Sunday, January 29, 2012


Having found a River Walk described in a little tourist booklet, we thought we ought to don our Tourist Hats and follow the (more or less entirely uninformative) described route. Possibly we could have picked a warmer day, or more to the pointer I should have thought to wear warmer socks - 'twas a bit nippy around the toes.

If I can make the magic work, I'll embed a map here. More likely I'll point at one. But you can have some pictures anyway.

View River Walk in a larger map

We started from Westminster station, more-or-less at the foot of the Big Clock Tower that's not really so big.

Westminster itself, even if it's a great pile of NeoGothic masonry, is rather impressive, and probably one of the best looking buildings along that stretch of the Thames

You can't see them in the picture above, but there are floating lights in front of the dock that you can see on the right of the building, each topped by a golden crown. I do wonder who has the job of cleaning them

From there we crossed the Westminster Bridge, which is patently one of the big tourist spots - the buskers and street performers were dense on the ground, and the tourists even denser. Yes, there are people dressed as the Queen hanging around at Boadicea's feet, waiting for tourists to give them money to have their photo taken. Making it even worse was that they were all wearing truly creepy Queen Elizabeth II latex masks.

Half way across a piper was playing his heart out, somehow largely ignored by all the passing tourists.

On the other side of the river we headed east toward, and past, the London Aquarium, the Eye, Southbank Center,  Hayward Gallery, National Theatre, the Tate, and (eventually) the reconstructed Globe theatre. Along most of the walk, the lamps had these strange dragon/carp bases, oddly Eastern, but primarily resembling mer-Pugs

More of the street performers lurked in the underbrush on the south bank as well, feeding well of their natural prey. There were a lot of strolling tourists.

The tide was out, and the mud flats on the bank were exposed, looking a good deal cleaner and less unsanitary than I would expect. Further along, past Blackfriar's bridge (the one in the photo below), families were down on the mud, picking their way along, probably looking for cockles. I'm not sure whether this indicates that the water is clean, or whether it indicates that Londoners have evolved a tolerance for toxic sludge.

Oddly, there was a short stretch of sand, presumably artificially introduced, and two enterprising sand sculptors had set up shop, waiting for tourists to toss coins down to them. I would have been more inclined to give them money had they created something more impressive than a Sand Couch to lounge on.

Having strolled for almost an hour, we gave up and strolled across the Millenium Bridge (apparently held up by Science! and Advanced Engineering!), up toward St Paul's. Even if it needs a good clean (and to not be so damned expensive to visit), it's an impressive building.

We turned left and strolled down toward Ludgate (the spot where they used to hang folk. And quarter them. And disembowel them.) and found an Earl of Sandwich shop, bizarrely decorated with pictures of James Cook and Joseph Banks, then jumped on a tube and nipped up to Oxford Street before coming home. 

A worthwhile walk.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Laser Unicorn Disintegrates The Horns Of The Cosmic Rhino

Which was the title on a small(ish) limited edition lithograph by Salvador Dali that we saw today. We could have strolled off with it for the measly sum of £2,200. On the other hand, we could have strolled off with a small doodle on napkin by Dali for £24,000. 

We went off today to the London Art Fair, held in a design centre at Angel, Islington, which is inside a big old Victorian building that was either an old rail station or some sort of market hall. Probably the latter. There was an amazing, astounding, amusing, jaw-dropping quantity of art, but after a couple of hours we were well and truly galleried out and retired for sushi.

80-odd galleries had contributed to the fair, setting up booths with a selection of their wares, and discretely trying to flog it off. And a good amount of it was disappearing out the doors wrapped in brown paper, despite the eye-raising prices on a lot of pieces.

We stopped half way for some muffins and coffee, and were once again teased by the promise of Free Wi-Fi. This is a pretty common thing - lots of places offering Free Wi-Fi, although mostly you have to sign up first to some provider or other, and often pay a subscription first. Using the service is free, but the subscription isn't...

Saturday, January 21, 2012

On a cloud I saw a child...

So we went for a stroll to Oxford Street today, in search of shampoo. This is a thing which we can do because we're in London - jump on a bus and stroll off to this amazing shopping precinct in search of shampoo, and stumble across:
1) a plywood machine, endlessly creating random sentences that rolled down a roller coaster;
2) a concept shop in Selfridges dedicated to selling Words;
3) a stationery store selling a range of about six identical items in a dozen colours;

We passed by yet another Blue sign as we strolled, which caught my eye. What a lovely succinctness - "poet and painter". And of course because this is England, and perhaps more particularly because this is London, the building now contains a waxing salon. Somehow I suspect that Blake would have approved.

Near Bond Street Tube Station, off Oxford street, is a tiny entrance to a lane, no more than one person wide, that leads into St Christopher's Lane - apparently this is one of the preeminent fashion destinations in the world, and what we could see in the windows was definitely awesome. We'd strolled down into here again for a quick lunch, having passed through a few weeks ago, and went to Apostrophe. Which has one somewhere in the name. Bob found a huge hot chocolate.

One thing we've found is that there are a number of chains - Apostrophe and Pret A Manger being two of the most prominent - that specialise in flogging off really good, freshly made food (usually soups and rolls) at fast-food prices. I have no idea what happened to the notion of English food being stodgy, dull and bad for you. Apart from a dodgy pastie in Redhill a few days ago, all the food we've found has been really good, and the temptation to eat out every meal is hard to resist.

And this is the sort of thing we see all over London: a quirky little lane with interesting shopping, random art, and a slick restaurant with a huge queue out front directly across from the chain cafe.

Friday, January 20, 2012


Now, I'm not saying that this is something we saw happen in town today

Probably because, if I was to be entirely truthful, we didn't. But we did come to a decision today, and that's to stay in or near London.

The thing is that we were looking for work in both London and up in Leeds/York, and it really became clear that we weren't both going to be able to find something up north. This is disappointing in a way, because the places we were thinking about living up there are really lovely. But it just wasn't going to be practical - Bob had some prospect of a contract with the BBC in Manchester, and I had a good prospect of a permanent job in Leeds, but it would have been an expensive 2 hour train commute for her, and a somewhat below market wage for me. So...

Before going on, an aside: there's an odd thing about the North we've noticed, and it could be similar in other regions as well. There's a general and oft repeated belief that living costs in the North are lower than down here, therefore salaries can be a lot lower. Yes, everything we figured out around all the costs we could think of suggested that living costs are a bit lower than London, but not hugely lower. The biggest difference would be rent, but one of the big items is going to be public transport, and for the likely commutes we would be doing from say York or Saltire to Leeds would be about the same price. The trouble is that wages are a lot lower. Quite odd.

We've not entirely ruled out living up North (the prospect of working a few blocks from the Royal Armouries is very attractive), and know that we can potentially opt to move later, but for now we're only going to chase after work options in and near London. Of course, that covers a world of possibilities. Do we aim to work in or near the middle of town (i.e., zones 1-3), or are we going to work in one of the satellite towns? Will we try to live in zones 1-3 somewhere we can easily get out to places like Guildford, or live in some place like Guildford and trek into town? The options seem endless, and all entirely dependent on work.

Unfortunately we really are a little obsessed with work at the moment. Almost everything else is unfortunately dependent on that: somewhere to live, somewhere to dance, somewhere to wave swords, re-enactors to meet up with.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

From the Heath

We elected to stroll back up to, and around, Hampstead Heath today, in search of the famed view from Parliament Hill. I was somewhat bemused by the hill, as it purports to be the highest point in London, yet I could see hills nearby patently higher. I think it's because technically the other hills were far enough out that they were not, technically, in London.

Still, we, and a few dozen others, had strolled up on what is proving to be a typical London winter day. Characterised by brilliant blue skies, crystal clear air, and a brisk breeze. It's hard to get a clear vantage to see London, we've found, and it looks like this is the only one:

Saturday, January 14, 2012 dot points...

We've been busy. Ok, that's the summary. Herein the news, to hold a place until we fill in the places:

1) We've got temporary accommodation here in a tiny studio apartment while we find work;
2) we've got our CVs out into various hands, and are starting to get interviews;
3) the public transport system, and in fact the whole transport system, while not always super cheap is entirely effective and useful;
4) Camden Markets are on the whole pretty tacky, but would be a good place to find boots, bags or dresses. Unfortunately I need none of them.

Tomorrow we intend to go for a wander down near Westminster, Big Ben, and such like. We will probably pass the Globe. The sky is likely to continue brilliant blue, and the air sparkling clear, and the weather mild. Also, we will find green grass, and more cold cider.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

And in the end...

So. Travelling is over, and it's 2012. Well, travelling is not really over, and we won't stop writing here.  So far we have been travelling not just to see the country, but to have a very much long overdue break. Now we change our mindset, and our practices, and begin to live here rather than visiting here.

The last week was a mixed bag. After staying in a very lovely hotel in Edinburgh and eating ourselves into a food coma for Christmas, we made our way down to Newcastle. This was selected for no particularly strong reasons, other than a desire to hopefully meet up with the blokes from Hotspur, and because and it was a convenient distance. Our experience of Newcastle was a resounding "meh", which is not fair. The hostel we were in was underwhelming, although very clean and modern, and there was no way to cook in it. Combined with the post-Christmas shutdowns, this meant that it was difficult and expensive to find food while we were there, and this threw a pall over the time we were there.

On the other hand: the surviving keep is very interesting, and has a great view; the bridges and Tyne are perversely attractive; and the Laing and Baltic galleries were very good - in the latter we saw installations from the four short-listed artists for the Turner prize. Three out of four were interesting...

Newcastle proved difficult to get out of - all the trips were expensive, and lengthy. In the end the best option (found by Bob) was to go back to Birmingham and thence to Warwick to see the castle. The downside was that it was a late trip, and we didn't get in to Warwick until around 23:00, leaving us grumpy and out of sorts. Still, the Lord Leycester hotel we stayed in was lovely, and Warwick itself is small and delightful.

The castle itself was... odd. What remains of the original bits (a somewhat murky concept given that it went through continuous building and modification for 900 years) are interesting, but a lot of the site is not accessible. There are weird juxtapositions of horrid Disney-like fantasy with some quite good static presentations and montages of 15th C life, a fairly good acting team next to the Princess Tower, and a very good presentation of falconry (featuring owls, for complicated reasons) in the spaces between the loud piped music throughout. The castle is sort of worth visiting, although it's expensive, and I suspect it's pretty awful in summer during peak tourist times, but don't have high expectations of the historicity of the site.

Bob chilling out in front of the castle
We came back down into London a couple of days ago, and have been kindly put up by Bob's sister and her family for a few days while we sort out a studio apartment in Hampstead. The way that the public holidays and bank holidays have fallen out have made all this a bit complicated, but we're going into the place on the 3rd. Oh yeah, that's right. It's the 1st today isn't it. Somehow midnight GMT on New Year's Eve feels a bit more official than anywhere else. Sorry, but having the clock tick over at zero degrees longitude, zero hours offset from GMT... that's the real New Year folks.

Our evening was quite pleasant, involving Irish folk(ish) rock(ish) music in and Irish(ish) pub in Soho, a few hundred meters from the statue of Eros there in Picadilly Circus. Also there was beer and cider. Bob pointed out that it was like being in the Guinness tent at Woodford without the hippies and mud.

So that's our travel concluded. This part of it anyway. Now we start living here. We've got the studio apartment for a month or so while we sort out work, then we work on a real apartment, then we work on kittens and puppies. It's been nice to travel, but it will be nice to stop moving as well.