Tag Archive | East End

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…