Saturday, July 25
A day to wear out the shoe leather, or rather the sandal rubber, as we took to the paths, parks and pavements and explored far and wide.
We headed to the swanky part of town to explore Regent’s Park, which was a beautiful park with a bit of everything – lovely rose gardens, vegetable allotments, lakes, open spaces and fountains. The sun was shining, which was nice because the wind was really cold, so at least a slight sunny glow helped to make up for the wind chill. We strolled through the gardens, as did many others, watched the paddle boats on the lake and ducks with their brood of ducklings having their diving lessons. The little ‘uns seemed to be enjoying watching mum or dad disappear under the water, because they would pause for a moment and then 1…2…3…, under they’d go, before reappearing in a flurry of duckling feathers, shaking the water from their heads. Then they’d form their orderly line, tag along behind mum or dad, paddle off to a new location and do it all again. Sweet!
Regent’s Park was in the area of a couple of places Steve wanted to visit. First The Beatles Store on Baker Street. Baker Street is also, of course, home to the great detective himself.
It just so happened that The Beatles store was right beside the Sherlock Holmes Museum and this museum was easily identified by the lengthy queue of people down the street. We entered the store and its tiny, cramped passages overflowing with all forms of Beatles merchandise and memorabilia and before too long Steve said, “Let’s get out of here.” We walked all this way, to just walk in and walk out!? What’s going on!? “Too crowded,” came his reason. Yep, our capacity to deal with crowds is at a pretty low point! OK, time for some sustenance and a little break from the crowds, so we called into trusty ol’ Tesco, picked up a snack and wandered back to the park for elevenses. We watched the people coming and going, runners, bike riders, families out and about and after satisfying our elevenses needs, we put the feet back into action.
Continuing on The Beatles theme, our next stop was Abbey Road. I’m afraid I’ve never been a Beatles person and can’t quite understand the whole phenomenon myself. In the classic argument, I definitely identify as a “Stones” gal, rather than Beatles. Give me Brown Sugar or Jumpin’ Jack Flash over Love Me Do or Can’t Buy Me Love, any day! Anyway, Steve is The Beatles fan, so off we went to the famous pedestrian crossing on Abbey Road. As we walked in that direction, we also passed another piece of hallowed ground that Steve was quite chuffed to have seen.
After locating the area of Abbey Road, the crossing itself was easy enough to find, once again identifiable by the crowds! I felt so sorry for the drivers who had to stop and wait while all the tourists did their slow-walk across the street, while they had their photo taken. There was lots of annoyed and frustrated honking from the drivers. I could understand their frustration though. It is an actual crossing on an actual street, not a theme park, yet the tourists just did their own thing, standing or stopping in the middle of the street and holding up traffic. One fella actually did a slow motion walk, with frequent pauses, across the street with a selfie-stick. I mean, really! Steve joined the crowd, waited for a break in traffic and then did his walk across, so that little pilgrimage was complete. I thought at least one person would take their shoes off and do the John barefooted walk, but no, they just slow mo’d across in their Nikes. If your gonna do it people, give it some authenticity!
Off we roamed, on our next mission to find yet another TV location. One of my favourite programmes, from many years ago, is As Time Goes By, with Judi Dench and Geoffrey Palmer. I knew the location for the house that was used as Jean’s home in the TV series, so we set off for Holland Park, to find “the blue door”. We tracked it down, in a quiet square and I had another TV connection ticked off, so the next time I’m watching a repeat of the series I can say, “been there!”
After much roaming, we decided to track down some lunch, which proved more difficult than we thought. We were near a huge Westfield shopping centre, so decided to find something in there. As we walked in, we immediately struggled. Our pathetic, “we can’t cope with crowds” attitude was in full swing. It didn’t take long before we said, “This is horrible, let’s get out of here.” So we left and tried to find something around the area, to no avail, so back into the crowds we went and had another crack at Westfield. We at least made it up the escalator this time and did a circuit of one of the food halls, but soon left empty handed. It was now 3:00 and at least there was a Waitrose supermarket on the ground floor, so we fell back on our good ol’ standby of some bread and fruit from the supermarket, then set off to Hyde Park to find a spot to eat and hopefully discover some open space. We sat in the open in the park and drew breath, while we chomped on our bread.
Near Hyde Park was something else I’d wanted to see – the Animals in War memorial. We crossed the street and found this wonderful memorial, that has been created to recognise the contributions that animals have made in wars through history. The design was simple but very moving. I will admit here and now, I shed a few tears here. The combination of the simple words on the stone and the faces of the statues and, well, it just struck me in the heart. People can treat animals so badly, yet they do such amazing things for us, unconditionally and without choice. I was well and truly moved.
Our final search for the day was to find the places where my mum and dad each lived, when they were in London in their young and carefree youth. We strolled through Hyde Park and then roamed the streets of Knightsbridge and South Kensington and found their respective London homes, from a few decades ago. It was nice to be standing on the same ground where they walked daily, way back before I was around. I enjoyed discovering my own little piece of family history.
Since we were out and about roaming, we decided to stay out and about roaming and do some more…roaming. We had some pamphlets for self-guided walking tours, so decided to head back to the centre of the city and find some of the locations provided for us in the Great Fire of London walk. Steve took on the role of tour guide, holding his hand high in the air and crying “This way please, follow me,” while I scuttled along behind him, as the tourist. Steve the guide, read the information for each location, while I occasionally gave him a “bleep”, as I told him I was pausing the audio commentary so that I could look around me and picture the locations as they would have been in 1666, then “bleep”, the commentary would resume seamlessly. We walked along the Thames river walk, learning about the trade that occurred there in the 1600’s, “keep up please, walk this way” …then up the side lanes, under London Bridge, which at the time of the fire was lined with houses, making fighting the fire more difficult… “mind your head here, this way now”…then on to Pudding Lane, where the fire started in Thomas Farriner’s bakery…”turning left here, keep up now”… then to the monument to the Great Fire, which is where we stopped the tour. I thought the monument was somewhat sad, in that it was quite a grand structure, but seemed almost neglected standing there, in between high buildings, with cranes and other features of a big city, seeming to forget its significance.
As our roaming was to be a full day event, Steve had told me he would take me out for dinner at the end of the tour, so I was happy to receive a Tour and Dinner Package from the guide. We set off in search of nourishment, only to discover that everywhere we went was packed, or there was a half hour wait, or they had less than appealing food. We gave up. No meal. I told my guide I wanted my money back and he wouldn’t get a tip, since I hadn’t received the package I signed up for, but I promised not to rubbish his business on social media. In the end, tourist and guide just took the tube back to our hotel and had some simple fare from the supermarket, for a nourishing, if somewhat late meal at 9:30.
It was a full day, but we packed quite a bit in and made some interesting discoveries and learnt some things. That’s what I love about travelling – the discoveries and the learning. Good fun!
Sunday, July 26
The weather forecast for today was “heavy rain and 14C”. Rain! Again! Chilly! Again! Time to put Ira back into action and to find some more indoor activities to escape the wet.
Sunday is, of course, pub day when we have our traditional pub lunch, so we set off on the Underground to Soho, where we were to try London’s only Vegetarian and Vegan pub. Fancy there being such a thing! We arrived in time to have a wander around this part of London and strolled the streets of Soho, then took shelter for a while in Covent Garden Market, where we stopped to watch a fantastic busking string quartet.
We made it to the pub, where we each had the roast, which was a nice eggplant creation with roast vegetables, followed by dessert of a chocolate pot for Steve and a coconut panna cotta for me. The rain was still coming down, so we decided that now was as good a time as any for our theatre experience.
Not many shows were on offer on a Sunday, but we decided on The Commitments and we knew that show had such a great musical score, it was bound to cure any wet weather blues that may be about to strike.
The show was terrific. The performances were great, the humour was there right from the first minute and of course, the music was fantastic. At the end of the show, when the story had effectively finished, the cast performed as if they were just the group, The Commitments, performing for us.
“Would you like to hear some more?” shouted “Jimmy” their manager.
“Yeah” we replied.
“I SAID, would you like to hear some MORE???” he shouted again.
“YEEAAAHH” we shouted.
The band were revealed from behind the curtain, in new costumes ready to rock us with some soul moves. As the band started, “Jimmy” faced us and said, “Now I’d like to see you stand and clap your…”
That was my cue! He didn’t need to say anymore! I launched myself out of my seat, started clapping and dancing, well just kind of hip and knee dancing which is all I could manage in the confined space of the Dress Circle. The others around me followed suit and those below were up and soon the whole theatre were on their feet, clapping and dancing. It was such great fun. I sang along to Mustang Sally, Try a Little Tenderness and Treat Her Right and all those great soul classics and the great thing about doing that is, it doesn’t matter what I sound like, or what I look like, wiggling around and jiggling the hips, because I’m never going to see my seat neighbours ever again, so I don’t care if I’m a complete embarrassment! I just had fun! Steve stood beside me. He didn’t move. He said he didn’t have room. I didn’t believe him. I think he could have at least wiggled his knees if he wanted to. I think he was reluctant to join our ranks. It didn’t matter, I wiggled and jiggled and clapped and sang enough for the both of us!
We emerged from the theatre, back into the grey streets of London, but feeling well buoyed by the great show. We wandered over to a nearby Wholefoods Market, to pick up some supplies for supper, before taking once more to the Underground and returning to our hotel. In the end Steve opted for a pizza supper from a takeaway, so he completely recovered from his vegetarian roast lunch, by inhaling a big meaty pizza and a bottle of coke. Nourishment for the soul as far as the big fella is concerned!
That was our Sunday. Some roaming, a pub lunch and a visit to the theatre. Great! We managed to avoid the rain too, most of the time, with our enjoyable indoor pursuits. Tomorrow we’ll pack in some more experiences, with some more roaming and we’ll do it regardless of the weather, once again. We won’t be stopped! Although, what was that song again, from The Commitments? That great soul classic made famous by Ann Peebles in the 70’s? Oh, that’s right, I remember now. Time to start singing again…
I can’t stand the rain against my window
Bringing back sweet memories
Hey window pain do you remember
How sweet it used to be…