Travels with Tim and Lisa

"If my discoveries are other people's commonplaces I cannot help it – for me they retain a momentous freshness" (Elizabeth Bowen)

Archive for the ‘London 2005’ Category

En route: London to York, Monday 3.10.05

Posted by Lisa Hill on January 16, 2006

On Monday morning, we set off for York. At Kings Cross Station, a very nice railway gentleman, who seemed to have nothing else to do but guide bewildered travellers to the right train, took us to have our BritRail passes stamped, and then escorted us to our carriage! First class is very nice – the seats are plush blue, with little white antimacassars and there are cups and saucers all ready for a cup of tea and some shortbread – no nasty snack bar – it’s table service.
The two-hour journey was very pleasant, with lovely scenery rolling by at 200kmh. There was a partial eclipse from 8.30 till eleven, but it wasn’t at all noticeable except that the day just seemed slightly overcast.
Our new ‘home’ in York was the Hazelwood Inn – very central and we had a lovely comfortable room, with more space than the Montague, which was nice. Once we stashed the luggage, we set off to find some lunch and to see the sights…

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London, Museum at Docklands, 2.10.05

Posted by Lisa Hill on December 29, 2005

The Museum at Docklands is an excellent museum. It’s in one of the few remaining warehouses left standing after the war; it’s in the area devastated by the end of the Phoney War in September 1940, and it’s now all redeveloped as the Docklands estate, for rich people and the finance industry.

The museum tells the story of London with Roman Britain and the birth of Londinium. After the Romans abandoned Britain because their empire was falling apart, it lapsed, but a new port arose, called Lundovych, and then a further port developed later on in about 700-800AD. From then it grew and grew, with bridges and houses and warehouses, all along the Thames, until it became a massive port serving the empire. I liked the little model ships best, with their tiny people and animals and cargoes.
There was also a gallery called Docklands at War, with a video of the area during the Blitz, which aroused yet again those awful feelings about what it must have been like for my father, who lived in Rotherhithe during the war until he was bombed out.
After the museum we took the light rail back to Bank, and then the tube to Holburn. There we wandered around a bit and found the Lincoln Inns of Court, and a magnificent building that looks like a church but is actually The Great Hall. By then we were tired, so we had a muffin and a drink at Cafe Nero, and then en route back to the Montague we found not only Bertrand Russell’s flat at No 34, but also, next door, Lisa’s natural habitat – the London Review Bookshop (where of course, she bought a book. Or two.)
We dined in at the hotel for our last night in London.

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London, Rules Restaurant, 1.10.05

Posted by Lisa Hill on December 29, 2005

Rules is London’s oldest restaurant, and it serves traditional British food, specialising in classic game cookery, oysters, pies and puddings. We started with a Rules cocktail, which Tim thinks is based on Dubonnet and champagne, and then we had soup: wild mushroom & chestnut for me, and game with lentil & cumin for Tim. For main course, Tim had grouse with game chips, bread sauce, redcurrant jelly and a madeira jus, and I had a fillet of woodland roe deer with carrot puree. Our wine was from Languedoc: a Domaine Rene Rostaing Peuch Chaud. At 10 pounds, 95 per glass, with our exchange rate, this was close to the most expensive wine I’ve ever had. (Except for the Penfolds Grange I’ve been lucky enough to try a couple of times. Oh, and that very, very old cognac, at Domaine Des Hauts de Loire.)
The puddings all looked splendid, but all we could manage was to share a trio of ice-creams!

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London, National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery 1.10.05

Posted by Lisa Hill on December 29, 2005

The National Gallery is a gem! We took the bus to Trafalgar Square and – like lots of other tourists enjoying the warm and sunny day, we admired Nelson’s Column and, from the balcony of the gallery, a view across to Big Ben. There are statues everyhere, even George Washington and Edith Cavell, whose heroism I admired as a child. I wish we had more of such statues at home in Melbourne, but no, we Australians don’t like to exalt our great men and women and so most of us don’t know what they looked like, even if we have heard of them. (Why, for example, don’t we have a statue of Howard Florey, who discovered penicillin, or Patrick White, our Nobel prize winning author?)
Tim navigated us through the gallery so we didn’t miss much, and I saw almost everything I wanted to. But when we stopped to rest our aching feet at the Espresso Cafe, we found a clever little interactive screen on the tables, that enables you to locate where particular pictures are and plan your visit. That’s when we realised we’d missed the Sainsbury’s Wing, and went back to find Bellili’s Doge and the Arnolfini Wedding – smaller than I expected but terrific – I even saw some details I’d not noticed before like her red shoes under the bed.
After that we went to the National Portrait Gallery, and loved it! Lots of daggy old British Chinless Wonders, but I liked Aldous Huxley, Churchill, Newton, Shakespeare and Thomas Marvell, and those royals that I’ve seen so many times before, like Henry II for example, but these were the real portraits. I have a soft spot for George III who donated his library, and George IV who built the Brighton Pavilion, which I really like. I especially liked a massive one of Elizabeth 1 in her white dress, standing on the globe of the world – you can see the jewels all over her gown as you can’t when you only see the picture in a book.
There were also some terrible pictures of the current royals, Charles looking particularly insipid.
We took a cab home and learned all about the Finnish language from our genial driver, who’d learned it from his wife who used it to speak to their children.

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London, Dickens House Museum, 1.10.05

Posted by Lisa Hill on December 29, 2005

We finished up our Saturday morning’s literary walk at the Dickens House Museum. It’s a small house, four floors including below stairs, so it must have been cramped if that’s where he had his numerous children. But I think not – I recall a TV series about him living in a rather grander house somewhere in the country, where he decamped after abandoning his wife, poor Mrs Charles Dickens, who doesn’t even warrant a name of her own under her portrait.
It’s the only surviving building that he actually lived in, though there are plaques elsewhere in Bloomsbury because he moved about a bit. The museum has mostly framed illustrations and portraits of him (copies of the real thing are in the National Portrait Gallery) but the morning room is reasonably authentic and so is the washroom and the cellar. Anyway, I liked it and bought a small bronze bust for the library.
After a rather ordinary pub lunch at Shakespeare’s Head Hotel in Camden, we took the bus to the National Gallery…

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London, Bloomsbury Literary Walk, 1.10.05

Posted by Lisa Hill on December 29, 2005

We owe this most interesting and enjoyable walk to a great little book called Walking Literary London, by Roger Tagholm. We followed the first of his suggested routes through Bloomsbury, and saw the centre of British publishing for most of the  20th century in Bedford Square – the offices of Chatto & Windus, Jonathan Cape, the Bodley Head, and Hodder & Stoughton, all lost now to multinationals but wonderful innovative publishers in their day.
In Keppel St, we saw the birthplace of Anthony Trollope, and Senate House (the inspiration for Orwell’s Ministry of Truth), and the former offices of Faber and Faber in Woburn St. The top floor of Carlyle House is where TS Eliot worked – it was bombed during the war, but has been restored.
Outside the house of John Maynard Keynes, we met a man photographing the building because Virginia Woolf had lived there at No 46 Gordon Square. His wife runs the Virginia Woolf society and he was photographing it for a lecture she was to do. That’s what I like about London – you meet such interesting people!
Again we walked along Tavistock St., and remembered the July bombings, ironically set to explode next to Tavistock Gardens, where I took a photo of Tim by the statue of Gandhi, and where there is a memorial to conscientious objectors – who refuse to kill.
After that we took a restorative cup of tea in the Bloomsbury shopping centre, which has a rather down-at-heel feel about it – quite different to Woburn Walk which has been smartened up for tourists like us – and then set off for the Dickens House Museum.

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London, The Science Museum, 30.9.05

Posted by Lisa Hill on December 29, 2005

After the Wallace, we went to the Science Museum. We had a brief look at the Wellcome Health display, which featured an iron lung – Tim was quite spooked by the idea of living in one of these, and so was I. There was also film of a girl having dialysis in the 1960s, and other medical advances too… but our hearts weren’t in it: we were too tired really.
What we did like was the 18th century scientific equipment gallery, part of George 111’s collection. There was a weird little gizmo – a cylinder on a plate – designed for identifying oneself as a member of a clan. (We would never have known this had it not been for a really nice museum guide, I wish I’d asked his name.) The plate was decorated with what looked just like swirls, but if we stood in just the right position, it reflected up onto the cylinder and showed a portrait of – George 111, of course. How cunning!
There were all sorts of measuring things and even though I didn’t understand what half of them did, I loved the museum’s homage to the Age of Curiosity and Love of Learning.
In the Flight gallery, we met two lovely old gents reminiscing about the war planes, and I impulsively asked one of them if he’d flown Spitfires. No, he hadn’t, but he was 73, he told me, so he was not far off the age where he might have done. He told me instead all about testing new planes post-war – no hi-tech stuff in those days – they just used half-a-dozen men to hold the plane down with ropes when they wanted to test out the balance!

The other man explained about the Messerschmitt plane on display, an evil thing developed towards the end of the war just as the German cities were being pounded by US planes by day and the RAF by night. To climb rapidly above the allied planes, the Messerschmitt had two separate tanks for its two types of fuel – a drop of which, if mixed together, was enough to ignite the whole plane. They didn’t have landing wheels, just a kind of ski, & the German pilots often baled out rather than run the risk of landing them and blowing themselves to bits. Horrible things.
After the Science Museum we were exhausted, went back to the hotel, tottered out later for some Japanese at nearby Koto’s in Holborn, and then went back to bed.

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London, The Wallace Collection 30.9.05

Posted by Lisa Hill on December 11, 2005

London, Friday 30.9.95, The Wallace Collection
This morning we tried breakfast at The Forum, across the road from The British Museum and then set off to meet friends from the Booker Prize internet book group. Marion had suggested The Wallace Collection as a place to meet, so we made our first venture onto the tube.

 This was a chastening experience. Our hotel was adjacent to Russell Square, our ‘local’ shops were in Tavistock Road, and the stations we used to get around were the scene of the London bombings just three months ago – so, while not exactly nervous, we were conscious of a slightly strained atmosphere and the need to be respectful of people’s feelings because just beneath the surface, some of them still seemed to be in shock.

 We had a lovely time exploring the Wallace. It’s nice to see the paintings as they belong in a house, rather than ‘curated’. The terms of Lady Wallace’s Will were that nothing should be added or taken away so there’s some dross amongst the treasures by Gainsborough, Rubens, Van Dyk and so on, but mostly it is wonderful. There were half a dozen Canalettos too, my favourites, most of them with that little white dog that he includes so often. Tim liked the armoury and was disappointed that he couldn’t have a photo of a massive horse got up in full armour.

Marion treated us to a scrumptious lunch at the Bagatelle Restaurant, and within five minutes we were chatting away as if we had known each other for ages. How nice it is to have some friends in London, and fellow booklovers at that!

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London, The British Museum, 29.9.05

Posted by Lisa Hill on November 29, 2005

Since the British Museum was only round the corner from the Montague on the Park, even I couldn’t get lost. So when Tim decided to have a rest back at the hotel, I couldn’t resist venturing out on my own…
First (of course) I went back to see the antiquities: The Elgin Marbles, the Assyrians, the Romans and so on. I met some lovely people, including a friendly Greek gent who caught me admiring the Nereid Monument and wanted to know if I thought it should be repatriated to Greece. I said not, (not as emphatically as I might have otherwise) but we chatted amiably because I’m from Melbourne and Greeks are fond of Melbourne. (It’s the third largest Greek city in the world.)
Outside British prehistory there was a curator with a tray of items for visitors to touch and hold. She let me handle a small pick and a hammer head, but (as I couldn’t resist telling her) these were hardly ancient compared to Aboriginal culture, which goes back 40,000 years. I was a bit surprised to find that she didn’t know much about the technologies used by our Aborigines in prehistory, and she was very impressed when I told her I’d seen small ‘wells’ carved by hand in Wave Rock, Western Australia. These wells were filled with sand to stop precious water from evaporating during the drought. I think Aussies should do much more bragging about the unique culture and history of our Aborigines…

Later on I again felt like an excited little kid when I was allowed to hold coins from the reign of Cleopatra (20BC) and Ptolomy (240BC), a little ewer of oil used by an athlete on his skin before a race and an Athenian pottery dish for olives. I do so love to see these household objects from long ago.

I met up with Tim again in the Enlightenment Gallery, which is new since our last visit. When George III’s library was moved to its impressive new home in the new British Library there were empty bookshelves left behind, so they borrowed some books from the parliamentary library to make it look respectable and filled the gallery with an eclectic (but systematically organised) collection of memorabilia from the Great Men of the Enlightenment. I felt quite a pang when I saw the fossil collection of William Smith – the father of British geology, according to Simon Winchester. He was a canal engineer, who created the first geological map of Britain, but he got into financial bother and had to break up his precious fossil collection to sell it to a not very grateful public.
There were all sorts of natural history specimens there too, including Joseph Banks’ shells and a stuffed koala, bits of Samian (Aretine) ware, some tiles from 8th century Iran (when it was Persia), pieces of Wedgewood, a miscellany of Hindu deities and even a miniature gamelan. Amazing!

After that, we went to the special exhibition ‘Forgotten Empire’ and it was brilliant. Some of the pieces were only British Museum casts, made in the 19th century but now the only surviving examples for study. They show the magnificence of the carvings on the Persian palaces, but what I liked best was the jewellery – superb little golden chariots, so delicate and fine, and a magnificent drinking vessel with a carved base. Beautiful gold armlets and tiny little seals carved with miniature scenes of Persian life. There was also a special column with what was ‘almost’ an early Bill of Rights exhorting tolerance – used these days by the Iranians for propaganda purposes…
Tired out, we dined in, on squab risotto at the Blue Door Restaurant, which is the evening incarnation of the breakfast room at the Montague. The meal was nice, and the service very good, but the South African wine was woeful!

Posted in Dining out, England 2005, London 2005, Museums, ScienceLovers pilgrimage, UK 2005 | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

London, Beethoven’s Tuning Fork, Thursday, 29.9.05

Posted by Lisa Hill on November 28, 2005

Triumph! First in the queue to buy afternoon tickets for ‘Forgotten Empire (Treasures of Persia) at the British Museum! We’d read about this exhibition at home in Melbourne, and checked it out online, so we were keen to see this special exhibition of items on loan from Iran.
But first, our quest to find Beethoven’s tuning fork at the British Library. I’d emailed Amelie Roper, Curator of music collections, and established that it was on display before we left home…
Beethoven has always been my favourite composer. As a teenager I used to go into the Melbourne Library at weekends and read everything I could find; I played the symphonies (conducted by Herbert Van Karajan) endlessly. The idea of being able to see something Beethoven had touched made me feel as excited as a little kid, and I felt the anticipation keenly as we walked in the sunshine to the beautiful new library building.
According to Amelie, it is said that Beethoven gave the tuning fork to the violinist George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower, from whom it was passed to Ulysses Bolton (1801-66) and then to Paul Waddington. He passed it on to John H. Balderston who said, in a letter that survives, ‘It was given to me on a promise never to sell it, but to be given to some decent musiker who would care for it and pass it along when the time came.’ Balderstone did this by passing it on to Gustav Holst, who gave it to Vaughan Williams, and in 1993 Ursula Vaughan Williams presented it to the British Library ‘in the hope that all musicians will feel that in belonging to this treasure house it belongs to them all.’ I myself am not one of the august company of musicians she was thinking of, but I was thrilled to see it there, beside the MS of his Ninth Symphony too.
Amelie had also told me about some of the other treasures in the John Ritblat gallery, and as I walked around marvelling at what I saw, I jotted my thoughts in my journal:
‘I cannot explain what a thrill it is to see these documents and books. My heart is thudding! The weight of civilised learning and history is here – the power of ideas and imagination & the recording of events & theories and stories in print which have made civilisation what it is today. We inherit this genius, this history because of reading and writing, and it made me feel proud of my profession, teaching, which ensures its continuity into future generations.’
There on display was the 4th century Codex Sinaiticus, the earliest and best written of the books of the Old Testament; scraps of the Unknown Gospel on papyrus dated about AD100-150; and the Gutenberg Bible. There was the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the earliest history of England in English at the time of King Alfred (849-899, but copied in about 1040) – the page describes attacks by the Vikings. In a large cabinet, there are various incarnations of the Magna Carta as well as the Papal Bull denouncing it; Beowulf, and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales on 11th century vellum, and the Julius Work Calendar. Of course there is also a cabinet with Shakespeare’s First Folio, the sonnets, and his mortgage deed. (It seems so mundane, Shakespeare having a mortgage, just like everybody else.)
Alice in Wonderland was there and so was Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book.

James Joyce’s (very messy) Finnegan’s Wake, and Middlemarch by George Eliot, open at the page where Dorothea and Will declare their love for one another.
There’s a charming little pile of Dickens’ David Copperfield in blue paperback instalments, and the MS of Persuasion was on Jane Austen’s writing desk, not far from that famous page from Jane Eyre in Charlotte Bronte’s handwriting: ‘Reader, I married him.’
For Tim, the highlight was the letters of Newton. Amongst the more modern documents were Haig’s Order of the Day on April 11th, 1918, when he held the line and the British won; the diary of Captain Scott in 1912; the HMAS Victory logbook from 1805; and a letter from Florence Nightingale to Sidney Herbert about the appalling conditions in the field hospitals in 1854 during the Crimean War. Beatles songs too, like ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’ written on scraps of paper & envelopes. You can also listen to sound recordings, including Thomas Edison reciting ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ and a speech by Florence Nightingale, and – marvels of the 21st century – documents and books too fragile for display can be viewed page by page on computers in a small room adjacent to the gallery.
I had another literary thrill en route too. We walked past the University of London, (where my father took his degree) and recognised its sturdy monolithic concrete as the ‘Ministry of Truth’ from George Orwell’s 1984!

Posted in England 2005, Libraries, LitLovers pilgrimage, London 2005, Museums, MusicLovers pilgrimage, UK 2005 | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »