Further Friday

Emerging from the BM I went down Museum Street, with its Greek artifacts, coin shops, souvenir grottoes, etc. to the craziness of Tottenham Court Road, Shaftesbury Road, and all the feed-ins to Leicester Square and Picadilly Circus.  I walked down to Chinatown which was busier than expected.  You’ll see the entry gate and a window displaying the sort of fowl you’ll remember from ”A Christmas Story.”

Most of the theatres along the way were quiet since you don’t get matinees on Friday.  Everywhere else was abuzz though.  I did see quite a few characters, the back on one captured for you.

The prize photo is, as you will appreciate, the cartoon from this evening’s Evening Standard, the paper distributed to commuters at all transport stations.

 

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If It’s Friday . . .

IMG_3310IMG_3311IMG_3312Martha must be at the British Museum–where she wrongly went yesterday when her ticket was for today.  Lots of security and lots of people today.  Went in with many, many others on my 11:10 timed entry.  Don’t know about them, but I exited around 1:30.  That should suggest to you how good it was.

The Scythians turned up around 200 BC, dominating at one time the steppes from China to the Black Sea.  Nomads, because the land was no good for agriculture, they moved around with their livestock–sheep, camels, horses, goats–becoming expert warriors and horsemen.  Everybody was afraid of them as they developed superior weapons, especially bows, and horsemanship.  They were tremendously resourceful, and they loved their gold which decorated person, animal and burial.

They had disappeared from the face of the earth until the 1720s when Peter the Great sent people out to search for minerals and trade routes.  A burial filled with golden riches came to light and Peter declared that any discoveries should come to him.  He put them in his private collection, but he did order a library and museum to be built to house his books and treasures so that others could see them.  His Kunstkamera, housing some 11,000 volumes and thousands of ”curiosities” broke ground in 1718.  Sadly, Peter died in 1725 without seeing construction to completion.  However, he had amassed some 250 Scythian objects, along with analytical drawings and watercolors of them.  All these, plus the drawings, explained in four languages, are on show in the exhibition.

In the steppes burial was possible only in the summer, so bodies were mummified.  Filled with horsehair, pine needles and larch cones, they waited for good weather.  A deep hole was dug before lining with felt or birch bark.  Then a little log cabin was built for the body which need all sorts of things to sustain it in the afterlife.  Yes, pots and weapons, but also concubines, horses, grooms, a cook, etc.  All these things, including the bodies, were preserved by the permafrost so we have the world’s oldest carpet (2,300 years) and other ”world’s oldests.”

Some interesting facts:  1. Both men and women were heavily tattooed.  They used soot because it was sterile and easily sourced.  All parts of the body were decorated–except the face and thighs. 2.  Women shaved their heads except for one patch which grew very long.  This was threaded through a decorative funnel heading upward.  3.  They built small tents to concentrate the smoke of hemp seeds which they burned on stones.  Herodotus says that they ”howled in pleasure” during the practice.  4.  They decorated the bottoms of their shoes because they sat on carpets, thus displaying the bottoms of their feet.  Vanity goes where indicated I guess.  5.  Their arrows were three-bladed, many with a small hook at the base, thus making extraction nearly impossible.

The overwhelming surprise was their artistry and advanced practices in such a hostile environment.

 

Dumb, Moi?

Off to the British Museum for one of those blockbuster exhibitions.  This time, The Sythians, a cooperation with museums in St. Petersburg and elsewhere, winning four star reviews in all the papers.  Sold out crowds, but I managed to snag a single ticket for 11:10 giving up my Thursday group to do so.  When I got there, eagerly presenting my confirmation on my phone to the nice young man . . . . it’s for tomorrow!!

All right, change of plans.  Out the front courtyard, turn right to retrace the path David and I took that summer when we lived beside the British Museum and ate most nights down SoHo way.  All our restaurants, strip clubs, sex shops, and such are gone.  SoHo reformed years ago.  All those girls beckoning from doorways and upstairs windows are gone along with almost all the sex shops and clubs.  All upmarket.

I made my way across Tottenham Court Road where the shabby buildings have come down in favor of modern high rises, and the construction of another Underground is underway.  Then across the bottom end of Oxford Street to SoHo Square, built in the late 1600s, taking over fields where hares and foxes had been hunted.  The central fountain has been replaced by a cute little shed, and it’s surrounded by headquarters of film businesses.

I was looking for an old favorite at the top of the square, Govinda’s Pure Vegetarian Restaurant and Krishna Temple.  What to my wondering eyes should appear but a tarted up Govinda’s.  All brightly painted and lighted with a new serving counter and a separate entry for the Temple upstairs.  Soft jazz music played in the restaurant instead of the drumming, bell ringing, and chanting from upstairs.  All fine, but with change sometimes comes a loss of character.

There was a line waiting for the place to open, and it filled up immediately.  I had the veggie special with 5, count ’em, 5 selections.  It was delicious, as was the mint lemonade to wash it down.

Back up to Oxford Street for bus 98 down the slow length of the shopping street.  The tourist crowds have diminished a great deal, but it’s still busy.  As we rounded Oxford Circus I saw the signs about the NFL above Regent Street.  Do you notice something odd about the sponsor?  Guess that wall hasn’t gone up yet.

On down to the big Primark at Marble Arch.  For you Huntingtonians, Primark is like Gabe’s on steroids.  One third of the population of the Middle East was there.  They were buying gigantic suitcases to hold their massive piles of merchandise.  I didn’t last long and fled around the corner for the 414 to Putney Bridge.  We went past Harrod’s where the wealthier one third of the population of the Middle East bustled about.

Finally home where I cooked a nice roast chicken and took the carcass out for the foxes.  Oh my what a noisy fight in the bushes.  They will miss me.

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The Hislops

We packed up for a trip to Cold Ash, the tiny village where our old friends from newlywed days at Texas A&M live.  We took a seat reserved for the likes of us (see photo to guess which category we fit) on the fast train through Reading to little Thatcham near Newbury.  That’s Dick Francis country for you fans.  Beautiful horse farms all about.

We were married in February and the Hislops in the early summer.  We met in a $65 per month duplex abutting the campus.  John was on an exchange, then returned to work for the British version of the Atomic Energy Commission which interestingly no longer exists.  Committed Scots, born and bred, they had always planned to find their way back North, but that didn’t happen.  We’ve been fortunate to keep up, exchanging visits as we could.  They honored us greatly by coming for Catherine’s wedding.

John and Jane are great gardeners, both flowers and vegetables.  She’s a fabulous cook so we know good things will come from the kitchen.   Cups of tea and a plate of her famous shortbread appeared as soon as we arrived.  John has taken up beating in recent years as a hobby and a way to keep fit.  Beaters slog through the woods and thorns raising the birds for the ”guns”, either invited or paying customers, to shoot.  For what they pay each bird works out to a cost of about £45 pounds.  John helps the gamekeeper out a bit, receiving eggs, game birds and venison in payment.  So for dinner we ate perfectly prepared tenderloin of muntjac in onion cream sauce.  Out of this world!  We appreciated it even more since the muntjac is a pest on the order of the West Virginia white tailed deer.

Friend Roger came by in the morning to ask us to ”explain how Trump happened.”  After much catching up in what seemed like only a few hours we were back on the train for home laden with apples from their orchard.  Such a warm feeling to keep up with wonderful people.IMG_3242IMG_3296

 

More Highgate

Our little party moved on down The Grove, another exclusive row of houses.  Around a turn we came upon a small green area filled with people, flowers, flags, pictures, and various other tributes.  Huh?  It has become a shrine to George Michael who lived just across the street (next door to Jamie Oliver).  Who knew he was worthy of such honor?

The second house down belonged to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s dentist who built an addition onto his home to house the great man.  There Coleridge sat upstairs writing some of his greatest works.  After the opium got him he was buried in the churchyard outside Highgate Chapel.  The Coleridge Society came along thinking this wasn’t good enough, so they moved him into St. Michael’s across from The Grove.  Along came playwright J.B. Priestley who thought sitting at Coleridge’s desk would be quite inspiring, so he bought the house.

Down the hill to another surprise, Witanhurst, the second largest (after Buckingham Palace) house in London.  Built by a Victorian soap magnate, it occupies most of a hillside.  Recently purchased by a Russian oligarch, the house continues to undergo mysterious interior renovations.  Beyond the obligatory swimming pool and cinema complex in the basement, nobody is sure what lies within.

We talked of the Monty Pythons who lived there–Graham Chapman and Terry Jones(who’s still here)–and the eccentric guy after whom they modeled the Ministry of Silly Walks; the almshouses built in the 18th century to replace earlier ones which were ”in a very old and decayed condition” ; and the marvelous spooky cemetery where Great Ones are buried.  A visit there is worth hours of one’s time.  Then I jumped on a bus which passed Whittington Hospital and the little statue recognizing Dick Whittington’s route into the City with his cat.

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Have you gotten all the news about Prince Charles saying he won’t live in the Palace?  Evidently he, nor William, thinks it a cozy spot, so it could become a 700 room museum occasionally used for entertaining.

Highgate

Yesterday afternoon I took a guided walk in the village of Highgate, one of the two areas of London still using that designation (Wimbledon being the other).  Of course all the named areas were once villages on their own–Picadilly, Shoreditch, Lambeth, Chelsea, Knightsbridge, Whitechapel, etc.–before urban sprawl crunched them together.  North Hill in Highgate is the second highest point in London after Shooter’s Hill in Greenwich. One of the churches boasts a plaque saying that you’re above the cross atop St. Paul’s as you stand upon it.

Highgate gets its name from the toll booth which once stood there.  You may be familiar with Bishopsgate, Newgate, and some of the other ”gate” names in the City left over from the old walled city days.  If you wanted to come in to sell your goods or visit you had to pay a toll.  Highgate’s stood on the road now outside the newcomer Highgate School, dating from 1600 (the red brick chapel and adjoining building pictured).  Built by one of the Chalmondley (pronounced ”Chumley”, family, it was meant to educate ”40 poor boys.”  Lots of luck to a poor boy getting in nowadays.

First we passed a Wesley Chapel, now an active community and arts center oddly specializing in circus training.  The Wesleys were busy in the area, and Methodism was quite popular for a time.  Interesting factoid:  Methodist chapels, Friends Meeting Houses, and such couldn’t build within 6 miles of the City.  The Church of England showed those Dissenters their place.

We played a guessing game outside the High Point apartment complex.  Before you read on, look at the picture.  What year would you say?  It was designed in the 1930s by a Jewish immigrant who was far ahead of his time.  Another bit of surprising architecture appears in Pond Square, one of the oldest parts of the village.  The Grove, as the exclusive area is called, boasts much admired Georgian homes (And much expensive I should add.  Highgate is one of the three most costly places to live in London.)  In the photo you see one of those gems–with a hideous 50s attachment.  What happened?  German bombs.  When the planes came in to bomb targets in London they sometimes didn’t dump all their load.  Pilots certainly didn’t want to fly back with those because they added weight and they might explode enroute.  Therefore they just dropped them randomly as they turned for home.  You find damage on those flight paths in ordinary neighborhoods stretching pretty far out of the city.

I’ll save further material for another entry.  One disturbing observation though, I traveled on the Underground through the station where Friday’s incident took place, and then far north up to Highgate.  I saw numbers of armed police in SWAT gear at many stops, something we’re just not used to here.

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Treat

David and I went into town to see Apologia by AK Campbell yesterday.  What an anxious journey.  First the trains were slow because of continuing platform work at Waterloo Station; then there’s lots of apparent extra security on all transportation; for some reason when we got to the taxi stand there was a queue of more than fifty people with sporadic cab arrival; and finally the traffic from the station across Waterloo Bridge to Trafalgar was horrendous.  Thanks to our crafty driver we arrived at the theatre with 1 1/2 minutes to spare.

They did hold the curtain–actually there was no curtain, just a big kitchen with a large table on stage–for another couple of minutes since others seemed to have experienced traffic difficulties as well.  When this play first opened during high tourist season there were no tickets to be had.  Probably because the cast includes Stockard Channing and Laura Carmichael, names Americans particularly would recognize.  They did not disappoint.

The story in a nutshell is of a crusading woman who has accomplished much, but she gave up her two sons to do so.  All gather to celebrate her birthday; recriminations ensue.  One laugh line occurs when a character brags on America by saying ”We’ve just elected our first Black President,” and another replies, ”Yes, that’s good, but we will have to wait to see what happens in the long term.”  They audience laughed, yelled and applauded.  Interesting since the audience appeared largely British.

Speaking of London theatre….. Hamilton was due to open in time for Christmas.  Preview tickets sold by the thousands and opening weeks sold out on into the new year.  Rumours fly of tickets being sold on for £1200.  However, problems with opening on time abound.  They’re trying to figure out how to move the opening time on and how they can fit it all those people in a delayed schedule.

We made it home with no anxious moments, deciding to really splurge and go to dinner at The Light House, a really nice spot just up the Ridgway.  Our lovely young waitress hailed from New Jersey.  Well, she had come here at age 8 but her father is still there.  She’s going for a visit in October with the promise of seeing the Autumn color for the first time.  Anyway, dinner was fabulous and the restaurant abuzz, so we came back happy.

We watched the new dark Danish mystery ”Black Lake” replacing ”Inspector Montalbano” whose season ended.   Gotta have some subtitles on a Saturday night.

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