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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
So you’ve written your cards, wrapped the presents, decorated the tree and planned the menu for Christmas Day. What now? You don’t want to twiddle your thumbs until 25th December.
And you certainly don’t want to join the increasingly desperate shoppers in the big stores.
Well, London is your oyster. Tomorrow, Monday 14th I am again taking the boat to Greenwich with a self-selected group for a guided tour.
You can be one of their number simply by meeting me outside Tower Hill tube station by the Tramshed Coffee Stop for 10.30 and handing over £15.50. That’s £10 for the tour and £5.50 for the boat. If you are over 65, or a full-time card carrying student then you get a reduction of £2 on the tour.
If you are planning a later start to the day, I’ll be outside Russell Square tube station for 2.30 ready to lead a tour inside the British Museum.
Wherever you turn in London there are Christmas trees and fairy lights. I have posting quite a few pictures of them on Instagram whwere you can follow me @londonbyguide.
It’s the jolly season. The time of year when you meet up with friends and colleagues and eat out in restaurants.
Thanks to the visit to this side of the pond by some jolly people who forsake the warmth of California for the winds of London, winds that are I understand courtesy of Desmond, I had the chance to eat in great company in two places that have been recommended to me but which I have hitherto never tried.
Both can be enjoyed at the end of two of my walks this week.
First Greenwich tomorrow morning. Afterwards you could eat at the Plume of Faethers where last Monday I enjoyed an excellent Thai green curry. I opted for the vegetarian option as did another of my dining companions. There was fish and chips, chicken, burgers, veggie and meat and all was lovely. Continue reading “The Jolly Season”→
I am taking some time off at the end of this month, so I shall be pounding the streets less than usual. Summer has reached into every crack and corner of London. It’s a time to watch the world go by from one of our many parks, eat ice cream, explore the city and reward yourself with a beer outside a sunny pub.
My diary changes, but at the moment I shall be leading tours around Greenwich Mondays 6th, 13th and 20th. The meet point is Tower Hill by the Tramshed coffee stop for 10.30. The cost of the tour is £10, or £8 for over 65s and full time students, plus the cost of the boat; £5.50, £3 children under 15.
I am back in the British Museum on two Mondays – 6th and 13th. For this tour meet me outside Holborn tube station for 2.15. Tour costs as above. Entrance to the museum is free.
What’s your taste? London icons; ancient monuments; a cathedral town?
I’m covering all these on public walks this week, as well as a sortie in a local neighbourhood, my neighbourhood, on Saturday to coincide with artists’ Open Studios and Open Squares weekend.
Tomorrow, Monday 8th June, I shall be guiding Westminster Abbey, the church of coronation and royal marriages. Meet me outside Westminster tube exit 4 at 10.45.
The tour costs £10, £8 concs, plus entrance to the abbey.
In the afternoon, I shall be at the British Museum. Entrance is free, so this time you pay for the tour only. Meet outside Holborn tube station for 2.15.
On Tuesday 9th June it’s an early start from Waterloo railway station to spend the day at Salisbury and Stonehenge. That first sight of the Standing Stones as we approach never fails to move me, and Salisbury is a gem of town with one of the most celebrated cathderlas in England. It also has a jolly good café, and must be one of the only cathedrals in the country to get rave reviews about its toilets.
Greenwich, meet at 10.30 outside Tower Hill by the Tramshed Coffee stop. The boat is at 10.55 so we need to make a prompt start. Greenwich is beautiful at any time of year, but spring in London is special.
In the afternoon, having raced back to town, I shall be guiding the British Museum. Meet me at 2.15 outside Holborn tube.
I am being privately Sherlockian on Tuesday in French; in parliament on Wednesday afternoon in English (guide 8, if you want to book to be on my tour). Continue reading “Mostly Private”→