Saturday, 25 June 2011

London... my London

A trip to London can be so refreshing. The fact that I was once a sometimes cynical, sometimes prematurely life-weary foot plod of the Metropolitan Police who sometimes took so much of my surroundings slightly for granted, seemed to melt away as I revelled in the magnificence of my country's capital, the place where my parents grew up, worked in, suffered in during the Blitz and raised my sister and I. I was proud of the old place and forgave it the hard times it sometimes gave me.

We were there last weekend and stayed for a few days doing the tourist thing and strolling through the Royal Parks, the Churchill War Rooms museum (part of the Imperial War Museum), Horse Guards Parade, Whitehall, The Embankment, Parliament Square, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, a stroll across the bridges to the South bank, coffee and croissants with scrambled eggs on toast in the fab bistro near the entrance to The Royal Festival Hall, early dinner in The Ivy then a 2 minute stroll up to Cambridge Circus to see "Priscilla Queen of the Desert" for the second time in 18 months before heading home on Tuesday with first class train tickets and all the salmon sandwitches, tea and cake I could stuff down between Kings Cross/St Pancras and Leeds. (My old English teacher told me that a sentence should always be between fifteen and twentyfive words, but I was on a roll there and just couldn't shut up).

Most of the above were my old stamping grounds during my London years as a police officer and so Mrs HD, with her own personal tour guide, was treated to some of the unseen streets that many tourists will miss, either through ignorance, apprehension about straying `off the beaten track` or time constraints. That is a shame because you can miss out seeing a very different side to the old place. We had a pint in my old local, just down the road from the Roman Catholic Cathederal in Victoria. A haven off the tourist trail by a mere 100 yards which meant it really was a `locals` boozer. I was in a time warp and flawed memories flooded back. The pub had its name changed 3 weeks ago but the refurb it had undergone was so good, so sympathetic to the classic London pub, that I intend to write to the brewery to tell them so.

We strolled back down to Parliament Square and I took my beloved through an arch next to Westminster Abbey and into Deans Yard where we strolled around the cloisters of Westminster School, a peaceful haven where, as a young London Bobby, I would escape for a few precious, peaceful moments during my otherwise bustling tour of duty. It was fascinating to see the pupils of this very expensive public school strutting between classes. We eavesdropped on lecturers corner chit-chats, briefing each other on pupils' progress and `unsuitable` items they had confiscated from Thompkinson-minor during British Constitution. We had a laugh on speculating what these items might have been.

As we strolled across Horseguards Parade I pointed out the back garden of 10 Downing Street and told of freezing winter nights I'd spent pacing up and down waiting for my midnight relief to take over and allow me a blessed 45 minutes in the warmth of Cannon Row police station canteen before heading out again to sit on the frost covered garden seat, my legs wrapped in the daily papers in an attempt to keep warm. I had more than just sympathy for what the vagrants of the parks and gardens suffered. There were times I was so cold I doubt I could have aimed my little Walther PP at any would be intruder attempting to scale the wall. If they came over with a flask of hot coffee I'd have been a push over. I chatted with the guys from the Diplomatic Protection Group covering the perimeter and swapped a few yarns. They listened to my ramblings with remarkable politeness and even asked a few questions of me, bless `em, and they still seem to be working the same basic rota I did over 35 years earlier - probably because it worked. There's progress! We shook hands as they headed of for a grub break and we headed off for a cappuchino and a bun.

But for me, the most remarkable object I encountered was at the Royal Observatory, now part of The National Maritime Museum at Greenwich. We stayed in Greenwich on the saturday as we were attending my sisters 60th yes, sixtieth, wedding anniversary. (I'm not that old, I just came late in my parents life!). Greenwich has a village feel about it and there are some great little cafes, bistros and shops and all this within a 20 minute ride from Trafalgar Square.  The Royal Observatory is a fantastic place, a beautiful historic building in a wonderful park at the top of a steep hill that, once you've caught your breath, affords a fabulous view across the Thames to the glass towers of commerce beyond. I could almost see our old house in East London from up there. The lavender covered gardens within the Observatory grounds and Flamsteed House, where once strolled the likes of Edmond Halley and Sir Isaac Newton, were a picture. It was such a powerful place, the centre for the study of time and space and the home of the famous Meridian Line that defines East from West.

The significance of time and astronomical studies is something that is so easily dismissed these days, but in the 17th and 18th centuries it was something of a Holy Grail type quest for the need to navigate ships accurately.  Sextant-like instruments available to fix positions on the oceans have been around for centuries and early navigators were capable of pinpointing their position fairly accurately, in respect of their latitude (North and South). It was pinning down their position on the East/West or Longitude that eluded them. What was needed was a clock, but not just any clock, it had to be a clock that could not only operate on a heaving ship but one that could be set to a known time so as to back calculate. It also had to be capable of maintaining great accuracy.

The story of the search for Longitude is one that I read a few years ago in this book by Dava Sobel and despite sounding an unlikely subject to be exciting, I found it one of the most touching and remarkable books I have ever picked up, for the incredible story that it told. The below picture is of John Harrison's 4th attempt to create the timepiece desired by the British Government in 1714. There were three that preceded it and they looked nothing like this one and were huge by comparison, albeit remarkable in their detail. Some of the wheels were actually made of wood and the fine work of the movements were almost impossibly beautiful that one marvelled at the fact they were crafted to such fine tolerances in the 1700's. Harrison's story is one of the greatest tales of history.

At about 5" in diameter,  Harrison's `4th`  is arguably one of the singularly most important and significant objects ever created (after my wife). I stood before this clock and was mesmerised by it and what it meant to the world.

Other less significant but still memorable events are shown hereafter:

Lavender in the gardens of the Royal Observatory

Approaching Greenwich Pier

Towards Horseguards Parade from The Duck Bridge, St James's Park

The Pub

A pint of Yorkshire beer, in a London pub?? WTF?

I'll go for a stroll now and contemplate our own future. We appear to have sold our house, after nearly three years of frustration and let downs. Perhaps our time is coming at last. The question now is, "where to next"?


Suz said...

Wherever you go, don't go far; If I ever get to London, I want you to be my tour guide

Sage said...

I love greenwich, never quite made it to the observatory due to time constraints, but spent a number of days at the University and surrounding areas while I was studying there.

Love the history about the greenwich meridian etc... one of my main reasons for opposing going to european time.. GMT is our history, we would be daft to give it up.

Ohhh good news on having sold the house, does that mean you might be bringing Mrs HD and the Harley down to the South West?

Hogdayafternoon said...

Suz: Can do - can travel!

Sage: The place is magical for history and a pretty good place to stay for a few days - as long as you don't stray west across the border into Deptford. I was pleased to find the cafe culture there. As for the house, twice let down in 2 years means we still hold our breath for the exchange - and as for where to, we really have no firm idea! (and I'll be bringing the Beemer too)

Blue Eyes said...

YOUR London, damned straight. If only more people felt a sense of ownership of the place..!

"you can miss out seeing a very different side to the old place"

Spot on/

TonyF said...

I have been to London. Big place, full of buildings. Was mugged in St James' Park. Little bastard, in broad daylight too. Wearing a grey furry all over body thing. Demanded food with menaces. Sodding squirrels.

PS. I didn't have any menaces, or peanuts. Well I did have menaces, 'Bugger off you rat with good PR', didn't seem to count.

Been to the IWM fantastic, and awesome. And sad.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed London when I lived and worked there. Hate visiting though - always feel out of it. Fingers-crossed on the house - I'm stuck waiting to sell - toying with the idea of going ex-pat.
Your tales and photos have reminded me I'm not making time for what's good and worthwhile Hog.

SCOTTtheBADGER said...

Longitude is a Good Read.

I reread C S Lewis' Srewtape Prposes a Toast tonight, now there is a frightning short story, things are going just as Screwtape outlined.

Anonymous said...

The pub near the RC cathedral wasn't the old Cardinal was it? Why do the breweries have to change a perfectly good name. I liked that pub. The Westminster Arms in Storeys Gate used to do good beer as well (rare for central London).I don't go near London now unless I can't avoid it. 32 years policing the place was enough for me. I am happy to let the youngsters crack on.

Hogdayafternoon said...

Anon Ex:
Greetings to you! Yup, it was The Cardinal - and is now a Samuel Smiths pub - the irony of this wasn't lost on me as I currently live about 30 mins from that brewery in Tadcaster. Apparently it always used to be called The Windsor Castle and changed to The Cardinal in the early 60`s. It sits on the corner of Windsor Place. I could stagger into the bar in my slippers from the old `Ambro` section house. Didn't the Westminster Arms used to have lunchtime strippers?

2 pics added, seeing as you've `outed` the pub and win the detective of the day prize ;)

Samuel Smith's is a decent beer, but I was a tad miffed at finding myself sipping a Yorkie bitter in Youngs and Fullers country.

The grey muggers are still there, but St James's Park now has a bloody pelican colony. Hang on to your sprats.

"Your tales and photos have reminded me I'm not making time for what's good and worthwhile Hog" -
I had an e mail from a buddy Friday. An old mate and ex colleague of ours had just started smiling again after divorce, got himself a bike and a great girl to ride with, then found he had heart disease. He took his life, alone in a hotel room - 55yrs old.

Book noted, thanks.

Anonymous said...

Ambrosden Avenue? That dates you. Did you ever come back from a night duty to find that as a jolly jape one of your mates had put a vagrant in your bed?
Mind you I am told that at times it was hard to see who was a proper resident and who was a vagrant. I am told the vagrants were usually more sober.
Not too sure about the Westminster Arms because by the time I got there it was 'respectable'. If you count politicians, civil servants and such like as respectable.

Hogdayafternoon said...

Anon ex: No, but I occasionally had to leap out of bed when I heard `Willie the Bear` coming in rat-arsed so I could open the bottom drawer of my wardrobe (the only way of locking the room), as Willie was prone to forget where he was going and burst in, followed either by throwing up on the floor or climbing into your bed - either option was unthinkable.

powdergirl said...

My niece spent a couple of years in London, she thought it was beautiful and was very taken with the history of it all. We Canadians just haven't been around long enough to have made much history of our own. Thanks for sharing some of yours..: )

JuliaM said...

'When a man is tired of London, he's tired of life...'

"We appear to have sold our house, after nearly three years of frustration and let downs. Perhaps our time is coming at last. The question now is, "where to next"?"


sparkflash said...

For all its reputation as a rather ugly city, there are still parts that really are quite lovely.
I can never resist a climb up Monument and a stroll by HMS Belfast, then across to see the Golden Hinde. There's a pub there, The Barrow Boy And Banker that's worth a visit - I worship at the altar of Fullers, myself, and ESB is a wicked drop.

Hogdayafternoon said...

We still lament the loss of our dear General Wolfe on The Plains of Abraham as he wrested Quebec from those pesky frenchies - it seems like only yesterday :(

Fingers crossed. We have been here before. Conveyancing laws are a total joke, yet we hear of moves afoot to make wearing dayglo jackets compulsory on bikes WTF next?

Chiswick's finest is also my passion, although I'm currently using the Adnams logo in the hope of sponsorship :)

Anonymous said...

Sad news Hog. Actually buying a bike would be an 'end commitment' given my instability. Some secretion in the gila monster system keeps me going. It's a native of the US SW I believe (diabetes possibly linked to nights).
It's good to wander about not having to deal with the under-currents.