Tuesday, May 28, 2024

How many kilometres to London Towne?

“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” Samuel Johnson

[see my report on the first part of our journeys here and the second part here]

Thursday, May 16, 2024: Back in London, where the young ladies played a bit with their cousins before cousins headed out to school, and the four of us headed to the Victoria and Albert Museum, a space the children were enjoying well enough up to a point, but also barely tolerating. We took the tube, as Aoife offered coins to buskers in the station. Once at the museum, the children were already hungry, so we made for the cafeteria, adorned with an array of stained glass windows. The young ladies were not fully convinced. Rose wanted to go shopping. At least there was a space to press images into paper, as a kind of royal mark, which they young ladies enjoyed.

We moved through some of the metal-work and portraiture, but it was through the jewellery exhibit that their interest was, at least, sparked. I had hoped to get into the photography exhibit from Sir Elton and David's collection, but the young ladies were having none of that. I'm both hoping and presuming it lands at Ottawa at some point (although that could be a few years away, I know).

Rose, attempting to replicate a pose.











I think the longest we spent in the building at all was the gift shop, where I complimented one of the staff on the intricacies of her tattoo, and discovered that she was from Colorado.

After the museum, Christine had booked us a nearby 'dinosaur tea,' which doubled as lunch; wishing to introduce the young ladies to that most British of rituals (but dinosaur-themed). There were small cakes and treats shaped like dinosaurs and dinosaur eggs, and dry ice providing a bit of smoke from the plates. They were pleased.

The cafe sits in a basement corner of The Ampersand Hotel (it was very fancy). On the way to the washrooms was this artwork that I quite liked, "Assemblage" (2012) by Alex Petrescu, although I couldn't find any references for the artist online.

From there, we headed over to the Natural History Museum (although we had hoped to spend far more time in the Victoria and Albert), a space that held an array of constellations upon the wall. I'm always amused to utilize Christine's phone for constellations, the Star Chart app that allows one to see constellations in whichever direction you point the phone, including all the ones that we can't see from North America, on the other side of the earth, such as "Billy the Cowboy," or "Three Bears in a Trenchcoat."

It is interesting to compare some of these other natural history museums in other places, other countries, and be reminded how lucky one has it by being near Canada's Museum of Nature; the one in Chichester was okay, but small; this one is very impressive, offering an array of alternate information, given the different geographical focus [Rose and I visited similar in Washington D.C. in 2015, but she moved too quickly for me to get any useful photos of such]. And it would be impossible to not be blown away by the architecture and scale of the building.

And then back to Hammersmith, where the young ladies spent some good time with their after-school cousins, and I crashed a bit, preparing for the evening. I had been working a couple of weeks attempting a poet-gathering at the pub right by brother-in-law's place, The Queen's Head, but schedules didn't necessarily align with interest. I had booked a table (which was good, as the pub was rather busy), and waited for those who might show (while going further through Luke Kennard's sonnets, and a collection of interviews with American poet Peter Gizzi I'd brought along as well).

There were a half-dozen local poets unable to make it, with two poets (I only discovered after the fact) that got caught up in other things, but it was great to reconnect with London-based Canadian poet and filmmaker John Stiles (right) after some twenty years, and what was Vancouver poet Sean Cranbury (left) doing in Hammersmith? The last (and only) time I'd seen John Stiles was in 2006, when Stephen Brockwell and I were in London touring around, and I attempted another gathering of poets: a evening quartet at a pub that included myself and Brockwell with London-based Stiles and Kim Morrissey, a writer/poet originally from Saskatchewan [see my notes on such here]; As for Sean, apparently he was at a hotel only a couple of blocks away, his wife, the writer Carleigh Baker informing him, I think rob is close to where you are and inviting poets for drinks? So random. It was a very nice evening: both Sean and John discussed their admiration for Alberta band The Smalls, and Sean was deeply impressed to discover that John had done a documentary on the band. John stayed for an hour or two, but Sean and I closed the place (which at this location is still the 11pm bell, in case you were wondering).

Friday, May 17, 2024: We woke for further adventuring, aiming ourselves for one of those double-decker bus tour things of get-on, get-off, taking the tube near Buckingham Palace. It took a while for an accumulated grouping of us to actually land a bus, as the stop by where we landed was out of service, and nothing was properly marked (and the guy selling tickets didn't seem terribly interested in helping properly).

But we rolled around for a bit, listening to bits of historical patter and buildings and sites and such (Hyde Park, for example), until Christine had us jump off at Hamley's, a seven-floor toyshop that she herself had visited as a child on family trips. Oh, there was much excitement. A whole floor of just Lego! A wing dedicated to Peppa Pig. British-specific Playmobile figures available only at this particular store, this particular location.

One of the twentysomething staff complimented my sunglasses, and I told him that I had picked them up from Corner Brook, Newfoundland; he said he was uncultured, and didn't know where that was (my fault, honestly). It reminded of Sean Cranbury responding to a British cab driver who asked where he was from, and the driver asking if Vancouver was in Norway? I am Greb, the young employee said, I am from Lithuania. We ended up in a conversation about sunglasses, one longer than you might imagine, really. Rose said he was only trying to sell me something (which he was not; we were literally discussing sunglasses).

Well, we couldn't stay in the toystore forever (and yes, some items were purchased), so we made for the bus again, attempting to loop around to Tower Bridge and the Tower of London [remember that other time we went through there?], before an attempt for a boat back to Westminster. Sean Cranbury sent a text offering that there was some kind of small publisher's fair happening at the Tate (and I had been hoping to get back to the Tate, especially after missing the David Hockney stuff the last time around), but there simply wasn't the time in the day (had I only known prior!). Sean only found out because he was literally at the Tate watching them set up, but didn't wish to hang around for the extra two hours or so before the event would have been open for the public. It would have been much fun to run through a London book fair, mainly to be able to meet so many folk in person for the first time. And apparently our tour-bus went by the building (and rooftop) where the Beatles played their final live show? (I wasn't able to determine which rooftop)

The Tower of London: it was interesting to move through this space a second time, catching elements I hadn't seen prior, especially when one is following the moods and interests of young children. During our prior visit, I think we were focusing more on the overview, including around the Tower itself, and Anne Boleyn. I followed Rose through a thread of corridors and towers, watching her catch (three times, on a loop) a short video history around Edward I, "the hammer of the Scots," and attempting to explain to her exactly what that entailed. Some of us might not have been in North America but for some of those histories; decisions that I attempted to let her know directly impacted certain threads of her genealogy. She does seem to have an interest in British history, which is interesting to watch (we spent a year or two watching Time Team, as you know; and I think she's done at least one school project on British Royals, including Elizabeth I). The young ladies attended to the ravens (at a distance), and admired the grounds. We went to see the Crown Jewels, Christine grimacing at the imperfect placement of the letters in the signage for same (some shoddy workmanship, there, Tower of London sign-folk).

My question: why were the puppets in the gift shop SCREAMING?

From there, we caught one of the tour-boats on the Thames, wandering slowly across the water to the perpetual banter of the First Mate, who claimed not to be a tour guide, but there for our safety. He was pretty entertaining, but there was a part of me that wondered if they put him on the microphone to keep him out of trouble. He informed that many asked how to keep straight Tower Bridge from London Bridge, as people were always confusing the two. He suggested that Tower Bridge is the bridge with TWO TOWERS ON IT, and London Bridge was the bridge that said, in big letters upon the side, LONDON BRIDGE. I think that clears all that up, certainly. He also pointed out a spa at our eye level underneath one of those bridges where patrons might occasionally forget that tour boats go by, and we might see some nakedness. He had us all wave in that direction. At least one person sitting in the spa waved back.

I also pointed out, to Rose, the London Eye, something we'd seen more than a couple of times across Doctor Who episodes. And did you know there's an Egyptian Obelisk along the Thames? Cleopatra's Needle, although the way the First Mate spoke, it was three thousand years old, as though it had been there since then, but apparently it was moved by the Victorians, in that way Victorians had of picking up items from other places and attempting to absorb as their own (apparently there's also one in New York). Hm.

Given Sean Cranbury was still in town, we met up at the pub again, he and I. Once the children (who were playing with their cousins) were settled, Christine came along for a drink as well, which was nice (her energies, especially by mid/late afternoons, doesn't always allow for such). As well, before either of them landed, I ended up in a conversation with one of the staff, who looked barely twenty, discovering that this very British-sounding young lady had parents who are both Canadian? Apparently they'd moved here before she was born, one from Montreal and the other from Toronto. She says she has cousins in Dorval (hey, that's where our car is!), Pointe-Claire and Banff. You should go to Banff, I said. It's lovely.

Saturday, May 18, 2024:
We had to be up enough to be at the airport for 6am, which was miserable (we spent much of the afternoon prior, post-touristing and pre-drinks, packing ourselves and the young ladies), with brother-in-law Mike good enough to drive us to the airport. Half-way there, a text message saying our flight delayed five hours, so we turned right around and I went back to sleep. On our second attempt, we made it, and, thanks to father-in-law, a bit of time in the Air Canada Lounge (the young ladies going through the ridiculous magazines Christine had let them purchase at the shop in the train station). Just like the flight to London, both children refused sleep, watching as many movies as they could (with at least one if not both doing a re-watch of Mean Girls), before Rose actually crashed for a third of the flight. Six hour flight, five hours delayed. And once landed, back to our car in the parking lot (safe, but the windows coated in dust) and the two-hour drive back to Ottawa, as both children crashed rather immediately. They only woke once I had opened the doors in our driveway, and informed them that I'd picked up take-out (a happy meal for Rose, a&w for Aoife), completely unaware that I'd dropped their mother in the Beechwood area for a work-friend potluck she'd been hoping to get to.

I think it took at least three or four days for our sleep to settle. But at least school-mornings were easier on everyone.


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