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…