Bit of a hiatus in blogging activity hereabouts recently, not because I haven’t been out and about but rather because my Iphone has taken to going doggo on me. Snaps a few photos and then the thing goes as dead as a doornail. Now you may think that this is a world class workwoman blaming her tools situation and you would probably be right but – if this doesn’t sound too pretentious – I tend to think in images and recall through photographs, so I get quite lost if I don’t have a few to fling around the place.
So what shall I tell you about all the walking we did in our long weekend in London?
First, there is the joy of wandering through a big city and chancing upon unknown, unsuspected parts just off the main track (I’ll say flaneur now so I need never mention it again). I’ve come very late to these discoveries. I was wont to hop off the train and head straight down the rabbit hole to the subterranean systems to get me to where I was going. But one day I looked at a map, saw that Central London is not actually that big in the scheme of things and realised that a brisk walk above ground may well get me there about as quickly as a ride under ground, with a whole lot more to look at along the way. (Like I said, I’m very late to the party on this one). Second, in doing all of this wandering considerable distances get racked up. Ten miles for me on Sunday – no wonder my feet were weary.
Some of these steps were measured around galleries (the British Library and the Royal Academy. The RA café – what a revelation… a few blocks from Piccadilly Circus but a world away), others shuffled about bookshops (Hatchards and the giant Waterstones) and quite a number more were strode around Kew Gardens (what a great sanctuary of green). But many others were wandered and wondered. Why for example does Islington’s main street (Upper Street. Or the A1, if you prefer) offer quite so many bakeries? There are the ordinary, large chain bakeries and there are the artisan bakeries – I’m with them so far – but then there are the gluten free bakeries and – yes – the sugar free bakery. Let them eat cake indeed.
I stumbled across the magnificent Daunt Books on Marylebone High Street (yes, late again) with its superb travel section (www.dauntbooks.co.uk) where, amidst the maps and guides, I found a novel set in the actual Corfu village to which we’re headed this summer. Have no idea what it is about but I could not pass it by.
With an afternoon to myself, I set out for a purposeful walk and, though I am trying to give them a rest, it was a canal which drew me to it. The Regent’s Canal from Little Venice, just above Paddington to – in my case – Regent’s Park, although it does trace an 8 mile route across the city to reach the Thames further east. These few miles showcased a variety of Londons. The carefully fenced off, manicured waterside lawns of the mansions near the park into which I suspect few but the security guards and the gardeners ever step, the ad hoc cultivating of the banks alongside the long moored narrow boats, and the rather jolly barge shaped planters in the open spaces in front of a somewhat challenging block of flats where – despite this being in the heart of a busy city – only birdsong seemed to disturb the peace.
The canal was built as an industrial highway so in places the ugly necessities of the metropolis do intrude – a huge electricity generating station, busy streets and the new developments around Paddington Station, for instance – but overall the canal was being busily enjoyed by a crowd of Sunday afternoon strollers.
No doubt many of them were drawn to the Little Venice basin where the Inland Waterways Association Canalway Cavalcade was taking place.
This involved a joyous conglomeration of narrow boats filling every available spot on the water, with stalls, displays and activities taking over on dry land. I cannot say that either folk singing or morris dancing does it for me but clearly they do for some, and most of them were there enjoying the spectacle. It was as if some amateurish (in the best sense) country fete had somehow been transported into the heart of the sophisticated city. It was great. My abiding memory? This has to be the blessing of the boats. That’s what it said in the programme and here’s a picture of how it went last year with the Anglican Bishop of London decorously doing the honours, with some form of Mayoral personage having his back
This year, the task fell to a different cleric, a white cassocked priest with a custodian helmeted police officer as his wingman. If this were an Ealing comedy (which it very nearly was), I would say that the copper was not there to defend the clergyman so much as to protect the public from the priest and his wild, but powerful, sprinkling of the Holy Water. Built like a rugby player, the Father’s energetic dispensing of Blessings was soaking the faithful and the unfaithful alike, a fact that he, the wet and the wary all seemed to find uproariously funny.
Wish I’d had my camera.