December 2015

I regret that there is little to report about Wednesday: our visit to Portabello Road Markets was pleasant but no more, and I had some trouble wondering what all the fuss was about. On the other hand, both of my children would have had a ball, for different reasons; Madeline would have been in her element as most of the stalls and stores were a bit out there. Anyway, we wandered around until Brendan came through with an offer of an evening in Shepherds Bush, so off we went.


The evening turned into a really wonderful catch up, with Bren and Laura proving to be excellent hosts as they guided us to one excellent pub, a great Spanish restaurant near Hammersmith and, finally, to one of their favourites just hear Hammersmith Tube Station. They have obviously settled into the local vibe most successfully, and it was only the knowledge that we had to head out to Bletchley early-ish the next morning that stopped us from making it go a lot longer.


Our perambulation from ‘The Defector’s Weld’ (cute name), to Los Molinos and a table full of tapas, to ‘The Swan’, might have been in a constant London drizzle, but it gave us lots of time to catch up with the intrepid couple’s experiences since they got here. I must admit to being slightly envious of the range of experiences Laura and Brendan have clocked up over the years, and particularly what they have planned with their jobs in London. It obviously a suits them and it was great to see them so happily settled – even if Brendan has to leave for Melbourne and the Tennis Open next week.

Tomorrow, Bletchley Park and the chance to catch up with a less well-known part of the Second World War.

We hadn’t discovered the joys of off-peak travel when we decided to go to Portsmouth for the day, so a quick look at the train prices convinced us that renting a car was the go, particularly as we are so close to London City Airport. We’ve since discovered that travelling off-peak (after 9 am) as a group can be as much as 50% cheaper, if you know the tricks when booking on line — and well done to Paula for working this out. However, while Graeme got the job of chauffeur, we were all pretty happy with the upgrade to a fairly substantial people mover, so we swanned the two hours down to Portsmouth in something like style.

The museum dockyards are still part of the working docks, so security was reasonably tight, and we were always in no doubt as to the relationship between the Royal Navy and Britain’s ‘Greatness’. There were lots of possessive pronouns flung around, which was interesting, and the obvious pride of the guides on the Victory was quite engaging.


 VIctory is undergoing a twenty-year restoration, starting with the exterior, so all her top masts are down and some of the interior is closed off, including the Great Cabin; but the exterior is substantially complete and quite different from the previous paint scheme. It turns out that they discovered the invoice for the 1803 paint job, together with the recipe for the paint, so here she is with a buff and black colour scheme in the place of the yellow and black oaken wall I have some often imagined.


The museum now insists on guided tours, so no more free-ranging over the old girl; but Graeme and Sally commented that the guides improved the experience. We got a constant stream of information from cross-trees to keel, and a detailed explanation as to why they were certain as to the exact point that Nelson was standing when he received the fatal hit. Below decks was a dark cavern, making photography a bit of a challenge.

We could only visit the Mary Rose building, because the preservation spraying and drying has finished earlier than expected (after twenty odd years) and the whole facility will not reopen until 2017; but it will be worth coming down again one day to see here. We will have to, because we only scratched the surface in our six hours at the dockyard.


  We wandered through the small boat museum, took a boat over to the Submarine Museum at Gosport – absolutely fascinating – and finished off with a whirlwind tour of Warrior as the sun came down. We didn’t get near the RN Museum, not did we have time for the Marines. Oh well, life is a reconnaissance mission for tomorrow!


We’ve been very lucky in our choice of location, because this part of London is developing explosively. While there is still amazing development still continuing at Canary Wharf, the area around Limehouse basin is renewing at a slightly less exhorbitant price and height. The presence of the locks and canal add to a sense that the old life of the city is still somehow there. After our more ambitious walk along the canal yesterday (and back through Tower Hamlets and the edges of Whitechapel), our morning walk took us along the river towards Canary Wharf, and one could only conclude that, while London is starting to ‘value’ the Thames as a natural wonder, it is still a bit under-appreciated for itself. It will never be Sydney Harbour, but the city shone in the winter sun over the loops of the Thames and was quite beautiful. 

Today was the boys’ day out, so we headed off to Colindale to the site of the old Hendon Aerodrome. Graeme and I associated it with stories of Douglas Bader and the Hendon Air Show in the Thirties, but it turned out to have a richer history that we new very little about; and the RAF Museum left all of us a bit stunned. Much more diverse than Duxford, and focusing exclusively on British military aircraft (of course), the sheer number of aircraft was quite amazing. Many aircraft were not represented, but so many were – and, of course, there were any number of marks of Spitfire, all presented in mint condition.


It took nearly the whole day, so one can only congratulate Paula and Sally on their patience as we wander around and through various exhibits. There were some great moments – the recovered stained glass memorials to lost airman, Guy Gibson’s VC, a monstrous statue of Keith Park, the Sunderland (a great lump of an aircraft), the grand slam bomb. The Bristol Bulldog was a thing of beauty, but of course has echoes for Graeme and me of Bader’s crash while doing illegal aerobatics. 

There as something for everyone, with lots of young kids having a day out with mum and dad. We were sitting under the cavernous bomb bay of a Vulcan when a five year old sat down next to Sally and Paula. He proceeded to engage them in conversation – ‘do you know what my favourite plane is?’ And so on.

Back to London for a drink at the Grapes (Ian McKellen’s pub, complete with Gandalf’s staff in the very tiny bar), then over to Canary Wharf for what turned out to be chicken and chips with a cordon bleu price. Oh well, off to Portsmouth tomorrow, so an early start. 

I opened up WordPress to start the holiday blog (one day I will get back to the habit of blogging in term time), and discovered that I had two days of unpublished notes from the trip in September with Dom. There will be a reckoning, so I will do the catch-up shortly; however, here we are again at the start of our Winter Holiday.

Just getting here is a bit of a miracle, when we finished work only a week ago and managed a significant clean-up around the house and garden before we left, as well as catching up with family and friends to make up for being missing during January. However, after a lovely breakfast with Mum and Dad, and another of Pat and Lyn’s lunchtime spreads, we were at the airport in good time for the ageing 777 to Singapore. Noise-cancelling headphones can only achieve so much, when so many families are heading to Malaysia and Thailand. On the other hand, the flight from Singapore was in a brand new 777 and was less than half full.

That worked well for me, because I grabbed a row of seats and created a passable bed, so six hours sleep was possible during the long 14-hour flight from Singapore to Heathrow. Paula had no such luck, no matter how hard she tried. We met Graeme and Sally at the end of a long wait for Immigration and wandered over to Limehouse to find our apartment. We have been lucky, in that the place is everything we were promised in the advertising, so our two weeks in London will be comfortable, but it is odd to be back here in such a short time with the weather so different.

Staying with the Selmes is a bit of a hoot and we have made some good plans for the week. Boxing Day was lunch at Canary Wharf – a very subdued place on the Feast of the Protomartyr — followed by the search for the Tesco and a spag bol   dinner (well done, Graeme). Paula gave up at 6 and slept the clock round and the rest of us were not far behind. Sunday saw us walking for more than eight kilometres along the canal and back through Tower Hamlets in a constant drizzle. We will have to do it again on a clear day because the stretch we did was quite tarted up in a nice way, but the canal itself is historic and always interesting with quirky canal boats of all shapes and sizes.

We decided on a quiet one, as not much was open, and went over to Greenwich on the DLR. The Cutty Sark was more interesting the second time around and Paula, Graeme and Sally had not been able to visit it on previous trips. Lunch was at the Gypsy Moth, where we took full advantage of the Sunday Roast (such a great tradition). A wander and a shop was all we needed, as we are still disoriented at the early sunset. It is nice just to sit and read through the evening, but the rest of the week looks rather more active, with trips to the RAF Museum and Portsmouth planned.