Our time together is drawing to a close. Sunday awaits and Monday we will bid farewell when Kerry and I return to Nottingham whilst David and Veronica stay in London with Colin and Mig at Potters Bar for the 2nd Test at Lords.
Sunday the day of rest – rest of the things we have to do. After a nourishing bowl of porridge we board the bus to go to Regents Canal. Just as there are canals crisscrossing the midlands London also has many old waterways which now serve as recreational space and moorings for narrow boats. We walked along the towpath for about a kilometre until we reached a bridge where the tow path ended. The canal disappeared under the roads and houses of Angel and into Camden Town where it came to the surface again in the form of a set of locks and further canals.
However I get in front of myself. After the canal disappeared under the road we climbed up to the road passed an inquisitive squirrel, the Clerkenwell County Court and we walked into the village of Angel in the borough of Islington caught the underground and ended up in Camden Markets. This is not a simple few tents and heaps of junk but a full on township of tents and shops with foods from around the world, silver markets, leather markets T-shirt shops and on and on. Parking is at a premium and if you don’t obey you get towed away.
The markets surround the locks and have some of the most delightful fast food stalls we have found. We had Ethiopian coffee a BIT burger and a wrap of spinach goats’ cheese and chilli beef. Then we found Roberto’s cake shop – a bit expensive though.
So we continue to journey around the markets until we found Cabbie Coffee (a converted London cab now coffee machine) and Cyberdog an alternate world of darkness metal and loud music. Worn out and broke we headed home via Chalk Farm.
Monday we have breakfast and drive to Potters Bar where we say farewell to David and Veronica.
However the feature event was intended to be the races at Royal Ascot on Saturday. We set off at 10.30am for a 1 hour trip to the course only to find that roadworks and traffic was to turn the trip into 2 hours. Even so the day was great. We all had a few wins and met and spoke to a number of different punters some sober and others beyond saving. The trip home was equally lengthy but did not spoil the day. Here are some photos.
On the way from the carpark we saw jockeys and handlers with their horses. These turned out to be ponies which ran in some earlier competition before the main card.
On entering the course we were once again astounded by its size and design, with its beautiful mounting yards and parade in front of the course grandstand. Inside looked like a shopping centre of some 6 floors. We had Premier entry so we got the run of the fourth floor.
The track was a verdant green – pretty as a picture. There were 7 races apart from the ponies and all races were strongly contested. In one case No 16 had thrown his rider before the start and ran back through the finish line only to be caught (very easily – he just walked up to one of the officials) whilst the jockey ran back down the track to get his mount. It ran in the race but had no luck. We travelled all over the grounds taking in the atmosphere.
It’s Thursday. If we do nothing else but have dinner at Sarastro and see the Carol King story “Beautiful” we will have achieved our goal for today. But for this morning we are each going our own way – we are going to the Tower Bridge and David and Veronica are meeting old friends.
The traffic is more horrendous than usual because of the Tube strike. Our bus came to a standstill around St Paul’s so we got off to walk the rest of the way. The first thing we stumble upon is the ruin of Christchurch Greyfriars Garden. We visited this spot as part of a London Walk on all things Shakespeare. I could never remember the name of the old tower that had been converted into a million dollar flat and here it was. We were trying to make our way to the Thames but this was harder than it seemed. I saw a sign to the central criminal courts and the “Old Bailey”. I could not resist perchance to see Rumpole or visit Pomeroy’s.
We were now certain that we needed a better map of London than the back of the tube map so we headed toward the information centre across the road from St Paul’s near the Millennium Bridge. As we passed St Paul’s we called into the coffee shop in the vaults – great space, quiet and clean toilets, for a comfort stop. Always worth a visit for that quick drink and something to eat. As we made our way to the Millennium Bridge, the phone rang and Kerry became involved in a bedtime conversation with two of the grandchildren so I took photos of the Bridge and surrounds, – St Paul’s, the monument to the Firefighters of WW2 London, the Bridge, and the Globe Theatre.
Having finished saying good night to the boys, I informed Kerry that we were at least 20 minutes away from Tower Bridge and to be back at Hackney by 1.00pm we would have to skip the Tower Bridge this time. In the distance we could see the Towers of the bridge and it appears Kerry had confused London Bridge which was nearby for the Tower Bridge. Resigned to this setback we walked along the southern bank of the river past the Globe, the cranes of the financial district on the north bank and some of the more notable modern erections, to the ruins of Winchester Palace and the Golden Hinde, passed Southwark Cathedral and across London Bridge. The bus stop on the south bank was choked with people awaiting the next bus – walking to Hackney appeared the only solution. So across the Bridge up King William St through Princess St and into Moorgate St we trudged until we could see the traffic was easing and the buses more frequent.
Back at our apartment we lunched and rested to be ready for the next big adventure. We left the apartment at 4.30pm to get to the restaurant for 5.30pm and our timing proved to be impeccable. Dinner was interesting. The restaurant is set out like a Turkish bazaar and we even got to inscribe our names on the walls. The pre-theatre menu was our choice so that it was not too expensive and we got out of the restaurant in time for the show which also left time for Kerry to photograph some of the theatres for her Facebook page.
The show was playing at the Aldwych Theatre and we were in the grand stalls way above the stage so that the music could rise to meet us – anyway that’s my story. Excellent production. Carol was played by a young actress Jessie Mueller who just jumped out of her skin with excitement playing the part. The music was not only that of King but her early work in collaboration with her husband Gerry Goffin (the villain in the piece) and throughout they competed with Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. We were delighted and excited as the show moved through the hits up to the tragedy of Gerry’s infidelity and their divorce followed by her recovery and creation of herself as a talent finishing with her appearance at Carnegie Hall. Marvellous night – even the hour wait for a crowded bus home could not dampen our spirits.
We are approaching the end of David and Veronica’s visit. They plan on being here in London for the 2nd test at Lords so we have come down with them for a few days. After the intense heat in Europe and Britain after we returned Kerry convinced me that we needed to fix the air conditioning in the car. The forecast for the weather is not that good and the forecasters usually get it right. As we travel down there is intermittent rain and blustery winds. Summer has been and gone. Of course the installation of the new air conditioning pump was enough to have the weather change dramatically to cold wet and windy.
We had no trouble finding our digs in Hackney (north London). Fullwood’s Mews is a set of flats which have been renovated as holiday apartments and are very well located for access to the West End and the theatres. One of the truly amazing things is the brilliance of the geraniums here and in Europe.
So after arrival in London we learn that the tube train drivers are striking from 6.00pm Wednesday until Friday. Therefore our first task is to learn how to use the buses. Off we go to the Old St. Tube station and get a bus map??? David jumps right in but the damn thing is as big as a table cloth.
There are some interesting buildings around here with a lot of regeneration occurring. The strangely angular building is a new Five Star Hotel M by Montcalm London.
Navigating the buses proves to be relatively easy and the trip on the bus to the West End is far more enjoyable than the tube with lots to see. But the problem is the traffic. A trip that should have taken 10 minutes takes us 30 minutes and 60 minutes to return. On the way to West End, we miss our first stop and end up at Waterloo station and then struggle to find the bus stop to get back. Waterloo is huge as the arrivals board shows you. We will have to work something out if we are to continue to use the buses.
We find the correct stop and very soon alight to make our way to Aldwych and the theatre presenting the Carol King musical “Beautiful”. We have shouted David and Veronica tickets to the show as a late sixtieth birthday present for Veronica and a soon to be sixty birthday present for David. They are both excited about it. On the way I spot my first Brompton – the folding bicycle made in London and proving to be a great success. We find the theatre on the corner of Drury Lane and I remember a restaurant I have wanted to visit. So I drag everyone to Sarastro a Turkish themed restaurant for a pre theatre dinner tomorrow night.
We are also booked to see “Sunny Afternoon” a play about the Kinks recommended to us by David Reyne when we bumped into him at the Cavern Club in Liverpool. So we decide to walk through Covent Garden Markets to the Harold Pinto theatre but it is over at Leicester Square so we stop for a drink and watch a street performer. It’s getting cold so we returned back to Fullwood’s Mews and a round of cards.
Kerry gets her wish to see Selfridge’s and do some shopping. Here is the store to the rich and famous Londoners. I discover a stuffed T- Rex toy and when I check out its £850 price tag the bloody thing moves and give me a minor conniption. It is animated. Then there was the toy car – £16,000, the stuffed African animals and the life size Yoda made out of Lego. They even have a tailor to design and make your jeans! Time to lock up the wallet. We stopped for a cup of coffee at “Lola’s Cup Cake Store”. After Selfridges it’s down the road to Debenhams then onto John Lewis. The phone rings and its David. It’s on we are doing the Sherlock Holmes walking tour so onto the Embankment Station to meet Richard our tour guide.
Although we meet at the station we moved to Embankment Gardens to start the walk. Richard explains that in Conan Doyle’s time that we would have been standing in the river and shows us the only remnant of that period – the River Gate. From there we move into Buckingham St. where Conan Doyle maintained an office for writing whilst still practising as a doctor on the south coast of England. It is also where Samuel Pepys lived when writing his diary about Charles II. We moved off over the Strand into the forecourt of the Charing Cross Police Station but in Doyle’s time it was the Charing Cross Hospital and featured in one of his novels as “CCH”.
From there we moved to Bull Lane and the side of the Adelphi Theatre, the theatre hired by Doyle for the presentation of his first play. In the lane is the Nell Gwynne Pub (Nell Gwynne being a consort of Charles II) an original gas light of London, and the story of Doyle’s first success as the author of a play.
At the end of the lane we turned right and proceeded down to the former offices of the Strand magazine (just near Queensland House) and important part of Doyle’s success. The magazine was first published in the late 19th century and its point of difference was that it would have more illustrations than anyone else. It was like the Woman’s Day of the 19th century and it picked up Doyle’s short stories on Sherlock Holmes making him and his detective famous and a household name. Many of the characteristics associated with Holmes were developed by the artists of the magazine despite what the stories described.
Back onto the Strand, Richard shows us Holmes favourite Restaurant, Simpsons (at least he visited it twice in different books) and it is still running today. Here is an extract of the history given on its website.
“Originally opened in 1828 as a chess club and coffee house – The Grand Cigar Divan – Simpson’s soon became known as the “home of chess”, attracting such chess luminaries as Howard Staunton the first English world chess champion through its doors. It was to avoid disturbing the chess games in progress that the idea of placing large joints of meat on silver-domed trolleys and wheeling them to guests’ tables first came into being, a practice Simpson’s still continues today. One of the earliest Master Cooks insisted that everything in the restaurant be British and the Simpson’s of today remains a proud exponent of the best of British food. Famous regulars include Charles Dickens, George Bernard Shaw, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (and his fictional creation, Sherlock Holmes), Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone.”
Up another lane we see the original offices of the Strand and the office where the features of the detective Sherlock Holmes were discussed and decided. It is also beside the Lyceum Theatre another theatre to host productions of Sherlock Holmes on stage. The rebuilt section commemorates two famous actors of the time and a famous producer – Bram Stoker (Yes Dracula’s creator produced Sherlock Holmes plays in the Lyceum). Then we move over to the Covenant Garden Markets which are very different today to Doyle’s time except for the National Opera Company which features in two off Doyle’s novels as a pastime that Holmes adores. Whilst we are at the Gardens we notice that a bee hive has started on a gas lamp post.
We then walk down Henrietta St and visit the Colosseum theatre and the Duke of York Theatre. Both theatres hosted productions of Sherlock Holmes performed by a very famous American actor William Gillette. The walk is nearing its end. We are nearing St. Martins in the Field which also features in one of the stories and then onto Craven St. which Richard says has not changed since Doyle used this as the lodgings for one of the criminals contesting wits with Holmes. This leads us to Northumberland St where once stood the Northumberland Arms and the likely lodgings of Lord Baskerville whilst in London consulting Holmes. Alas it is no more but the Sherlock Holmes Pub and memorabilia museum is there in its place.
As you would expect this is where the tour terminates and we availed ourselves of its fine ales and human comforts. Quaint hotel but the bar prices are rich. We then continued our travels as we were due to see a production of “Sunny Afternoon” the story of the Kinks at the Harold Pinter theatre that night. We found our way through the lanes under Charing Cross Rail Station into the welcoming surrounds of the cafe in the vault under St Martins in the Field Church. Dinner was simple but cheap – roast chicken and veggies and lashings of it. I can recommend it for a cheap and wholesome meal and the drink prices are at the lower end of the scale also. We then visited Trafalgar Square took some familiar pictures and a not so familiar wall mural.
I had made a last minute booking for the theatre to see Sunny Afternoon after meeting David Reyne in Liverpool. He strongly recommended the show and apart from our seating we were electrified by the music and moved by the story of youngsters giving it ago and making mistakes that probably cost them the fame of the Beatles. No photos of the show but here is a photo of our seating. I felt we had returned to the Glacier in Switzerland we were so high up.
Since returning to Nottingham we have taken it easy. David and Veronica have arranged to visit friends Anne and Dave in Preston and before too long Kerry has planned another trip – this time to Liverpool. Now Liverpool is not very far away provided that there is no road work on the M6, and no delays at the Manchester Airport turnoff. Of course we encountered both. Fortunately the hot weather has finished (we decided to fit a new air con pump to the car and so the weather goes from sub-tropical heat and humidity to chilling gale force winds).
On arriving at Liverpool we have some fun and games finding our apartment so David and Veronica head off for Lime Street Station and a train to Preston while we try to find our apartment. Soon we work out that it is a doorway off the mall with reception on the 1st floor. Tidy apartment but there was little natural air flow and the apartment was somewhat stifling. After dumping the suitcase we head off for Albert docks the restored dock area of Liverpool. We quickly spotted some pretty startling buildings and some canal boats. The weather was treating us kindly. Although there was a strong breeze it was delightful in the sun.
We found the tourist information centre by accident. I wanted a hot dog and Kerry was not prepared to wait while one attendant tried to serve too many people. That brought us to the Tuk tuks and that in turn lead us to the Tour Centre. We learned that Liverpool was celebrating 175 years of Cunard history with a visit from the QM2 (RMS Queen Mary 2) and there would be all sorts of entertainment food and people including 2000+ from the ship wanting the attractions of Liverpool. This made us decide very quickly to take the 4.00pm Magical Mystery Tour of the history of the Beatles with free entry to the Cavern Club at the end of the tour. Perfect we will do the tour and have dinner at the Cavern club and walk home.
The tour started on a bus with the guide proclaiming a connection to the lead singer of Frankie Goes to Hollywood – he is his brother. So he says this makes him well qualified to guide the tour. We will see.
Throughout the tour we had music by the Beatles of course and the groups that inspired them and a track by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. So it was a swinging time. First we hear about the unfortunate Pete Best and how Ringo got the gig, Ringo’s life growing up and see the derelict housing estate in which he grew up (still preserved whilst people fight about one of them – Ringo’s house.).
Next is Penny Lane. The Beatles wrote about where they lived and came from so Penny Lane is a story of the community the different occupations and buildings.
After Penny Lane we visit the house where George grew up. He was the youngest Beatle and probably from the poorest background. His house still exists but it is one of a number of unremarkable house down an alley called Arnold Grove fronted by a car repair shop. By the way “Unadopted” on the street sign means the Council did not have responsibility to maintain any of the services. That has changed to day but it shows the impoverished circumstances from which George became famous.
From there we went to the hall where the Beatles first started to perform as the Beatles and the graveyard containing the grave of Eleanor Rigby. Down the road we stop at the gate of Strawberry Fields which in the early sixties was a girls’ orphanage which John used to visit to spy on the girls from a tree. The orphanage has closed now of course but the song reminds us of the boyhood adventures for John.
We move to John’s house where he lived with his Aunt. It now has a blue plaque as John has died and it is deemed to be a significant site. Paul’s house is nearby as the crow flies and has been bought by the National Trust and can be visited by appointment. It is said that Paul returns there each year for Xmas to remember his mother Mary.
On the way back to the city now we pass the art school in Hope St attended by Paul and John which Paul has purchased and established a trust to run the school for future students. Nearby is the Liverpool Philharmonic, the Anglican Cathedral and the RC Cathedral.
As promised we were dropped at the Cavern Club and given free admission. It is 3 stories below Matthew St and it is where the Beatles played 274 times before stardom. The Club continues to promote new talent and of course the Mersey sound. The night we were there a Kinks tribute band was playing so for £10 each we stayed for the entertainment and entertained we were.
Although after midnight we had no trouble walking back to our apartment and sleep.
The next morning we ventured off to see the QM2. It was only 10 minutes walk away and we became celebrities posing for the Liverpool Echo taking a selfy in front of the ship. We also met David Fawkner one of the official artists for the Festival doing a water colour of the ship. David spoke freely about his life in the Merchant Marines before trying his hand late in life at maritime drawing and painting. He said he had some little success and mainly did it for his own enjoyment. He allowed us a photo and told us of his family connection with Australia. The Fawkner’s were one of the early settlers in Melbourne (which I remembered from my grade 6 Social Studies) and later Harry Hawker (another of the Fawkner family he said) returned to the UK to work as chief design engineer at Sopwith and when that company failed and the owners reformed to design the Hurricane for the Brits during WW2, they named it and the company after Harry – Hawker Hurricane by Hawker De Havilland.
We continued our walk and some days later we followed the QM2 out to sea and watched the fireworks farewell.
We saw the three Graces – three buildings of note one of which was once the Cunard HQ and visited the food festival the antiques festival and the Museum of Liverpool.
It was a full on 3 days and we finished by picking up David and Veronica and driving them back to Long Eaton through the Derby Dales.