London Glassblowing. The designer is Peter Layton and I’d fallen in love with his designs in both clear and chromatic glass when I was initially researching the trip. Unfortunately all but few pieces were out of my price range, but oh so beautiful. The fortunate part was that I got to sit and watch a couple glassblowers make a few pieces. It was a bit warm for Mrs Crow, but I was rivited.
While sitting to figure out our way back to the hotel I noticed some grafitti art in the alleyway across the road that looked a lot like Banksy’s work. (I’m a fan and we’ll be in Bristol next week to see his stuff) I’d heard that he’d done some stuff in London, but it was unsigned so I couldn’t be certain. Further up the road was another mural, but this one was signed — by Tanksy. So an inspired artist then. Works for me, it was good stuff. Southwark is a very cool neighborhood full of artist’s working shops. Well worth the trip.
Impressions after Day One: There are few dogs and cats. Other than the statue of Hodge, I’ve seen no cats on the street nor in windows and less than a handful of dogs on leash. They’re everywhere at home.
Speaking of everywhere – bicycles. We’ve got a bit of bicycle culture going on in Seattle, but bikes are literally everywhere here; racks of rental bikes and in some quarters bicyclists outnumber cars.
Pedestrians are f*cking nuts and pay zero attention to crossing signals. That said, with the roundabouts and general confusing nature of roads around here, we’ve gottten to just watching the locals and joining their pack when they cross.
On escalators stay to the right if you’re standing. Escalator climbers will pass on the left.
Mushy peas are a thing and a frequent side dish. I still won’t eat them. Don’t bother telling me they’re great, I will not eat it. On the other hand, Lamb Curry is great, even though it doesn’t quite agree with me. Don’t bother telling me I shouldn’t eat it, I will eat it.
Pret is the Starbucks of London. Yes, there are Starbucks, but it’s the Prets that is on every corner here.
Onward into the fog tomorrow.
After three hours at Sea-Tac airport, 10 in the air, and another half hour in an actual Black Cab, we have arrived in London!
A side issue to this is that I’ve been up for 24 hours now and will be trying to stay awake for another six or so in order to try and muscle into the time change of plus 8 hours. That is getting quite difficult, though the preponderance of coffee shops nearby is a definite help. That in itself is something I wasn’t expecting.
An even further aside is that the US vs UK women’s soccer (nonono, football, you’re in England, get it straight) is at 8pm (noon at home) so we’ll likely be down in the pub watching from a quiet corner.
We have been here a few hours already and to work out the kinks from the long flight and not fall onto the bed in a deep, snoring slumber as soon as we got in, we took a good ramble up to the Eye which is probably just less than a mile from the hotel. On the way we passed a flat that was once inhabited by William Bligh. Yes, ye olde commander of the Bounty.
We also took a wander through Waterloo Train Station and I must say that I knew the Brits took their trains seriously, but this was the first good look at a train station we got and it was quite impressive! I’ve also been rather fascinated with the architecture – everything abutting it’s neighbors, lots of brick and stone and iron fencing.
One thing that we will have to really pay attention to is the mundane task of crossing the street. Not just having to look right instead of left, but just where and when to make the attempt. We’ve seen green man signals now and again, but much of the time we just follow a local as they charge across the street and hope for the best. Being dead tired didn’t help our learning curve so we’ll have to keep practicing.
Sightseeing, at least my self-directed version of it, begins in earnest tomorrow!
(a cautionary digression; it appears that this keyboard likes it’s e’s. it double enters them every other e it appears. I would say be wary, but the occasional shift in pronunciation can be ratheer funny. I’ll leave that last one as an example)