Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Crossing things off the list.

It's been another busy couple of weeks as the weather has continued to be fantastic & warming as the days progress. With less than a month left in London, I've been trying to complete a few things on my London list. With the Monday before last being such a stunner I wasn't so keen to spend the day in a museum, so I dug out the 'Walking London' book to see which ones I hadn't yet done. There aren't many in the central city left, but as there were likely to be fewer tourists around with a lack planes coming to London I hit the Westminster walk - of course most of the places I'd been to before at some time or another & there wasn't too much new. After lunch it was out further east to Tower Hill & the Wapping to Limestone Walk - most of this one was along the river, but since the book was written many of the old warehouses that were central to trading of commodities such as spices & tea have been redeveloped in to appartments. The most interesting part of this walk was the start of Regent's Canal - the start of the extensive canal system stretching to the north that was developed before being overtaken by railways. To round the day off, it was back towards Picadilly to try & find the Royal Institution - the organisation made famous by the work, discoveries & lectures of such famous scientists as Davy & Faraday. In the basement there is an excellent little museum detailing the work & importance of what these & other notable scientific figures did at this very place.

I've also been back to the RAF museum, which I had a bit more time to peruse at my own rate. The milestones of flight display was fascinating & there were some pretty good planes in the hall too. The Sopwith Camel that was missing from the WWI hall really only reminded me of playing Flight Simulator in black & white on a 386. There were also a couple of the best WWII fighters on display - a P51& a Me109 - as well as the always appealing V/STOL Harrier. On the way back in to town on the Northern Line I jumped off at Belsize Park to wander around Kentish Town along the same streets that my great-great-grandparents used to wander around. Of course, their houses are long gone but it was pretty neat to get a very slight idea of the area they lived in. As it was such a beautiful day, I took a short diversion onto Hampstead Heath & up Parliament Hill - where my great-grandmother used to toboggan down in the snow. There was a great view towards the City of London & after six days of silent skies, international travel was returning to normal operation leaving plenty of vapour trails streaking across the brilliant blue.
That afternoon I met up with a family/school friend from our Papamoa days - I can't have seen Matt for at least fifteen year, maybe almost twenty since we left Papamoa for Te Puke. Matt has just arrived in London from NZ & he was in the middle of a whirlwind of interviews, while his girlfriend has already started work. It was great to catch up on a lot of what we & our families have been doing for the last decade or so over a couple of pints. Coincidentally, Matt's brother lives about six hours drive from where I will be in Canada - sounds like a good reason for a road-trip with a bike in the back of the car. Later that night I met (cousin) Chris at Liverpool St station - he is finally back in London with a new two-year visa - & we went for a short architectural waling tour around the St Bart's/London Wall area of the city before wandering off to Charing Cross. En route to the station, we stopped off for a pint at the Cheshire Cat - a very old pub that was filled with lots of tiny rooms, all with their own bar in them. Dr Samuel Johnson was a regular here & there is a still a very old & large copy of the seventh edition of his dictionary on display (no works by Gertrude Perkins though) - it really was some feat that first dictionary, the pages were large & the print small & still all the definitions of 'lay' ran to over a page.

Chris had pointed out the London Museum at London Wall, so on Friday it was back out there after a brief but fruitless visit to the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons. Unfortunately, the second half of the museum was undergoing an extensive revamp so I was only able to get up to the Great Fire in 1666. But what I did see was very interesting - taking one through London from pre-history (when the Thames ran a very different route), the Roman occupation & development, the middle ages - very well presented with all sorts of artefacts. As I strolled around the London Wall I stumbled across a small thoroughfare across a church yard. It was a pleasant spot to have lunch & on one of the walls was many plaques detailing the efforts of certain London around about a century ago who gave their lives trying to rescue fellow Londoners. Most of the people died trying to rescue people from drowning, only to drown themselves; others died rescuing people from burning buildings, out of the paths of horses & carriages - it was quite touching. I continued my day by walking through the City & then further east to Bethnal Green, where I couldn't quite pin down the places where another of my great-great-grandfathers lived. From Stepney Green I took the tube further east still to Newbury Park - here's an ironic photo just for Dad. From here I was quite easily able to find the two houses Mum lived in before she & her family emigrated to Sydney in the mid-'60s. The houses looked pretty much as I imagine they did all those years ago. It was funny to remember back to all the times Mum remarked when driving through new subdivisions in NZ how much all the houses looked the same - it was the same, streets & streets of semi-detached & terraced houses. Still, it was cool to go back & see where the Hinds left almost fifty years ago. On the way in to catch the train home, I finally managed to get on my eleventh & last tube line - the nothing Waterloo-City line that only has two stops.

The plan for the weekend was to spend the day with the Patricks on Saturday & then ride out to watch the London Marathon. This all changed in a hurry on Saturday morning & I ended up visiting the Patricks for the afternoon & evening, getting beaten again in a game of Knights & Cities. I stayed the night out before driving a few hours west on Sunday morning with bike in the back of the car itching for a good mountain-bike ride on the Quantox with John. With my time in Britain for now running out & John & Anna's busy life with very young twins this was my only opportunity to get to Taunton & see them & get a good ride in with John. Thankfully, it was a lot warmer than the last time I rode with John (which was pretty much freezing) & the heavy showers that I drove through to get west had pretty much passed through. After a much-too-large barbecue lunch (which I thought was my first of the year, until I remembered the snow barbecue in Canmore in January) we were organised & out riding for two & a half hours on John's local ride - the Quantox seems to be a wide expanse of public land, hills just off the coast - one can see across to Cardiff, Swansea & the mouth of the Severn if it's not really cloudy. We parked at a carpark near the top so the riding consisting of some nice downhills before riding back up to the top & repeating this a few times. I was surprised & pleased (less cleaning) at how dry it was; I was a little tentative to start with some of the more technical downhill parts, but I gradually remembered how to ride a bike & the trails got more flowy & more enjoyable. It was pretty difficult to disguise that I am significantly less fit than John (& he's one of those singlespeed nutters), but I managed to grovel up the hills eventually. A great ride & always good to see the Lamberts & their growing family (the girls were in much better health than when I last saw them) - I really lucked out meeting John in the Redwoods a few years ago. Monday was a slow cruise back to London - stopped off at Stonehenge on the way, nice day for it & quite interesting & incredible really. Made a slight detour to Avebury, similar to Stonehenge in that there are really big rocks sticking out of the ground in a circle - but these rocks weren't quite as big, but the circle was much larger - it seemed to go all the way around the village.
Have been spending quite a few more afternoons in the hospital visiting Nora while she waits for a place in a residential care home. Dementia is pretty depressing (I suppose I was fortunate not to have to cope with my grandmother's slide - I'm starting to see why it was/is so upsetting for Mum) & it's hard having to explain every time we visit that we aren't there to take Nora home & that she will not be going home as she knows it. It's pretty bleak in the ward as there is little stimulation & most of the patients aren't up to any rational conversation & you know that a lot of the patients will only leave the ward in the box that one occasionally sees being wheeled in. On a lighter note, I churned through & quite enjoyed the rest of the 44 Scotland St series, even if a couple of the main characters (Bruce & Pat) left noticeable holes in some of the books (3 & 5 respectively). Trish & I are finally heading to Hastings tomorrow (another thing will be gone from the list), & this (long) weekend holds more mountain-biking & my first trip to Wales - can't wait.

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