Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the tag “London”

UK trip 20 May 2005: London, and going home

Continued from UK trip 19 May 2015: London | Notes from underground

We took a bus to Twickenham station, and got a fast train to Waterloo, which got there in 20 minutes, Just outside the station was a bust of Nelson Mandela. It didn’t look much like him though.

Bust of Nelson Mamndela near Waterloo station

Bust of Nelson Mamndela near Waterloo station

We walked across the Hungerford footbridge, which was new since I was last here, and gave views of the Thames downriver.

Hungerford footbridge

Hungerford footbridge

It seemed worth recording the London skyline, which had changed quite a bit over the last 40 years, and would probably have changed more if we ever came here again.

City of London skyline, from Hungerford footbriddge

City of London skyline, from Hungerford footbriddge

The bridge crossed the Embankment, which I had driven along many times in 1966, when I had worked for London Transport and driven the 109 bus both ways between the Embankment and Purley.

The Embankment from Hungerford Bridge.

The Embankment from Hungerford Bridge.

From ground level it looked much the same as it had in 1966, except for the London Eye in the background, and the push chairs in the foreground. In 1966 they would have been Victorian-style prams, with boat-shaped bodies and enormous wheels, with back wheels bigger than, and overlapping, the front ones. And they weren’t called prams back then either, they were called baby carriages, at least in the advertisements.

The Embankment from ground level, with push chairs rather than the "baby carriages" of the 1960s.

The Embankment from ground level, with push chairs rather than the “baby carriages” of the 1960s.

It began to rain, so we didn’t hang around there, but took the underground to Blackfriars, and took a couple of photos of St Paul’s Cathedral.

St Paul's Cathedral, London.

St Paul’s Cathedral, London.

When I had been here in 1966 the dome of St Paul’s had been covered with scaffolding, so I wanted a picture with the uncluttered dome.

By this time we were feeling hungry, and wandered down Ludgate Hill looking for somewhere to eat. We passed a Starbucks place, which I had heard of from conversations on mailng lists and newsgroups on the Internet. People mentioned Starbucks as if everyone knew what they were talking about, so I was tempted to try it just to experience it first hand. But the descriptions had also made me think that their coffee was similar to that of the Seattle Coffee Company back home in Pretoria — bitter and overroasted. The Seattle Coffee Company shops were always attached to the bookshops formerly known as Exclusive Books, now Exclus1ve Books. It was a good idea, as one could browse through books drinking coffee, except that the coffee was undrinkable. So we chickened out and instead had an enormous breakfast at Ossies Cafe on Ludgate Hill.

After breakfast we took the No 11 bus to Victoria station, and looked for book and record shops, but couldn’t find any.

Near Victoria Station

Near Victoria Station

We took the Victoria line tube train to Oxford Circus. The Victoria line had been under construction in the 1960s, so that was something else that was new. Val got me a Che Guevara shirt from a street vendor — one item from the sixties that remained current. We returned via the Embankment and Hungerford bridge again; the rain had stopped and so we crossed on the upstream side, and saw the view of the Westminster skyline.

Westminster skyline from Hungerford footbridge

Westminster skyline from Hungerford footbridge

Back to Waterloo Station, where the innovation since the sixties was the post-1984 Big Brother cameras, to remind us that we were living in a surveillance society.

Waterloo Station, with post-1984 Big Brother cameras.

Waterloo Station, with post-1984 Big Brother cameras.

We took the South West Trains train to Strawberry Hill, and I wrote a last minute postcard to our daughter Bridget who was in Greece, and posted it as we walked back to Frank Cranmer’s cottage.

Strawberry Hill station

Strawberry Hill station

Frank came home from work at 4:00, and took us to the airport, though we would have been quite happy to catch the train. He dropped us at the Terminal 1 building about 5:00 pm. Val bought a couple of books to read on the plane, which were being offered at 2 for £9, one a new Robert Goddard novel, Sight unseen. We checked in and boarded flight SA 235 for Johannesburg (well, actually Ekurhuleni, but they don’t tell travellers that) which left at 7:30. I remembered seeing England dropping away below when I left for Amsterdam after I finshed studying at St Chad’s 37 years before, and wondering if I would ever see it again, and now I felt the same, but this time I was sorrier to leave. Our time had been all too short, and it was good to meet old friends, and the relatives we met had all been nice ones.

On the plane I read The great Gilly Hopkins, which we had bought the day before, and when I finished it tried to watch a film, but the sound in my seat wasn’t working properly — not that it mattered much, as the films were the same as when we had come over, and I had watched all the ones I wanted to watch. So I replayed our trip in my head, trying to remember the places we had been and the people we had seen.

That’s it.

Index to all posts on our UK trip here UK Holiday May 2005

UK trip 19 May 2015: London

Continued from UK trip 18 May 2005: a day in Oxford | Notes from underground

We took the R73 bus to Richmond Station, and got the District Line train to Monument station, and then changed to the Docklands Light Railway, and rode to Lewisham. It seemed to be the best way to see some of the parts of London that had changed most since I had last been there in the 1960s.

Some of the changes in London -- the docklands had become a business distict

Some of the changes in London — the docklands had become a business distict

The railway had not been here for one thing, and as parts of it were on elevated track there were good views over the rebuilt docks area, with tall office blocks, which looked a bit like the financial district of Johannesburg or central Sandton. It was a lot cleaner and smarter, but also was a reminder that Britain was no longer a country whose products were exported all over the world. Manufacturing industry in Britain seemed to be dead. The streets were full of French, Italian and German cars, and even the Vauxhalls were simply rebadged Opels.

Lewisham was much changed from when I had last seen it too. Buildings seemed to have been demolished to make way for a bus station, and just about every route seemed to be run be a different bus company.

Leisham bus station.

Leisham bus station.

We went to have breakfast in a place called Maggie’s, which had an all-in breakfast of as much as one could eat for £4-50, which Val had, and I had a Spanish omelet and chips, which was a bit cheaper, though they refilled my tea cup three times, speedily and efficiently. At one point a bloke nicked my rucksack, then gave it back, saying I should be more careful.

Maggies Cafe in Lewisham, where we had breakfast.

Maggies Cafe in Lewisham, where we had breakfast.

Afterwards we wandered about a bit, and saw the church having a market. It seemed to be a fairly high church, advertising Mass.

Church in Lewisham

Church in Lewisham

We rode back to Bank on the Docklands Light Railway. The trains were driverless, and seemed to sway and shake a lot.


Docklands light railway, but no docks in sight.

Docklands light railway, but no docks in sight. Driver’s-eye view, but no driver in sight either.

We walked down to London Bridge past the monument to the great fire of London, and there was not a bowler hat in sight. In 1966 London Bridge had been a sea of bowler hats and umbrellas, crossing to the north bank at 9:00 am and back again at 6:00 pm, when I was driving the 133 bus. Back then they had seemed horribly old fashioned, like something out of the 1920s, and I thought that if such a tradition had persisted so long, it might have persisted longer, but it has not.

The Bank of England, the famed old lady of Threadneedle Street. n 1966 the streets in the vicinity used to be a sea of bowler hats, but in 2005 there wasn't one to be seen.

The Bank of England, the famed Old Lady of Threadneedle Street. In 1966 the streets in the vicinity used to be a sea of bowler hats, but 40 years later there wasn’t one to be seen.

We looked for a loo, but there hardly seemed to be any on London Bridge station at all, and those that there were were small prefab plastic structures sitting on the platforms and required 20p coins, and some of them needed pound coins. Another change, and a major one this time, as it seems to involve a genetic mutation. Brits no longer need to piss, or at least they must have evolved larger bladders so they only need to do it before they leave home in the morning and after they get home at night. When I was here in the 1960s you could buy a review of public loos called The Good Loo Guide, but it would be of purely historic interest now, as the loos are no longer there.

GillyHopWhile we were crossing London Bridge it began to rain, though not very hard, so we cut our sightseeing, and made our way to Foyles Bookshop on the Underground. We had at first decideed not to buy any books, lest we get overweight on the plane going home, but decided to chance it anyway, and stow them in pockets. Val got a book for our son Simon on his computer program XSI, and one for Jethro on Formula I racing. I found Katherine Paterson’s The Great Gilly Hopkins, which I had never seen in South Africa, either in bookshops or libraries. I’d read another book by Katherine Paterson, called A bridge to Terabithia, and had quite liked it, except for the fact that it had a boy with a girl’s name and a girl with a boy’s name, so I kept confusing the characters when they were referenced by pronouns. Perhaps it was trying to make some weird feminist point. I looked for Charles Williams books, of which Frank Cranmer had a complete set, but did not see any.

We walked down to Leicester Square Underground station, and then to Waterloo to get the 15:57 train to Strawberry Hill via Teddington, and walked back to Frank Cranmer’s cottage through the drizzle.

The walk from Strawberry Hill station to Twickenham

The walk from Strawberry Hill station to Twickenham

Frank and Helen came about 7:30 pm, and we took them to supper at Arthur’s restaurant, across the green. The restaurant was a converted public loo, which Frank said had been closed because it was too expensive to run. Perhaps that explained what had happened to the other’s too. There was a noisy party next to us, and so after our meal we returned to Frank’s cottage for coffee.

Concluded at UK trip 20 May 2005: London, and going home | Notes from underground.

Index to all posts on our UK trip here UK Holiday May 2005

UK trip 17 May 2005 London: Newspapers and Books

Continued from UK trip 16 May 2005: Brightlingsea to Twickenham | Notes from underground

We left the cottage at about 8:00, took the bus to Richmond underground station, and then the underground to Colindale, to visit the newspaper library, and spend several hours there looking at newspaper death announcements and obituaries, though the obituaries did not seem to begin in earnest until the early 20th century.

At Colindale Underground station on the Northern Line.

At Colindale Underground station on the Northern Line.

Then we went down to Tottenham Court Road, and walked down Charing Cross Road, where we looked at Foyle’s bookshop, but bought nothing, partly because of the overwhelming choice available, and partly because Val was worried about the extra weight if we tried to carry too much back on the plane.

No South African account ofn being a tourist in the UK would be complete without a picture of Travalgar Square, with South Africa House in the background, so here's the obligatory shot.

No South African account of being a tourist in the UK would be complete without a picture of Trafalgar Square, with South Africa House in the background, so here’s the obligatory shot.

We wandered down to Trafalgar Square, and then got a bus to Aldwych, and another to Waterloo, where we discovered that our visitors travel passes were also valid on Southwest Trains, part of the old southern region of British Rail, now privatised. The trains were modern, and came in a variety of bright livery, in contrast to the dull green of the Southern Region of British Rail in the 1960s, though the one we rode on to Strawberry Hill had graffiti scratched on the windows. We picked up several abandoned newspapers on the train, so we didn’t have to buy one.

On a London bus.

On a London bus.

We got off at Strawberry Hill station and were back at the cottage about 8:00 pm, and walked up to a neighbourhood pub, the Prince Blucher. On the way we passed the green, where a neighbourhood cricket game was in progress. Such scenes always call to mind the song by The Who:

I want to play cricket on the green
Ride my bike across the stream
Cut myself and see my blood
I want to come home all covered in mud
I’m a boy, I’m a boy
But my Ma won’t admit it.

We had bangers and mash for supper at the pub, which was very good, though it cost twice what a similar meal would have cost in South Africa — about 6 pounds, equivalent to about R70.00. I had a pint of bitter and Val had a lager shandy, which she has been drinking ever since the day we arrived, when Richard Wood had one.

Cricket on the green at Twickenham. 17 May 2005

Cricket on the green at Twickenham. 17 May 2005

We walked round the block, down Second Cross Road, and there were three pubs in that block alone. It makes a difference in the way one lives, that one can go walking to a local pub in an evening. In South Africa there is no real equivalent, though possibly the Dros chain of restaurants perform the same function, but one cannot afford them for family meals, and would only go for special occasions, and not just for a drink. But one cannot just walk down the road to them, it means getting in the car and making a special outing. In the townships there are shebeens within walking distance for many, but they are for serious drinkers, and don’t usually serve food.

Continued at UK trip 18 May 2005: a day in Oxford | Notes from underground.

Index to all posts on our UK trip here UK Holiday May 2005


UK trip 16 May 2005: Brightlingsea to Twickenham

Continued from UK trip 15 May 2005: Monastery and Essex Girls | Khanya

We had breakfast at at Ye Olde Swan hotel at 7:30, and left Brightlingsea at about 8:30, driving to London.

Dining room at Ye Olde Swan, Brightlingsea, Essex

Dining room at Ye Olde Swan, Brightlingsea, Essex

We stopped for petrol on the way and took a photo of the Fiat Punto that had taken us round Britain for the last two weeks, as we would be handing it back today.

The Fiat Punto that took use round Britian, somewhere in Essex.  16 May 2005

The Fiat Punto that took use round Britian, somewhere in Essex. 16 May 2005

We headed for the Thames crossing at Dartford, where I expected to go through the Dartford Tunnel, but there was another change — southbound traffic went over a bridge instead of through the tunnel.

Crossing the Thames at Dartfod, no longer a tunnel, but a bridge.

Crossing the Thames at Dartford, no longer a tunnel, but a bridge. There’s a white van on the right, the kind of vehicle that usually appears in detecive stories as the preferred vehicle for abduction. Could there be an abductee inside?

We went to see Laureen Morrow, whom we had known from Namibia. and found the place she was staying, Ralph Perring Court in Beckenham, with some difficulty, as it was not well marked on the street.

It turned out to be a home for clergy widows, and Bromley College, the place where her husband Ed had been chaplain, was likewise a home for clergy widows. We talked about some of the people we had known in Namibia, and Laureen said that she was the only one who was still active in the church, which I found rather sad. Her husband Ed had died a couple of years earlier.

Val Hayes and Lauremn Morrow in Beckenham, Kent. 16 May 2005

Val Hayes and Lauremn Morrow in Beckenham, Kent. 16 May 2005

We drove around south London, and up through Streatham, where I showed Val the house where I had lived when I worked for London Transport at Brixton Garage nearly 40 years ago. The house had now been painted yellow. All the trees looked bigger than they had 40 years ago, which is probably only to be expected, but I thought that the London trees were so well established that they would have reached their full height long before. Streatham High Street seemed a lot narrower than I remembered it.

Then we drove over to Twickenham, where we found Frank Cranmer’s cottage in First Cross Road, down a narrow passage between two other houses. Frank had been another fellow student at St Chad’s College, Durham, and had said we could use their cottage while we were staying in London. We took our things inside, and then drove to central London to return our car at Bryanston Street in Marble Arch. That incurred a “congestion charge”, and we thought that the car hire company could have been more considerate and sited their garage outside the congestion charge area.We no longer needed the car, as it is a useless encumbrance in London. It had taken almost the whole day to drive across London from north-east to south-west, and London has a good public transport system, though it is very expensive. I was rather sorry to see that London Transport seemed to have been privatised into a number of different firms, though they still had vacancies for bus drivers.

We went to Westminster on the tube and met Frank Cranmer at the central lobby of the House of Commons, where I had met my mother’s cousin Willie Hannan several times before in the 1960s, when he was MP for Maryhill in Glasgoe. But there were now elaborate security precautions to screen people going in, with all bags being X-rayed in a tent on the lawn outside, instead of a single friendly policeman standing at the door. We went for a drink at the strangers bar, again, little changed from before, and then went across to Church House, where Frank’s partner of 21 years, Helen, worked as a kind of parliamentary lobbyist.

Helen & Frank Cranmer. Twickenham, 16 May 2005

Helen & Frank Cranmer. Twickenham, 16 May 2005

We drove with them back to Twickenham, and Frank made supper, for which we were joined by Alex Griffiths, also a former St Chad’s student, who had, however, left before I arrived there. Helen wanted to know my history, which I told over supper, with many digressions and diversions. Frank looked little changed from St Chad’s days, greyer and sporting a beard, but, unlike Chris Gwilliam, he was quite recognisable. He said he had become a Quaker as a result of visiting Chris and Nina Gwilliam and attending a Quaker meeting with them, in some trepidation, not knowing if he could take an hour of total silence.

Alec Griffiths, Twickenham. 16 May 2005

Alec Griffiths, Twickenham. 16 May 2005

Alec Griffiths was an Anglican priest and magistrate, but was retiring because of ill health.

Continued at UK trip 17 May 2005 London: Newspapers and Books | Notes from underground.

Index to all posts on our UK trip here UK Holiday May 2005

Mrs Dalloway and the Greater Trumps

Mrs DallowayMrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It took me a while to read this book, even though it is quite a short one, and all the action takes place in a single day. I suppose ideally one should read it in one day too.

It is a day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, a London housewife who is preparing for a party. The story switches from one viewpoint to another, not only her own, but those of people around her: servants, an old friend, her daughter, a suicidal shell-shocked soldier and others. It is set in the 1920s, and so scenes from Downton Abbey come to mind.

One of the reasons it took me so long is that I got distracted into reading other books in between, one of which was The Greater Trumps by Charles Williams. I began re-reading it as a result of a discussion about the names of books by Benjamin Disraeli, the titles of whose books Sybil, Lothair and Coningsby were used for the names of characters in The Greater Trumps.

I could not help but be struck by the contrast between Mrs Dalloway and The Greater Trumps. Both are set in a similar period, between the World Wars of the first half of the 20th century. But in Mrs Dalloway I was much more conscious of the setting in a specific time and place — London of the 1920s. I lived in London for a few months in the 1960s, but the London of 40-45 years earlier was very different, just as it is very different today from the 1960s. Some things may have been the same — the sea of bowler-hatted businessmen crossing London Bridge each morning and afternoon may well have been similar in the 1920s and 1960s, but now they belong to a vanished past. But in Westminster, where Mrs Dalloway is set, the fashions were very different in the 1960s, and are probably different from both today.

In The Greater Trumps, by contrast, though the action moves from a London suburb to the country, the time and place are less important. One could film it today, in present-day clothes, and it would make little difference to the characters or plot. The setting is important, in the sense that it is an isolated country house, and there is a snow stom, but characters and plot take precedence over time and specific place.

So this is not really a review of Mrs Dalloway, but the Good Reads review prompt asks “What did you think?” and that’s what I thought.

View all my reviews

Volcano eruption likely to disrupt 2012 Olympic Games

If you think the disruption to transport caused by Icelandic volcanic ash in the northern British Isles this week was bad, that is nothing compared to the volcanic eruptions that are predicted to disrupt the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

A likely scenario?

About as likely is this:

Daily Star: Simply The Best 7 Days A Week :: News :: World Cup South Africa 2010: Quake Fears:

WAYNE Rooney could be shaking in his boots at the World Cup – because of fears of an earthquake.

An expert has predicted the country is almost certain to be hit by a major natural disaster.

And it could strike during this summer’s footie tournament.

Dr Chris Hartnady has singled out Durban and Cape Town as the areas most likely to be hit by a quake.

As one commentator put it, the Brit media just jumped the shark.

Jean Charles de Menezes Inquest

Justice for Jean has set up a blog to raise public awareness of the forthcoming inquest on the death of Jean Charles de Menezes, an innocent commuter who was shot as a suspected terrorist by officers of London’s Metropolitan Police as he boarded a train three years ago.

Jean Charles de Menezes Inquest:

* We know that the IPCC “Stockwell 1” investigation raised grave concerns about the effectiveness of the police response on 22 July 2005, not only the risk of an entirely innocent member of the public being killed “but also whether the police response would stop a terrorist who was intent on causing harm.”

* We know that the Old Bailey jury at the trial into breaches of the Health and Safety Act found that Scotland Yard commanders had made a string of errors that culminated in an unwarranted risk to the public and ultimately to Jean’s death.

Hat tip to Nemeton.

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