Friday, December 16, 2005


Last night, we travelled by cinema to Narnia, a fabulous place full of fauns and centaurs, ruled (at the start of the film) by a deliciously wicked witch. For once, the villainess was allowed to dispense with black, opting for a stylish and seasonable white wardrobe. Few fashionistas could match her for accessories: she even colour coordinates outfits with transport: a reindeer-drawn sled for casual every-day use, and a high-powered chariot pulled by polar bears for weekends and special occasions (brooms are so very last season - acceptable for the school age witch and wizard, but certainly not the thing for the upwardly mobile career witch with an eye to world domination).

Post Narnia, Miss C and I raced each other home from The City, two silver hulls gleaming dimly by the light of a full moon: around us, its reflected glory painted empty road and sleeping fields in shades of pale fantasy. Selene is sailing closer and rising higher than she has in twenty years.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

From the Eye to The Temple

We returned above ground to take a black cab to the London Eye. Long queues for tickets – book ahead!  Too bad the local mime artists can’t operate inside the ticket office – the riverbank is lined with acrobats and strange painted figures, as well as dare devil skateboarders.  

Tickets purchased, we got a gondola pretty quickly, and began our gentle ascent skywards.  The view really is very good indeed: Westminster was laid our before us – we could see Downing Street and Buckingham Palace.  To the east lay the Sci-Fi outlines of the strangely elegant Swiss Re gherkin and the rather ugly BT tower.  Worth doing.

We finished our walk by first heading east along the Thames, then crossing it to reach Somerset House, whose courtyard hosts a temporary skating rink and an ice climbing tower.  A very beautiful sight as the sun set, with real torches burning, but – curses! – booked solid.   We wandered off through almost empty streets, at one point finding ourselves within The Temple – a kind nature reserve for barristers.  Lucky devils.  I wonder if the gates are there to protect them from the public – or vice versa?
Thence to Liverpool Street, and home – but we’ll be back.

St. Paul's

On Sunday, nothing was pre-determined, except our early evening flight home.  We decided to set out for St. Paul’s Cathedral, which I had always wanted to see, but had never previously gotten closer to than the view from the Tate Modern end of the adjacent bridge.

Of course, I knew the exterior from film and postcard, but the interior was a revelation – clean cool curves arching overhead, without the massy sense of the Norman churches, warmer and less severe than the Gothic lines I loved in Salisbury, none of the glamour and gilding that plagues Italian churches.  Wren was a genius.

We lunched in the Crypt Café, bone-free since the clean-up that followed the Great Fire of London – the disaster which gave Wren his great chance.  We may have spotted a knight: a distinguished looking grey haired gentleman in tails, with a large medal around his neck and a slim, blonde, (very U) lady companion of similar age.

I found the monuments to fallen heroes absurdly touching.  Wellington is remembered there, and General Slim, who only has a plaque: a modest memorial, I thought, for the man who saved the subcontinent, and rolled the Axis back through Burma.

Going to Chicago

In the evening, we went to the Strand, popping out of the tub at Piccadilly Circus, only a short stroll from the Adelphi Theatre, from which I had bought two tickets for “Chicago”, which has been playing there for eight years. Catchy tunes, and some good lines, delivered by an orchestra who seemed to be playing simply for the sheer joy of the music, and first class singers who didn’t fluff a note – and danced rather well too. Even the audience was good – mostly tourists who don’t see much theatre, and were ready for a good time and generous with the applause. I love the West End.

The Biggest Toyshop. In the World.

Fresh from 8 centuries or so of machinations and blood letting, we felt ready for Regent Street. At this season, it is almost solid with humanity, and definitely a more daunting place than any medieval dungeon. One shop stood out like a beacon: the mecca of our childhood longings, fed by the tantalizing entry in the Guinness book of records: Hamleys! Definitely the closest thing to Santa’s workshop that I have ever seen. We saw:

  • A gadget that looked like a water pistol, but instead produced huge clouds of soap bubbles.

  • A strange disc-like craft with flashing lights about the size of a side plate floated up into the air – a real flying saucer, radio controlled!

  • “Model” rockets which can fly a thousand feet into the air, take a picture, and then descend by parachute.

  • A toy giraffe, with a price tag of about £4,000. This life-size stuffed toy is actually quite a bargain, at least on a pence-per-kilo basis.

Crowded, yes – but magical!

The White Tower

We began Saturday with a visit to the combination fortress / palace / prison that is the Tower of London. The tower itself, built by the Normans, turned out to be smaller than I had imagined (interesting in itself as an indication of the economic standing of the rulers of the day), but none the less impressive in its history and surprisingly beautiful in its details, particularly the small Norman chapel. A cheery Beefeater led us about the walks and greens within the walls and gave us a very entertaining (and bloody) history of the tower.

Actually, the history of the tower isn’t quite as bloody as one expect, given the times it has seen. Quite a few prisoners ended their days with a walk to the nearby execution block, but quite a few of those killings could almost be classed as “self defence” on the part of the monarch of the day (the job used to be even more dangerous). Also, they obviously didn’t like to bear grudges, since many of the executed were buried in the chapel which still stands in the grounds (included a wife or two of Henry VIII). Apparently, the dreaded dungeons were used to torture a total of 83 prisoners over their 800 year-long history – not a very glorious record, but, at only 8.3 prisoners per century, probably a much smaller total than most dungeons of that vintage can boast.

The tower itself has no more prisoners, save for the eight ravens in the grounds (six by royal tradition required, two by cautious Beefeaters for backup provided) and the jewels sequestered within massive Norman walls and immense steel doors. There are robes of state, crowns that defined bling half a millennia before the word itself was coined, and a sceptre bearing Cullinan I, the world’s largest cut diamond (530 carats in weight, or, in real people’s measurements, the size of a hen’s egg). You get a glimpse of the lighter side of royal life too – a gold punchbowl large enough to bathe children and sufficiently tasteless in its gleaming for any aspiring Mrs. Bucket. Definitely worth a visit, if one can leave with one’s head.

Off to London

Our weekend adventure began with a Ryanair flight of amazing cheapness (55 euros, return, for two) and a trip on the rather ordinary Stansted Express into Liverpool Street station (I had forgotten how very elaborate was the wrought-iron roof – fruits of the Gothic Revival?).  We stayed at the Mayflower in Earl’s Court – recommended by the AA and Conde Nast, the elegant white mid-Victorian townhouse façade and portico contain a small hotel of just 40 rooms, each individually and rather stylishly furnished.  After check-in, a late dinner in “Nandos”: Portugese cooking – chicken dishes flavoured with devilishly powerful spices from Mozambique, their former colony.  Good food, and very reasonably priced too.