Hurrah for Harwich

Harwich was a delight. Our arrival teas, coffees and cake were taken in the Swan, the second oldest building in the town, complete with C15 wall painting and evidence of an active local crafts scene.

Wall painting

Wall painting

Knitting

Knitting

We were in Mayflower territory. Christopher Jones, captain of that ship lived in a house just a few doors down from the Swan.

Christopher Jones' House

Christopher Jones’ House

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The Week Ahead

Tomorrow I am to spend the day in Harwich in the company of the very wonderful Stephen Humphrey, who knows more about Southwark than anyone else alive, and is pretty damn hot on other places too. It’s the annual outing of the Southwark and Lambeth Archaeological Society, SLAS, of which I am not a member though I do occasionally attend their talks.

Last year we went to Winchester, the year before, Ramsgate. Stephen evidently believes a well fed audience is a happy audience, so there’ll be tea or coffee and cake when we arrive. At Ramsgate our morning refreshments were so extensive few of us had room for lunch. The weather forecast is mixed but the company should be good, and Stephen makes sure the coach in which we travel is a comfortable one.

Memorial Bench Winchester Castle

Memorial Bench Winchester Castle

The outing will mark the end of my few days break. Continue reading

Walworth Walk, Weather and Open Studios

On Saturday I am leading my bi-annual walk around Walworth, finishing at the Artists Open Studios at Pullens’ Yards.

Walworth Walk

Walworth Walk

Just in case you can’t read the details on the picture, The walk starts outside Kennington tube station at 10.45am, and costs £10, or £8 for over 65s and full-time card-carrying students.

I’ll have some leaflets about the Open Studios with me too. There’s lots going on.

Open Studios June 2016

Open Studios June 2016

The week’s weather forecast shows an up and down graph; some sunny basking days; some summer storms; some cloud; humidity.

Today we’ve had all of the above already, and it’s not yet three in the afternoon. Continue reading

Simply Salisbury and Stonehenge

I’m doing a bit of homework for the tours I do fairly regularly to Salisbury, reading The Spire by William Golding. It’s very good, both the story and the way it is written. I’m two thirds of the way through, so not sure how it will end. I hope to finish it before I am back in Salisbury on Tuesday.

I am rather fond of Salisbury, so I was glad to meet someone at the start of last week who came with me a couple of weeks ago. She approached me smiling, and said how much she had enjoyed the day.

That sort of feedback always pleases.

Salisbury Cathedral’s spire is very famous. It pierces the sky above the town. Currently in the cloisters and in the churchyard around the cathedral there are sculptures by Sophie Ryder.

This one is my favourite:

Dog and hare having a conversation sitting on a horse

Dog and hare having a conversation sitting on a horse

The explanation says the dog and hare are having a coversation while sitting on the horse and the horse is listening intently. Sophie Ryder uses animal figures, or often human bodies with animal heads, to explore the relationships we have with each other. That is a pretty important theme anywhere, but particularly in a Christian church. Continue reading

In the Footsteps of Royalty

I’m hoping my Instagram feed will explain that I have been pretty busy so far this month, and time for blogging has been conspicuously absent. One day of heavy rain last week sent me back to my waterproof shoes, and yesterday morning I was glad to find a pair of gloves in my bag, but spring is settling into its stride with longer days and plenty of sunshine.

Most of my work this coming week is with private groups; just two public walks with LW and then parliament on Saturday.

Palace of Westminster

Palace of Westminster

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Oh to be in England

Spring has sprung and April is well and truly established.  It’s a month where the weather is as changeable as the days. Showers, wind and sunshine chase each other through the hours. Trees get greener, more blossom laden by the minute.

It’s a time of hope, of new life, and London stirs like a great beast and stretches towards summer.

Tomorrow, Sunday 17th April, I am leading a walk around Denmark Hill and Camberwell. It’s an area close to the centre of London, but greener and leafier than you might expect. In the past it was called South London’s answer to Belgravia. It was also the home to many German families who had migrated to London, including some of my own family. Indeed my grandparents were married there, and it is where my father was born.

So it has a special meaning for me.

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The William Booth Memorial College, Denmark Hill

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A Tale of Two Libraries

Up on Level Three at the British Museum you’ll find the Mesopotamian galeries; a civilisation that gave us writing, a system of counting, and a 30 thousand volume library.

The British Museum is currently involved in a project to recatalogue the library and to make its contents available for modern readers to access. It’s called the Ashurbanipal library Project, as although several kings were involved in its creation, Ashurbanipal seems to have been the keenest.

Until the small display of clay tablets appeared several months ago at the BM I had rather assumed that the library had been mainly composed of financial records and accounts of religious practices.

Ashurbanipal library project (BM blog)

Ashurbanipal library project (BM blog)

It turns out to be much more interesting, and a reminder that all that separates us from these people who lived two and half thousand years ago is technology. The ancient Assyrians were very keen on divination, rather in the same way that the Greeks consulted the Oracle at Delphi, so there are numerous reference works to help tell the future.

Ashurbanipal is described as writer, acquirer, chief librarian. He wrote about his own life, and his wife and sister could also read and write. His sister seems the keener scholar, and my favourite fragment shows a note from her to her brother’s wife asking why she isn’t doing her scribing and practising her homework.

It’s a fabulous glimpse into a lost civilisation, and for someone like myself who loves libraries, it has a magic that is nothing to do with divining the future. Continue reading

Two Exhibitions and This Week’s Public Walks

There’s always so much going on in London that choosing what to see can be a challenge. In the last ten days I have been to two very different exhibitions, though both were thought provoking, witty, serious, humorous.

The first was Boticelli Reimagined at the V&A. You may have read reviews in the national press. I loved it. My attention was grabbed from the first room with the range of takes on his Venus Rising. I don’t think I had fully realised how well known this painting is. Boticelli comes over as remarkably well adapted to the C21. As co-curator Mark Evans is quoted as saying, “He goes nicely on a T-shirt.”

It’s fascinating how some images take such a hold on the collective imagination, and the reworkings in this exhibition show the whole gamut, from one I found fairly pornographic, though I believe the label described it as erotic, to Hello Kitty via a dress worn by Lady Gaga to promote a single.

There was too much for me to take in on one visit and I hope to go again before the exhibition closes in July. Continue reading

March Winds and Photogenic Days

Spring is blowing in on the winds of March. Today, like so many days recently, the air is crisp and cold, the skies blue, the sun bright. The days are gradually lengthening. Perfect times for walking and photography. And even grey skies can make for dramatic pictures.

I usually carry a little camera with me when I am working, and sometimes take a few photos between tours. Even when I am not walking for a living, I enjoy getting out and about, and then I’ll often have my *proper* camera and a change of lens.

Here are a few pictures I have taken recently.

Brockwell Park

Brockwell Park

The William Booth Memorial College

The William Booth Memorial College

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We Meet Again

Quite often I see familiar faces on my tours; people who have booked me before and then come back for more, and people who join the public tours I do for London Walks.

And then there are the people who work at the places where I guide; the lovely marshalls at Westminster Abbey, the watermen whose knowledge of the river is encyclopaedic who captain the boats for City Cruises, the Visitor Assistants at the place of Westminster, the helpful Big Issue seller at St Paul’s tube station. You get the picture.

Last autumn, the British Museum decided that groups must henceforth enter via the back door on Montague Place. I regretted the change in meeting point this necessitated. We used to meet outside Holborn tube, and if early I would nip round to the Rosewood Hotel to admire their displays, and if lucky, see Pearl, the resident dog.

Nowadays we meet outside Russell Square tube station.

Russell Square tube station

Russell Square tube station

Last week, everyone who wanted to join me for a tour of the BM offered me a twenty pound note. My change ran out in an instant. I walked over to the stall opposite the tube station entrance and asked the proprietor if he could give me some change.

The proprietor

The proprietor

“Of course,” he said. Then he added, “I know you from somewhere, but I don’t know where.” He didn’t look familiar, and my guess was he had seen me successive weeks meeting a group. “No,” he said, “I’ve seen you before.”

I was doubtful, but we began that narrowing of places and neighbourhoods where our paths might have crossed. Then he mentioned Walworth.

“I live there,” I said. His eyes widened and he explained that his family had run stalls on nearby East Lane market for years. The penny dropped. He was Barry, who I first knew when he was a teenager. I bought my fruit from the stall his brother and father ran, my cheese and eggs from his mother Josie and his sister-in-law Pauline. The fruit was the best on East Lane. Long before Borough Market became a foodie Mecca, Josie was supplying us with all sorts of delights, including Cornish Yarg, perfect Red Leicester and a wonderful soft blue cheese whose name I forget.

Happy days.

Now here was Barry again. Grown up, with his own stall selling fruit and fruit based drinks in a new location.

Naturally we swapped news, and I got up to speed with what has happened to the various members of his family.

So if you happen to be passing Russell Square tube and want a drink or just a piece of fruit, check out Barry’s stall. And if you remember, say I sent you.

Barry

Barry