I like surprises – well, pleasant ones – and a pleasant surprise was awaiting me when I went to pick Tigger up from work this afternoon.
“We’re going on a taxi ride,” said she.
It turned out that there was a package to deliver to an address in EC1. Normally, this would have been sent by motorcycle courier but none were available, so a cab had been ordered instead. This often happens, and the cab driver is perfectly capable of delivering the package by himself.
However, Tigger quickly noticed that the delivery address was on our way home so proposed to take the package herself. That way we would get a taxi ride and be taken partway home!
The cab company has replaced all its old cars with modern hybrid motors. Have you ever ridden in one of these? It’s quite strange until you are used to it. When you stop at traffic lights, say, the motor stops. “Oops!” you think: “The driver has stalled his engine.” But he hasn’t. This is the way these hybrids work.
When the lights go to green, off you go again, but almost silently, as if the car is coasting downhill without using the motor. This is because it is running on its electric motor. Only when the speed picks up does the diesel engine cut in. It’s a bit like travelling in a luxurious milk float.
We reached the address, went in and delivered the package. Job done. What now? Well, we could go home, or…
Nearby was a sweet little cafe. The temptation was too great: in we went and ordered coffee. The cafe had a refrigerated display cabinet and in the cabinet were… all sorts of things. Including cake. Mmmm, cake. So we had some cake with our coffee.
Afterwards, invigorated by the coffee and cake, we went for a little walk.
First, we happened upon “St Johns Garden” (yes, without an apostrophe). Taking its name from a nearby priory chapel (now gone), the park was once a burial ground but has now been refurbished as a public garden.
There is nothing unusual about this and many of London’s lovely little parks and gardens are recycled burial grounds. Nonetheless, there were some odd features in this one. Firstly, it possessed a garden gnome! I have never seen a gnome in a Council-run park before, but there is definitely one here.
He looks very much at home too but I can’t help wondering whether he has escaped from somewhere and is dossing in the park.
But that’s not all. What do you make of this strange spiky contraption?
I thought at first that it might be sort sort of security device from the days of body-snatchers, intended to prevent the theft of a corpse within the grave. Quite often in recycled burial grounds, one or two tombs are left in place as decoration or for their historical interest.
This object, however, was obviously too small for a tomb. It looks like a set of miniature spears, spearheads uppermost, in a rack. The result is rather like a bed of nails. Here is another view that shows the spearheads, tipped to prevent injury.
A clue might be found in another nearby artifact. This ghostly object also looked like a tomb at first glimpse.
From closer up, it looked like an imitation in fibreglass, or some such material, of a bench made with wooden slats. But then there were the knobbly bits. These are representations, in relief, of objects such as a scarf, a pipe, a pair of gloves and some other less recognizable items. Here is a more detailed view.
Perhaps both of these objects are intended as public works of art. The “bench” did appear to have had a label that had been removed – you might spot the smudge along the bottom edge. Both of them prove to be traps for leaves, rubbish and dirt which clog up the details.
Before catching the bus, we passed through another architectural feature bearing the name of St John. This is the beautifully styled St John’s Gate.
Dating from 1504, this was the south gate of the Priory of the Knights of St John, also known as the Knights Hospitallers. It has been much restored, however, which is presumably why it is still in such a sturdy state of repair.
Today, the building, which includes accommodation on the right (not visible in the picture), houses the offices and museum of the St John Ambulance, those compassionate folk who turn up wherever crowds gather in order to offer first aid to those suffering fainting fits or accidents.
We may regret Henry VIII’s in closure the religious houses which led to the destruction of many of them but, on the other hand, this has left us with many an ancient relic that both decorates the environment and in intriguing us, invites us to enquire into their origins and learn about our history.