Part 1: Back to the Past – London 2011

I’m still alive.

What can I say! It’s big, really big.  London is packed to the rafters. The difference here is that for a country of some 57 million plus people – England doesn’t have that “Let me try and suffocate you feel to it.”  Despite swarms of people here, there is a distinct feeling of space.  Rows of Victorian terraced houses in the lovely suburb of Northwood remind me of the TARDIS. (Dr who knowledge) Once your inside them they just go on and on and on and then up and up and up. From the outside they look like petite dolls houses from the inside you can swing all of London Zoo inside them.

Architects from eons ago liked practicing the design of the one house they built.  Building a dozen or so of these Victorian terraces with their half moon bay windows, cottage gardens and winding pathways wasn’t enough.  Just to make sure the design was perfect they practiced by building thousands upon thousands of them. Street after street, road after road, laneway after laneway.

This is a green city, one hell bent on saving the world from being suffocated by carbon. Posters on the London Tube trains proudly advertise how the energy from braking is being harnessed to power electricity. Contrasted by advertising next to these brightly inviting advertisements are at  least 10 signs per carriage telling us about the Tube upgrade and how good it is going to be for Londoners.   Now ten signs a carriage plus our four signs to advertise the power of harnessing brake energy times 15 carriages, is 60 adverts for the power of harnessing brake energy and a 150 adverts to promote the tube upgrade.  Just one train……let’s not add up how many adverts are plastered on all the Tube trains.  We might do our heads in.  There is probably a 1000 trains busily braking to find the energy to design, buy ink for printing, transport the signs and then find happy campers to get the signs firmly secured to the train billboards.  If they hadn’t bothered with all that advertising – they could do away with harnessing all that braking energy.  I think that is what you call Ironic.

I was lucky enough  to visit the Tower of London, popped past the resting place of the Two little Princes in the Tower.  It’s hard to imagine how our whole course of history has changed by the still mystery person who rid the country of Edward the IV’s heirs.  Had they not, we would probably be roaming around as Roman Catholics, clutching our rosary beads and going to weekly confession, the world would never have had the pleasure of knowing that chap Henry VIII in our history books (and neither would his wives, who may well have given thanks to the gods  for their heads remaining on their shoulders) and in all likely hood we would never had Elizabeth the I and the golden age of  Britain.

While meandering through the Tower, I also managed a  peak inside the barrel (not sure it’s exactly the same 500 year old barrel) that Clarence (brother of Edward IV) was supposedly executed in by drowning in  Malmsey.  Every death is fitting and as you sow, so shall you reap. Clarence wasn’t a nice brother & made friends with the Welsh and aligned himself more than once with the Earl of Warwick and others in various attempts to dispose his brother Edward the IV.

Edward’s wife Elizabeth was the only smart chick around.  She could see what was happening, gently whispering words of wisdom to Edward that his partying, wildly drunken and deceitful little brother just had to go.  She probably didn’t fancy being kicked out of luxurious surroundings either.

I’m still trying to work out, how you could get yourself out of a barrel of Malmsey.  Seriously, did they put him in the Malmsey and seal the lid or did someone hold him down.  My personal thoughts are that I could probably do a rising from the dead here if I could guzzle enough Malmsey as I entered the barrel to create an air pocket.  A serious hangover has to beat death any day of the week, surely.

The Tower of London sits on the banks of the River Thames majestically, reflecting a bygone era of intrigue, power and for many of those who entered this defying piece of architecture – abject fear, for those unfortunate enough to defy or incur the displeasure of their Royal Masters.  It certainly isn’t hard imagining Royalty being powered along the Thames, and  entering this towering mass of stone and turrets in times of war or civil unrest.

I also managed to squeeze in  a service at St Paul’s Cathedral. It beats paying 14.50 pounds to get in with the hordes of tourists. (Pesky creatures) and the choir are somewhat heavenly to listen to.

I imagine that Londoners in 1666 were really pinged of when the baker man little Tom Farriner managed to set the city alight. Burning everything to a cinder in the city of London. The downside, that the medieval city of that period is almost non existent.  The upside of course to this great travesty was that geniuses such as Christopher Wren finally found the meaning of life.  Christopher Wren really went to town and managed the responsibility for rebuilding the 51 churches scattered around London.

St Paul’s is a master piece (the world order, tree hugging protestors out the front somewhat blot the landscape though at the moment) the man a genius and one can truly believe that  Christopher Wren was a god walking the earth, amongst us mere mortals.   That a man could design and build such a beautifully perfect structure takes the breath away.  Once inside, listening to that choir and looking up at that amazingly built and painted dome with it’s scattered and perfectly executed Mosaics is like looking at a piece of heaven.  That said, before Christopher got to the main dome he littered the crypt area with perfectly and symmetrically designed half domes.  Obviously Chris wanted some practice first before he finished with  the main masterpiece. (Although I am beginning to think that maybe these British lads are slightly OCD with this repetition stuff.  The houses, all these Underground billboards, the list goes on.)

Now let’s discuss South East rail company and the trip from London to Edinburgh that was supposed to be 59 pounds but then cost another 145 pounds.   My words of advice as you go to Kings Cross Station to retrieve tickets from the auto dispenser is – don’t.  Please, queue and find  those things with arms, legs and a mouth that we call a real live person (from the olden days) to dispense your tickets.  Having the machine print your receipt and seat designation for the journey isn’t enough. Apparently there is a third ticket called the ticket, which did not print out.  No amount of stamping my feet, crying and harassing the ticket master on the train could get me out of having to pay 145 pounds once on the train because I didn’t have this bloody ticket that doesn’t exist because the original didn’t print.

I know times are tough here because people are talking about it every day.  Europe is crumbling, the world is coming to an end! Are the rail companies that hard up in this country that they try to pinch penny’s by not printing out the 3rd ticket to save ink and paper, but then get to charge you a second time once you are on the train because you don’t have a third ticket which is the actual ‘train ticket’

All my ranting to the ticket master got me this advice, “Aye, love. But it says on the machine to make sure you have all your tickets.” Well, you don’t know how many tickets you should have, if you don’t know.

This is a country that makes inane statements like, “Please watch the gap as you alight from the platform” (All 8cm’s of it”.) “Please hold the railing as you descend. Steep decline” (Escalators).

Bottled Schweppes Abbey well water that dutifully tells me “Open cap by Hand”.  How else do you open a bottle of water!!!!!

Oh and the toilets on British rail. A classic in British advice, “Do not flush the toilet, while seated”  I have never not even in the wildest and most drunken moments of my youth contemplated flushing the toilet while seated.

Who thinks this crap up!. But they can’t put signs on the Auto ticket dispensers at Kings Cross to say if you have not received all three tickets please call an attendant.  Oops – you lose on double ticket sales if you do something logical like that.

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Anyway found our way to Edinburgh, went to my brother’s wedding which was absolutely beautiful – most especially as most of it was arranged by both of them from another country. How they both managed it so beautifully is still a mystery.

The wedding dance was like a scene from  Beauty and the Beast.  A hulking six foot two rower (not an actual beast, except when I still get blamed 32 years later for supposedly stealing Easter eggs, that were hidden under the bed by him and eaten by the dog.) standing next to a petite Dresden doll both swirling around the dance floor.  Quiet beautiful, really. My mother cried. I wasn’t that emotional.  They were dancing and it was a party. Not a Wake.

Edinburgh is probably one of the most beautifully designed and loveliest cities in all of Britain to be in. Princess Street is a mass of Georgian lined terraces with clothes shops that should not be entered unless you cut up your credit card first.

Hugging the city like a blanket is the towering molten mass of Rock left from Volcanic activity that shook the land here millions of years ago. Home to Edinburgh Castle.  So cold and windswept is this place atop the hill, even Royalty refused to rest their feet here, using it only during times of unrest, preferring to surround themselves in the more gentile surrounds of Holyrood Palace.  Still used by Royal Family today when they pass through Edinburgh to visit the locals.

Edinburgh, has a distinctly Georgian landscape. Beautifully built Georgian terraces encased in their sandstone with those clean structured lines that define the Georgian period.  You guessed it no variety, little Georgian terraces running house after house, street after street for as far as the eye can see. These guys were so good at it that I’m sure they were able to build this stuff in their sleep.  That said, Georgian architecture has a certain refinement and feel of aristocracy to it.

Next installment – The  Mull of Kintyre  (no, I will not be ‘you tubing’ a rendition of the song made famous by Paul McCartney) Carlisle, Glasgow and Manchester.  We’ll be talking a bit about the food situation here, and once I arrive in Paris I think we’ll be able to come up with some comparisons.  Because I can almost guarantee that there is no ICELAND in Paris. I’ll keep you guessing – but hint No 1 here – ICELAND, it isn’t an ice ring where humans gather to skate and brush up on their social graces.

Til next time……..

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