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!