A day out and about in London

14 August 2010

Hello! I’ve been a bit quiet lately haven’t I? If you follow me on Twitter, you probably already know every tiresome detail of what I have been up to but if not then I will start here, with a post about the rather odd day we spent in London with the boys this week.

It started auspiciously enough with an early hours walk from our house to the train station, which is always a precursor for disaster in my experience as it’s all very well being bright eyed and bushy tailed and looking forward to a day of adventure but what happens at the end of the day when you simply cannot face yet more walking through the dark streets to get home again?

Anyway, moving on. After an uneventful train journey, we arrived at London Paddington and headed straight for Southwark, where we were meeting people at the Tate Modern. This was a bit of an odd journey for me as I used to be engaged to a guy who worked on Blackfriar’s Road so would find myself at Southwark Station several times a week when I went to meet him from work. I’d like to say at this point that my then fiancé only ever met me from work ONCE and then it was very begrudgingly. How weird that I never noticed this at the time.

Anyway, I haven’t been to Southwark Station for seven years as I have been manfully avoiding it but needs must so I livened things up a bit with a bit of a tour of the area: ‘See that tandoori house? We went there about twice a week! See this road? I’ve had lots of rows here! Oh no, that used to be a lovely pub, but it has gone now! I met my friend Rosie in there for the first time ever and we got very drunk!’ That sort of thing.

If this was a chick lit novel then we would have bumped into said ex fiancé en route and there would have been an awkward conversation while I pretended not to recognise him. However, I am pleased to report that this did not happen and we managed to get to the Tate Modern without incident, at which point I relaxed as he is totally not into art or indeed any form of culture that isn’t to be found within the pages of a Dan Brown book and probably hasn’t set foot in the place since I made him go there many years ago.

Actually, I’m probably a bit of a philistine too as I got really bored and restless inside the Tate Modern this time and hastened our departure somewhat. I am not opposed to the idea of modern art and indeed I really like a lot of artists that this label encompasses: mainly Ian Hamilton Finlay, because he does stuff inspired by the French Revolution but other stuff too that resolutely isn’t Dali, who I loathe.

So anyway, we wandered about inside the Tate Modern and made disparaging remarks about many of the paintings and what was optimistically refered to as ‘sculpture’. I wished at times that I was wearing a T shirt that said ‘I HAVE AN ART HISTORY DEGREE’ which I thought might lend intellectual gravitas to my sneering mien, but alas it was not to be.

After this, we decided that actually we wanted to be near Saint Paul’s Cathedral, which is fair enough as it is magnificent so who wouldn’t want to be there? I like how these days a shot across the Thames towards Saint Paul’s and the City is now a typical scene setter for London, whereas in the past it used to be all about Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. How times change.

Had a nice stroll across the formerly wobbly bridge and then went for lunch at Pizza Express, which was rather jolly. Saul, who is nine, who was also the one clamouring the loudest for pizza insisted on ordering one of the most expensive pizzas and then ate about a quarter of it, which is a very nine year old thing to do apparently. I was unusual and had cannelloni, which was very nice if a bit hot. I was more interested in the splendid view of Saint Paul’s facade than the food to be honest. I don’t know if it was quite as impressive as the time I ate pizza right next to the Colosseum though.

There was then an incident in which Felix ran out in front of a car and was scolded by a nice Italian man, much to his dismay and then we decided to walk to Spitalfields through the City, because it would be much nicer than going by underground.

We used the trusty Google Map app on my phone as a guide and to its credit it did a really good job in getting us there via a route that took in Threadneedle Street, The Cut and the dreaded Poultry. Don’t you just love the street names in the city of London? Many of them date back to Medieval times and are really evocative and almost poetic. Crutched Friars and Seething Lane are amongst my favourites, I think.

The boys really liked our walk through the City, although I am now wondering if perhaps it was a good idea to take impressionable young boys through such a rampantly masculine area where the air is thick with the aroma of testosterone, ranting on mobile phones, arrogance and Chanel aftershave. ‘If you do well at school, you can come here and be very bossy and annoying,’ I told them, which may have been a bad move as the nine and five year old gazed up in awestruck love at the Gherkin. ‘I want to wear a suit and work in an office on a computer and drink coffee and milk,’ the five year old declared with shining eyes. Neither of them asked why there weren’t any women to be seen.

We finally arrived at Liverpool Street Station and headed straight to Artillery Lane so that I could show them my favourite route to Whitechapel and so that they could hopefully appreciate the Victorian gloom of it all. They didn’t of course. It’s a brilliant way to arrive in Spitalfields though, coming out through an increasingly narrowing network of alleyways lined with forbidding red brick houses. The graffiti of Jack the Ripper has gone now though, alas. I’ll miss it.

Then it was past the former Providence Row night shelter where the unfortunate homeless women of Victorian Spitalfields would often find a bed for the night and then past the White’s Row car park and the grim service road alongside it, which marks the route of the once infamous Dorset Street. It’s still blocked off with railings at the end so you can’t walk down and see the spot where Miller’s Court once stood, unfortunately. I think next time, I will go into the carpark and go up to get a bird’s eye view.

I wasn’t sure that Spitalfields Market would be a good place to take children as it’s always an area that I have mentally connected with my own interests in what I am going to coyly refer to as Dark Victoriana (okay, okay, in other words I’m a self confessed Ripperologist) and also with fun filled nights involving curry and gin. However, I now know there is a lot more to it than that and really recommend it as a great place to take small people as there is lots to see and do there and the atmosphere is really fun and safe, despite what you may have heard about the area.

We spent quite a while with the boys, happily pottering around the market stalls and admiring the fab clothes and accessories on display. The stall holders were all happy to chat and pass the time of day too and it was just a really nice way to spend an afternoon. Luckily our visit coincided with the Thursday antiques market, which was excellent and had lots of things like old military uniforms and medical specimens in jars for the children to look at in horror and amazement.

My favourite stall was one selling old newspapers and postcards, where I came across a postcard photograph of a pretty young girl in Edwardian clothes. Turning the card over, I saw ‘murdered’ written on the back in pencil and of course my interest was picqued! The stall holder was able to tell me more – apparently she worked in a mill in the North and was stabbed by her fiancé in what was a very well known murder case at the time. The postcard was widely distributed at the time of the trial as apparently it was popular at the time to buy pictures of murder victims. It was £8 so a bit pricey but I wish that I had bought it anyway or at least taken note of the girl’s name so that I could look it up later on. If you know who I mean then let me know! I think she may have been an Agatha or a Martha.

After this we took a quick stroll around the Ten Bells, Christ Church (which was open again) and Fournier Street to soak up the atmosphere a bit and admire the lovely eighteenth century merchant’s houses. My husband thinks they look derelict and offputting but I really do think they are beautiful in an austere sort of way.

I was about to step into the All Saints flagship store (you know me and my passion for All Saints!) when my friend Zazz texted to say she was back in the area and so we immediately repaired to Giraffe to catch up over wine and Moroccan mint tea, which was very lovely! Zazz works for the amazing Lulu and Lush on Lamb Street (some of you may know them as Fairygothmother, where I have been shopping ever since they opened their first ever shop in Camden Market about seven years ago!) and also does talks about the history of corsetry at places like the V&A, which is really amazing! I’m going to be doing a guest blog post about something Victorian and decadent and Spitalfields silk flavoured for the Lulu and Lush blog sometime soon, which is a bit exciting!

All too soon it was time to go and so we made our way to Fenchurch Street Station to drop the nine year old back to his father. This time we followed Dave’s map app on his iPhone (I think it is funny that iPhone owners always call them ‘iPhones’ instead of just, y’know, ‘phones’ and so have resolved to follow suit) and it led us through the backstreets of Whitechapel through a rather rough looking estate where policemen lurked on balconies. ‘It’s horrible here! Why is it so dirty?’ the nine year old proclaimed loudly as we tried to shush him, intimidated and very struck by the contrast between the grimy tower blocks and the glimmering Gherkin tower that stands beside them.

I’d love to live in Spitalfields one day – as Zazz said, I feel like I really, really belong there and am amazed to be honest that I don’t live there already. One day! Although it may have to be when the boys are all grown up. Would it be weird to retire to Whitechapel? I guess it’s not surprising that I feel at home there though – a lot of my family come from the area and were involved in the local music halls and the Truman brewery and I’ve been hanging about the place in a gothic fashion ever since I was a little girl.

Anyway, after a rain soaked walk to Fenchurch Street and then on to Tower Hill, we got back to Paddington and enjoyed and exhausted and exhausting train journey home which would have passed without serious incident if the five year old, Felix had not put his case containing all of his DS games underneath his seat ‘to keep safe’ and then promptly forgot about it until we arrived back at our house. Alas, it seems to be lost forever!

So, in summary an unusual but rather fun day out! It’s the first time that we have taken both the boys to London with us and it went a lot better than expected! Am now looking forward to lots more trips there in the future! We’ll be leaving the DS at home next time though!

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