Orientation Welcome Remarks at NYU and Coach Tour of London

Saturday, September 3, 2016


I had a more unusual day today than most of mine so far. I awoke, as usual, a little after 6.00 am and began blogging, organizing my research notes and photocopied material, getting set for my trip to Scotland later this week for a conference on Indentured Colonial Labor where I am making a presentation, having breakfast (almost-full English with eggs, sausage and bacon with coffee), then showered, dressed and left the house.

Orientation Welcome Words at NYU-London:

In what seems to be my regular commuting route to NYU’s London campus (bus to Bethnal Green station, Tube to Tottenham Court Road and short jaunt to our building at Bedford Square), I arrived at 11.00 am. Our Dean Fred would be addressing our Freshman based in London for a year and it is always fun to meet some of them.

Fred’s remarks were brief  but powerful and very meaningful–based on NYU’s commitment to diversity. Our NY colleague Beth introduced him and he took off. During the morning, I met my colleagues Brendan, Courtney and Catherine and began to feel more and more at home in what will be my new office environment. We were all done by 12. 00 noon.

Free until 1.30 until the next item on our agenda, I stepped into the Faculty Room to do some photocopying and printing and to check my mail. At 12.45, I left the premises to make my way to the Byron Resident Hall which is near Coram Fields. I could have walked for 15 minutes, but I took a bus down Bloomsbury Street and Theobald’s Road, hopped into another one going north along Gay’s Inn Road, jumped off at Guildford St and found my way to the place where several big coaches were already waiting and our students were ready to board.

Off an a Coach Tour of London with a Blue Badge Guide:

I love coach tours with Blue Badge guides and over the years I have taken many. Each one is different, each guide brings his/her own personality, preferences and prejudices to the commentary, each route varies, each highlight offers something new. This was one of the longest I have ever taken–it lasted 4 hours and involved two short walking stints–one around St. Paul’s Cathedral and one around Westminster Abbey, through and behind Dean’s Yard and over on to the Houses of Parliament.

Needless to say, this is a very significant week to be in London as commemoration events for the Great Fire of London of 1666 are on in full swing in several different venues. There was the fear that roads would be closed and would make travel through the streets difficult for large coaches but we were very lucky. We just escaped the closure at St.Paul’s. Five minutes after we left, all roads in the area were cut off.  There is great anticipation of reveling crowds at events tonight–hence, the precautions.

So here, at random, are some new facts about London that I learned on this tour:.

1. Plane Trees are purifiers. They absorb impurities from the air and keep it clean.  In the process, they become highly toxic themselves and, therefore, you will not find a single bird or squirrel on these trees. They are responsible for limiting wild life in the city which is why they are not being planted anymore although there are thousands of them already all over London.

2. Daniel Radcliff studied at the City of London School just near Wobbly Bridge on the North Side of the Thames.

3. Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Helena Bonham-Carter studied at Westminster School in Dean’s Yard. This was once a school for poor parishioners of Westminster Abbey but it has evolved into one of the city’s most exclusive ‘public’ schools.

4. Harrods was sold about 10 years ago. It no longer belongs to Mohammed Al-Fayyad. At the time of the sale, he wrote a clause into the sales contract, insisting that the little shrine to Diana and Dodi that he created in the basement of the store be retained forever. Hence, it is still there.

6. The basement of Harrods is decorated in Egyptian style as Al-Fayyad hailed from there. The face of the Sphinx that decorates the space is modeled on Fayyad’s.

7. The current population of London in eight and a half million spread out over 612 square miles.

8. Fleet Street is named for the River Fleet that still runs below it (one of the lost rivers of London).

9. When Bloomberg was digging the foundation for his new building near Bank, they found a full haul of archaeological artifacts that stopped the construction for 2 years as archeologists moved in to survey and preserve. The haul will be displayed in a special section in the Museum of London.

10. Wedding cakes are traditionally tiered because a baker liked the look of Wren’s steeple at St. Bride’s Church off Fleet Street and thought it would be a good design for a cake he was commissioned to bake. The idea caught on.

11. The Great Fire of London did not start because lard caught fire but because the baker did not put off all embers on his fire before he went to bed. Figures are disputed about the number that died–they range from seven to seventeen! Still, a very small number when you consider the enormity of the damage.

George Best’s Replica of London, 1666:   

Best part of all for me on the tour was that I got to see the wooden replica of the City of London as it looked in 1666 on the barge on the Thames. The model has been designed and created by the American artist George Best. It was moored on the Embankment where our coach driver took us really close so that we could take pictures of it. It was fantastic. I cannot believe that they are actually going to set it alight tomorrow evening at 6. 30 pm on the Thames and float the barge on the river.

The tour finished at 5. 15pm at which point it began spitting rain. I jumped off at Holborn and right into a No. 25 bus that brought me home. I had eaten my sandwiches during one of the walks, but I was hungry and really tired by the time I opened my front door. I went straight downstairs to the kitchen to make myself some lemony tea and eat a good hunk of coffee walnut cake as my drive to finish up all the food in my fridge continues.

After tea, I watched some TV shows on my laptop–Young Hyacinth by Roy Clarke is fantastic. They seem to have taken the idea from Endeavour (Young Inspector Morse) and are introducing us to her origins. It is so well done and so well acted. To see all her sisters (Rose, Violet, Daisy) in their younger avatars and see her alcoholic Dad–it is very entertaining TV indeed.

For dinner, I had more bits and bobs from my fridge including mixed frozen vegetables–I made a balsamic vinaigrette dressing for them and they are delicious. Ice-cream for dessert finished my meal off as I watch the second episode of Victoria. It is very well done but I do not like the female protagonist–Jenny Colman. I had seen her on stage in New York in Wolf Hall where she had played Anne Boleyn and I had disliked her then. There are several familiar faces: Rufus Sewell plays Lord Melbourne (I have also seen him on the London stage), Peter Bowles of To The Manor Born fame plays The Duke of Wellington, etc. It is excellent historical drama and very well made.

After a long videochat with Llew, I fell asleep at about 11. 30 pm. after what was another lovely day for which I gave thanks.

Until tomorrow, cheerio…

London’s Burning! London’s Burning! And Orientation Lectures at NYU-London

Friday, September 2, 2016


Morning Visitors:

I awoke at 6.15 am (naturally, no alarm, just my body clock) to catch up on writing a blog post–this seems to have fallen into fairly comfortable routine for me. Not much time to do any reading as I had a lecture appointment at NYU. I did make the time to chat with my Dad–a much longer chat than I had anticipated, but all is well in Bombay.

I had a visitor expected at 8. 15 am–The Gas Man Cometh! The problem with the boiler needed to be fixed and I would be letting him in. He arrived on schedule and about 45 minutes later, I was relieved by David who had agreed to wait as long as it took for the gas man to resolve the issue. Accordingly, I organized my brekkie (muesli with honey yoghurt and decaff coffee) and got dressed (no shower because obviously there was no hot water!), doused myself in Freesia perfume by Fragonard and was out the door!

Introductory Lecture/s to London at NYU:

The lectures I wished to attend as part of NYU-London’s Orientation for our new students were at 10.00 am. I took a bus to Bethnal Green station then the Central Line Tube to Tottenham Court Road, then walked along Great Russel Street to find The Congress Center where the lectures would be held. The place was already buzzing with about 200 students but since there were many seats vacant, it was clear to me that one batch hadn’t yet arrived from their resident hall. About half an hour later, they trooped inside and the session began.

I was keen to listen to what the speaker would say on the ‘Introduction to London’ lecture. It is a tall order–introducing London from the Beginnings to Brexit! The Lecturer was Porf. Steve Inwood, who, I later discovered (on chatting with him) had been one of Boris Johnson’s advisers on matters regarding transport for London. He started off by reminding us that we were gathered together to listen to a lecture about London on one of its red-letter days–no pun intended! But today marks exactly 350 years since the Great Fire of London of 1666–a date that I had committed to memory decades ago when studying British History in India. Using Powerpoint, he presented a number of visuals–old maps, modern photographs, etc. to delineate the varied faces of London and the forces that have contributed to its evolution and being. I found some aspects of it quite enlightening although I really did know a lot of what he disclosed.

He was followed by Dr. William (Lez) Henry who spoke about the Black Atlantic presence in London. A visually striking Jamaican-British figure in his dreadlocks, Lez spoke about the arrival on the Empire Windrush in 1952 of the first Jamaican immigrants to the UK–these included his parents–who settled in Brixton and immediately attempted to bring their music and dance traditions to the city. These were roundly rejected as the vicious racism of the 1950s was designed to demean and degrade these hardworking, ambitious people. The rise of the Skinheads worsened this issue when full-blown street warfare began through gangs. As a part of one of the gangs during his growing years, Lez brought first-hand experience to his talk which was fun, entertaining and informative. It is ironic that Reggae, a form of Jamaican music, is among the most popular music genres in the UK today–just as chicken tikka masala is the favorite form of takeout food in the UK today: brought in by the South Asian immigrants who also experienced the same race and color bars in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Overall, it was a very interesting morning and a chance for me to reunite with some of my former New York students from the Stern School of Business who will be spending their Fall semester in London.

Photocopying and Pizza Lunch:

Back at my office at Bedford Square, I attempted to get some photocopying done but discovered that the machine was in hot (no pun intended!) demand and that we had run out of paper. I really ought not to have waited until the eve of school re-opening to do this as every faculty members is in the same boat–desperate to get syllabi printed out. I am surprised that they are still required to photocopy them for students here in London. In New York, in an attempt to Go Green, we merely email students’ syllabi and get them to photocopy individually, if they need to. However, the wait for the copy machine allowed me to meet a few of my new NYU colleagues here in London, Steve (who delivered the lecture), Elia, Marie (a lovely Frenchwoman with a Parisian accent) and her son, Ben ( a very bright little boy).

When I was done, I sauntered over to the Book Fair in a nearby hotel and browsed through the stalls. That when I made a nice discovery!

Registering to Vote from Overseas:

I had felt very disappointed that my position in London would not allow me to vote in the US Elections of 2016: an election that might be historic as it could put a woman for the first time in the White House. Eight years ago, I had not been able to vote for Obama although I was a big supporter of him because I was in London when the US election took place.

So, imagine my delight when I found that one of the stalls was run by three women who were registering absentee American overseas citizens as potential voters. They did everything: They gave me a form, looked up the address of the Town Clerk in Connecticut to whom I ought to mail it, even sold me a stamp for 1.33 pounds to pop it into a British post-box. I was simply delighted and lost no time in going through the formalities. Sooner or later, I will receive my ballot sheet in the mail and can send out my vote! Now, of course, I will have to sit and think: who is the less horrible of the two candidates–Trump or Clinton? Hmmm…on that score, I don’t think I will need too long of a think!

Finding out that there was tons of pizza in the dining hall next door, I popped in and ate probably the worst pizza I have ever eaten in my life. It made me dreadfully homesick for good New York pizza dripping with good quality, tasty tomato sauce and really gooey mozzarella cheese. Good chocolate Ice-cream and good Pizza–those are two of the things I so wish I could find in London!

Off to the Holborn Library:

My next port of call was the Holborn Library on Theobald’s Road where I used to have a membership when I lived there. Since it had lapsed for want of renewal, I decided to go back there and reinstate it. It had been the source of all the leisure-time reading I had done when I had last lived in London (almost the entire Harry Potter series, for instance, which I had read then). It was done online and before long, I was presented with my membership card. I browsed through the stacks, did not find a paperback I could pick up and did not want to carry around the weight of a hardbound volume. I will go back again when I have some more leisure to pick something out.

On the Bus to the National Portrait Gallery:

It was about 3.00 pm, by the time I arrived at he National Portrait Gallery to continue my survey of the Victorians. I was pleased to find a portrait of Sir Charles Barry, architect of the Houses of Parliament and Highclere Castle (setting for Downton Abbey) as I had no idea what he looked like although his name has so often come up recently. I also found a portrait of a 19th century cricketer that I photographed for my friend Bash. It is nice to have free wifi in these big museums. When I finished with the 19th century, I stopped as I decided to do the 20th in one go–if time permits, tomorrow.

Journey To and Research at the Library:

I was headed next to the Library at Queen Mary College to continue my work on Elizabeth Buettner’s book; but this time I made sure I stepped into the café to eat a snack and order a cup of tea first. I did not want to leave the library early when hunger pangs beckoned. And was I glad I did!

So I took the Northern Line from Charing Cross Station, switched into the District Line at Embankment, then took a bus for 2 stops to the college on Mile End Road. It was about 6.00 pm when I arrived at my favorite seat in the library. In a week or two, it will be much more crowded as college classes begin. For the moment, it is still a pleasure to sit in my carrel and take notes. I made steady progress but when the library closed at 7. 30, I left–thankfully, I was not hungry at all.

On the Bus to the Thames:

It was actually while I was seated on the No. 25 bus to get home that I made the lightning decision to do something that would mark the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire. I was not sure exactly what I ought to do. So I played a guessing game. Surely there would be something on at The Monument–designed by Wren and erected to mark the horrible occurrence.

So I switched into a No. 15 bus that would get me there. When I got off, there was absolutely nothing and no one at the Monument except for a few pub revelers. Not to be daunted, I walked along London Bridge (which had also been burned in the fire) to arrive at the center of it. But for the fantastic illumination of Tower Bridge and the Shard that made for good photo ops, there was nothing to be seen. I really ought to have Googled it first to find out what was going on where–as there simply HAD to be something.

Great Fire 350 Commemoration on the South Bank:

I walked back to Poultry, hopped into a No. 11 bus that was headed towards The Tower of London and decided to get off at Wobbly Bridge. Surely there would be something going on there! It was a lovely late summer’s night and although there was a slight spritz of a drizzle, it passed off quickly. I was grateful for my fleece as it kept me nice and comfortable.

At St. Paul’s Churchyard, I got off and oh my goodness! Crowds heading towards Wobbly Bridge convinced me that something was going on. I hurried forward without looking around me and it was not until I was right in the middle of it that I looked back and found that the dome of St. Paul’s was ablaze–yes, a fantastic light projection show circulated flames in varying colors that moved around the dome and filled one with horror. The rest of the building, usually beautifully lit all night long, was kept in complete darkness. It was totally eerie.

By the time I arrived at the middle of the bridge, I could see hoops of fire over on the South Bank right outside the Tate Modern. And as I hurried forward, I could smell fire and burning and it was the first horror I truly felt of the gravity of the terrible tragedy that befell the city.

Totally Thames Festival:

But first, in the Thames, anchored just below the Millennium Bridge (the real name of the bridge), I spied the lit cube with the Korean man posed on it. It is a seven meter high illuminated cube floating on a pontoon on the Thames and containing sketches by Korean refugees who made London their home. Created by Korean artist Ik-Joong Kang, it is part of the Totally Thames Festival which will go on till Sunday. I took a few pictures of it and moved on as it was getting later and I feel compelled to get home as soon as I can.

Becoming a Part of the Fire Garden Outside the Thames:

Hurrying along with my camera at the ready, I took the foot passage to the South Bank and arrived at a most awesome sight. The area outside the Tate Modern was converted into a Fire Garden with hanging baskets, terracotta pots placed in formative loops, hoops, etc. But instead of being filled with flowers or plants, they were entirely filled with hot burning coals! The heat, the smell of burning fuel, the sizzling, crackling sounds made as they burned, the shooting off showers of tiny flames, was all so hideous and so evocative of what had happened 350 years ago that I was deeply affected.

London’s Great Fire of 1666:

So here is what happened: In the early hours of September 2, 1666, a fire broke out in Pudding Lane in The City of London when hot lard used in baking bread was set aflame. The female servant who became aware of it while it was still manageable went to alert her boss who lay asleep with his wife. He was so panic-stricken, he roused his wife and they ran as far away as they could. The poor maid was one of the 14 people who died: a rather tiny number if you consider what damage and destruction was caused during the next four days that the fire raged.

First of all, London was built entirely of timber in the 17th century. A vicious wind egged the flames on and within no time at all, the entire square mile that comprised The City was ablaze. People scurried away to the river which offered the only form of refuge. We know much about the Great Fire through the pen of Samuel Pepys, the diarist who climbed to the steeple of All Hallows at the Tower Church to watch the spectacle. By the time the fire was quelled, the entire City lay in ashes.

It provided an opportunity to rebuild the City under the stewardship of Sir Christopher Wren who used stone and turned immediately to the churches creating his masterpiece–St. Paul’s Cathedral–and it got rid of the rats that had carried the bubonic plague that for centuries had regularly decimated the population.

The City of London that survives today is not too far different from the way it looked in the early 1700s after Wren had accomplished his miracle. Of course, there is no telling how long this landscape will last as The City is being altered almost beyond recognition by the 21st century frenzy of development that is giving us modern icons such as the Gherkin and the Cheese Grater!

Participation in the Event:

I listened to some of the live music that was being presented by musicians in cages surrounded by burning coals. I needed to rest my feet a bit so I squatted on the grass and listened to the extremely plaintive mourning music they produced. I took many pictures of the installations in wrought iron that produced the fire and the heat. It gave me an idea of what it might have been like to try to escape the fire by jumping into the Thames–but what if you could not swim? I wondered.

At about 9. 30 pm (really much later than I had desired to stay out), I crossed the Thames again on Wobbly Bridge and jumped into a bus heading to the East End. This afforded me the opportunity to get some really good pictures of the burning dome of St. Paul’s. About ten minutes later, I was changing into another bus outside Liverpool Street Station–by this time I was hungry, so I pulled my sandwiches out of my bag and ate them on the top deck of the bus that came swiftly along.

By 10.00 pm, I was inside my house and sitting down with a mug of ice-cream–mugs because there are no bowls in this house (the bowls here are more like large soup plates–not the best for ice-cream or other desserts).

On A Videochat with Llew:

I ended my day with a long videochat with Llew who had a routine colonoscopy that morning with our favorite surgeon. Our American friend Susan, who had driven Llew to the hospital and back for his surgery,  had been in touch with me all day to keep me informed on how he was doing. He looked and sounded fine and none the worse for his medical escapade. With the long Labor Day Weekend looming in the States, he has three days to make a good recovery and to take it easy. I told him all about my experiences with the South Bank Great Fire commemoration and he was very pleased that I braved the late night to go out and do something significant to mark the day.

At 11.30, after catching up with email, I got ready for bed but it was after midnight when I switched off the light.

Until tomorrow, cheerio….

New London Architecture Museum, Reunion with NYU-L Colleagues, Research at Queen Mary Library

Thursday, September 1, 2016


Waking up in Battersea:

Although I had one of the most comfortable nights (with a fan in my room!) in a month, I did awake very early in my friend Roz’s guest room on the third floor of her lovely home in Battersea. The railway line that passes right behind her house brought sounds into my room that I actually find quite romantic: train journeys always conjure for me the sense of exiting, exotic travel probably because I did so much of it across the length and breath of India with my parents during my growing years.

Awake at 4. 30 am, I began re-reading On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan that I found on Roz’s shelf. It is a truly astounding novel: how much McEwan is able to convey with the sheer economy of a few, well-chosen words. I was able to see in my mind’s eye, the vast expanse of broad Chesil Beach–all 18 miles of it and of the pretty Dorset coast. I realize also that since more of the book is set in Oxford, it is really an Oxford novel. And so, of course, I could visualize every aspect of that lovely university town that I so adore and which I am looking forward to treading all over again next week.

A shower soon followed: it is funny how little things like this make you realize how much you miss your own home. Roz’s shower was fat, voluminous and, therefore, luxurious–such a far cry from the spindly jets of water under which I have been bathing is a cramped bath-tub. It made me long for my rain-shower at home in Southport that I had Llew install for me because I love a generous flow. It is a good job I had a shower at Roz’s as the gas man is still tinkering with the boiler out here and for yet another day, there is to be no hot water. Still, I know that everyone is working hard to address the issue–so it will not be long now before normality in resumed.

Brekkie followed with Roz–such a joy to have company to eat a meal! See? These are the little things one misses when one lives alone. We had granola and cereal and really good decaff coffee–I must remind her to tell me what coffee she used (I am not entirely pleased with the Lavazza decaff I have bought here).Her partner, Christie, joined us a little later for a natter and at 8. 45, both Roz and I left together to take the bus to Vauxhall from where we took the Tube to Victoria. She carried on to work at King’s Cross and I switched to the District Line to get home by 10.00 am.

Home Again:

Back home, I began drafting my monthly newsletter and a blog post and dealing with some email correspondence when I heard the sounds of the cleaner Eve who had arrived with her husband David to do the house. It was an opportunity to meet them and chat with the two of them–they were wonderfully friendly and David was very chatty indeed!

By 1.oopm, I went down and fixed myself one tongue and one peanut butter open sandwich with a cup of soup which I ate as I began watching Victoria, the new ITV series that my friends Michael and Cynthia and Roz and Christie had watched when it had been screened here in the UK, two days ago. I did not realize that I could pick it up on my computer, so it was a lovely surprise to be able to catch up with it (as indeed with a lot of new BBC TV shows such as Porridge and Fleabag that I am enjoying before I get to bed).

Off to the New London Architecture Museum:

Since it is Orientation Week at NYU, I have a couple of meetings there and some lectures that I would like to attend. I also had some printing to do in my office, so I decided to find a museum that was close to campus.  I have a list of 50 Museums in London that I am trying to get through gradually (most of which I have now seen); so today I decided to spend the afternoon in Bloomsbury at the New London Architecture Museum which is on Store Street just one block from my campus at NYU.

So I took a bus to Bethnal Green station and the Central Line Tube to Tottenham Court Road. From there, I took a bus for just one stop (I am trying to avoid walking and standing as much as possible after all) and arrived at the Museum by 2.30 pm. I did not know what to expect, but I was delighted by two exhibits. Most of the museum is given to a showcasing of the kind of materials that are available today for home and commercial building: tiles, flooring, roofing, heating, cooling–that sort of thing. But there is one permanent exhibit there that is astounding and makes the museum a Must Visit for anyone who loves maps or spatial surveying.

In the New London Architecture Museum:

The outstanding display here is the vast 1:2000 scale reproduction of the entire city of London. I know that my friends often poke fun of my ability to discern the exact location over which I am flying when we are touching down at Heathrow airport. Well, it is my passion for surveying places from great heights that made this exhibit really fascinating to me. As you view the model, you feel as if you are thousands of feet up in the air looking down upon the city. The Thames snakes through it, offering perspective and exact location. Major skyscrapers including the newest ones such as The Shard, the Gherkin, the Walkie-Talkie and the Cheese Grater, are all included as is the Millennium Dome in Greenwich, the concrete jungle of Canary Wharf, the London Eye and the new Olympics Park with the Acelor Mittal Slide. On the river, there are all the bridges, including Tower Bridge and then the Thames Barrier. Every park is beautifully delineated. Tube stations and major trunk roads are likewise marked. I took so many pictures because I was able to pin point the locations exactly my former home at Holborn and my current home at Bethnal Green. It was simply amazing!

The rest of the exhibits on this floor dealt with the massive new construction that is completely altering the skyline and the face of the city. There was a fabulous installation on the new Elizabeth Tube Line and on the Cross Rail that is going to connect the outer peripheral areas such as Harrow and Ealing with Central London in 15 minutes flat! I mean, this is what is meant by intelligent and sustainable urban planning. I loved every second of it. Already, I am able to see what the closure of Tottenham Court Road Tube station for two years has done: the station is now open and it is spiffy and bright with stainless steel walls, brand new escalators, superb new lighting. The creation of Canary Wharf as the new financial hub is further proof of what great architects can do for and to a city. Similarly, as it turns out, right now Ealing Broadway station is under refurbishment. I can just imagine what the end result will be–all this became evident to me at this museum to which I would urge everyone to see.

Viewing the work of ‘Capability’ Brown:

The museum had one more lovely exhibit on the lower basement floor: A Tribute to the great landscape architect, Sir Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. Having been an admirer of this designer for years and having traversed with great pleasure so many of the outdoor areas that are a result of his vision such as Blenheim Park in Woodstock, the parks and gardens of Highclere Castle (of Downton Abbey fame) and St. James’ Park, here in London, I fully understand his aesthetic. The exhibit is filled with beautiful pictures of the parks he designed, the concept of the ‘ha-ha’ that he created to demarcate planted gardens from natural park land and other such aspects of his designing philosophy to which I have been exposed (pun unintended) for a very long time. Hence, I thoroughly enjoyed perusing this exhibit at leisure as I paused to read curatorial notes as well as ponderings from the pen of Brown.

Work at NYU Campus:

By 3.00 pm, I was in my office at NYU and since classes begin next week, suddenly there is a flurry of activity around what were really quiet corridors for the entire month of August. I was absolutely delighted to re-unite with some of my English colleagues whom I remember well from the time when I had taught here: Matt and Hagai and others who were not only surprised that I recognized them but that I remember their names! They were warm in their welcome and seemed really delighted to know that I will be in their midst again. They personally introduced me and gave me a tour of the new buildings we have added to our campus by renting the two adjoining houses on Bedford Square and the ways and means by which I can get speedily from one part of the building to the next. Hagai also took me to a new faculty lounge that is available for use if the original one is too busy. Wow, there really are so many spatial changes in eight years!

I got my printing done, reviewed some material on which I was supposed to comment and left at 4. 30 pm.

On the Tube to Queen Mary College Library:

I walked back to Tottenham Court Road Tube station and jumped on to the Northern Line to Embankment where I changed to the District Line that brought me to Stepney Green station. From there, I took the 205 bus for 2 stops to Queen Mary College Library.

Since the Library only closes at 7.30pm, I was my intention to spend the rest of the evening reading and researching in my favorite corner of it. I found the book I wanted and got started with Elizabeth Buettner’s account of trans-continental imperial travels which completely absorbed me. I would have liked to stay right until 7. 30 pm, but my stomach began growling with hunger until I could ignore it no longer. So, at 7.00 pm, after having accomplished a substantial amount, I left the library and because I had a sudden craving for chocolate ice-cream (I really do miss good American ice-cream when I am in London) I stepped into Sainsbury Local and picked up Chocolate Fudge Brownie Ice-Cream from Ben and Jerry.

I stood for the bus to get home and realized after 10 minutes that something was wrong: all buses were on diversion and none came by. So, I walked home–it took me precisely 7 minutes–and within no time I was fixing myself dinner: cheese scone with salmon cream cheese, a selection of cheeses (cheddar and blue), pork sausages and soup. Since I have just a week left before I leave for Scotland, I am now at a stage when I am trying to finish up everything in my fridge in order to clear it out. Odds and ends will, therefore, comprise my next few meals.  And for dessert? Why, my ice-cream, of course, which was like nectar from the Gods!

I continued watching Victoria and finished the first episode by the time I fell asleep after what had been another very fruitful day for me. With Orientation activity on this week at NYU, I have a lecture to attend in the morning, more museum scouring and more research planned for tomorrow.

Until tomorrow, cheerio…

Catch-Up Morning, London Buddhist Center, Chinese Dinner with Bombay Friends

Monday,  August 29, 2016


It is Bank Holiday Monday and while the rest of the country (certainly the city) seems to be in Party Mood (it is also the weekend of the city’s biggest party, the Notting Hill Carnival), I stayed home determined to give my feet some rest. Ordinarily, I would have been rejoicing that I was in London for the Carnival as it was an experience I had always wanted; but when, a few years ago, I did have a chance to get there, I couldn’t wait to get out. The crowds, the heat and the noise–so many deafening steel drums–had made me want to turn and run right back. I can see that it would be a fun activity in company or if you were a youngster. Alone and at my stage in life…I don’t know.

Tomorrow will make exactly a month since I arrived in this city and I have never really stopped. Little wonder my feet are giving out warning signals–ones I am religiously heeding as I do not intend to replay my miseries of all those years ago.

A Home-Bound Morning:

So, true to form, I awake stretching–both in bed itself, by hanging down stairs and against a wall. I recall every exercise I was taught to do then and I am doing them now because the US has taught me about preventative care. So far so good. I am no longer walking for pleasure. I take public transport as much as I can (Tube and buses) and I sit at every opportunity–even in museums on a stool. It seems to be working…fingers crossed.

Up at 6.00 am, I decided to make productive use of every minute I intended to spend at home. So I did laundry, I put my clothes to dry (old-fashioned  ‘airers’), wrote a blog post, made myself some breakfast (coffee with muesli and yoghurt) and showered and shampooed my hair as well as attended to a few personal grooming tasks. While my hair dried, I began work on my Powerpoint presentation for my appearance in Scotland soon. I got stuck trying to transfer some pictures but my friend Murali came to my rescue. Staying with me on the phone, he walked me through the basic process and voila! I solved my problem and am now well into getting the presentation done. Thanks pal!

Most of the morning passed in this fashion. I chatted with my Dad, I was contacted by my friend Bina who wanted to know if I was free to join herself and her husband for dinner that evening (was I just???) and I went through a lot of my accumulated paper to get rid of that which I did not want to keep. And when it rains, it pours. One of my relatives Joel called to tell me he had a doctor’s appointment at Euston and wondered if I would be free to have lunch with him tomorrow in one of the Indian eateries on Drummond Street. Of course I was! Now that I have a handle on my movements for the next couple of days and as I prepare myself for Orientation at NYU where I shall make an appearance as well as take possession of my office keys, I feel much at ease. Llew’s lovely roses are still blooming on my desk right opposite my bed and viewing them makes me feel close to home and to him.

Lunch at the London Buddhist Center:

By lunch-time, I had cabin fever and had to get out. The weather has cooled considerably and my bedroom is now comfortable again, temperature-wise, during the day. I threw the curtains and window open, tried to ignore the street sounds–mainly occasional passing buses or trucks and juvenile drivers blasting ‘house’ music in their cars to show off and draw attention. It was time to get out and since I had not yet explored the London Buddhist Center that is literally at the end of the road on which I live, I decided to check it out. Accordingly, I made myself a tongue sandwich, packed up a couple of cookies and carried my lunch with me. I thought that if I found a quiet spot in the center, I could eat my lunch with company around rather than alone in my garden–it is pleasant enough now during the day to sit outside in the garden although I am not a fan of sitting in the sun and would definitely prefer some shade. I did hop on a bus for two stops , got off at the corner and walked to the deceptively hidden entrance to the Center.

Inside, I was in an oasis of peace, quiet and calm–exactly what you would expect from a Buddhist Center. I was welcomed warmly–my brown skin always leads people to believe I am either a Hindu or, in this case, a Buddhist. There is a red lotus on the gate, a prayer wheel, several prayer flags fluttering in the breeze in a courtyard garden filled with potted flowers and a soothing fountain. I was told to leave my shoes at the door and then allowed to wander around. I browsed through the small book shop that sells prayer beads and other tiny items in addition to books, picked up a couple of their programs for the upcoming months as well as a copy of their magazine, drifted out into their meditation room (the lunch time meditation session was just over) where walk-ins are welcome to join. I asked where the café was and was told about The Cherry Tree Café that is adjoining the Center but you need to leave it and turn left. Although it is not run by the Center, it is a vegetarian eatery with quite reasonable prices. But since I did have my own lunch with me, I returned to the Center and in the courtyard with the fountain lilting softly besides me, I read the Buddhist magazine I picked up and munched my lunch. It was a quiet, peaceful, very solitary experience that was deeply gratifying, for some odd reason.

Back Home and Off to the London Eye:

Back home, I took a very short nap and apped my brother Roger who needed some advice from me on buying someone a gift. When I felt ready to leave (I gave myself an hour), I decided to use public transport to go on a sight-seeing tour of London–mainly of bits of it that I have not yet explored. So consulting my bus map, I found a way to get to the London Eye Booking Office (our appointed spot) and left the house. I hopped into the Tube, got off at Tower Hill, found the RV1 bus-stop tucked in a little side street and was off. I thought it would take no longer than 10 minutes to get there. On the contrary, the bus ride was one of the longest I ever took–but, as desired, it passed through areas, south of the river, that I had never seen. And boy, was I amazed by the gentrification of areas like Southwark and Bermondsey that just ten years ago were really deprived neighborhoods filled with dark antiques shops. Today, everything is hipness at its most conspicuous. There are construction site cranes at every corner filling that part of London with glass and concrete skyscrapers to rival Dubai’s. There are coffee sops and wine bars replacing the traditional pub, there are blocks and blocks of spiffy new boutique apartments for yuppies who are eager to live within spitting distance of all the action –and I can understand why! I was fully amazed and quite delighted by my impromptu sightseeing expedition.

Meeting Friends at the London Eye:

About half an hour later, the bus dropped me at the back of the National Theater–stop for those wanting to get to the London Eye. My friend Bina and her husband Navin were set to meet me there at 6.00 pm. I climbed up the steps that took me to the Embankment on the South Bank and in a few minutes, I found the Booking Office. The crowds were simply unbelievable, but I reveled in them–living the solitary life here in London makes me crave the company of people–any people, even strangers. And the Bank Holiday spirit was everywhere. Not just was this area flooded with tourists, but here were local Londoners as well enjoying the evening (it was delightfully cool and devoid of the clammy humidity that made the past few days so uncomfortable). Pavement restaurants were buzzing, cold drinks were consumed liberally, the London Eye was humming as throngs queued up to experience the thrill of seeing London several hundred feet below them.

Soon Bina and I connected, hugged, kissed, shrieked with pleasure and walked towards Navin who was waiting a few feet away. Bina and I go back ages having been childhood friends and classmates in Bombay. They live near Harrow and thought of spending the day with a relative in London before hooking up with me for dinner. We spent one hour gabbing away on the Embankment on a bench slightly away from the milling crowds and caught up. It was such a pleasure to talk about my month in London, to tell them about my plans going forward, to hear about their own doings and the happenings in their family. Indeed, there was a lot to talk about.

Dinner at Zen China Restaurant on the Embankment:

An hour later, when it was close to the time of our 7.00 pm reservation, we walked a few meters forward to our restaurant–Zen China, a Chinese place with an enviable location. From the table at which we were seated, I had a brilliant view of Westminster Bridge, The Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. And, as the evening darkened, the lights came on and shimmered in multiple hues upon the Thames. It could not have been a more beautiful location. As someone who never goes into restaurants when I live alone, I do miss eating out–there are only so many sandwiches you can relish alone!

So, when I ordered a G&T and we ate prawn shumai and sesame toast for starters, I felt blissful. Here I was in the fond company of folks I have known for almost as long as I can remember, talking about people who are dear to all our hearts, pausing to read and select from an enticing menu and giving ourselves up to the leisure that only a long weekend can provide. In the end, we ordered Hot and Sour Soup followed by Noodles with Chicken and Sizzling Chicken with Black Bean Sauce. Everything was delicious but made more fun by the rarity of the occasions on which I meet these beloved friends.

Pictures by the Embankment and Ride Home:

It was dark by the time we left the restaurant for we had ourselves a very unhurried meal. I started to get concerned about getting home late–I still have fears about walking alone in the dark in my neighborhood which is a good five minutes away from the Tube station. Still, we made time to take a few pictures as the London Eye was lit up a vivid red and Big Ben was superbly lit too. London By Night is a sheer delight to the senses–not just the eye but the ear as well. Traffic noises have ceased by this hour and sounds of human excitement take over. It is all about the Selfie here and dozens of people pose themselves against the iconic landmarks of an ancient and deeply historic city. On Westminster Bridge, Bina and I recalled taking a picture almost thirty years ago! Where have the years gone? We still feel as young and light-hearted as we were then.

At Westminster Tube station, we parted: they took the Jubilee Line to Harrow and I took the District Line going eastwards. It was about 9. 45 pm when I got into the train and within seconds became aware of a delay as a person took ill on the train. We were held up for about 15 minutes while the paramedics got to the scene and lifted the patient bodily out of the compartment.  The train then went through and by the time I arrived home in was 10.30 pm–not my favorite hour to be returning from anywhere. I  hurried home, prepared for bed, brushed and flossed my teeth and went straight to bed. And so ended another nice day in London.

Until tomorrow, cheerio…



Mass at Brompton Oratory, Museum-Hopping and Drink with Colleague

Sunday, August 28, 2016


Unbelievable that tomorrow will make a month since I arrived in this city! But then I think of how much I have covered, how much has been accomplished and I feel as if I have been here forever. Awaking at 6.30 am, I had the time to write a blog post before having a full English brekkie, making myself a blue cheese sandwich and heading out the door.

Off to the Brompton Oratory for Mass:

Having checked the website last night, I found out that Mass at the Catholic Brompton Oratory in Kensington was at 10.00 am. So at 9.15 am, I stepped out. Bethnal Green had stirred by this time and there were a few people going about their business on the road. I hopped into a District Line train (which has to be the slowest line on the entire Tube system as the train makes its way sluggishly through the tunnels no matter the time of day on this line as opposed to hurtling through as it does on the others). At 9. 50, I arrived at South Kensington Station and a few minutes later, after a brisk five minute walk towards Cromwell Road, I arrived at the church.

Mass at the Brompton Oratory:

The Brompton Oratory is Catholic London’s response to the Anglican St. Paul’s Cathedral.  I love this church. It is a grand affair, both inside and out. Multi-domed, it has commanding Neo-Classical pillars that draw you inside to a wide, high porch and then into a gorgeous church built in the grand Italian high Baroque style with more cupolas, domes and gilded pillars, a wealth of sculptural saints, numerous side chapels and a High Altar that remains in the pre-Vatican II position, i.e. up against a wall so that a priest turns his back to the congregation as he celebrates Mass. One Easter, a few years ago, Llew and I had attended the 11.00 am service which is still in High Latin with a full choir, incense, the whole shebang! This time, there were about 200 people in the church many of whom were French Catholics  (as I could tell from their conversation at the end of Mass)–which is understandable as ‘South Ken’ is Little Paris (for some reason, French expatriates in London have congregated in this vicinity). Hence, their patronage of this church.

The priest was rather uptight, I thought, for being so young. But then it is probably the solemnity of his surroundings that affect his demeanor. His sermon was very good though, I have to say. You kneel at the rails to receive Communion, so it is all very old-fashioned. Sadly, there was no music as the full choir makes an appearance at the following Mass.

When I emerged from the church about an hour later, it was drizzling–typical English weather–fair one minute, foul the other. Luckily, the porch provided wide shelter and encouraged socializing–which was when I heard all the French around me. But in five minutes, the shower passed and I pushed on ahead with my plan for the day–which was to attend the special exhibition entitled ‘Curtains Up’ that will be closing shortly, at the next-door Victoria and Albert Museum–so five minutes later, in I was.

‘Curtains Up’ at the V&A:

As its name suggests, ‘Curtains Up’ is a special exhibition on show biz created to celebrate the entertainment traditions of London’s West End and New York’s Broadway. It is on the second floor of the museum, past one of my favorite sections in the museum–the Jewelry collection. Inside, the space is transformed into a dark theater–you are supposed to imagine that you are inside it throughout the exhibition. And it was wonderful! Through costumes, playbills, real awards (Oscar, Emmy, Tony and BAFTA), posters, photographs, letters and recordings, we were taken through the glitz and glitter of that dramatic world. I saw original costumes worn by the likes of Michael Crawford (in the original Phantom of the Opera both at the West End and on Broadway), by Elton John, by Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Laurence Olivier. There were video snippets from some plays that you could watch, recordings to which you could listen with accompanying ear-phones, a whole cubical section reproducing the set of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, loads of props from varied shows, operas, musicals– including The Lion King. For any aficionado of the stage or screen, this is heaven.

I spent about an hour and a half at this special exhibit, then at 12. 30 pm, I made my way back downstairs to the lobby to await the guide for the Introductory Tour. There, since I was a few minutes early, I began chatting with an Indian couple from Northampton–he, Sachin, turned out to be a museum aficionado with memberships at many London museums, and she, Rukmini, turned out to have had Plantar Fasciitis when she was visiting New York, a few years ago. She fully understood my need to find a stool that would accompany me on the tour.

An Introductory Tour of the V&A:

I have taken this tour so often over the years that I am now pretty sure I can give it myself! Still, there are always new things to see because new objects are always added to the collection–so I hoped to be introduced to something quite spectacular on this tour. About twenty people had gathered for it and we made a jolly lot as we took off. During the course of her tour, the guide Marilyn Larsen, took us to the following objects:

  1. The Raphael Cartoon Room: Every HL Tour covers this room as it is truly a treasure. Seven full-length paintings or ‘cartoons’ (two of which are done entirely by Raphael and five by his assistants) cover the walls of a large dimly-lit gallery. They were meant to be the models from which tapestry-weavers would create tapestries of the same size–based on the lives of St. Peter and St. Paul.  Six tapestries  are in the Vatican Museum (Llew and I had seen them when we were there, a few years ago), one is actually on the wall in this gallery, exactly opposite its mirror image in the painting. Marilyn informed us that a few years ago when Pope John Paul II had visited the Museum, the tapestries were moved from the Vatican to the V&A temporarily–it was the only time the entire set of cartoons  and tapestries were ever united and she is sure it will never happen again.
  2. Chinese Vase: This is neither old nor perfect–so visitors are encouraged to touch it to feel the imperfections.
  3. Porcelain Tea Cups by Philip Lin: I am not sure I got his name right but this is a modern Chinese-British ceramist whose tea cups feature tiny hands creating a mudra or gesture that stands for good luck. The work is so fine and so delicate that Queen Elizabeth is reputed to have given entire tea sets as diplomatic gifts to visiting dignitaries.
  4. Bodhisatva Guanyin: A massive wooden seated figure from China, once fully gilded.
  5. The Garden: She took us out into the garden at precisely the point where it started drizzling again–so in we came! There is a large sculptural pavilion in the garden right now–an installation from engineers in Stuttgart in Germany. Called the Elythra Pavillion Installation, it is reminiscent of beetles and is made entirely by robots. However, we merely looked at it and had to leave as a result of the rain–which was gone five minutes later. Like I said, typical English weather today!
  6. ‘Scandal’ Sculpture by Charles Sargent Jagger:  Commissioned by Henry Mond for his London home . It is meant to be placed above a fireplace in Art Nouveau style. It features a nude man and woman and supposedly caused a  scandal when it was revealed. It is accompanied by a fire basket–all made of pewter.
  7. Sculptures by Rodin and Painting of the Sculptor: We walked through the Sculpture Gallery where she pointed out two pieces by Rodin–John the Baptist Preaching and One of the male characters on the Gates of Hell. Accompanying  that section is a painting of Rodin by the English portraitist, John Lavery. Since Rodin gave many of this works to the museum, this painting represents Anglo-French artistic collaboration.
  8. Central Chandelier by Dale Chihuly: The tour ended in the main lobby with an examination of the lovely chameuse and lemon chandelier by Chihuly, my favorite glass artist of all time and a fellow-American based in Takoma, Washington, outside of Seattle. What she didn’t tell us is that Chihuly chose the colors based on the Victorian window panes that were made in the same pastel colors (I had learned this from another guide on another tour). She did tell us that the dome is inspected regularly to make sure it can still bear the weight, that it is cleaned once a year when the entire lobby is kept out of bounds for a couple of days and that it is on long-term loan from Chihuly. She also said that his work is so valuable that if one of the prongs should ever fall off, the museum will manually break it to pieces to ensure that no one person can make a lot of money from it!
  9. Victorian Wedding Dress: In the Costume section (which I really do want to go back to see in detail), Marilyn took us to see a Victorian wedding dress. I learned that it was not until the wedding of Queen Victoria that brides wore white. She, being short, decided to wear a white dress at her wedding to Prince Albert–and ever since then she set the trend for bridal white. So it has nothing to do with purity or chastity or virginity. White dresses are worn just because Victoria was too small-made and thought that she would stand out better in a white dress when surrounded by all those male courtiers. Because she also worn an orange blossom wreath, brides have worn wreaths and veils since then!
  10. Tipu’s Tiger: No HL tour at the V&A is ever complete without this item. It is a wooden music box in the form of a tiger leaning over a British soldier and mauling him to death. When the handle on the box is turned (now much too fragile to be used), the tiger roars and the soldier shrieks. It was said to be made for Mysore’s Tipu Sultan in the last years of the 1700s just before Tipu was vanquished by the British in the Battle of Seringapatnam.  It is the most popular item in the museum–for obvious reasons.

And that, as I can remember the tour, was it. Did I see anything new? Yes, the tea cups and the wedding dress. But it is always fun to take a guided tour in a museum as I like to see if I can get any tips on how to make my tours at the Metropolitan Museum of Art any better. And, of course, there is always something new to learn and appreciate on a tour with a new guide.

When the tour was done, I took my stool with me and went off to the Gamble Dining Room to eat my sandwich and have a cup of coffee.  While there, I was joined at my table by another single female museum visitor called Suzanne which whom I had a lovely chat. We talked about our fondness for museums, for visiting them alone (so that we can see what we like and stay as long or as little as we want) and about some venues that I can explore (and of which I have never heard) such as the William Morris Gallery on the East Side where I live.

While I was chatting with Suzanne, I received a call from my NYU colleague Brendan wondering if we could meet for a drink. He was headed to the National Gallery to see the Painter’s Paintings exhibition and I wanted to continue my tour of the National Portrait Gallery. I told him we could meet for a drink at 6.00 pm. which would work perfectly for me as I could run one more errand in Hammersmith.

On the Bus to Hammersmith for Bus Route Maps:

So, ten minutes later, I was on a bus to Hammersmith Bus Depot because I needed to pick up bus maps for Central, East and West London. The ones I have are so well used that they are breaking apart and I need to keep some for my London file. After I obtained them from the Information Kiosk, I sat on a return bus only hopping off for half an hour at Kensington High Street to browse through the thrift stores there. And I found the DVDs of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, both Parts 1 and 2 in an Octavia shop! I was thrilled. Now my Harry Potter series of DVDs is complete and I am learning that if it is British films I want to add to my collection at home, London’s thrift stores is what I should be scouring. Across the street was Geranium, a place with wonderful vintage jewelry in the window…but as it was near closing time, I did not have much of a chance to browse.

On the Bus again to the National Portrait Gallery, I got off at Trafalgar Square and walked along. I got myself a stool and returned to Gallery 18 and for the next hour, I completed my tour of the second floor. When next I get there, I shall start the Twentieth Century. I believe it will take me roughly two sessions to go over that museum and then turn to the Tates–London and Modern.

 A Drink with an NYU Colleague:

Meanwhile, as the hands on the clock at St. Martin’s In the Field Church crept to 6.00 pm, I made my way to the entrance of the National Gallery to meet Brendan.  It was so great to see him again. He will be spending this coming academic year teaching at London–a position I once held a few years ago. We decided to go and get a beer and as we walked towards Leicester Square on an evening that was teeming with tourists enjoying the lovely coolness of a summer’s evening after intermittent spells of rain, we found a pub called The Porcupine on Shaftesbury Road. In no time at all, I was nursing my Guinness and exchanging news and views with m’coll–and about 7. 30 pm, we thought it was time to depart. We walked to the Tube station together and made plans to meet next week during Orientation at NYU.

Dinner and TV and Bed:

I reached home at 8.00 pm, had a shower, put my dinner together and sat down to watch Making a Murderer–next episode.  Thankfully, I still have some entertainment at my finger tips, due to my laptop computer. And by 10.30 pm, with a very brief conversation with Llew (as I was both sleepy and tired), I fell asleep.

Until tomorrow, cheerio…

A Lonely Wedding Anniversary–Saved by Roses, Friend and Trans-Atlantic Communication

Saturday, August 27, 2016


As I have already expressed, I am feeling far more lonely this time round in London than I ever did before on the many occasions I have lived alone here. It must have to do with the fact that I live in a house (not a flat) with no known neighbors in a vicinity to which I have never really warmed. This is adding to my sense of isolation. So preoccupied have I been with my general sense of unease about the neighborhood that I completely forgot it was my wedding anniversary today. Not even the fact that my Dad asked for my address and phone number two days ago, in order to call to wish me,  helped jog my memory.

So I awoke at 6.00 am after a restless night as I am really really hot without a fan. I cannot open the windows as the street sounds keep me awake. So my bedroom is like a mini oven. The heat is making me wake up too early—but with little to do, I began blogging, followed by a bit of reading. I felt the urgent need to get away from London on a day trip–then remembered that I also want to curtail my walking. I thought about the Barnes Wetlands Center which I have never visited, but it would involve walking over vast acreage on a day when the mercury was expected to climb high. (I cannot wait for this heat wave to break.) There was perhaps Bletchley Park to which I could go–I loved the movie The Imitation Game about Alan Turing who broke the Enigma Code there plus I had watched a TV series entitled Bletchley Park about the role played by the women who were hired to write/decipher Code. But that too would involve a vast amount of trekking. It is better for me to give my feet as much rest as possible during the next few days to avoid the onset of plantar fasciitis again.

Rustling Up a Full English Brekkie At Home:

The BnB at Dorset has given me a taste for full English brekkies and the prices at Morrisons’ for sausages and bacon clinched the deal for me. I had bought eggs and the fixin’s and decided to rustle one up. So into the kitchen I went and for the next half hour, I fried bacon and sausages and scrambled eggs and with the baked beans I had bought earlier, I had  myself one of them heart attacks on a plate! No tomatoes or mushrooms to soften the impact of all that protein. I debated for a second: should I/shouldn’t I have some toast with it? Might as well cut the carbs, I thought. So that was it–with my decaff coffee, of course. I watched Saturday Kitchen on my laptop computer while I ate (as there is no TV here).

Back upstairs in my room, I began working in earnest on the Powerpoint presentation that I would like to accompany my paper in Scotland. I transferred all the pictures I had taken on my I-phone at the British Library on to my email and then tried to save them on my desktop so that I could download them on to the presentation. No dice! I would need some advice on how to achieve that and my brother Roger would be the best person to help me. I was about to send him an SOS message. So you can imagine how shocked I was to get a whatsapp from my brother (at exactly that moment–mental telepathy?) wishing me for my anniversary. OMG, I thought! It is my wedding anniversary today! I completely forgot. That’s what happens when you are so far away from a beloved spouse! By then clearly the US was awaking up. Within minutes, I found a response from Llew to Roger and then from Llew to me. I was, at that very minute, planning to call my Dad when Llew app-ed me to inform me that my Dad had been trying to call me but was not succeeding. He asked me to call Dad first and then we would talk.

International Anniversary Calls and VideoChats:

So, of course, I called Dad. There was a lump in my throat at the end of our conversation for Dad, being my Dad, says things that always make me emotional. He said he had been trying to phone me by 6.30 am my time so that his call would be the first I would receive because he realized how low I would feel about being so far away from Llew on my anniversary!  And that did it! The general loneliness I have been feeling for  at least the past two weeks increased and I felt a terrible dread about being alone today. I needed to make plans with a friend for I had to do something with someone.

A swift call to my friend Sushil clinched it. He invited me to his place for a cuppa followed by a saunter down to the National Portrait Gallery to see the winners of the BP Portrait Contest–as he had made plans to see them anyway. I had begun my own survey of the NPG the previous day–so his suggestion could not have been more apropos. There! That would do it. I would have a quick light lunch and leave in about an hour for Holborn where he lives.

A few minutes later, Llew and I were on videochat together and he informed me that there was a delivery for me. Awww! He asked what time I would be leaving the house and when I said in  one hour, he said, OK, I must get off the call now. He had to call the place in London to ensure I was present to take delivery. I did not want him to leave the box on the porch. They had a very busy day ahead in Connecticut as Fr. Austin, the priest who married us in India, was expected at our place to spend the day as he was on a year-long Sabbatical himself in the US and Canada from Bombay. Llew needed to drive to Westchester in New York to pick him up and needed to make headway with the day–not to mention putting together a meal for our beloved guest.

 A Delivery and a Friend Save The Day:

I descended into the kitchen again to eat lunch, then went up to get dressed and was just closing the window of my bedroom when the delivery man appeared at my gate below and said ‘Hello’!  The box had arrived from Llew. Inside were two dozen red roses and a beautiful card! He had remembered and I had forgotten! Ssshhh. Don’t tell him! Anyway, never have I been happier to see red roses delivered to my door. The last time this had happened was when I lived in London and received a similar delivery on Valentine’s Day–my neighbor Barbara had commented on Twitter about how loved her next-door neighbor was! Or something like that! Anyway, I filled a tall beer glass with water to create a make-shift vase and took my roses and card up to my room so I would see them first thing when I awoke for the next few days.

Five minutes later, I took the 25 bus to Holborn and arrived at Sushil’s flat. There, after a fun reunion and a lovely natter, we sipped our tea (I am now carrying my own decaff tea bags and my own sweetener in my bag for no one in London has decaff tea except me) and assuaged any fear of being up at all hours of the night from the unnecessary shot of caffeine. About an hour later, Sushil and I left and took the 38 bus to Leicester Square from where we walked it out for a few minutes to the NPG.

Visiting the National Portrait Gallery with Sushil:

Probably because it is still too hot outside, most London tourists are seeking refuge in museums and galleries. Or maybe friends and relatives of those contestants shortlisted for the prize had all descended on London to view their entries. At any rate, the gallery was packed. We were both most impressed by several of the entries although neither one of us thought the First Prize winner was any great shakes–but then what do we know? After spending about 45 minutes surveying the high quality of work by amateur painters around the world, Sushil said goodbye and moved on, He had much of his plate and could not stay longer.

I left the gallery and then got side tracked by some of the most recent work on the ground floor–portraits of Charles and Camilla and of Maggie Smith, Zaha Hadid and J.K. Rowling (an interesting three-dimensional cut-out creation) and when I had finished the entire ground floor, I went back up to the second floor to Room 11 and continued my chronological survey of the permanent collection. I went through the Stuarts and the Hanoverians and had completed Room 17 when the PA system announced the closure of the gallery at 5. 50 pm. Using a stool helped enormously in ensuring that I was not on my feet throughout.

Enjoying Trafalgar Square and a Visit to St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church:

The sun had cooled down considerably by the time I re-emerged from the Gallery. There was a pleasant cool breeze playing and I was attracted to a busker right opposite the Gallery–a very beautiful young diminutive blonde with a lovely soulful voice who was singing with an accompanying guitar and a drummer (on a plain box). I found a seat and listened to two of her songs (both really lovely). Her mother who is quite obviously her manager was distributing her picture, collecting money, etc. After the performance, many folks walked up to ask her questions–I have never seen this sort of thing happen before. Clearly, she had an impact on many.

As her performance ended and the crowd walked away, I headed into the Church of St. Martin-in-The-Fields next door. Had I remembered my anniversary, I would have gone to Mass in the morning. But since it slipped my mind, I would have to do with a visit to a church. And it was in the cool interior of a very quiet and peaceful place that I gave thanks.

Twenty minutes later, I walked out of the church and sat on the steps for a while taking in the sights of milling crowds all around the Square. It was cool by this time and since it was still so bright, I decided to take a bus and to enjoy sights of the city as I headed home instead of disappearing underground in a Tube. When a 23 arrived to take me to Liverpool Street Station from opposite Charing Cross,  I hopped in and in my favorite seat (upper deck, front and center), I was mistress of all I surveyed. At Bank, I changed into a No. 8, got off at Bethnal Green, jumped into a 309 and was home by 7. 30 pm.

Celebrating an Anniversary from Afar:

I had  a shower and had just made myself a dinner plate and was getting ready to watch Making a Murderer on Netflix when a Facetime call came from Roger. It was about tea-time in Connecticut and Fr. Austin had arrived at our place and Roger had returned from work and they were just about to get Llew to cut a cake for our wedding anniversary and wanted me to be a part of the ritual as well. So with Lalita sitting down at our piano and playing ‘Congratulations’ and the rest of the crowd including Fr. Austin and the children singing, and a lovely view of the cake and Llew grinning madly and me waving away from here in London, we had a trans-Atlantic  wedding anniversary celebration that warmed the cockles of my forlorn heart and made me feel so highly lifted. It was fantastic! What a lovely way to end the day of my wedding anniversary! Although so far away from Llew, we felt so connected.

All that was left was for me to watch another episode of Making A Murderer (which is really compelling) and to go to bed at about 10. 30 pm. after checking out the Mass timings in a Catholic Church as I would like to offer up an anniversary Mass when tomorrow dawns.

Until tomorrow, cheerio…


An Errand at Ealing and Late Evening at National Portrait Gallery

Friday, August 26, 2016


Today is the Friday of a long ‘Bank Holiday’ Weekend in the UK–not sure what the Bank Holiday is for…but everyone is in a jolly mood with three days ahead to veg out.

As for me, I have to admit that loneliness is beginning to hit me gradually coupled with the fact that my feet are issuing serious warning signals. I know the signs of plantar fasciitis and I dread them with all my heart. It is time to slow down and give my feet a rest. But that means, basically, staying put and at home. Not a very exciting prospect for me, to be honest, as finding things to keep me busy when I am home-bound is tough!

Still, I awoke at 5.30 am today (for some unearthly reason) and could not get back to sleep. I decided to work on my paper and edit it as it is much too lengthy. After more than a hour, I stopped to have breakfast (muesli with yogurt and coffee) and continued working some more. I also wrote a blog post and started to think of a query letter I need to write for a potential publisher that a friend in New York has recommended to me.

Getting to Ealing:

At 9.40 am, I stopped to get dressed as I had an errand to run in Ealing and some friends to meet. I left the house, on schedule, at 10.00 am for my 11.00 am appointment but as I was locking the door, a bus to Bethnal Green sailed past. Grrr! Since I am avoiding walking now, there was no choice but to wait for the next one which came in about 12 minutes. I took the Central Line train to Ealing and was there almost on time. I had a bit of a challenge trying to find their place but soon I was reunited with them–Greg and Cecil. I was meeting my friend Cecil after a few years, so it was great to see him again and to meet his son, Greg. They were lovely and we had a wonderful time before I left to explore Ealing Broadway.

Exploring Ealing Broadway:

Yes, just half a block (in New York terms) from their place is Ealing ‘High Street’ called Broadway here–filled with every conceivable kind of restaurant, shop, fast food place, bar, etc. Around the corner, there is Marks and Sparks plus the famed Westfield Mall and hundreds of people to-in and fro-ing, making it vibrant and truly ‘happening’. I entered Morrisons for the first time to see what the prices were like and got the shock of my life. Six butter croissants for 1. 20 pounds! That is 20p a croissant–how is that even possible? Soon I found that everything, simply everything is less than half of what I have been paying in Sainsburys or the Co-op–which, by the way, is the biggest rip-off. Everything is more pricey there! See? After a month, I am becoming proficient in comparison-shopping in the UK!

As I left the store, a vendor placed a coupon for McD’s in my hand–because the place is also fully surrounded by every American fast food outlet you can imagine (McDonalds, Subway, Burger King, even Five Guys!) I felt fully at home! By the way, there is also Tinseltown–my favorite burger and shake place in the UK on The Mall. I usually get a Ferroro Rocher Shake at the Tinseltown in Hampstead–so it was great to spot one here too. Naturally, I could not resist getting a Big Mac for 1.99 pounds with fries! So in I went! Yes, Into McDs!!! A place I never enter unless Llew and I are on the road, travelling by car in the US! I guess after about a month in the UK, I needed my American Fix! So I also ordered a mocha frappe to go with it–perfect on another sweltering day–and discovered that McD’s in the UK does not accept credit cards that require a signature!!! Good Job I had some cash on me (I usually do not!) Anyway, I sat and wolfed down my caloric American meal and called my Dad for a chat. By the time I finished my meal and walked about with my food shopping from Morrison’s, I decided to scrap the thought of wandering about M&S (anywhere where I could find air-conditioning would have been fine!) and go home instead.

An Afternoon Chez Moi:

I was in the train in 10 minutes and home about 40 minutes later. After I put away my shopping, I went up to my boiler of a bedroom, threw the window open because I though I would suffocate–it was so hot and airless–and left it open as I thought I would continue to work. But I simply cannot manage without a fan. The heat is getting to me so vilely that I cannot sit upstairs in this house during the day. Instead, after trying to work on my paper for about an hour, I had a video chat with Chriselle in California and then I made myself a pot of tea and had it with Coffee Walnut Cake. I then went for in a badly needed shower.

An Evening at the National Portrait Gallery:

I had to think of some place to which I could go that was air-conditioned and did not involve too much walking. And I came up with the National Portrait Gallery at Trafalgar Square–one of my favorite places in London and one that I had yet to re-visit. Fridays is also late-evening closure at the museum whose doors are kept open till 9.00 pm. Not that I wanted to stay out late or after dark as I am still hesitant to come back to this neighborhood after nightfall.

An Unexpected Recital in the Elizabethan Gallery:

As soon as I entered the Gallery, I looked for their ‘Events for Today’ and found that a duo were performing upstairs in the Elizabethan Portrait Gallery. Without wasting any time, I took the escalator to the second floor to find that a recital between a lutanist and a tenor had just begun. I had to wait for a few minutes for the first set to end before I was able to take a seat right in front and give myself up to the music.

It was just lovely! I realized that this sort of music would have been the ‘radio’ of the Tudor and Elizabethan periods–the sort of background music that would have been a constant feature at court. In so many movies and TV series, I have seen a pair of musicians seated in a corner in the antechamber of the queen and her ladies or in Banquet Halls where the king supped. The music is quiet, lilting and softly pleasing. The composers were Thomas Morley, John Dowland, Francis Pilkington and Thomas Campion mainly and they wrote music for lute and harp–again, the kind of instruments that provide a pleasing sound without being intrusive. The concert, entitled ‘From Dawn to Dusk: Musicke in the Ayre’ featured the Australian singer Daniel Thomson who has made London his home and lutanist Din Ghani who is not only a musician but a musicologist and a maker of lutes! Seated in the Gallery, just below the Coronation Portrait of Elizabeth I, I kept wishing they had dressed in period costume–for that would have enhanced the entire experience a thousand-fold. Still, it was simply enchanting and after an hour, when they were done, I began my exploration of the gallery.

Viewing Works at the National Portrait Gallery:

I love the National portrait Gallery for many reasons: the portraits themselves, of course, first of all, are among the best in the world. Secondly, for the significance of the portraits: The Portrait of Shakespeare, for instance, is the first one that the Gallery ever acquired for its permanent collection and the curatorial notes state that it is probably the only one painted from life–now this dispels the belief that the recently-unearthed Cobbe Portrait is the only one painted from life! Go figure! Thirdly, for the amount that I learn about the sitters with every visit I make. Fourthly, because viewing these works always provides a crash refresher course for me on British history and politics. The chronological arrangement of the rooms allows me to traverse centuries of British notables and to learn about them and the artists who painted them. Finally, I love the mood lighting in the Tudor and Elizabethan Galleries–it is kept soft in order to preserve the integrity of the pigments, but it adds to the atmosphere of the era. This was a very dark time in British History and as I gaze upon the faces of women like Anne Boleyn and Mary Tudor and contrast their portraits with those of bigger worthies such as Henry VIII or Sir Thomas More or Archbishop Cranmer and even lesser ones such as Salisbury and Cecil, I keep thinking how dangerous those times were for women, how they were ‘played’ politically by the men, how powerless they were in battling court intrigues that dispensed with them at the drop of a hat. These portraits truly transport me into another era and fill me with a deep sense of dread.

Even as one leaves the 1500s behind and enters more recent epochs, there is hardly a portrait of a woman. But for an occasional queen, the dominant faces are masculine: writers, musicians, politicians, architects, you name it…they were men. I got all the way to Room 10 and reached the 18th century–all those portraits of male members of the Kit Kat Club with curled wigs tumbling about their shoulders as was the fashion of the time. I looked aghast at the kings (Charles II, for instance) who fathered 14 children with different mistresses, brought his wife Catherine of Braganza untold misery and then claimed he truly cared for her!!! For far less transgressions, thankfully, today, royal marriages have broken up.

The Gallery is also experimenting with the concept of mixing a contemporary painting of current notables with those from the past–for some contrast and to allow the viewer to compare fashion, poses, etc. For instance, in the Elizabethan Gallery, there is a huge portrait of the two current princes–William and Harry–in casual conversation with each other. It is a lovely piece of work by Nicky Phillips. Although set in Clarence House (which I visited a couple of weeks ago), their home during their growing years and dressed in formal military garb (William wears the Order of the Garter), they are laughing as they converse and both look away from the artist–so casual, so unposed, so different from the stiff portraits of their own ancestors in the same room. Overall, I had a lovely time and so absorbed was I in my own contemplation of past history and past society, that I completely lost track of the time and was startled by the announcement that the Gallery would be closing in 15 minutes!

Trafalgar Square by Night:

Yikes! It was already 8.45–already dark! I finished Room 10 and then hurried out into the evening splendor of Trafalgar Square. I realized how beautiful it was as I was seeing the city at night for the first time since my arrival here. With the blue lights in the fountains of Trafalgar Square and the dome of the Colisseum where the English National Opera performs, the city was transformed into a magical place. There were crowds, simply milling crowds, all over as the warm night and the darkness contributed to keeping people where they were: tumbling down the stairs leading from the National Gallery to the Square, seated all around Edward Landseer’s lions, perched on the parapets that surround the periphery of the Square, etc. This is what I love about London–the sheer love that I have for this city is reflected in the eyes and movements of all the people who have come here because they so love it too. I also love the fact that I can wander into a museum and stumble upon a truly atmospheric concert that I can enjoy for free! Where else on earth could such things happen?

But I had no time to lose. I hurried off to Charing Cross station to take the Northern line south for one station and when I arrived at the Embankment, I hopped off, made my connection into a waiting train and got completely lost in The Evening Standard–the free paper distributed to commuters each evening (the free paper concept has never caught on in New York–probably because people there prefer to gaze at their phones!)

It was only when I reached the Barbican that I realized I was on the wrong train! Crumbs! I jumped off, raced to the platform on the opposite side, rode it one stop further to Liverpool Street and then took the Central Line from there for one stop to Bethnal Green. In a way, it was good I had made a mistake as this allowed me to take the 309 bus home for 2 stops instead of walking alone in the dark and taxing my feet. Luckily, my bus came along in 3 minutes and I was home by 10.00 pm–the latest I have ever come home (but this time all I had to do was cross the street from the bus-top and enter my house). Since I had eaten a big lunch and a substantial tea, I decided not to eat any dinner at all and I simply prepared to go to bed.

I do not think I punished my feet too much today but I did manage to accomplish a lot–despite the heat which I hope will abate soon.

Until tomorrow, cheerio…

Chelsea Calling: Vintage Jewelry, Lunch at The Ivy, A Stroll, Mass at St. Paul’s, Kensington


It was all about Chelsea today–an upscale part of London that I have adored ever since I got to know it intimately over twenty years ago as we had stayed there for three consecutive summers when Llew’s brother and his late wife lived there. Not much has changed but for the fact that the designer shops get swankier and the Sloan Rangers, as they are known–the city’s most beautiful people–get ever so chic-er.
So I was up again at 6.00 am and spent most of the morning corresponding with folks to get a reasonably-priced B&B for the night I will spend next month in Glasgow. So far no luck. Everything seems chocobloc! I’m also trying to find accommodation for my travels in Eastern Europe with Chriselle–but that is several weeks away. Glasgow is far more urgent…
I had toast with Nutella and peanut butter today with a cup of coffee–it made a nice change. Then, a quick shower, a review of the items I would cover and I was off. I love planning each day on a little yellow post-It. It keeps me on track and enables me to see on paper how my day is likely to shape up.
I took the District Line Tube to Sloan Square–a whole hour earlier than I was expected to get there to meet a friend for lunch.

Vintage Jewelry Shopping on The King’s Road:
Regular readers of this blog know that one of the great joys of my time in London is browsing through the thrift stores or what the Brits call “charity shops” in the posh neighborhoods of Chelsea, Knightsbridge and Greenwich.  I have found the most adorable vintage jewelry and antique scarves for which I have basically paid a song. So on every trip to London, since I am not given to shopping on the High Street and since it is the one-of-a-kind item that has always taken my fancy, these are the shops that give me the greatest pleasure.
And so before my luncheon appointment, I browsed in the Oxfam shop (where I found a lovely vintage bracelet by the designer company Les Nerieds) and at the Trinity Hospice shop at the very end of the King’s Road where I had a true knock-out discovery. There is the window was the most stunning necklace and bracelet set you ever did see. I popped in, inquired after it and was informed that it had been placed in the window exactly five minutes previously! I did not need to think about it too long–the price wasn’t going down and knowing vintage shopping, as I do, I knew the demand for it would only go up. I tried the necklace on and loved it, tried the bracelet on for size and since it fit perfectly–that was it. It was wrapped and bagged and the set happily went home with me. A set that dated from the 1950s was in my happy possession. I have no idea when exactly I will wear it–but someday soon, I will.

Lunch at The Bluebird—Not!
I had made plans to meet Mr. Bande Hasan, former banking colleague of Llew’s and a long-time family friend, for lunch and a walk. Having recently retired as CEO of a bank in London, he has more time on his hands now than he ever did. When he suggested that he accompany me on my walks around London, I jumped at the idea–as I would be grateful for his company and because there is so much I learn in our conversational exchanges.
But first, to fortify ourselves for the stroll ahead, it made sense to settle down to lunch and since Mr. Hasan asked me to select a place, I thought of The Bluebird, Terence Conran’s restaurant. Accordingly, we made the appointment. But when we arrived there, after a happy reunion, we discovered that the restaurant is under renovation. Hence, only open-air terrace seating was available. What’s worse, it so happened that the gas supply in the eatery had failed. All we could get was salads or poached eggs! Well, no dice. We weren’t going to one of London’s most famous places to eat a mere salad.
Excusing ourselves, we bid the hapless waitress goodbye and left. We were sure to find something suitable as we walked towards Sloan Square, we supposed.

Unforgettable Lunch at The Ivy, Chelsea Gardens:
Well, guess where we ended up? At none other than The Ivy–one of the city’s most reputed eateries. The flagship restaurant is at the West End, but the one in Chelsea has an almost identical menu.  We were thrilled to be seated despite lacking a reservation and although we were told we’d have to vacate our table by 2. 30 pm, we had ample time to dally over lunch before we hit the streets.
Our meal was superb–which is what you expect from a place with The Ivy’s reputation. For starters, we shared a salad with watermelon, feta cheese, heirloom tomatoes and olives in a balsamic vinaigrette. It was a great start to the meal. As coincidence would have it, since we were seated in a most traditional English restaurant, we both opted for the Fish and Chips–great minds, after all, think alike! And our cod was lovely. The batter was crispy and light, the fish flaking to the touch. Served with tartar sauce and very thick chips, as well as malt vinegar, it made a very filling meal indeed. Dessert, we thought, was best shared–except that my companion did not even take a taste of the Lemon Meringue Baked Alaska which I will not forget in a hurry. It was indeed as nice a meal as I would imagine–and it make a welcome change from the sandwiches I have been lunching on practically every day!

Off to Discover Chelsea:
Replete with our meal, we strolled to Sloan Square for the start of our walk in Chelsea. By the way, Chelsea Clinton got her name from this area. I once heard an interview with Bill Clinton in which he said that soon after he and Hilary were married, they found themselves in London. Strolling early one morning in Chelsea, they so fell in love with the area that they decided if they ever had a daughter, they would name her Chelsea. And that’s a true story, folks!
The Royal Court Theater that has been active since the 1930s and that debuted most of the plays of George Bernard Shaw is a centerpiece of Sloan Square. I once watched a wonderful play here and then had a light dinner with some California academic friends.  From there, we walked through a gorgeous street lined on both sides with identical terraced houses designed by Hans Sloan and from there we entered the vast area known as Ranelagh Gardens–venue, each year, of the famous Chelsea Flower Show. Visiting this exhibition, the last time in lived in London, was one of the highlights of my year then.

Knocking Around the Chelsea Royal Hospital:
A few meters ahead found us in the grounds of the Chelsea Royal Hospital. Not to be confused with a place where the sick are treated, the word ‘hospital’ in this case derives from the word ‘hospitality’. It was built in 1672 by King Charles II who was inspired by his contemporary across the Channel, King Louis XIV, who had created Les Invalides in Paris–a vast army barracks, if you like, for retired or wounded soldiers. Charles set the greatest architect of his time, Sir Christopher Wren, to the task–and the result is the superbly landscaped and planned series of buildings on the banks of the River Thames at Chelsea.
The buildings look down upon the three sides of a quadrangle that is graced by a gilded statue of Charles II as a gladiator. On one side of the structure, under a lovely clock, visitors can go inside to find the door to a chapel (also built to Wren’s design) on one side and a vast dining room on the other. I had once attended Mass in this chapel with my friend Jane–and who do you think was inside, also attending Mass then? Why, none other than Baroness Thatcher, former Prime Minister of Britain!
Although we were able to enter the Chapel, we found the dining room locked. Still, in strolling around the property, we chanced to enter a Museum where we were able to speak to some of the pensioners who are clad, on some occasions, in long scarlet coats with tri-cornered black hats (like soldiers from the eighteenth century). Their many medals, emblems of honor, earned on the battle field, tinkle as they pass by–although one of them jocularly told me, “I get them on E-bay!”
By the time we arrived at the little pub on the premises known as The Chelsea Pensioner and finished watching a game of bowls on the lawn, it was time to leave and explore the spacious lawns of the Duke of York’s property which led us straight back to the King’s Road.

Tea and Mass with my Chelsea Friends:
At 4.30 pm, we called a halt to our walk and took  the same bus together. I had plans to meet my friends Cynthia and Michael for tea at their place on Sloan Street and ten minutes later, I was enjoying a cuppa and a flapjack. Then, half an hour later, I left with Cynthia for Mass at the Church of St. Paul in Kensington–a Mass said by Bishop Michael (who had left earlier) and attended by a grand congregation of exactly four! Still, it was superb to see my friends again and to spend a very relaxed evening with them. I enjoyed our walk to the church and back as we went past the Jumeira Hotel with its Bentleys and other such luxury cars leading to it. It was a day tailor-made for walking and I feel very blessed indeed about these soul-lifting days.

Back Home for Dinner:
It was about 7.45 pm when I walked in my door. After my big lunch, I decided on a very light dinner of soup and salad with ice-cream for dessert. I made a couple of calls to my friends Susan and Rahul, caught up with my email, Facetimed with Llew, wrote this blog and got ready for bed.
After about twelve days of practically my own company and none else, I was beyond excited to have spent almost all of it in the company of caring and very sincere friends.
Until tomorrow, cheerio…

British Library (Again), Martin Shaw in Hobson’s Choice, Completed East End Walk


London was cloudy and chilly when the day began but it warmed up considerably by the time the afternoon rolled around. Hurrah for these great days and the joy of the summer sun on our faces!
I awoke at 6. 30 am today and did a bit of research online for the places I’d like to lose myself in as the days go by. Mainly I looked at taking a trip to Dorset today as I am keen to see Dorchester (base for touring the home in which the novelist Thomas Hardy was born called Hardy’s Cottage and then Max Gate–in the same area apparently where he lived as an adult). While there, it is my intention to visit the seaside town of Lyme Regis for its Jane Austen and John Fowles’ connections and then on to the Jurrasic Coast (for I’d like to see Durdle Door and West Bay, the town that was the setting for the TV series Broadchurch). Big plans! I can only hope they will come to fruition.
So before I knew it, I’d booked National Express coach tickets to get to Weymouth (the Dorset coastal town that will be my base) and back and next thing I knew I was booking a room for 2 nights in a B&B. These steps–getting transport then getting accommodation–is so reminding me of the last time I lived in London when such planning had become second nature to me.  Hopefully, all will go well…Fingers crossed!

Brekkie and Off:
I had to hurry through a shower (after spending time on my Dorset bookings) as I wanted to get out of the house by 9.15 am. My goal was to get to the Vaudeville Theater on the Strand to snag a Day Ticket to see Martin Shaw in Hobson’s Choice. Because, of course, today is Wednesday—and on Wednesdays, there are theater matinee shows to be had for the asking!
Consequently, I showered, ate a hurried brekkie of toast with Nutella and coffee and was off–at 9.25 to be exact. Shame on me–ten minutes behind schedule!!! It would never do. Still, I thought of how much I had managed to accomplish even before I left the house and it was not too shabby after all.

Snagging Tix to see Martin Shaw:
On the Tube I went to Embankment with a change to the Piccadilly Line at Leicester Square to get to the Strand. I am trying hard not to take the Northern Line as I find its complicated structure causes a lot of walking in the tunnels underground as one tries to change platforms. Hence, from Leicester Square I actually preferred to walk to Charing Cross and take a bus from there for one stop. Having the monthly Travelcard is a real boon as I think nothing of hopping in and out of buses, sometimes for just one stop!
I was delighted to arrive at the theater at 10.15 and find a Day Ticket for just 20 pounds waiting just for me. It was in the very first row and, for a moment, I wondered if it made any sense to buy it. But then I did–and believe you me, it was simply awesome. Again, I caught every line, every expression. Only in my dreams could I possibly get tickets this good in New York!

On the Tube to the British Library:
Since the matinee show began at 2. 30 pm, I would have about three hours of research at the British Library before giving myself enough time for the return trip to the Strand. And boy!!! Did I make use of every precious second.  Not only did I have a frightfully exciting time and a very fruitful one at that as I found every reference I was seeking (and then some!) but I was able to use my phone camera to take pictures of so many pages in the century-old magazines I was perusing. I cannot even begin to express how gratifying my research is proving to be.
Right on schedule I finished browsing through my material and feeling hugely pleased with myself and very confident now about being able to start writing my paper for presentation at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland next month, I collected my things for departure. In fact, with the the pictures I managed to collect, I feel very strongly that I should use Powerpoint to make my presentation even more exciting. So there you have it…days of work in the libraries have paid off and in a couple of days, I shall begin working on my paper.

In the Vaudeville Theater on the Strand:
The Vaudeville was packed to capacity and, dare I say it, the average age of the audience was 80 if they were a day! I felt fully at home among these reverent spectators who had clearly come, like moi, to see Martin Shaw with whose work I am familiar in Judge John Deed and currently as Detective Inspector George Gently. Both Llew and I are very fond of him–so I am sure Llew feels a bit jealous to read that I saw him in the flesh this afternoon.
The play was simply delightful. It is an old Victorian comedy that is celebrating its centenary year and every aspect of it was perfect–from the music to the acting, from the direction to the casting. In addition to the widely popular Shaw, there was also Christopher Timothy who had played vet James Herriott in All Creatures Great and Small–many moons ago. He has aged, of course, but he is still lovable and it was absolutely a thrill to see him too. All of the other actors, much younger though they were, did a splendid job to keep us chuckling repeatedly as the plot unfolded in the most charming of ways. Suffice it to say that I loved every second of it.

Covent Garden on a Grand Afternoon:
It was only 5.00 pm when I emerged from the theater–too late to get to the Choral Prayer Service at St. Martin’s-in-The-Field Church that I would have liked to attend at 4. 30 pm and too early to get back home–not on an evening when the sun was still shining brightly and the city was vibrant with excited tourists.
It made sense to nip behind the Strand into Covent Garden–to watch the buskers at work in the main square, to sample teas at Whittard, to nibble chocolate and cookies in the other tea shops that have sprung up, to listen to an astounding classic vocalist sing Nessun Dorma and Andrew Lloyd-Weber compositions, to spritz on perfumes at L’Occitane and Penhaligon  and Miller Harris without feeling the pressures of time or the guilt of work left undone. This was why I had worked like a dog ever since January–so that I could enjoy London on my own terms and at my own leisure. I was going to take it easy because I felt entitled to. So there!

Completing a Walking Tour of the East End:
When I’d had my fill of Covent Garden and its pleasures, I jumped into the Tube and decided to get off two stops before my usual one–at Aldgate East. I still had about five stops to finish on the Walking Tour of the East End that I began yesterday. And so right outside the station, I found the wacky building that is the Whitechapel Art Gallery (which I have visited before) and which was closed by the time I arrived there. I found that is joins the old Passmore Edwards Library that once provided reading material for the residents of the area. Most of the community spots Passmore ran have closed down or been converted into centers for other uses.
I then made my way into Brick Lane, a street that all London guides proclaim as a Must See for modern-day tourists, much to the joy of the Bangladeshi tradesmen and restaurateurs who run brisk business there. For me, the area is a veritable treasure house of historic fact and odd detail and I reveled in the collection of churches that became synagogues that became mosques–for the area attracted immigrants through the ages from the Huguenots who arrived from France, to the Eastern European Jews to the Muslims from the Indian sub-continent who escaped the Pakistani Civil War of 1971 to find refuge in this neighborhood. I passed by the ancient dwellings (terraced houses) of the first residents of the area in Fournier Street and Princelet Street before arriving at a mosque that has a separate entrance for women and on to the old homes where Jewish litterateurs once held court. Bagels might still be bought at a bakery at the end of Brick Lane that sells them cheaply…but I was heading towards the end of the walk and did not get that far.
Back home on the bus, I passed the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, one of the oldest establishments in the country that has been in continuous business since the 15th century and which is responsible for casting Big Ben and the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. Since I had actually paid a visit there, a few summers ago, I did not stop there.

Dinner and Blogging:
It was still only 8.00 by the time I reached home. I had eaten my cheese sandwich in the theater–but was hungry enough to have some soup, risotto and praline meringue roulade before I continued to do some research on how to get to Chartwell, the home of Winston Churchill, on Sunday.
And then I caught up with email, watched a bit of TV and decided to call it a day. Another magnificent day–and I can find absolutely nothing to whinge about! Yes!
Until tomorrow, cheerio…

More Research at British Library, Lunch Time Piano Recital, National Gallery Highlights and Walk in East End


Today offered another mixed bag. I started it off with the best of intentions–I was going to spend most of it at the British Library reviewing the vast amounts of material I have requested. But I am not waking up at 6.00 am–which always gives me a head start on the day. Instead, I am awaking at 7.15 or thereabouts and then trying to catch up on email and other travel inquiries while still in bed.

Breakfast, Shower and Out the Door:
In that order–breakfast (muesli with yogurt and coffee) while I reviewed some of the accommodation options Chriselle had sent me for Eastern Europe–then a shower, I was on my way, earlier than yesterday (10.00 am to be exact) and at 10. 45, I was entering the British Library to get deep into my reading.
It was good to arrive at the library before most of the other readers. I am getting fond of the Asian and African Reading Room on the third floor with the august oil portraits of erstwhile Indian maharajas staring down, dour-faced, at me. This morning, I was delighted to find a reference and an account of the Ayah’s Home in Hackney that sheltered many a female domestic servant of Indian/Asian origin. There was even a picture! Lots of information about the lodging-houses that were a plenty all over London in the late 19th and early 20th centuries filled in many gaps for me of the kind of habitation available to the very first Anglo-Indians who arrived in the UK. Finally, I poured over the Letters from India of a certain Mrs. Eliza Fay whose missives were edited by none other than E.M. Forster and published by Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s Hogarth Press. My interest in the book centered on a Eurasian female maid Mrs. Fay took along with her to England on one of her return voyages only to treat her rather shabbily by abandoning her at St. Helena.  It is Forster who provides interesting details of this encounter in his End Notes. I was about to make my own notes on this discovery when I found that it was nearly 12. 30 pm. I hoped to catch the Lunch time concert at St. Martin’s-in-the-Field church and thought I’d given myself enough time to get there from King;s Cross.

Lunch Time Piano Recital at St. Martin’s-in-The-Field Church:
Needless to say, I did not allocate time for the Tube connection I had to make an Euston where one walks for miles in the tunnels below before one finds the right platform. I was so disheartened.  Still, not willing to give up, I made the effort to race on.  This, despite the fact that I have been plagued ever since my arrival here, with a persistent back pain–sometimes so severe that I have started using a pain-killing ointment for it. Tomorrow, I intend to call a doctor to make an appointment as it is severe and often debilitating.
I arrived at the venue–the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields–five minutes after the concert by Chiyan Wong had begun–this meant we had to decorate the porch of the church with our presence for another five minutes as he finished the first movement of the Beethoven Sonata he was playing. Bummer!  Still, I was not entirely disappointed for, in due course, we, late-comers, were invited in and I caught the entire second Beethoven sonata as well as the one by Chopin that followed.
Chiyan Wong, originally from Hongkong but now a Londoner, was a sheer delight. His talent and his virtuosity were mind-blowing. In the rich confines of the church (where I had once attended an Indo-Western fusion music concert with my cousin’s son, Sudarshan, many years ago), the sound effects were just stunning. I seriously wish I had the time to attend every single one of these concerts–but because they occur in the middle of the day (when I am usually engaged doing other things), it is so difficult to fit them in. The church was packed with tourists–most of them American–and though the concerts are free, I found most people dipped into their pockets to make voluntary contributions when the red buckets were held out at the exit at the very end. What a brilliant mid-day treat!

Highlights Tour at the National Gallery:
Since it was such a beautiful afternoon, there was simply no way I could take myself back to the Library in a hurry. I have to try to balance work with the sheer pleasure of enjoying the day. Summer days in England are fleeting–soon autumn with its shorter days and its bracing breezes will be upon us. There is no time like the present to enjoy the feel of the warm sun on our faces. So, I decided to eat my lunch on the plaza in Trafalgar Square (in the midst of the thousands of tourists that had congregated there). As the clock hands crept to 2. 30, I entered the Sainsbury Wing to join one of the Highlights Tours given in the Museum.
I have to say that it was one of the most disappointing ones I have ever taken–not just in the National Gallery but anywhere in the world. I don’t believe our guide was a museum curator or indeed even a trained docent. He told us he was an artist (not sure what kind–painter? sculptor? ceramist?–who knows?) I don’t know whether it is the policy now of the National Gallery to “dumb down” the commentary offered and to restrict items shown to just a few. But the fact was that we were only shown three paintings–yes, just three in a whole hour!–and there was nothing even vaguely intelligent about what was said. We saw Jacomo di Chioco’s Adoration of Mary by the Saints, Titian’s Bachus and Ariadne and Joseph Wright of Derby’s Experiment with a Bird. Basically, there was no introduction to the artist or to the genre or to the topic. What we got was a description of the scene in front of us–and that was it. “What is the woman looking at?” he asked “And what color is her robe?” he inquired. He might have been talking to five-year olds. No historical background about artist or era, no attempt to unravel symbols, no interpretation whatsoever. I have never been more disappointed by a highlights tour. I will have to take one more just to see if the entire concept of giving tours has changed (as I recall taking some really superb guided tours over the years at the National) or if it was simply our bad luck in getting a guide that, in my humble opinion–needs a lot more training giving tours.

Back to the Library:
It was time to get back to the library and since I had such a hard time with the Tube, I decided to take the bus instead (believing it would be faster and more direct). There too I was mistaken for the 73 bus was on a diversion route and did not go back to King’s Cross–it was headed to Victoria. I let three buses go before I discovered what was going on! But the time I reached the Library, it was about 4. 30 pm and I then remembered that, given the time difference, it was a good time to call my Dad in Bombay and speak to my brother Russel too.
Dad had a great deal to share with me, not least of which was his take on India’s fate at the Olympics. I gave him all the time in the world he desired because I know just how much these chats mean to him and by the time I got back to my carrel in the library, it was almost 5.00 pm–and guess what? The Reading Room was closing!!! I was under the impression that they were open till 8.00 pm as the Locker Room is open till then!

A Walk in the East End:
Well, there was nothing I could do except get back home, drop off my laptop and then use the evening to discover bits of the East End I have yet to know. I had a quick cup of tea and a cheese scone at home and then I grabbed my Frommer’s Memorable Walks in London and set off.
The East End has always been the poorest part of London and an area that was always swarming with immigrants through the ages. From the Jews to the Huguenots to the Bangladeshis to the Eastern Europeans,  this area has spread its hospitable arms to them all like Lady Liberty in New York. The end result is a hodgepodge of neighborhoods that bear the distinct stamp of varied ethnicities and the aromas of the regional cuisine they brought with them. My walk was supposed to take 2 hours, but I figured I would do it in two parts since it was already 6.00 pm as I was leaving the house and I did want to get back by 8.00 at the latest.
I took Bus 205 heading to the City and got off at Aldgate Tube Station. From there, it was a quick right to the Church of St. Botolphs which is undergoing a major landscaping renovation. The church dates from before the Great Fire of London (1666) and this is evident in its sharp single steeple design and the ancient black and white stones of its wall. Just past it is the Cass Foundation, set up for the education of poor boys and girls. It has a blue-coated figure in a niche at the entrance to denote that it was a Free School. This area was once fully populated by Jews and so the Bevis Marks Synagogue was the next item on the trail. This is the oldest synagogue in England (dating back to Elizabethan times) and it still conducts full services for the local Jewish population–of whom not many remain as there was a massive exodus towards Northwest London (the area of Kilburn and Golder’s Green) in the 1950s. At some point, I do hope to enter the synagogue that was closed by the time I reached it. In the same area, I passed by Frying Pan Alley and Petticoat Lane (so-called because this was once the heart of the Garment Industry and cheaper clothing was sold at street markets each Saturday in this lane. Today, it is on Sunday morning that the clothing car boot sales are held). I had always thought that, like Portobello Road, there were antiques sold on Petticoat Lane. It is only very recently that I have come to realize that it more of a Cloth Fair than anything else (similar to the one held in Medieval Times outside St. Bartholomew Church in Farringdon that gave Ben Jonson’s play its name).
The walk then took me into maze-like lanes to the south of Liverpool Street Station that were once busy with the efforts of trained and skilled craftsmen such as cutlers and clothiers–I know this because the names of the streets bear evidence of the kind of craftsmanship that was carried out here. This area is also the hub of the space that was devoted to gun makers and creators of artillery and many of the street names bear evidence of this (Artillery Lane, Gun Street, etc). Artillery Passage is extremely picturesque and quaint and today filled with bars and fancy restaurants (Ottolenghi, the famed Jewish chef) has a restaurant here that bears his name.
When I crossed the street, I passed by the Providence Row Night Refuge and Convent that was run by the Sisters of Mercy. For when you have poverty, can Christian works of mercy be far behind? The good nuns ran a tight ship with separate entrances for homeless men and women that still say so–Men and Women is written in massive letters above those doors. A block away, on Tenter Ground, you understand the origin of the term “to be on tenterhooks”. Tenters were wooden frames used to stretch fabric to make it taut and straight. And on this wide street, tenters were spread out as the trade of weaving was practiced. A block later, you realize that works of mercy were not restricted to Christians alone. You will pass by the Jewish Soup Kitchen on Brune Street that proclaims its usage in equally huge (and rather ornate) letters. Here, in the 19th century, poor Jews found refuge and a hot meal. These are certainly parts of the East side I had never seen before and they enthralled me deeply.
A few steps later, I was on Commercial Street with the great steeple of Christ Church Spitalfields gazing down on me. It is the masterwork of Nicholas Hawksmoor who was a pupil of Christopher Wren. I believe it is Ian Nairn who comments that with this church, Hawksmoor seems to have tried too hard! I have to say I rather like this strange-looking portico that is perched high on tall pillars  with the steeple looming on top. Right behind are very modest terraced houses– an almost incongruous sight when compared with the exterior grandeur of the church.
And right opposite the church is the famous Spitalfields Market that dates from medieval times when everything from livestock to livery were sold here. Its later heyday was the Victorian Age when fruits and vegetables were traded under a towering iron canopy. Today, it is more of a flea and crafts market than anything else–but as a place that is being gentrified rapidly (as so many derelict spaces in London now are) it is filled with upscale eateries at which the corporate types from nearby Liverpool Street’s glass and concrete towers have their daily fill of fancy food and pricey drinks.  In the lanes surrounding this market, shop fronts from the Georgian and Victorian Ages still continue to sport painted signage of the goods once sold within. I am very pleased to say that modern-day owners have not wiped out all vestiges of the commercial life of these charming spaces.

End of the Day Rituals:
It was time to call the walk to a halt and Spitalfields Market was a good place to do so. Walking towards Bishopsgate, I caught  the 205 bus to Bow Church that brought me almost to my doorstep. It was about 8. 30 pm when I got home just in time for dinner–chicken risotto, sausage and soup–its a good thing I do not get fed up eating the same meal daily! I Facetimed with Llew and got ready for bed but just before I called it a night, I did a spot of blogging.
It was a very fruitful day and one that makes me feel gratified to be back in this brilliant city again.
Until tomorrow, cheerio…