4th till 10th August, 2014
Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life. – Jack Kerouac
Heading to Greenwich
On our last morning in Oldham, we cooked a huge English breakfast to thank Suzanne and Kieran for their hospitality. Besides the standard fare, we didn’t forget the black sausage, pork sausages and fried apple slices. Suzanne kindly took us down to the station and waved us off as we headed to new adventures in London. Oldham to Manchester Piccadilly by Metro, train to London Euston, Tube to London Bridge (for our first view of the Shard) and finally a train to Kidbrooke, Greenwich.
Here we met by Anna and her daughter Amelia. They accompanied us by bike to their family home in a small friendly housing complex. We were greeted by a huge bunch of neighbourhood kids, including Anna’s son Oliver, transfixed by “The Lego Movie”. Soon the boys joined in as we stowed our luggage and got to know Anna over excellent coffee. Once the movie was over the boys played with the others outside in the community square. It was nice to meet Anna’s sister and several of the neighbours in this friendly community.
All too soon Fabio returned home from work and we settled down to a lovely dinner. Fabio originates from Italy and Anna from Poland but they have made a lovely home with their two children in Greenwich. They are a warm, open-minded couple and we felt honoured to share in their lives for a few days.
Big Day Out in London
Our first stop of the Day was Tower Bridge. At The Tower of London we saw the beautiful poppy display to commemorate the British or Colonial military fatalities in WWI. A conflict that saw 17 million people lose their lives. Stunning. The installation by Paul Cummins, entitled “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red” will see volunteers place 888,246 ceramic poppies into the dry moat over the course of the English summer.
After saying hello to a street busking act “The Invisible Man” we caught the #15 double-decker to Trafalgar Square. Here we leant about the police box on the corner. This small stone tower, with slits for viewing and a lantern atop, held a policeman. Britain’s smallest police station was built in 1926 so that the Metropolitan Police could keep an eye on the demonstrators. After protests about a traditional police box a compromise was reached by using an old light fitting. Once the light fitting was hollowed out, it was then installed with a set of narrow windows in order to provide a vista across the main square. Also installed was a direct phone line back to Scotland Yard in case reinforcements were needed in times of trouble. In fact, whenever the police phone was picked up, the ornamental light fitting at the top of the box started to flash, alerting nearby officers.
We also saw the fourth plinth which was left empty due to lack of funds when Trafalgar Square was first constructed. Now it is used for temporary contemporary art exhibits. At this time a blue rooster. Titled Hahn/Cock, the 4.72m high piece is by German artist Katharina Fritsch and will be on display for 18 months.
Then onwards to Marble Arch. Every child’s dream – Hamley’s Toy Store. Then a long coffee in Aldwych before home for Graham’s shepherds pie.
London Greeters Tour
A few weeks earlier we had booked a Greeters tour with Eleanor. We were pleased to catch the DLR and meet her in the heart of Greenwich next to the spectacular “Cutty Sark”.
Cutty Sark is a British clipper ship. Built on the Clyde in 1869 for the Jock Willis Shipping Line, she was one of the last tea clippers to be built and one of the fastest, coming at the end of a long period of design development which halted as sailing ships gave way to steam.
The opening of the Suez Canal (also in 1869) meant that steam ships now enjoyed a much shorter route to China, so Cutty Sark spent only a few years on the tea trade before turning to the trade in wool from Australia, where she held the record time to Britain for ten years. Cutty Sark sailed in eight “tea seasons”, from London to China and back.
The ship was named after Cutty Sark, the nickname of the witch Nannie Dee in Robert Burns’ 1791 poem Tam o’ Shanter. The ship’s figurehead, the original carved by Robert Hellyer of Blackwall, shows Nannie Dee in a stark white carving of a bare-breasted woman with long black hair holding a grey horse’s tail in her hand. In the poem she wore a linen sark (Scots: a short chemise or undergarment), that she had been given as a child, which explains why it was cutty, or in other words far too short. The erotic sight of her dancing in such a short undergarment caused Tam to cry out “Weel done, Cutty-sark”, which subsequently became a well known catchphrase. – Wiki
Eleanor made every effort to shorten her tour and taylor it to the children as we had requested. She showed us the wonders of the world heritage listed, Old Naval Collage. The buildings were originally constructed to serve as the Royal Hospital for Seamen at Greenwich, which was designed by Christopher Wren, and built between 1696 and 1712. The hospital closed in 1869. Between 1873 and 1998 it was the Royal Naval College, Greenwich.
We viewed the magnificent painted room and chapel. We were told the story of how when the artist, Sir James Thornbill was not paid, he came back and painted himself into the picture with his hand out. He also decorated Wren’s dome at St. Paul’s. He commenced work on the Hall in 1708 and it was completed some 19 years later. St. Paul’s is depicted in the background as is the artist himself, in the lower right of the mural.
The first Chapel was finally completed in 1751 and was a much plainer looking building than we see now. In 1779 a huge fire gutted the building. The current Chapel was rebuilt by James “Athenian” Stuart. Throughout, Stuart uses a technique called “Trompe l’oeil” or trick of the eye. For example, columns which look like they are made from marble are in fact made from an artificial mix called Scagliola.
From the Naval Collage we admired the House of Queen Ann. The Queen’s House, was commissioned by Anne of Denmark, wife of James I (reigned 1603–25). Construction started in 1616. Traditionally he is said to have given the manor of Greenwich to Anne in apology for having sworn at her in public, after she accidentally shot one of his favourite dogs while hunting in 1614. Sadly the Queen died in 1619 and work was stopped until ten years later, when King Charles I gave it to his new Queen, Henrietta Maria. When first built, the House straddled the main Deptford to Woolwich road, and it was possible to pass from the Palace gardens into the Royal Park without being seen crossing the road.
Inviting Eleanor for a cuppa, we shared our interest in local history at the hidden University Cafe. We are impressed by her cheerful dedication to the history of this area. Then with a smile and a wave she leaves to Greet again another day.
We met Anna at the spectacular Maritime Museum and participated in a few activities there. We enjoyed a pleasant lunch together there and then played in the nearby gardens.
Whilst Anna headed home we detoured to Kings Cross Station to satisfy the Harry Potter Fans in our group. The boys visited Platform 9 and 3/4.
Luckily they decided to rejoin us as we picked up our bags and headed to old stomping grounds.
Reminiscing in Horsham
Graham had grown up in Horsham and so it was we reached Littlehaven station to be welcomed by old family friend, Theresa. Soon we were settled into our room and the boys were fast making firm friends with Theresa and Marks girls, Laura and Rebecca. It was wonderful to re-visit old haunts and relive past memories. Mark and Theresa were wonderful hosts and we enjoyed many relaxing long conversations, walks and even a BBQ on the deck.
During our time in Horsham, we were honoured to meet up with friends and family we had not seen for many years. A last farewell gathering at the Dog and Bacon Pub before heading homewards via Gatwick – leaving England’s fair shores for Exotic Asia.
One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things. – Henry Miller