So only two weeks in to blogging again, and I’ve already missed my self-imposed target to post something every Wednesday evening. My not-very-good excuse is that I was on holiday last week. I’ve posted before about some of my activities that I’ve got to around London whilst on holiday. So what did I do this time with my week’s holiday during the lockdown?
The first thing to say is that I definitely chose the week with the worst weather. The week before was warm and sunny and this week has been fairly settled. Last week however was the heaviest rain in a long while. So between the rain and the lockdown, the options for things to do was quite limited.
I did recently find that there are a number of “heritage trails” in my local area. This seemed like a good time to walk some of them. Here’s some of the things I found out:
The definition of “heritage” and “trail” are variable – Some of them only pointed out key landmarks or things of particular interest, whilst others went out of their way to show every possible item. The longest trail was about 7km and included a 1.5km detour to show off a street which had three blue plaques (and I only even recognised one of the names). The shortest trail was only 800m long and went along one side of a high street and back down the other.
The lockdown may not be the best time to do these walks – Some of the walks had a lot of information to read. It’s quite hard to stop in the pavements without blocking them and that’s no good for social distancing. It’s also quite hard to imagine an area as “vibrant” when you’re the only person around and everywhere is shuttered up.
The marks of the past are everywhere – There’s a footpath which follows the boundary of a field (which for a built-up area behind a main shopping street is quite surprising). Elsewhere there’s a car park behind a local church that used to be built up housing but was destroyed during WW2 bombing. And half of that church is made of newer brick, which I had vaguely noticed but never really thought about. Everything has a story.
You have to look up – Every high street looks fairly similar with its rows of shops with the same signs and facades. However, if you look at the first floor and above they all have very different buildings behind them which often have their own architectural flair and histories. Again, everything has a story.
So was it worth it? Probably yes, because I did learn some useful local knowledge whilst getting some exercise and seeing areas that I wouldn’t normally go to. Would I do these walks again? Probably not.
In my ongoing aim to photograph astronomical phenomena, I recently went to the USA to capture the 2017 solar eclipse. As with the super blood moon, it’s been described as a “once in a lifetime” event, however I saw the 1999 eclipse (in Romania) and I might go to the 2024 one too (also in the USA), so it’s probably just a “three times in a lifetime” event (which is probably more common than a lot of things).
The first few shots were slightly out of focus but do show the moon gradually moving across the sun (or does the sun move behind the moon?).
The main issue was with the sun moving across the camera field of view and disappearing off the edge. The answer was to redirect the camera but sometimes it took time to re-find the sun (the viewfinder couldn’t be used because the filter wasn’t suitable for human use, and the electronic display doesn’t work when connected to the computer). Therefore I missed a few of the shots, but I still got enough to produce this awesome timelapse:
[ADDITION: This is over about a 3 hour period and each ‘sun’ is about 3-5 minutes apart]
And here’s a simpler linear version:
I also captured several images of the corona (after taking the filter off):
Following some post-processing in Photoshop, I produced a more detailed shot of the corona:
And here’s a shot of the sun without the moon blocking it:
To get over to West London, I had to take three Overground trains, having to zig-zag across South London to get to West Brompton.
The museum is very small and only took about 5 minutes or so to look around, which was good as I didn’t have much time. The sign on the door implied that it was only open by appointment, whereas the website states that appointments are appreciated. When the man inside saw me peering through the door, he happily let me in. I wasn’t even the only person there in this small museum, as a group of three other people turned up when I was inside. The photo below pretty much shows the entirety of the museum.
One of the interesting items was a document detailing the requirements for police officers in 1829. Here are some of the more interesting ones:
* Your working hours will be eight, ten or twelve hour shifts, seven days a week. No rest days are allowed and only one week holiday per annum, unpaid.
* Every encouragement will be given to grow beards, as shaving is regarded as unhealthy. However, beards must not exceed two inches in length.
* You are NOT allowed to sit down in public houses at any time. [Does this include standing?]
* No meal breaks are allowed, the top hat may be used to hold a snack.
* Before attending for medical examination and interview to join the police it is advisable to have a bath.
Having seen most of the items in a few minutes (there wasn’t much to read), I headed back for my afternoon appointment. I decided to take a different route home, using the District line to Wimbledon where I changed to Tramlink. This was my first trip on London’s tram system and I planned to explore more of it and then get the bus home, however I realised I was quickly running out of time so transferred back to the Overground to complete the loop.
And I would have been back in time, if my afternoon engagement hadn’t been cancelled.
Several months ago I bought some fish from my local Food Assembly. Not having much clue what to do with so much fish, I put most of it in the freezer. Today seemed liked the perfect opportunity to use up one of the dabs I had stored.
Searching the internet, I came across Jamie Oliver’s recipe for Mediterranean-style Dab with bacon, olives, tomatoes and pine nuts. Surprisingly, this recipe was incredibly easy to follow and I completed it in the same time as stated (30 mins). The hardest part was eating it, given the amount I had on the plate (I served it with salad and new potatoes), and also the bones in the fish. A successful meal to round off the week.
Today I headed back into the City of London for a tour of Guildhall.
First though, I popped into the church of St Lawrence Jewry next door, which is actually a very recent church building, rebuilt after being bombed in WW2. The Jewry part of the name refers to this being in the Jewish part of the city until 1290.
Our tour guide, Pat, advised that this tour only lasts an hour, but could easily last well over two, so would be fairly rushed. We were also told that photos could be taken but discretely, so apologies that the interior photos are taken on my phone rather than my camera.
The tour started in the Great Hall which was being set up for the afternoon’s Court of Common Council meeting. A few members of the group were training to be Blue Badge Tourist Guides and were scribbling frantically in their notebooks. The remainder of us just listening as Pat explained all the statues in the hall and the symbolism of all the particular objects. The main theme within the entire building is of history and tradition, combined with rebuilding following the Great Fire of London and the Blitz. Many of the rooms have changed usage over the various centuries although most of them are used as meeting rooms today, mainly to be hired out to businesses or for wedding receptions.
We then had the option of coming back in an hour to see the council meeting. However I had to be getting home to get the evening’s meal ready (even if Thameslink had other plans).
My meal for this evening was another one suggested by colleagues at work – kebabs.
I chose to make two different kebabs: “Chicken kebabs” from “Nosh for graduates“, and “Yogurt-Marinated Chicken Kebabs with Aleppo Pepper” from Serious Eats.
Both of these recipes wanted to make a marinade which the chicken would then soak in for a few hours before cooking. This made the cooking process seem less onerous as it broke it down into two distinct parts. The recipes were designed for BBQs and large quantities so I reduced all of the ingredients in each by about 60% as I only planned on making two skewers of each. I did make a few deviations from the recipe. In the first recipe I swapped mushrooms for courgette, and, whilst writing this, I realised that I missed out the red pepper. In the second recipe I used smoked paprika and dried crushed chili peppers as the first step. I also swapped red wine vinegar for white wine vinegar as that’s what I already had, although I’m sure it made absolutely no difference.
I then grilled the kebabs on my George Foreman grill (which will now need a lot of cleaning) and served it with pitta bread and hummus. I did look at making my own hummus, however since I don’t own a food processor or a blender or a pestle and mortar (and no intention of buying any of them just for this) I didn’t. It was a fairly simple recipe and it all tasted good.
My initial plan for today was to attend a talk on Benjamin Franklin’s experiments with a kite and lightning at Benjamin Franklin House.
However, one the other attractions I wanted to visit this week was the London Fire Brigade museum. This is only open Mondays to Fridays, and also happens to be closing down at the end of this month. When I found out that the only way to see this museum (at least in full, and without waiting a few years whilst a new museum is built) was this morning, I decided to choose this museum over the kite/lightning talk. [The Benjamin Franklin House is still on my to-do list, but it is open at weekends too.]
The museum is in two parts, the first part is based in the original fire appliance shed from the mid-19th century where there’s a selection of old fire appliances from the early hand carts to more modern fire engines. The first appliance we were shown was an 1860s manual pump that required 20 people to operate. Since there weren’t that many firefighters, locals were given beer tokens in exchange for helping out. Apparently it was very popular!
The second part of the museum is housed within the adjoining house, originally occupied by the first London Fire Chief, Eyre Massey Shaw. This had a more structured museum type structure with exhibits and placards, however since this was a tour we didn’t get to read most of it and were instead shown a few key items in each room. The tour I was on had some descendants of James Braidwood (Massey Shaw’s predecessor) so the tour focussed on some of these elements. There was also a current firefighter on the tour so there was some discussion over the bits that had stayed the same since the beginning, and the bits that had changed (seemingly for the worse – the tour was given by an ex-firefighter). The World War 2 room contained two shells. There used to be 5 until a previous tour noticed that 3 of them were still live!
Since today is Wednesday, Great British Bake Off day, I decided to make a pie. I choose to do ‘Winter Warming Meat and Potato Pie with a suet pastry crust’ from “Nosh for Graduates”. I mainly followed the recipe, however I substituted some of the water for beer, simply because I thought this would be good, but I’m not sure if I could actually taste it at the end. The recipe took surprisingly longer than expected. The book reckons about 55 minutes total, but I started about 6 and it was well after 8 by the time I was eating. Maybe I just need more practice. I also hadn’t noticed that it said “serves 4” and found myself with a lot more pie than I was expecting. I actually made 3 pies, two of which are now waiting in the freezer for another time.
The only other issue I had was in making the dough for the top. The recipe says to roll out the dough and lift it on top of the potato layer. I’m not sure if I had it too runny, but I definitely couldn’t lift it, and resorted to using a spoon to place it on top. It all worked out fine though, and it was another successful (if delayed) meal.
This was my first trip on the Dangleway and it was everything I expected from a not-very-popular tourist attraction. The in-cabin video wasn’t playing so I had a nice quiet ride across the Thames by myself.
At the other end of the cable car, I arrived for the purpose of my outing, a tour of the Royal Docks as part of the Totally Thames festival. The tour was led by Gary, who was studying for a Masters in Heritage at nearby University of East London, and Matt, who works on a nearby historic boat. This was the first time the tour has been run so it was a little bit uncertain and read off the notes, but they had obviously researched the topics and knew what they were talking about. The tour covered the history of the docks, the recent (and ongoing) rejuvenation projects and the social history of the area. The tour was helped by audio samples from local residents (available here) and historic photographs.
At the end of the tour, Matt asked if anyone wanted to look round his boat, the SS Robin. This boat is the world’s oldest complete steamboat (from 1890). The boat is less famous than the Cutty Sark or HMS Belfast, although apparently of equal historical significance (it lacks the military history or the exotic routes – it just went around the UK). Boats don’t have the same heritage options as buildings, and therefore it is harder to preserve them or stop them from being scrapped. For example, there is the ethical heritage question of “is it better to keep a boat in the water but to have to replace large parts of the hull, or to keep the original structure but store the boat out of the water?”. In this case they went for out of the water (but then is it still really a boat?).
Finally I headed off to get the DLR as my final mode of transport for the day.
Food-wise, today I decided to cook Mexican food. I could have just used a pre-made pack, but I wanted the challenge so I followed Jamie Oliver’s chicken fajitas with homemade salsa and guacamole. It was a lot of effort to make the dips and they are slightly chunkier than they could have been, but it did feel worth it after. For a quicker meal I might consider buying some pre-made sauces (unless it was a special occasion). I was hoping I would be able to freeze half of the chicken mix, so I added an additional chicken breast, however I should probably have added an additional pepper too. In the end I just ate it all in one go (apart from the dips). Doing some nachos as well would probably help with this.
I’m taking this week off work, and rather than going away anywhere, thought I’d stay in London. In the mornings I intend to explore London, ideally things that can’t be done normally on a weekend. In the afternoons I’m going to attempt cooking, something I don’t normally do but this week gives the time to practice.
Today’s plan was to go to the Bank of England museum, which is only open on Mondays to Fridays.
On the way from the station to the museum, I took some random back roads and came across the church of St Clement Eastcheap. This church is supposedly the one from the ‘Oranges and Lemons’ nursery rhyme. Half of the church is currently used by a couple of charities and I debated whether to actually push the buzzer to request to look around. What swayed me was an interesting looking exhibition that turned out to be focused on graffiti in Derry/Londonderry, mostly based on the Troubles. This led to a slightly awkward situation where I was reading display boards and taking photos, metres away from where people were working, but no-one said anything or paid any attention.
I then headed off towards Bank, however I decided to stop in the church of St Edmund, King and Martyr, now used by the London Spirituality Centre. This church was apparently bombed in the First World War, and some shrapnel from the bomb is now framed in the altar. The stained glass window was moved here in the late 1940s from a demolished London church. Apparently St Paul’s Cathedral turned it down because the angels in the picture have red wings, rather than white. I was also given a map of all 48 churches in the City. [Possibly a theme for future posts?]
Continuing my church exploring theme, I popped into St Michael Cornhill, where the organist was practicing for the 1pm organ recital. There wasn’t so much to look at here, other than the one man who was doing a crossword.
The museum seems to focus on three main areas. The first part of the museum covers how banking works. This mainly focuses on the financial crisis, inflation and how interest rates are set. The main message of this was that banking is really hard and therefore it’s not always possible to get it right. To emphasise this fact, there are two challenges to attempt. The first is controlling a yacht and keeping it at the same speed whilst the wind and the current continually change. I thought I did quite well (once I got the hang of the complicated controls). However the game gave me a score of “3: Second Mate” and recommended I “never work in planning the bank rate”. The other game involved trying to balance a ball in a tube, whilst both sides seemed to raise/lower randomly. Again, it was surprisingly tricky and the bank rate fluctuated massively. I hope this isn’t how the bank rate is actually decided.
The second part of the museum looks at the history of the Bank, from its early days as an actual bank, to being a central bank which only lends to governments and other banks. Interestingly, staff members are allowed to have standard bank accounts here, and there is a counter specially for this. There is a lot covered here, and there is some repetition of stories as the museum covers the history of the building, the history of the Bank, and the history of bank notes.
The third part of the museum covers the development of bank notes, originally given as receipts for gold deposited with the bank, which started as “trust that the bank had the gold to repay the stated value”, but now simply certifies against “trust”. The exhibition shows a history of bank notes, from the very oldest all the way to the current day ones. There’s a lot of detail going into the security features of modern bank notes, explaining that forgeries have always been a problem (I checked my wallet, fortunately all legit). An interesting fact here is that any historic bank note can be exchanged at the Bank of England. It is however only worth what it’s written out for. So any £5 note will always be worth £5, even if it is 300 years old.
Speaking of gold, there is a section here that covers the Bank of England’s gold vaults. Every gold bar (technically a trapezohedron) weighs 13kg is designed for handling, and is stored upside down for this reason. There’s a gold bar here which is possible to attempt to lift up to see how heavy they actually are. Today, one bar of gold was worth £293,281 and the gold bar is firmly fixed in (and surrounded by CCTV) to prevent potential thieves.
Which more or less finishes this morning’s adventures.
This afternoon, for the cooking part of my holiday, I decided to attempt Toad in the Hole, a popular choice when I asked for suggestions at work. It turned out fine, although I may use a different cooking dish next time, as it rose massively over the top of dish, and therefore not all of the “hole” was crispy (inside was still a bit batter-y). I think I would also do fewer potatoes next time. Otherwise this is a fairly simple meal that I may do again if I want something more exciting than plain sausages.
Despite living in London, until last weekend, I had never ridden a Boris bike. The main reason for this is that it costs £2 for the use per day, though the first 30 minutes are free (and then £2/thirty minutes thereafter). Fortunately this year is the 5th anniversary of the scheme, and last weekend the £2 access charge was removed.
It wasn’t a great start to the adventure when my train into London Bridge was delayed because a lorry got stuck under a bridge further down the line. (Yes, the same thing happened on the same line last year.)
Boris bike: Hop Exchange, The Borough to West Smithfield Rotunda, Farringdon
I planned to break half way round to visit the Barts Pathology Museum which was having a rare open day. Unfortunately, because it was so rare, it was also very popular. As interested as I was in seeing Victorian body parts, there was a 90 minute wait to get in, and I didn’t want to queue on such a warm day. Instead I decided to jump on the tube to continue the adventure.
Underground (Hammersmith & City): Farringdon to Mile End
At Mile End, I discovered the main problem with the app on my phone. Since my phone doesn’t let android apps access the maps functionality, there was no way of finding the nearest docking station. I had to do the old method of finding a physical map and comparing the local docking station names (which I could see) with the actual street names.
Boris bike: Clinton Road, Mile End to Alpha Grove, Millwall
Once I had found a bike, I set off south through Mile End Park along the Regent’s Canal before coming out at the River Thames.
However stopping to take photos (including trying to take one of myself on a Boris bike) took time, and I realised I had five minutes to get to a docking station or exceed the free 30 minute limit. Not having a clue where to go, and not wanting to spend £2, I sped off in the direction of where I hoped I would find one. I was sure there must be loads in the area, but where were they all? None on the main road anyway. My watch was passing through the 29 minutes stage now and I was beginning to wonder if would find a docking station in time. Should I just keep the bike for a whole extra half hour and make the most of the £2, or try to return the bike now, paying £2 for a fraction over the 30 minutes. Should I risk a side road? Yes, there’s one! I docked the bike at 30 minutes and 20 seconds (by my watch) and the light flashed green, but that was all they can do. I quickly opened the app, heart pounding. Journey time: 31 minutes. Charge: £0.00. That was a relief. Obviously there’s some flexibility.
On foot: Around the Isle of Dogs
I then set off through the back streets of the Isle of Dogs towards Canary Wharf to find my next bike.
I then arrived at South Quay East docking station, opened the app, clicked hire a bike, got an activation code and went to the bike to check one out. Red light. Type it in again. Nope, red light. Huh? Turns out I’ve selected South Quay West docking station. Not only is that in the other direction to where I want to go, it turns out it’s currently suspended. Ok. So I’ll try and get another code for this docking station then. “You must wait 10 minutes before requesting another code.” That’s annoying.
The map at South Quay East shows another docking station, Churchill Place, in the direction of where I’m trying to get to, so I head off in that direction. Then I come across another docking station, Montgomery Square, that wasn’t on the map at all. But since I still have another 6 minutes to wait, I continue walking. After a few minutes of searching, I finally find Churchill Place docking station and am greeted by:
Since this is one of the last docking stations along this stretch of road, I’m forced to go back to Montgomery Square where I’m finally able to get my third bike of the day.
Boris bike: Montgomery Square, Canary Wharf to Stebondale Street, Cubitt Town
This cycle is the most straight forward of the cycling legs as I was simply planning to get to the most southerly part of the Isle of Dogs at Island Gardens to get the DLR home. I was trying to follow the Thames Path round but after two failed attempts to get to edge of the land, I gave up and just followed the main road which I knew led exactly where I wanted to go (I was turning off too early). On one of these detours, I had to go down (and back up) a few steps, and the bikes are surprisingly heavy although I’m sure they are designed for precisely this reason. Which handily brings me on to…
Reasons why I probably won’t hire one again (aka why I should just use my own bike):
– They are too slow. The top gear (of three) is very low and combined with the weight, it’s hard to get up to anything fast. Although it is more relaxing.
– The 30 minutes of free usage. It’s probably alright for someone who knows exactly where they want to go and can make their journey in that time (e.g. a commuter). It’s probably alright for someone who wants to bimble around but also doesn’t mind spending lots of money if they go over (e.g. a tourist). I was somewhere in between the two.
– Oh, and that £2 access charge I mentioned at the start.
Also, I’ve now started to upload photos to my flickr account. I’ll be putting some photos here which won’t always make it onto the blog. If you have a look now, there’s a sneak peek at what’s coming next time. (Hint: We’re going back in time, both literally and figuratively.)
Like most people in London (and possibly the UK), I made a visit this week to the Tower of London to see the poppies (properly known as ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red‘.
I had seen photos of it already, but it was quite surprising just how many poppies there actually were (just under 888,246 in fact) and how much space they took up. It reminds of just how many lives we owe our freedom to.