Somewhere in the middle of a fretful night, August 2016 arrived. I was awake until at least 3. 15 am–horribly jetlagged and counting sheep, switching on the light, doing a bit of mindless reading–anything to bring on the zzzzs. No such luck. Little wonder that when I awoke it was a little past 9.00 am! Springing out of bed, I hurried to wash and dress and get down for brekkie, sorry that I had not managed to wake up in time for 8.00 am Mass at St. Paul’s Cathedral (which had been my intention).
First Brekkie Chez Moi:
I had a fancy schmancy brekkie this morning–my first in my new digs. And co-incidentally, it was a close repeat of a first breakfast Llew and I had in my former flat in Holborn on our first morning together many years ago: an almond croissant from Paul’s Patisserie (which I picked up from City Farm yesterday) and a cup of decaff coffee. While my kettle was humming, I pulled out my pork sausages and began to cook them as well as prepare the cauliflower I’d bought the day before. While I was munching my goodies in my adjoining breakfast room, my cauliflower boiled. With the addition of grated cheddar cheese, salt and pepper, I made a fine mash and voila, dinner for tonight was in the bag!
Back upstairs, I responded to email and decided to call my Dad in Bombay as I now have my UK phone in my possession. When I had reassured him that all was well with me, I got dressed.
Planning My Week Ahead:
Not long after, I was leaving the house to travel to the Museum of Childhood which is the nearest major museum to my residence–just a 15 minute walk away. I have decided that Mondays will be designated Museum Mondays–meaning that I will visit a museum that day.
Here is what I intend to do with the rest of the week:
Museum Monday, Theater Tuesday, Working Wednesday, Trekking Thursday, Farther Afield Friday (meaning that I shall explore a place outside London on a day trip), Slick and Scrub Saturday (meaning that it shall be devoted to chores–grocery shopping, laundry, tidying, etc.) and Suit Myself Sunday (meaning that it will used in ad hoc fashion as the mood takes me). Much, however, will depend on the weather. This Thursday, for instance, it promises to be wet while Friday will be cloudy but dry. The trek might will be postponed to Friday and rainy Thursday might well call for another day spent in a museum. Once I get over jetlag and awake at 6.00 am (as I usually do), I intend to spend the first three hours working–that will allow me to feel no guilt when I goof off for the rest of the day. Hopefully, I will be able to stick to my plan.
So, there I was, waiting at the 309 bus stop just a few steps from my house. It deposited me at York Hall, right opposite the Museum which I reached at 12. 15 pm.
Exploring the Museum of Childhood at Bethnal Green:
The Museum of Childhood is part of the famous Victoria and Albert Museum at Kensington. It was founded in 1872 by Albert, Victoria’s oldest son, then Prince of Wales who became Edward VII. Its design was based on the great iron structure that had become part of the Great Exhibition of 1951 held at Crystal Palace. Since the Victoria and Albert Museum in Kensington was too far away and out of the reach of the poorer East Enders, it was thought fit to create a branch of the museum in Bethnal Green using the same iron structure as its foundation. This was subsequently covered on the outside with red brick.
Hence, the visitor is not prepared for the sight that hits when one goes past the brick exterior. The double-storeyed iron structure, painted white, reminded me of different things at the same time: double tiered prisons, the decks of a ship, hospital corridors, the hangar at an airport, the vast platform of a railway terminus. But, most of all, it reminded me of Bhau Ladji Museum at the Victoria Gardens in Byculla, Bombay, whose structure was also erected in the reign of Victoria in the exact same style. I was taken aback at the first sight of the museum but I quickly adjusted myself mentally to the task ahead: to try to figure out how to see it most efficiently as it was my first time inside.
The girl at the Information Desk provided me with a floor plan. It is simple enough with exhibits arranged not chronologically but thematically. I asked if there were any guided tours–there were none. I asked if there were any highlights I ought not to miss–she was unable to respond, but suggested I do not miss the Dolls Houses on the top floor as they are most popular. Thus, I decided to begin with those.
And so it was that I spent almost two hours in a place that was most un-museum-like. It was not a quiet space designed for dignified contemplation. In fact, it was noisy and hectic as it is summer and the museum is free. The place was, therefore, crawling (literally!) with kids. Of all ages, from toddlers to teenagers, they were present. The Dolls Houses sre indeed striking as are the furniture and fitments that accompanied them. There were also a lot of active play areas–games corners where patrons were playing Monopoly and Snakes and Ladders, sand pits where babies were attempting to make sand castles (without any water), crafting corners, etc. All exhibits are in great glass vitrines and the majority of the items inside were toys. I loved the vitrines devoted to childrens’ clothing from the 1700s to the present day. These cases included childrens’ shoes. There were toys galore–of every possible kind from dolls and stuffed toys to mechanical ones.
For me, the highlight of the entire museum were two Chinese Rock Gardens made of jade, ivory, enamel and embellished with pearls. They were presented by the Chinese to Queen Mary who presented them to the museum. They really are extraordinarily detailed with porcelain human beings present in them as well. The Museum has a very nice cafe and gift shop and I found a lot of young folks shopping. What is most interesting is that the museum is designed to entice children–which is why all curatorial notes are at a kid’s eye level!
Back Home for Lunch:
On my way home for lunch at almost 2.00 pm, I decided to walk it out. This took me to St. John’s Church at the corner of Bethnal Green and the Roman Road–one of only three churches in London designed by the great Sir John Soanes whose style is very evident at first glance–there are his signature pillars with what look like classical urns sitting atop them (similar to what one sees at Dulwich Art Gallery which is also his creation and the Bank of England on Threadneedle Street). I noted that there is daily Morning Prayer at 9.00 with Eucharist Mass at 1.10 pm most days. One of these days, I will try to attend so that I can see the inside of the church as I am quite fascinated by Soanes.
Spying Sainsbury catty corner to the church, I hurried in to buy one of my favorite desserts–their Tiramisu–and a packet of their Dark Chocolate Covered Ginger Biscuits as I had nothing for tea. Then crossing Bethnal Green Gardens, I spied the Bethnal Green Library and asked if I could become a member. Yes, I was told–if I brought along my tenancy agreement. So, one of these days, that is precisely what I shall do.
Leaving the gardens, I used my instinct to find my way home and arrived at my doorstep by an interesting route that took me past vast residential ‘estates’. It is rather a novelty for me to be living in the midst of a sprawling residential area–mostly populated by Muslim Bengalis from Bangladesh with loads of Somalians sprinkled in too. I hear Bengali all around me all the time in these side streets. On the main roads (Mile End and Roman), there is a vast mixture of ethnicities with people of every skin color visible. My street should truly have been named Global (not Globe) Road!
Lunch in my Dining Room and the Longest Nap in the World:
And so I sat down to eat my first lunch in my home: Toasted Olive Bread with Mushroom Pate and a salad of lettuce, apples, avocado, strawberries and cashewnuts with a balsamic vinaigrette and a thin slice of tiramisu for dessert. It was all very delicious.
Lack of sleep then became obvious and although I had decided to make a trip to Queen Mary College Library, I simply could not drag myself out without a quick shut-eye. So up I went to my room to do a bit of bibliographic research for the conference paper I need to present at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland about five weeks from now. I found the books I would need at Queen Mary College Library which is just down Mile End Road about a ten minute walk away from my home. I called the library and found out that I could be issued a Visitor’s Card but I would need to fill a form and provide a passport photo. Deciding to do that first thing tomorrow, I settled down for a much-needed nap of 20 minutes…but did not awake for two and a half hours!
Tea and a Long Joy Ride:
It was 5.30 pm when I awoke and decided to take a shower and have a spot of tea. Downstairs, while munching Date and Walnut Cake and sipping lemony tea, I watched Beck on BBC I-Player (a Swedish detective program). Then, back upstairs, I climbed into my clothes and decided, while there was still light, to take a long bus ride through Central London. There was a drizzle out the door and grabbing my brolly, I walked to the 309 bus stop and from there to a No. 8 at Bethnal Green that took me as far as Tottenham Court Road past all my former haunts, including my two former residences at Farringdon and Holborn. Awash in nostalgia, I was sorry for the rain that fogged up the windows on the upper deck as darkness swiftly descended over the city. Bus No. 73 then took me forward to Victoria from where I jumped into the District Line Tube that brought me back home at 9. 15. I had enough time to get to the Co-op for packeted soup as there was a distinct nip in the air, brought on by the rain. I had an urgent desire for a warming brew.
Dinner at Home:
Needless to say, my pork bangers and cauliflower mash formed dinner together with another helping of salad. Oh and a cup of chicken and vegetable soup, all finished with another thin slice of tiramisu. I am hoping to keep my weight stable and to balance not-so-healthy meals with a healthy amount of walking to give me the exercise I need. For today at least, I seem to have succeeded. As I ate, I watched a part of Celebrity Masterchef.
An hour later, I finished this blog and decided to call it a day. Hopefully, jetlag will not keep me up half the night.
Until tomorrow, cheerio…