Ten Places to Visit in London

(1) The House of Lords

What’s that you say? ‘Surely you mean the House of Commons?’  No.  The House of Lords is the sexier chamber, full of gold and red leather.  It’s where the Queen goes to make her speeches.  You go in through the same public entrance, but turn right at the centre of the building to head off to the Lords.  There are plenty of steps, or if you can’t manage them a lift.  Once in the ‘Stranger’s Gallery’ you are expected to be silent – and photography is definately not permitted.

(2)  The National Gallery

Entry is free (except for special exhibitions) and there are more than enough pictures to spend your afternoon enjoying.  A useful attraction for people who have made the trip into London by train are the free toilets!

(3)  Kew Gardens

Blooming expensive, but once you are there you have several hundred acres of gardens to enjoy.

(4)  Wigmore Hall

Small and cheap (for London, anyway) concert venue.  The building is absolutely gorgeous.

(5)  London Monument

Monument to the great fire of London that has a viewing platform at the top.  Entry is only a couple of quid – a bargain when compared to the nearly £30 cost of a visit to the Shard.

(6) British Library

Generally us ordinary mortals don’t get to go into the reading rooms, but the British Library has several exhibition spaces where it’s possible to see treasures including copies of the Magna Carta.

(7) Hampstead Heath

Hundreds of acres of parkland owned by the Corporation of London, but to the north of the city. Great views of the city from it’s highest point.

(8) BBC Radio Theatre

Venue for some of the BBC’s live radio programme recordings.  You have to book to see a show, but tickets are free.

(9) Tower Bridge

For a small fee it’s possible to visit high walkways.  The Corporation of London have recently installed glass floors, and if you go at the right time you can watch the bridge being lifted – from above.

(10) Supreme Court

Based across the road from parliament the Supreme Court is in a gorgeous Edwardian building.

Eclipse of 2015

Today we had a little bit of excitement.  A solar eclipse occurred over much of Northern Europe, including the UK.  I got up all excited, and read the latest news.  It had already been reported in a Eurosceptic newspaper that the eclipse might be obscured by some French, yup FRENCH smog.  And today I read in the rather alarmist New York Times that thanks to the quantity of solar panels in use in Europe, something close to a state of emergency had been declared, and people had been recommended to make sure their radios had batteries in, and that they had enough food to last any power cuts.

Well, I went to the local common to try and get some pictures.  I knew from the last eclipse, in 1999, that some birds tended to stop tweeting as the sun goes “in”, and I went to the park to experience at maximum advantage the sound of silence.

Back in 1999 the eclipse was towards the middle of the day, and I was living in the midlands at the time.  I remember a fair amount of excitement on the day, and plenty of live TV and radio reports.  It was a sunny day, which made the eventual contrast as the moon moved in place more memorable, and I do recall some of the street lamps coming on.

So anyway, back to today.  When I left the house I knew that all was lost!  There was a significant amount of cloud cover – but I headed off to The Common nevertheless.  When I got there, I realised that I would have a further problem.  It’s “winter” here, and thanks to the ponds and streams that dot the common there was even more “cloud” in the form of mist rising from the ground.

This first picture was taken a few minutes before the eclipse was due to have maximum…oh, I don’t know what the expression is…maximum exposure?

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And then, at 9.31, when the sun was most obscured:

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Another photo, of some of the birds who had clearly not got the memo, and decided to tweet throughout the eclipse:

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So, there we have it.  A not very exciting eclipse.  The next one is due in 2026, and then there will be a “total” eclipse in 2080.  Can’t wait!  I’ll only be 114 years old then.  Everyone is invited to the party!

Doctors and drugs

I visited my Doctor’s surgery for the first time ever yesterday.  (I should mention that I’m not super-healthy; rather my old doctor retired and transferred my notes over without my intervention to the new surgery.)  The surgery is not far away, but in a neighbourhood that I’m not familiar with – and I got lost.  I’d just gone down an alleyway that is wide enough to drive a car down at one end, but at the far end is so narrow that I could barely walk down it and decided that I would need to ask a stranger for directions, when a miracle happened.  I heard a four-year-old bug incubator cough, and knew that rescue was near at hand.  Sure enough, the incubator and entourage turned into a property, and walked up to the door of the surgery.

I went inside, and asked the receptionist for an appointment.  When one had been booked she said that she would text the details to me.  There was a small problem; the number that she rather mysteriously had for me clearly wasn’t one that I used, and she resorted in the end to writing the appointment down on a piece of paper.

Once I had marvelled at the modern age I thought ahead to a new experience that I would have with the doctor.  I am going to ask for another couple of boxes of pills, and it turns out that the modern age has invaded the ancient art of writing scripts.  Presumably in an effort to get patients fit doctors no longer issue paper prescriptions.  Instead they email the prescription over to a chemist and leave the patient to walk around town playing hunt the script. (My little joke – I’m sure that there is a way round this.) This modern technology is a marvel!

(Incidentally, I was told once by a pharmacist that the emailed scripts are printed out by the chemist.  So no paper saved there then…)

Maps

One day, at the end of autumn last year, I planned a visit to a castle on the coast built by Henry the Eighth and, fearing that I might have some walking to do, I did something extraordinary.

Under my desk I have a stack of large sheets of paper folded down to roughly the size of a book which are printed, typically on one side, with strange symbols, long lines and numerous names.  I reached down and selected the one coded ‘OL22’ and named ‘New Forest’ and opened it out.

For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated with maps.  Once one has the capacity to decode them it is possible to visit different places -in one’s head.  I have another map open now – Landranger 185: Winchester and Basingstoke area – and without leaving my desk I can ‘see’ the woods, hills and narrow lanes of the country around Winchester.

This old fashioned, low-tech, method of surveying the country from one’s chair has almost passed into the mists of time.  Yes, today it is possible to review maps on the internet on a device of one’s choice.  But where has the fun gone?  I can ask Google to deliver a map on my screen of Royal Leamington Spa.  But will I be able to run my eye over the surrounding countryside, and note that there is a red triangle near Stratford-upon-Avon which indicates a Youth Hostel?  Maybe, but not so easily as one would with a paper map.  And not with that ‘crackle’ so redolent of large sheets of paper being folded.

Times move on, and so perhaps does technology.  But consider this; if the power station at SU475025 ever has to close down I may not have the electricity to power my internet device.  But I don’t need electricity to reach under my desk…