My sister-in-law, L, gave me some wonderful wool/alpaca yarn for my birthday last March from this great shop in London (gosh, I wish I had a shop like that up the road). With all my other projects it’s taken awhile to get to the yarn. I wanted to make a garment that I haven’t got yet, and this cowl/capelet/poncho in alpaca would keep my top half extra warm on these cool days.
I learned a new stitch (slip stitch smocking), practised a new way to cast on and off (tubular provisional method), and got a good looking garment at the same time.
It’s certainly very warm for its weight. It would be a good piece to take on future urban travels into colder climes.
Before I move on to Greece, I need to post once more about England, and it’s about quite an important aspect of travel – food!
I was actually pleasantly surprised with the food all throughout the country. It’s certainly an improvement from when I was last in the country, some 13 years ago. It looks like the English have finally embraced Asian food of all kinds, not just from the sub-continent. There were Japansese, Vietnamese and even Korean restaurants in central London. My favourite dishes were from restaurants in the East End.
Kid goat with roasted beetroot, rainbow chard and lentils from Moro in Islington. The combination of spices and top ingredients was heavenly.
Braised ox cheeks at St John in Clerkenwell. This must be one of the first restaurants to embrace nose to tail cooking. The tenderness of the ox cheeks has to be eaten to be believed.
This was just two of many great dishes we ate in London. Next, food in the countryside.
Westminster is one of the most iconic areas of London, and one of the most visited.
I wouldn’t say that I enjoyed being jostled for the best view of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, nor did I go inside Westminster Cathedral (it was a Sunday, and closed for services), but I visit somewhere worth it.
Around the corner from the mayhem of Big Ben is the Churchill War Rooms – the basement complex from which was Winston Churchill’s command centre during World War II. It’s now a museum and wonderfully intact. The meeting rooms, communication rooms, bedrooms, and most impressively, the map rooms, where every action in WWII, all across the world, were meticulously tracked.
The museum also includes the Churchill Museum, which follows the life of Winston Churchill, from his not-so-humble childhood, his pre-politics career as a Boer War journalist, as well as his political and family life. The exhibits are interactive, but there were also plenty of Churchill’s letters and personal effects to illustrate his colourful life. I do like that the museum placed great emphasis on his writing, especially his war time speeches – how he composed them on his typewriter as he went from one meeting to another, and how they were in stanzas, like a poem. He really was a man of his word.
The Natural History Museum is huge, with galleries full of old-school stuffed animals, dinosaur galleries (bones and all), reconstruction of blue whales, as well as enormous displays of minerals, precious gems, and interactive earth sciences exhibits. There were so many galleries in fact that it made my head spin. But given our recent trip to Lyme Regis, and my acquaintance with the story of Mary Anning, it was the marine reptile gallery that I found the most memorable.
It’s quite a simple gallery really – a light and airy space, it has mounted on its walls complete fossils of marine dinosaurs. In fact, it houses the actual fossils that Mary Anning found in the cliffs of Lyme Regis, 200 years ago.
Here was the head of the first full ichthyosaur fossil that she found with her brother when she was just twelve years old.
And above it was another ichthyosaur that she found in Lyme Regis. The details are fascinating – the teeth, the ammonites embedded on to the ichthyosaur, showing that the two very different creatues did co-exist 200 million years ago.
I actually got a bit emotional seeing ‘her’ creatures in the most hallowed natural history museum in Britain, knowing how she struggled to make her mark. It goes to show that Mary Anning’s contribution, although not fully acknowledged in her lifetime, is now celebrated.
We travelled back to London, and visit the Natural History Museum in Kensington, right across the road from the V&A. Like the V&A and British museums, this museum was also completely free to visit. Both British and Natural History museums were housed in one building in the early 1800’s, but as both collections grew, it became more practical to split the collections, and the natural history component moved to a new building in Kensington.
The main entrance of the museum is impressive enough, dominated by ‘Dippy’ the dinosaur, a replica of a Diplodocus carnegii skeleton.
And on the main staircase, Charles Darwin looks over proceedings. Some of his research collection is stored at the museum, although he was probably too old to have seen the museum open. These days he’s more likely to see hoards of ankle biters than suited, bearded scientists – predictably, the dinosaur exhibits are very popular with children.
We’ll delve into my favourite gallery next.
In the middle of Middle Temple stands Temple Church. Like all the other buildings in the area, it is taken care of by the law fraternities, but its roots were once again with the Knights Templar in the 13th and 14th Centuries.
It is a beautiful, light old church, modelled on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. It had wonderful stained glass windows and a round vaulted ceiling that made the interior so bright.
The founders of the church were also buried here. Their final resting places still maintained even after 800 years.
The law was also a subplot in the novel Our Mutual Friend, and some of the action was focused on the Temple area. Eugene Wrayburn and his friend Mortimer Lightwood had their chambers here, and it was where school master Bradley Headstone stalked Wrayburn night after night. The gate below leads from the river into Middle Temple.
The Inner and Middle Temples are now filled with law chambers, but there was a time when the area belonged to the Knights Templar, hence the name. Consequently, it’s one of the oldest lanes still existing in London today. In the late afternoon, it’s a peaceful place for a stroll.
The lawyers seemed to all be making a beeline for the Royal Courts of Justice, the equivalent of our Supreme Court, I suppose. It’s a mammoth building that faces Fleet Street, and where Dickens, as a young journalist, used to ply his trade. We didn’t go inside, but I’m sure the inside would be just as grand as the outside.
It seems like most of my posts from London have been about the past. Well, I’m not going to stop now!
Being in London, one 19th Century author’s novels became very real – Mr. Charles Dickens. It hit me every day as I walked through the East End that I was walking the same streets that he, and his characters, walked – Fagin’s Saffron Hill and Bleeding Heart Yard in Little Dorrit is literally around the corner. But I’m not going to linger on the East End in this series of posts, but on the law district of London, which form the core of many of Dickens’s novels, such as Bleak House and Our Mutual Friend.
The first place is Lincoln’s Inn, where the old courts of the Chancery used to be. Below is the ‘new’ hall, built in the 19th Century. The old hall across the way was built in Tudor times and was used for chancery sittings up until then.
The Court of Chancery was the focus of Bleak House. It was where wills were contested and settled – except that cases could last a lifetime, or even several lifetimes – and people literally went insane waiting for a settlement that never came.
On a sunny spring-ish day, all of this bleakness seemed a bit far off, if it weren’t for the fleets of lawyers trundling boxes and folders to court.
There were of course more modern fashions on display. These were 1940’s tweed suits, all prim and proper.
And startlingly classic. They have never completely gone out of style.
And then, there were the designer ball gowns from the 1950’s.
They have also remained in fashion, because they are so wonderful.
One can imagine Grace Kelly or Audrey Hepburn in this.