Thursday, 11 December 2014

Winter Break, Wednesday

We had - no, I had - a bit of a disappointment on Tuesday evening with our dinner.  Started with half a dozen snails - difficult to go wrong with those, and they were delicious.  But I had chosen paupiettes de volaille with langoustines to follow, and "bland" doesn't even begin to describe it.  Tasted of absolutely nothing, soaked in a floury pink sauce that also tasted of nothing.  The Swan Whisperer had ordered magret de canard sauce groseilles, which he said was delicious, and I wished I'd ordered that!  Then he'd ordered profiterolles, which I think I would have found too much, although they did look good.  I'd ordered the cheeseboard, which was Pont l'Eveque, Camembert and Livarot - just what we'd been watching made earlier in the day!  Which would have been gorgeous, but, alas, they had only just been taken out of the fridge.  So when nobody was looking, I wrapped them in my napkin and took them home to enjoy the following evening.

I think, on balance, that much as I love France, I prefer a country where it is light by 8:00 am, even if it is dark by 4:00 pm.  In France, because they are an hour ahead, but with almost no geographical displacement (Caen, where we were, is almost directly due south of Worthing), it stays light until about 5:00 pm, but of course it doesn't even begin to get light until about 09:00. 

We were hoping to get away by then, and it wasn't much later that we had packed our bags, loaded the car (airing it first, as it stunk of Livarot) and headed off.  As we had plenty of time, we decided to drive cross-country at first, visiting first of all Deauville/Trouville (which I always link with wealthy Brits in the 1930s flying themselves over and going to the casino or the races), and then to Honfleur, which we remembered as a very pretty little harbour, which it was. 

But then it was time for some serious motoring.  I finally worked out how to tell the Satnav to filter its Points of Interest, and to find us a supermarket near Abbeville, which is where we decided to do our shopping, and we set off, over the Pont de Normandie
and up the motorway to Abbeville, where the Satnav found us a Hyper-U and we did our shopping and had some lunch.  Although I had meant to buy some céléris rapés, and a couple of ready-meals for tonight, but forgot.  Got everything else we wanted, I think.  And then on to Calais, up a very empty motorway, and we decided to drive quickly round the town, rather disappointed that it wasn't dark enough to enjoy Calais' renowned Christmas lights (they make Oxford Street look distinctly dull), and then back to the Eurotunnel terminal.  The M20 made a stark contrast with the A28 - no danger of anybody feeling sleepy while driving on that.  We made it home just before 7:00 pm, and got unpacked and so on.   It was a good break, and I should have enjoyed prolonging it a couple of days, but being home and with my grandsons is good, too.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Winter break, Tuesday

A much better night's sleep, but I still have very little energy. We wanted to visit the Christmas markets this morning, and the SW was confident he had parked really near, but it seemed like miles. It was too near breakfast for gluehwein, alas, although they were selling it, and not all stalls were open. We had a potter round those that were, and bought one or two things. Then we went back down towards the car, but wanted to call in at the cathedral where William the Conqueror was buried, next to the town hall
so we found the entrance and went in. First thing we saw was the wonderful Christmas crib. The French do cribs so much better than we do. This one, correctly, had no Baby Jesus and no Wise Men as yet, but it was still lovely:

After looking round the Cathedral seeing the Conquerors tomb,

and, in my case, sitting quietly in front of the Blessed Sacrament for awhile, we came out and walked back to the car, passing the ruined church of St-Etienne, 
destroyed by British soldiers including, I have a horrible feeling, my father, who was certainly here or hereabouts in 1944

Then we drove up to and round the Castle, and up to the Memorial, but it was getting late and there was nowhere to park, so we came back to the hotel, bought fresh supplies in Monoprix, and had lunch. 

In the afternoon, we drove cross-country to Livarot, and found a factory that made the eponymous cheese, also Camembert and Pont L'Eveque. They didn't lay on a factory tour, as such, but you could wander round and there were films and information panels telling you about the dairy herds that produced the milk, mostly Normande  cattle, and then showing you how they made the various cheeses - and you could peep through windows to watch them being made, wrapped, etc. Fascinating and a great gift shop, including local court, so we stocked up. Then a wonderful drive to Falaise cross-country, through the village of Camembert (which also had a museum, but we didn't stop there as we were cheesed out (though not in any way cheesed off!))  

Falaise was lovely, although not much difference between its castle and the one in Caen that I could see.  And so back to Caen, and my insides are telling me it's supper time. 

Monday, 8 December 2014

Winter break, Monday

It is, I feel, just as well that I booked us a twin room, since we kept waking each other up by snoring, and I'm as glad we don't also wake each other up every time the other turns over! Mind you, I was waking myself up with my snoring....

But the hotel breakfast is pretty good. I'm a bit off coffee, but you can have fresh-squeezed orange juice - there is a clever machine that you feed whole oranges in one end and juice comes out the other. I have had at least two glasses both mornings so far.

So we were not out and about very early this morning, either! We had decided to go to Mont St Michel, about 116 km away.  The Satnav kept calling it Saint (pronounced the English way) Mitchell, which was rather irritating of it, but the computer voice does at least give road names and numbers so it is worth the irritation.

I hadn't been too sure what to expect, but it was incredibly impressive, both from a distance and close up. You have to park about a mile away, but there is a shuttle bus that takes you to within 500 metres of the village, with a very cold wind blowing in our faces.
 Once in the village, though, we were sheltered from the worst of the weather, and wandered round the do-the-tourist shops. I bought a pair of gloves, which I needed as I only had one glove with me, and later a slice of kouign amann to have as part of our lunch. When we got to the top of the street bit, the SW went on up the steps and I went back to the shuttle bus.
At which point, of course, the heavens opened and I got soaked to the skin! And frozen. At least the wind was behind me. So I sat on the bus, but the SW, who had not, after all, gone much further, joined me before it set off. He had been sheltered from the worst of the brief storm, and I was reminded of Augustus Toplady, who is said to have sheltered from just such a storm in the cleft of a rock, and then to have written that great hymn "Rock of ages, cleft for me".

After which pious thought, we decided to go on to St Malo, which is not very far away and was gorgeous. We told the Satnav to take us to the town centre, and I'm so glad we did, as this turned out to be in the old, walled city. We found a parking space, and then went in search of loos, but I decided a cup of tea would be welcome and we could use the facilities in the cafe, so we did, and it was! I finally dried and thawed out.  Then we wandered on, and found a place where we could look out over the beach.

We discovered, quite by chance, that we were almost back at the car - how did that happen? - and it was time to head back to the hotel, which we did, stopping for petrol and later for a leg-stretch. I then had time to potter round the shopping centre - not very exciting - and to buy some stuff for this sore throat, which seems to be helping.  

We ate in Hippopotamus, which was ok, I suppose. Not my favourite, but the SW likes it. And when we came back, there was an ancient Robin Hood film with Errol Flynn on, so we watched that, and now it's bedtime. 

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Winter Break, Sunday

Unfortunately, although I seem to be successfully staving off a cold, a gang of little men appear to have been slashing at my throat with razor blades, which kept me awake half the night, although a cup of tea and an ibuprofen did help. But I felt like a wet dishrag, and after breakfast I went back to bed and slept most of the morning while the SW explored the town.  Lunch was a piece of fruitcake, after which we set off through the rain to Bayeux, to see the eponymous tapestry, which was marvellous. I'm so glad I've seen it in the flesh - I have seen pictures of it, of course, and my father has a book of it that he bought when he saw it a few years ago.  But the real thing has an impact unlike anything else.  There is a fascinating museum, too, not just about the tapestry, but also about the way life changed in Norman England after the Conquest. And a short film about the events it depicts. Brilliant. And worth the journey, quite definitely.

After this, we drove on up to Arromanches where the remains of the Mulbrrry harbour are all too plainly visible off-shore,
and then along the coast for a bit until it got too dark, whereupon we drove back to the hotel, and after a cup of tea, went out to a "Relais d'Alsace" restaurant, where we ate far too much choucroute, and I had a couple of scoops of sorbet and the SW had a chocolate thing, which I think has given him indigestion.  And an early night. I shall take an ibuprofen, and hope to sleep a bit better.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Winter break, Saturday

We haven't had a holiday since Oberstdorf, and the Swan Whisperer had plenty of leave days to use up, so here we are in Caen for a few days.  We set off from home at 8:25 this morning, only ten minutes later than planned, and had a fairly uneventful drive to Folkestone, getting used to our new SatNav, which is very clever and knows street names, but its French accent is appalling!

We got to Folkestone in plenty of time, but couldn't get on an earlier Shuttle as it was very busy - an awful lot of people appeared to be going on a pre-Christmas booze-cruise. And something went wrong - I don't know what - but we were sat in the holding bays for ages, and didn't actually get off until 11:20, 30 minutes later than scheduled. Not impressed!  However, it couldn't be helped.

Our first stop was at the Aire de la  Baie de Somme, which is a cut above your average service area, although the food was mediocre, and far too much. I didn't even try to finish my potato, onion and cream pie, which I think was supposed to have bacon in it, but maybe one lardon to a pound of spuds. Plus overcooked green beans (which I prefer to the raw ones we get in the UK), and carrots.  But then I had cheese, which was lovely -Roquefort, and a wonderfully ripe Camembert.

The thing I like about the Baie de Somme is the ducks.
And we weren't sure whether these were young coot or young moorhen:
Then we set off again, but needed petrol so came off the motorway at a pace called Totes, where there was a most peculiar Intermarché, which appeared not to sell essential things like coffee and tinned peas, but only fresh and frozen stuff, and non-food items. Luckily we only wanted fresh stuff for a picnic in our hotel room.

Back on the motorway and over the Pont de Normandie and on towards Caen, stopping once more for the SW to have a breath of air, and apart from trouble parking, we arrived safely at the hotel. And have settled in and eaten, and I am in bed, although not ready to snuggle down yet.

One new thing this holiday is that we have invested in a Liber-T pass, now available for British cars, which is wonderful - you just drive straight through the toll booths. It beeps to tell you it's read it, and then the barrier goes up. The T-only lanes barely slow you down.  It takes it out of your bank account by direct debit, and send you an invoice when you get home again.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Tesco Farm to Fork Trail

As part of their educational programme, Tesco's organise what they call "Farm to Fork" trails for schoolchildren - I believe farm visits are included, in some cases, as well as a look round the supermarket.  Normally these are done with primary school classes - I've seen classes going round our local Tesco's and been very impressed at  how engrossed and involved the children were.

So this half-term, Mumsnet teamed up with Tesco and organised Farm to Fork trails in several locations around the country, one of which was Leyton.  They were open to any child aged between 4 and 11, and so the Daughter, having checked with me first, signed up The Boy to be part of it.  She did check that it was okay for Boy Too to trail along in his pushchair, and was told this was fine, although I might have to carry him in the bakery (in fact, I didn't; he was allowed to stay in his pushchair).

We met up at Customer Service.  There were supposed to be 7 kids, but in the event, only 5 turned up.  There were two very bright children aged about 9 and 7, I think; a couple of small boys who were about 6 and 5, and my Boy, who is 4.  I'm not sure how well the wide range of age and ability worked - the co-ordinator, Stacey, said that normally you have a class so everybody is at about the same stage of reading and writing.  This lot ranged from total fluency, to my Boy who is only just beginning to read, and although he can write his name, it takes a very long time and much concentration!

We were taken up to a room in the back of the building, where the children were asked to put on hi-vis vests which had a picture of some vegetables or fruit on the front and "I'm learning where my food comes from" on the back.  They were then given paper hats to decorate and write their names on - the Boy did write his name, but also drew a picture of a carrot and a loaf of bread, both recognisable once you knew what they were.  He slightly threw everybody by insisting that black is his favourite colour, a theme he continued the rest of the day!

With their hats and high-vis vests on, the children were marched (literally) down to the main floor of the supermarket, and thus to the bakery department.  There, they discussed what things go into making bread, and marked them off on their worksheets (the three youngest needed help with this), and were given some dough to knead and play with.  "What", asked the eldest child, "was going to happen to the dough?"  and she was told that this particular batch would be used for animal food as they hadn't washed their hands before kneading it.

They had to wash their hands afterwards, and this took a bit of time as the dough was very sticky!  Meanwhile, the bakery manager had brought in some "Weirdoughs" for the children to taste - mini-doughnuts flavoured with bacon (surprisingly nice - I shared one with Boy Too, who enjoyed his half) and salt and vinegar.  I passed on that, but the Boy had two!  And a slice of "pizza bread" as the children christened the Mediterranean bread they were also invited to try.  That was delicious, and I looked for some afterwards to buy, but they had sold out.  Still, I shall look for it in our Tesco's.

Onwards, then, to the fruit and vegetable department, where between them they looked out for fruit and vegetables in all the colours of the rainbow, and the older ones were asked to look to see where they came from.

They also had their picture taken with Bananaman, who "happened" to be standing by the eponymous fruit. 

Then it was back off the shop floor, through the door marked "Staff only" ("You can only go there if you work there," as the Boy explained to his mother afterwards).  We looked at the huge warehouse and then there was a visit to the cold store, which was - cold!  The Boy covered himself with glory by answering, when asked what was kept in the fridge, "Yoghurt".  And, indeed, yoghurt, milk, butter and ham featured prominently in the trolleys.  Apparently the law requires these to be stored at no higher than 8C, but Tesco's internal regulations say they must be no higher than 5C.  In any case, the temperatures were nicely below that, so that was all right.

Back upstairs (Boy Too and I used the rather claustrophobic lift, which was too badly lit for my taste, but I wasn't going to carry both him and his pushchair upstairs!) to the conference room, where the really hands-on part of the day started.  First of all, the children - and the adults - were offered "Spooky Satsumas" ("They aren't spooky," said the Eldest Boy scornfully.  "They're just ordinary satsumas in a special box."  Poor Stacey had to agree that this was so!).  After this, they were given the opportunity to decorate, with more or less help from Stacey, a cupcake and a gingerbread man. 

After which, they were invited to taste goats' cheese and Cheddar, and compare the two, and then they were given a fruit kebab to eat.  With the various cries of "But I don't like...." whatever (raspberries and blackberries in The Boy's case) I felt faintly sorry for Stacey, but they mixed and matched.  We adults were given a kebab, too, and I shared my blueberries with Boy Too, who loves them.  I'd got him out of the pushchair, and he was happily sitting on the floor eating raisins and such largesse as people gave him! 

The final act of the day was for the children to make sandwiches to take home for their lunch - basically cheese and salad, though I don't think a single child used any of the lettuce that was provided!  The Boy said "I don't like salad!" but made his sandwich with tomato, cucumber and carrot, and later enjoyed it very much.  The sandwiches were bagged up to take home in a goody-bag which included a banana, raisins, some recipe sheets and some stickers.  And, of course, their worksheets and hats, and, best of all, a £20 Tesco voucher for the accompanying adults! 

I was glad to have gone on the "trail" myself, as I was interested, but had had my doubts as to whether the Boy was really old enough to enjoy it, but in the event he did, very much, and was very full of it afterwards.  I am not sure how much he will remember of what he learnt, but it was a fun outing for half-term.  All the same, I think it was as well we weren't a bigger group, as it was hard enough for the co-ordinator to cope with the different ages and abilities as it was. 

Monday, 27 October 2014

Paddy and Poppies

I'm covering two excursions from last week in one post as neither was really major enough to warrant a post of its own.

On Monday we went to the Durning Library in Kennington to hear Paddy Ashdown speak about the French Resistance in the Vercors, an area of France we know well from many years of going to the Mountain Cup in Villard-de-Lans.  It was an interesting talk, and one could buy his book for £5.00 less than the list price, so I did, for the Swan Whisperer's birthday or Christmas present, and had it signed.....

Then on Saturday we had been going to go to the London Forest Choir's concert in Chingford, but our daughter, who sings in it, was unwell and unable to sing, so we decided it was rather a long way to go just to hear Fauré's Requiem, which they are also singing in Central London on 9 November.  So instead, we thought we would go and see the poppies at the Tower of London.  In case you don't know (and who doesn't?), they are placing over 800,000 ceramic poppies in the moat of the Tower to commemorate those British servicemen who were killed in WW1.  It was absolutely packed out, but the poppies were lovely:

And I couldn't resist this photo of Tower Bridge in the late-afternoon sun:
On our way back to catch a bus on London Bridge we came across one of the mini-Boris buses that are a current art installation:

Sunday, 19 October 2014

An afternoon in the park

The Brockwell Park Miniature Railway runs on summer and autumn Sundays, but next Sunday will be its last hurrah for the year.  So as the family were busy next Sunday, I got a text asking whether we were free to go with them this afternoon.  I said yes, once I'd finished preaching and we wanted to go to the farmers' market, so we arranged to meet them at 12:30 outside Brixton Tube.

We wandered round the farmers' market, but Giggly Pig no longer seem to go there, and the only sausage stall sold cooked sausages rather than raw.  We did find some buffalo sausages, which were delicious (having had them for supper), but other than that it was disappointing.  I wanted a cauliflower, but they were £1 each, and I'd seen them for 60p in Walthamstow Market on Thursday.  And they don't really do street food, which the daughter had hoped for.  So we were hungry.  Wahaca has just opened in the old Railway Tavern, which has been derelict for some years and was Brady's before then, so we had a look there, but it seemed a bit expensive, so we thought we'd potter round the market.  At lunchtime on a Sunday, it was packed out, of course (and our favourite Colombian doesn't open on Sundays), but we found another Mexican place, Jaliscos, where between us we managed tacos, and a burrito for me, beer and pineapple juice.  All very delicious, but "regular" was too spicy for Boy Too, who was consoled with a fruit pouch instead.  I found that on my limit of spicy, too - I could have enjoyed a slightly higher level of spice, but was glad I hadn't, on balance.  But the pulled pork was delicious - I normally find it has so much sauce on it you can't taste the pork, but this one didn't.  The Boy enjoyed his, too.

We then headed for a bus, and got off at the Brockwell Lido gates of Brockwell Park.  In fact, we should have got off at the Herne Hill gates, as that's where the railway starts. The daughter and I found the miniature seats were really rather narrow, and we were a bit wedged in!

The Boy was allowed to hold the tickets and handed them very solemnly to the ticket collector!

After our ride, we decided to walk across the park to the children's playground, where the daughter remembered being taken to play as a small child.  We walked up to Brockwell Hall, now a café, which was sore on the calves, I found, and the Boy grembled a bit, too.  Then, of course, it was downhill.  We went into the walled garden and saw that the roses were still glorious (and smelt glorious, too), and then walked down past the ponds - which are, in fact, the only part of the River Effra that is still above ground, to the playground, which is now rather more of an adventure playground than the swings-slides-climbing frames we remembered from thirty years ago.

Boy Too had fallen asleep by then, so his mother and I sat on a bench and reminisced while the Swan Whisperer and the Boy went off to explore.  They had great fun, and when Boy Too woke up he had a few goes on the slide and on the swings.  And there were tears when it was time to go, but not many.... I was tired by then, and so was the Boy, I think.  A 196 bus came first, so we saw them on to it, vigorous waving all round, and then a 37 which took us home to a much-needed cup of tea.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

France with a Four-year-old

My grandson, usually known in Blogland as The Boy, is now four years old, as he will tell you given the least provocation ("I am four you know, Gran!").  He is obsessed by trains, and the thought of a train that takes cars under the sea was irresistible.  So I said that we would take him to France for a day, so that we could go in a train that takes cars under the sea (aka Eurotunnel, of course). 

He spent the previous night with us, and on the Monday morning we were up early and away slightly later than planned, at 07:45, but still made our booked crossing, with no time to call in at the terminal.  The Boy found the subsequent wait rather boring (so did I!), but was enchanted when we had to drive on to the platform to get on the train!  It had not occurred to him that this would be necessary.  We were on the top floor, and he was just slightly nervous when we had got parked and it was time to get out, but he coped admirably, and enjoyed visiting the loo, and going into the compartment behind us with his grandfather - this was empty, so he could run around.  They also went downstairs to have a look.

The plan had been to shop first, then go to Cap Blanc-Nez to have a picnic lunch, then go to Boulogne to play on the beach and then walk - or scoot in the Boy's case - round the walls of the old city.  The first part went without a hitch; the weather was fine, and there was a lovely view across the Channel to the White Cliffs of Dover.
We had our lunch, and then headed off in the car to Boulogne.  The Boy fell asleep, despite my attempts to keep him awake with raisins - he woke up with them clasped in his  hand and said "Ooh, raisins!" surprised to find them there!

The beach, too, was lovely.  Even I, who don't like beaches much, enjoyed walking on the sand as there were so many different kinds of sand - dry, damp and firm, damp and squishy....  The Boy was fascinated by his own footprints, and by various other footprints there were, of dogs and birds and other people.

And there was paddling:
But then, sadly, it all went pear-shaped.  When we got back to the car, the Swan Whisperer couldn't find his key - and we realised that someone else had found it, and had stolen our satnav, all the charging leads (but not, oddly, the multi-charger that plugs into the one and only socket) and, worst of all, my beloved binoculars.  And the first-aid kit and warning triangle, so we were now illegal.  We were, of course, extremely lucky not to have lost the car, the shopping in the boot, and the Boy's beloved scooter.  I think what I mind most, apart from my binoculars, is the clever lead that plugged into the satnav which made it able to tell you where there were traffic jams.

We should, with hindsight, have called the police, but neither of us thought of it.  And we didn't like to move the car nearer the walls of the town in case the thief were following us - we just wanted to get away.  So often bad things happen to us in Boulogne - we have had a puncture there, I drove our previous car into a ditch with the Boy's mother when she was 8 months pregnant with him, we got caught in a serious blizzard (and I have never been so frightened, as the French are even worse about driving in the snow than we are in the UK - but the Swan Whisperer was marvellous, and actually enjoyed himself that time)... and now this.  No, we are never, ever going to Boulogne again, and our day-trips will either be in Calais itself (something I was reluctant to do this time as there has been some unrest among the would-be migrant community there) or north towards Dunkerque.  Which is where we headed.

I felt sorry for the Boy - if it had been just us, we could have driven round all day, or something, but with a four-year-old.  But he was very, very good.  I don't know how much he gathered of what had happened, but he didn't fuss or anything, and enjoyed a second walk/scoot with his Granda in some random seaside resort north of Calais.

Then it was time to start thinking of supper, so we drove back to Calais, got petrol (which we didn't need, and I didn't think was all that much cheaper, but still), and then went to the Buffalo Grill for an early supper - all the people there were British, having an early supper before going home, we were amused to note.  The Boy had a burger with rice (he chose that instead of chips, and ate most of it), followed by a scoop of chocolate ice-cream.  The waiter raised his eyebrows and asked if he wouldn't prefer the children's lolly that was part of the set meal, but no, he wanted a scoop of chocolate ice-cream, and I was pleased to note that this was allowed as a substitute.  He had orange juice to drink.  I had a steak with ratatouille and then a crème brulée, which I had been fancying  (it wasn't part of the set menu, so we had to pay extra, but the Swan Whisperer very kindly said that was all right), and beer to drink, and the SW also had steak (but a more expensive one) with chips followed by chocolate mousse, and also beer.  It was all very good, although the Boy steered clear of the starter salad they give you as a matter of course in that place. 

And then it was time to go back to the Eurotunnel, and again we didn't have to go to the terminal but went straight through.  The English passport control were far more stringent coming in than going out, and we had to produce the letter of authorisation that the Boy's parents had given us; his passport is now four years old, and he really doesn't look like that any more! 

He was most disappointed that we were on the upper level again, but we explained that you didn't have a choice, but had to go where you were told, and Granda took him down to see the lower level before taking him to find a loo that wasn't locked out of service (as the one in our compartment was) to clean his teeth before we got him into his pyjamas and snuggled in a blanket in the (vain) hope he would go to sleep on the way home.  Apparently another family were doing the exact same thing, so they had to wait while several lots of teeth were cleaned and final pennies spent....

Google navigation on my phone, while adequate, isn't quite as good as the satnav, and we got one or two wrong turnings on the way back to Walthamstow, but got there in the end.  A cup of tea later, and we set off on a remarkably painless drive home (it is so much quicker and easier to use public transport that we always do if at all possible), after what ought to have been - and mostly was - a lovely day.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

The Great Independent Bookshop Trek

It all started with this, on Facebook.  I have a feeling I may have shared it, but can't now find it if I did.  But it was suggested that when our friend J came over from her native Massachusetts, we might want to do a tour of independent bookshops.

So I looked at the list, and thought of bookshops I also knew, and arranged an itinerary.  J, A and I met in East Dulwich, which is between Hither Green, where A lives, and Brixton, where I do.  So our first port of call was
in Lordship Lane.  We then took two buses, changing at Waterloo, to Red Lion Square, where we walked up Lamb's Conduit Street to find
which was where I was tempted and tempted, but managed to stay strong.  I could have spent £100 so easily - all those wonderful books published by Persephone, many that I loved in childhood or have lost my own copy of. My friend V has a subscription and gets every book as it is printed, and I rather wish I did!  Anybody who wants to give me a present.....

Anyway, I was very, very strong-minded and didn't buy anything (not even The Children who lived in a Barn, which I loved as a child, not even Mariana, not even A London Child of the 1870s, not even Consequences). And eventually we came away, and walked down towards Shaftesbury Avenue and our next planned port of call.  This, en route
turned out to be the bookshop of the Swedenborg Society, so we didn't stay there long, but headed on, stopping for lunch at Byron Burgers, which was nice.  I do like a good burger!

Our Shaftesbury Avenue port of call was
which I love, and spent ages browsing in.  But I didn't buy anything!  Very strong-minded I am....  Then a bus up to Bond Street and a rather long walk up Marylebone High Street (which is always longer than I think it's going to be) to
which is a beautiful shop and has a great children's department, too.  I believe it specialises in travel books, but it has a very large general selection, too.

We finally dragged ourselves away from there, once I had persuaded J that if she hadn't read The Pursuit of Love she was seriously missing something.  And walked down to Baker Street to catch a no 2 bus to Victoria, where we got a bit lost looking for

Actually, it might have been here that I persuaded J to buy The Pursuit of Love, but never mind that now.  A had to leave us at that point, but J and I decided to head on via Sloane Square and the 137 bus, so that we could decide whether to add in one final bookshop or not.  In fact, we found this one
while we were changing buses opposite the Chelsea Royal Hospital.  This was an art bookshop, but we didn't stay long as we were getting tired and wanted to get the next 137.  Which we duly did, but got off at Old Town and walked through it to our final destination of the day:
Clapham Books is not what it was now it's moved from the High Street - it used to have a lot of discounted and second-hand books, which it no longer has.

And finally, very tired, we got one final bus to my flat!

Monday, 25 August 2014

Railways, Routemasters, Rain - and a lost village!

August Bank Holiday, and the weather forecast was appalling.  But there is only one chance a year to travel on a Routemaster across Salisbury Plain to a lost village, and that is on August Bank Holiday.  So, despite the rain, we set off.

The day started badly.  We were hoping to catch the 9:27 from Clapham Junction, which would have been a direct train with no changes.  However, no sooner were we on the bus than we noticed we'd left a window open, so we had to get off to go and close it, and lost all chance of that train.  When we finally got to CLJ, we realised that the Swan Whisperer's free tickets were, in fact, day Rover tickets, so I need not have bought tickets at all!  What a waste of £25, we thought - but then, the very kind inspector on the first train suggested that I get them refunded when we got home, not something that it would have occurred to me to do. 

We got to Salisbury, where we had 20 minutes to wait, and then realised, to our horror, that the connection to Warminster was run by First Great Western, not South West Trains.  Oh well, we thought, we'll just have to use those tickets after all, and the Swan Whisperer will have to buy one.  But we ran out of time to buy anything from the ticket office, so spoke to the ticket collector as soon as we got on the train - and he let us travel on our day tickets!  People are so nice sometimes.

We arrived in Warminster at about 12:00, I think.  TfL route 23A leaves from outside Warminster station.
We bought a day ticket, but it was so wet that we ended up staying on the bus for the next couple of hours, while it drove through Imber and out on to Salisbury Plain,
passed through a couple of random villages (with great difficulty; the roads are really not designed for London buses), and finally back to Imber, where we got off. 

Imber was a tiny village in the middle of nowhere until 1943, when the villagers were given six weeks to get out (which is a lot more than my grandparents got - they had to leave their home with only ten days' notice!) and the village has never been inhabited since.  Most of the houses are shells, built to train troops in house-to-house fighting.

The Church, however, has managed to remain open, and a service is held once a year.
  It was open today, and there was an exhibition showing the history of the village, and photos showing what it used to be like:
People were selling things to raise money for the church - tea and biscuits, plants, honey, books and booklets about the village, and so on.

When we had seen enough, we had a wander through the village, and then finally got back on the bus to head back to Warminster.  We had already noted when the South West Trains service was, and caught that train, which took us all the way to London without a change.  And the kind person in the ticket office refunded my tickets, so I hadn't wasted £25 after all! 

Sunday, 24 August 2014

The Museum of Wimbledon

I didn't actually know that there was a museum in Wimbledon, but then, it's not a part of London I know very well, except for the bit where it joins Raynes Park.  However, I discovered that this year marks the 900th anniversary of the founding of Merton Priory, and the museum had, until next weekend, a special exhibition devoted to the priory, so we decided to go.  It was free, and as we no longer pay for public transport in London, we had a very splendid afternoon that didn't cost us a penny!

We decided to go to Wimbledon via the Northern Line, which took us to South Wimbledon Station, and then we took a bus to Wimbledon Station.  It turned out that we ought to have stayed on the bus, or waited for another one, as the Museum itself was on Ridgway, some 15 minutes' walk from the station.  But a bus quickly took us there.

The museum itself is housed on the upper floor of some kind of club - sadly, there is no lift, so no good for those who must use wheelchairs.  We first went to the exhibition, which was really quite interesting.  By complete serendipity, we had driven over the remains of the priory yesterday, when we visited the big Sainsbury's in Colliers Wood - the remains are under the road that was built to service the superstore and, incidentally to move the A24 away from the junction by South Wimbledon station, which is still a bit of a bottleneck.  It was an Augustinian priory, and they know roughly where things were, but it was destroyed almost as soon as the monasteries had been dissolved because they wanted to reuse the stone to build Nonsuch Palace.

Most of the exhibition was photographs and writing, so not suitable for small people.  But quite interesting.  It comes off on 31 August - the museum is only open at weekends - so if you want to go, you only have next Saturday and Sunday.

The rest of the Museum is basically one big room, tracing the history of Wimbledon from a few big houses to the teeming suburb of today.  Apparently, not even the railway did much to cause the growth of the area, what made the difference was the provision of safe drinking-water!  Once you had both transport links and clean water, the population mushroomed exponentially!

Wimbledon continues to be a railway junction (South West Trains, First Capital Connect, District Line and Tramlink, if you are a transport geek, like I am), and we decided to go back on South West Trains.  Normally, platforms 6 and 7 are not in use, as they are the fast lines, but this doesn't seem to be the case on a Sunday, and that was where our train stopped.  We thought at first we would not be able to get on, as the platform was cordoned off (presumably they don't want people flinging themselves under the 8.53 from Waterloo), but someone opened a gate, and everybody rushed through.  The train came in on platform 7 at Clapham Junction - platforms 7 and 8 are set down only and you can't get on trains there - which I was not expecting, as I was used to trains on the slower lines that stopped at Earlsfield and then at platform 10.  We just missed a bus, but didn't have too long to wait for another one home....

Saturday, 9 August 2014

A day out on London's Canals

It was all The Boy's fault.  Some weeks ago now, he wanted, unusually for him, to watch television.  So we turned on CBeebies, and there was a programme about a canal trip in Scotland, going on the Falkirk Wheel, lucky them.  And we talked about canal boats, and he reminded me that he'd been on one for his Great-Baa's 90th birthday, when we'd gone on the Wey and Arun Canal.  I was thinking that a trip on the Waterbus from Little Venice to Camden Market and back might be a plan - I have vague memories from when I was little of going on the Waterbus to the Zoo, presumably over fifty years ago!

So when I got home that night, I looked up the London Waterbus Company's website, and they were advertising these day trips.  So very bravely I rang up to enquire, but got their answering-machine, and was very pleasantly surprised that they got back to me a couple of hours later to say that at the time they weren't sure whether the trip would go ahead, but they would get back to me a couple of weeks before the date to confirm. Which they duly did, and the tickets arrived in the post.

And yesterday was the big day.  We were scheduled to leave from Camden Lock at 09:30, so for a more pleasant trip in the rush hour - although, as it is August the Tube wasn't too crowded anyway - we left from Brixton and changed at Euston.  We weren't quite sure there was time to get coffee, so managed without.

The waterbus was called The Water Ouzel, and was a converted narrow-boat, with seats like an old-fashioned bus - not all that comfortable for a whole day!  Fortunately it didn't rain, so the sides were rolled up and we could see plenty.  The bodies of the 1950s and 1960s might have fitted comfortably four abreast, though, but those of the 2010s didn't, really, and there was much sucking-in of breath whenever anybody had to walk down the length of the boat to the loo at the back (they had lovely-smelling soap; I looked to see what it was but I don't think it was what it said on the tin, as that said it was tea-tree).

We set off down the Regent's Canal towards the Thames.  The canal drops about 86 feet through a series of locks, and, thanks to a girl on a bicycle, we weren't held up at many of them.  Mostly we shared the lock with another boat - a holiday let for the first part, then a narrow-boat that has been restored to its former glory called "Empress", and finally, towards the end of the day, the Tarporley

After the first three sets of locks, we went past St Pancras and its eponymous lock, and then past King's Cross.  Apparently the lines from King's Cross go under the canal, whereas the ones from St Pancras go over it.  Then came the horrible Islington Tunnel, which was not pleasant, but I concentrated on looking at photos of my phone and we did, eventually, come out the other end.

After this, we were held up for a bit by a digger blocking the canal.  Apparently, electric cables run underneath the towpath, and somebody had accidentally driven a spike through one, fortunately when the electricity was turned off.  So when it came back on again - ka-BOUM!  And this was being repaired.  But they were supposed to have reopened the canal at 11:00 and it was well past that - we had to wait for about 30 minutes while it did move, with serious ungraciousness on both sides!  However, we were eventually away, down through Islington, Hackney, and so on, and eventually past Victoria Park and the entrance to the Hertford Union canal (Duckett's), and arrived just outside Limehouse Basin shortly after one.  We were told to be back at the boat just before 2, so we got out and found somewhere to sit and eat our lunches, and then went off for a walk round the Limehouse Basin - one can, as I thought, walk all the way round it - and a quick look at the Thames. 
Then it was back to the boat, and we set off across the basin and up the Limehouse Cut, the oldest canal in London, past the Bow locks (which name the rather stupid couple sitting behind us thought was screamingly funny)
Three Mills
and on past what is now the Queen Elizabeth Park - we were given a map diagramming the various waterways through it, but most of them are not yet open to navigation.

Finally we turned left into the Hertford Union.
When we got to the locks, they suggested we get out at the bottom lock and walk up to the top lock, if we would like; there was a shop where one could buy ice-cream, apparently.  So we did.  But then the boat didn't come and didn't come and didn't come, and we were left hanging about at the top lock for about an hour.  Sadly, someone had failed to shut the sluices after using the middle lock, and there wasn't enough water in the basin between them.  So we had to wait while it filled up - they opened the sluices of both gates in the upper lock.  Finally it came up and we were able to continue our journey, back on to the Regent's Canal, back through Hackney and Hoxton, back through the Islington Tunnel and, finally, back to Camden. 

We were tired by then, and hungry, and decided to eat before we set off home.  The local Wetherspoons was incredibly busy and incredibly noisy, but next door was a Japanese restaurant called Hi Sushi Salsa, which we chose.  It was mostly sushi, which the Swan Whisperer doesn't really like, and although I like it, I have no idea how much to order for a main meal, so we both went with noodles.  He ordered udon with seafood, which he said was lovely, and I ordered gyozi ramen.  Which was also delicious, but I found the ramen and broth under-seasoned; unusually, it could have used more salt, and I would have liked a touch of chilli or Japanese ginger in it.  The pork gyozi (pot-stickers to my American friends) were absolutely lovely, delicately seasoned and I wished there had been more!  We then ordered ice-cream - at least, that's what I thought I'd ordered (the Swan Whisperer went for mint choc chip!), but it turned out to be ice-cream in some kind of skin, called mochi, which Wikipedia tells me is a kind of sticky rice cake.  Delicious, but not quite what I was expecting!  And Tiger beer to drink, which I don't think we've had since we were in Hong Kong over 30 years ago!

Then we really did head home, staying on the Northern Line all the way - and when we got off the Tube, the rain that had been promised to spoil our day had finally arrived!  Luckily there was a P5 fairly soon, so we didn't get too wet, and we got in just after 9:00 pm.  I was very, very tired!