Travelling to Work

It takes me just 14 minutes to walk from my house to the station. On Friday, it was the longest 14 minutes of my life. I was not halfway down the road when the Heavens opened. By the time I reached the station I was absolutely drenched.

Didn’t I know it was going to rain? Yes, of course, I had seen the weather forecast. But I wasn’t expecting it to rain quite so early in the day, nor quite so heavily. Showers, they had said on the BBC, my main source of reference for these things.

If your definition of a shower is hard, pelting rain that comes down like stair rods, almost like hail but not quite, that only lasts about 8 minutes, then yes, I suppose it was a shower. That is not, by the way, my definition of a shower.

Anyway, I survived that particular ordeal and arrived at the station somewhat bedraggled, but ready for the next step in my journey. As it’s the school holidays, the trains are not too crowded at the moment. My preference is usually to sit at the end of the carriage, out of everyone’s way, except for those who think it is a jolly jape to steam through the carriages. However, on this occasion, the window was wide open. If I sat by the window when it was raining, I knew from experience that there was a strong chance that I would get wet as the rain was blown into the carriage.

Why didn’t I close the window, I hear you ask? Well, that is often easier said than done. Some of those windows are really stiff and I find them impossible to close. And anyway, you will recall that I was still soaking wet and wanted the air to circulate to help dry me off. I had no desire to spend the entire day with a wet bottom. I sat a little further down the carriage.

There was a chap a bit further along, talking to himself very loudly. Actually, on further inspection, he was talking on his ‘phone with the hands free thingy. Years ago, we London travellers would have avoided anyone who spoke to themselves like the plague. It was always a sign that they were mentally ill. (Ok, back in the day we’d have called them “nutters” but I am far too politically correct for that now.)

I’ve encountered more than my fair share of them over the years. I remember vividly travelling home on a number 38 bus one day. My hair was in a chestnut coloured bob at the time (it’s relevant, believe me. What happened wouldn’t have happened if I’d looked the way I do now). I was reading a newspaper, and I do tend to get quite engrossed when I’m reading, to the extent that I’ve even missed my stop before now. Anyway, eventually I became aware of a woman sitting behind me who said something like,

“You Asians, you come over here and take our jobs…..” Moan, moan, moan.

To be honest, I didn’t pay much attention, just vaguely wondered who was the target of her venom. I’m a bit on the pale side, and if I get mistaken for any nationality, it’s usually Dutch. Must be something to do with the clogs I suppose. Anyway, the droning on behind me continued and I heard something about “reading a newspaper.” That stopped me in my tracks. I turned around. The moaning woman gaped in horror as she stared into my baby blues.

“Oh, you’re not……. are you?”

“No, I’m not, although I’m not sure exactly what difference that makes?”

The woman didn’t answer me but she did get off at the next stop.

Back to Friday’s journey. I changed trains at the mainline interchange. The trains are air conditioned and, if the connection is there when the first train pulls in, it’s quicker. The carriage was almost empty, which was good for me, because I wanted to write this blog post. Except for the fact that other occupant in the carriage was chewing gum. You know the sort, don’t you? Open mouthed and very, very noisy. Really? I am not a dentist and do not wish to inspect your teeth. My mother would have slapped me if I’d done that as an adult, never mind as a child. I do realise that you can’t eat chewing gum in an elegant or stylish fashion, I really do, but honestly, can’t people hear themselves? It’s disgusting.

Which leads me on to my next rant du jour, but you’ll have to wait for my next post for that one.

 

©Susan Shirley 2014

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The Thames Path

Yesterday, my friend Becky, her dog, the lovely Jess, and I walked some of the Thames Path. We walked from Tower Hill to Canary Wharf, which is about 4 miles.

For those of you who don’t know, the Thames Path is a National Trail, running from the source of the Thames, near Kemble, in Gloucestershire, to the Thames Barrier at Charlton. The total length is about 184 miles (so only another 180 miles to go, if I want to do the whole lot!). The trail was opened in 1996.

The original plan was that the whole path along the Thames could be walked, but in some places the Towpath is not available. The part of the Thames along which we walked, you actually need to walk along the shore in some places (so you can only do it at low tide). We elected not to do that, for a number of reasons.

There are some new, and presumably very expensive, flats along the bank side, so there are gated areas which prevent you from walking directly along the towpath. Having said all that, we were able to walk along the bank most of the way. Around St Katherine’s dock and that first part of our walk, we had to walk “inland” a bit, but it was ok, there were some old buildings which made it worthwhile.

We stopped off for lunch at the Prospect of Whitby at Wapping. The Prospect is one of the oldest pubs along the Thames (probably in London) dating back to 1520. Fortunately, there is a beer garden, so Jess was welcome. Understandably, in times gone by, the pub was frequented by those who used the Thames, and no doubt some of those were smugglers and pirates. Certainly, that is the reputation of the pub. Charles Dickens and Samuel Pepys are also believed to have been regulars. The pub also stands on the border of Wapping and Limehouse. Anyway, the food was pretty good, and not too expensive so I’d go back there again.

Whilst walking along, you get to see all the river traffic, including a rather nice yacht that passed us. I’ll be honest, I didn’t recognise most of Wapping now, much of what I remember has been pulled down and new buildings erected. We carried on to Canary Wharf and decided to call it a day there, but not before we’d looked back to see the Shard across the other side of Deptford on the south bank.

At Millwall Park (there used to be seven windmills, hence the name Millwall) we decided it was time to make out way back to the stations so we could go our respective ways home, but not before we stopped off at the Cat and Canary, in Canary Wharf, for a well-deserved drink. Canary Wharf is on the Isle of Dogs, on the site of the old West India Docks, once one of the busiest docks in the World. The name Canary Wharf comes from the name of the dock built there in 1936 for Fruit Lines Ltd, which was a subsidiary of Fred Olsen Lines Ltd for Mediterranean and Canary Islands fruit trade.

All in all, a lovely day out and good exercise as well!

 

©Susan Shirley 2014

 

The Changing Face of London

I did another of my London walks a couple of weeks ago, and, having been taken to places that have now changed completely since the time our guide was telling us about, it made me think about how London is changing now.

I’m thinking particularly of the Victoria/Westminster area, which is where I spend most of my time.  When I first started working here, back in the 1970’s, there was a bank on either corner of the bottom end of Victoria Street, (if memory serves me correctly, it was Midland on one and Williams and Glyns on the other).  The one that was Williams and Glyns is now a wine bar.  The Midland, which, of course, went on to become HSBC, has been completely demolished as part of the Victoria Station upgrades works.  (Apparently, Victoria Station gets 82 million passengers a year at the moment, and it is anticipated that this will increase to 100 million by 2020, so they are extending the ticket halls and approaches.  If you’ve tried travelling in that area in the rush hour, you’d wonder why they didn’t start this work ten years ago.)

Victoria Street itself has changed too.  We used to have a little Sainsbury’s, a Nationwide building society and some other shops, but over the years, buildings have been pulled down and new ones erected.  We can now boast a lovely little Waitrose, but there is still so much building work going on, I’m not sure what it will be like when complete. And then, of course, there is Cardinal Walk and the associated shops.  I can’t even remember what was there before.

What hasn’t changed, though, is the Albert Public House, which was built in 1862, on a site of a pub called the Bluecoat Boy.  (There is still a pub called the Greencoat boy a short distance away too.  Bluecoat and Greencoat relate to schools that used to be in the area, but I digress.)  The Albert was named after Queen Victoria’s husband and consort.  The area had been redeveloped in the 1850’s to replace the slum housing that had previously existed, and it’s amazing it’s survived, since this whole area was subject to extensive bombing throughout the Second World War.  So, what survived the Luftwaffe couldn’t survive the developers, and there are now lots of mainly glass buildings.  House of Fraser (once called the Army and Navy Stores) is still there, although the link to the back block is no longer.

And of course, Westminster Abbey is still there, at the other end of Victoria Street, still stands proud and majestic, pretty much as it has done since Henry 111 built it in 1245.  There is so much history surrounding the Abbey, I can’t do it justice here – for example, there are over 20 people buried or commemorated there, and that’s just the ones whose surname begins with A!

 

So, I wonder what changes the next few years will bring?

©Susan Shirley 2013

Eltham Palace

Last weekend, I went to Eltham Palace.  I’ve lived in London for the majority of my life, and didn’t know this place existed until a friend mentioned it a few months ago.  I don’t know how I missed it, it’s a fabulous building, and I would commend everyone to visit.

The original palace was given to King Edward II in 1305 by Anthony Bek, the Bishop of Durham, so obviously Tudor design.  The palace was used as a royal residence form the 14th to the 16th century, and was home to King Henry VIII for some of his childhood.  Henry was the last monarch to spend much of his time here.  When Greenwich Palace was rebuilt, probably because it was more easily accessible by river, Eltham became a less popular destination.  From the 17th century, for about 200 years, Eltham Palace was used as a farm.  Sad demise.

In 1933, Stephen Courtauld, one of the textile Courtaulds and his wife Virginia, purchased the lease and, as well as restoring the Great Hall, did some serious building work.  It is an amazing mix of old and new, with a dome in the entrance hall that is small glass orbs inlaid into concrete.  In certain parts of the building, it’s difficult to imagine that there was ever the Tudor part, and in others, you look out of the window and you almost feel the Tudor festivities and dancing taking place.

The Courtaulds, however, clearly weren’t short of a few bob, because what they did to the house is amazing.  They had internal telephones throughout the house, as well as an outside line that was hidden away in a little telephone kiosk.  They had beautifully fitted guest rooms, and Mrs C’s bathroom is something else.  They had a pet ring-tailed lemur, named Mah Jongg, who had his own (centrally heated) room.  There is a beautiful dining room, with an aluminium-leaf ceiling, with spotlights inset so that they reflect off the beautiful ceiling and illuminate the room at the same time.  Amazing!

Stephen Courtauld fought in the army during World War I, so it’s no surprise that some of the palace contains references to the army and other related memorabilia.

Not everything in the house is original, much has been faithfully reproduced, but you still get the feel for what it was like…  I’m getting delusions of grandeur just thinking about it.  To cap it all, the palace is surrounded by a moat, which has carp swimming in it, and big lily pads floating upon it.  It’s set in 19 acres of gardens…. I haven’t begun to describe it fully; you really do need to see it to get the full effect.  I have to go back to take more in, although it’s not the biggest stately home in the world, there is just too much to take in on one visit.

Many films, TV programmes and even commercials have been filmed at Eltham Palace, and, it is on English Heritage’s list of most haunted places!

English Heritage manages the palace now (and they very subtly persuaded me to join!) so there is an entrance fee of £9.90 for adults (less for children and concessions) but I wholeheartedly recommend it.

 

©Susan Shirley 2013

Coronation Festival

I was lucky enough to have been invited to the Coronation Festival at Buckingham Palace today (and huge thanks to both my escorts).  Today was the Royal Preview Day – and yes, I did manage to catch a glimpse of Prince Edward and Princess Anne.  There were other members of the Royal Family there, but I didn’t see them.

Quite aside from the fact that it was the most beautiful summer’s day, with just a slight breeze to take the edge off the heat of the day, it was absolutely fantastic.

The first thing I noticed was the gardens.  They are beautiful.  A variety of different colours and flowers (no, I don’t know the names, I’m not that good).  I was told that they are 46 acres in size (Wikipedia says 42, but let’s not argue about a mere 4 acres in the centre of London).  Honestly, you wouldn’t know that you are in the centre of London, it is so peaceful.  The garden keepers use the minimum of pesticides, to encourage wildlife, and, of course, they compost regularly.  We weren’t there for the gardens though, and, naturally, we found somewhere to buy champagne and sat under a huge tree to drink the first bottle.  It was lovely to just sit there and watch the world go by for a while.

The event itself was hosted by the Royal Warrant Holders Association, each with a stand exhibiting their goods.  There were some absolutely fabulous items on sale – my absolute favourite was The General Trading Company, I’ll be placing an order there – and huge thanks to Clarins for the goody bags they gave to all the ladies.  And Gordon’s Gin, with their two new flavours, one infused with cucumber, the other with elderflower…  (No, I don’t get commission for any of this; I just had a wonderful time and have to tell you what I enjoyed.)

Jaguar Land Rover was there, along with its F-type sports car – it was beautiful; and matched my lipstick perfectly!  The Bentley’s were beautiful too, but I couldn’t persuade them to give me one just because it had finger marks on it.

And, I have to say, all the exhibitors I met were absolutely charming and great fun too.  Thank you to everyone for a fantastic time.

 

©Susan Shirley 2013

Chasing the Heron

After last week’s fiasco with the heron (more correctly, my failure to photograph the bird when it was close to me) I decided to take my camera into work and see if I could get my own photograph of him.  Friday was such a beautiful day, it was ideal for a stroll around the park.

We walked around to where I’d seen the heron previously.  He was there, but soon flew into the lake to pick up a fish.  Which he did successfully.  I’ve never seen a heron eat a fish before.  Clearly his mother didn’t teach him to chew his food.  Anyway, I waited for about ten minutes and got a few snaps of him, but really struggled with sun on the viewfinder.  When I got back to the office, I found I’d taken some interesting good photographs…  Not what I’d hoped for but interesting nonetheless, and if I hadn’t been so fixated on the heron, I’d probably be blogging about them.

Image

©Susan Shirley 2013

To Photograph or Not to Photograph

I was walking around St James’ Park the other day with a friend.  We do this walk sometimes, to get some exercise, and it gives us a chance to catch up with what’s going on in the other’s life, although this was actually the first time we’d been able to meet up for a couple of months.

As we were walking, my friend said to me,

“Is that a heron?”

I turned and looked, and it was.  I even said to him,

“I really should take a photograph.”

But I didn’t.  Why not?  My photographer friends will kill me when they read this.

As non-fiction writers, conventional magazines (and some e-zines) often ask us to provide photographs to go with our articles; and, of course, it is much less expensive to take your own photographs than to (a) pay someone else, or (b) buy them from somewhere.   (It’s also cheaper to get them developed yourself, rather than have to take copies of photographs people have lent you, as I know to my cost.  You can’t always be sure that you will get them back from magazines so it’s best to have copies you can return to whoever was kind enough to lend the photographs to you.)  It’s also quicker to take your own photographs than have to ask someone else to send you theirs.

So why didn’t I take the photograph?  I didn’t have my camera with me, but I do have a reasonable camera on my Smartphone, so I could have used that.  I wasn’t specifically thinking of writing an article or a blog about the park when I saw the heron, it’s true, but the fact that he is featuring in this blog proves a point:  if you see something of interest, take a photograph.

My writing course features a whole module about taking photographs and which type of camera to use.  And since studying that, I really have tried to improve.

One of my work colleagues has even made me a crib card with the centre cut-out (to resemble the viewfinder on a camera) giving me prompts as to what to consider when taking a photograph: foreground interest, leading lines, rule of three, diagonal lines.  I can’t remember the others.  I’ve even downloaded a book on my e-reader to help me improve my photography.  (I’ve actually downloaded about a year’s worth of books, and keep downloading more, so it’s no great surprise that I haven’t read that one yet.)  So am actually keen to try to develop this skill.

I regret not taking the photograph of the heron.  I suppose am just not confident with a camera yet.  I will keep on trying and someday soon, you’ll see photographs included in my blogs.  And I’m going back to the park to see if I can see that heron again…

Love and Light xx

Post Script

Another colleague took this photograph for me, but it’s not as close as when I saw him…Image

©Susan Shirley 2013