Tigger has a new camera that does time exposures so she wanted to try it out this evening with some night shots. I think I would have preferred to stay at home and made tea but – what the heck – let’s give it a go.
We went first to London Bridge though by the time we arrived the light had barely begun to fade. The blocky brown building (it is made of polished granite) is called No 1 London Bridge. If you stand beneath it, it is huge. The Shard, however, dwarfs it as though it were a footstool.
This is a more traditional view from London Bridge, taken amid a crowd of tourists all clicking away too. To the left of the three buildings on the left (the one with the pyramid top is Canary Wharf) you may see a light in the sky. (Click to see a larger version.) That is an aircraft taking off from City Airport.
A glance upriver shows the sun beginning to set, silhouetting Blackfriars station and the BT Tower, whose rotating restaurant right at the top of the tower, has been closed ever since the management became afraid it might be a terrorist target.
I find there is something magical about the city at night when it is dressed all over with lights of many colours in many different patterns. As the sky darkens and the lights start to come on, it is as if a new city awakes and takes over from its daytime partner.
We caught a bus to St Paul’s. Once one of London’s tallest buildings, it is increasingly dwarfed by skyscrapers devoid of the architectural inspiration that Wren brought to his masterpiece.
Its full name is the St Lawrence Jewry Church Fountain and it was built in 1866, designed by John Robinson and with a bronze sculpture by Joseph Durham. While the Guildhall was being redeveloped, the fountain was dismantled but has now been re-erected.
Joseph Durham’s sculpture, being black, is not easy to make out in low light conditions. I reluctantly used flash, something I avoid as far as possible, but it may give an idea of the piece. If you can work out the meaning, you are more knowledgeable than I.
I imagine that this sculpture represents St Lawrence but I could be wrong. If you have better information, please let me know.
What happened next was as amusing as it was unexpected. We had noticed that there was filming in progress in the area but had ignored it to get on with our own business. Near the fountain was a technician fiddling with two huge projector lamps. He suddenly switched these on and one of them was pointing at the dome of St Paul’s which it illuminated brightly! We accepted this opportunity to take a few photos…!
Beside St Paul’s is a famous group of statuary representing Queen Anne (who was on the throne when St Paul’s was completed) and figures representing the countries she reckoned she ruled. Or rather it is a copy, made in 1866, of the original sculpture that had to be done away with because it had badly deteriorated.
For some reason, Queen Anne is very popular with tourists who like to photograph one another standing in front of her. I don’t know why this is unless it is because the statue is smaller than St Paul’s and therefore more manageable. Either way, getting a clear shot of her is no easy task, even at night.
Walking down from St Paul’s towards the Thames, you come to the Millennium Bridge which looks a little eerie dressed in low-level lights.
The big chimney is an unmistakeable feature of the Tate Modern gallery, an interesting place to go, as much for the building itself as for the artworks contained within it.
The Millennium Bridge provides a platform for viewing – and photographing – the river and its surroundings. By now though, it was getting a little chilly so we decided to head for home. I took one photo however, and this allows me to end, as I started, with the Shard. Monstrous as it is, it too benefits from the magic of the night and night-time illuminations.
Today we are off to Brighton on the south coast. Much as I like Brighton, the town where I grew up, I have mixed feelings about this because on a Saturday in summer both the trains and the town itself are likely to be packed. We took the bus to London Bridge station where I bought cheese and tomato baguettes with coffee for breakfast while Tigger acquired train tickets from one of the machines. We narrowly missed one train but another arrived at 10:12. As this train also calls at Gatwick, it is popular with people making for the airport. We were among the first to board but the train was soon full. There is inadequate provision on these trains for luggage, and there were bags, cases and pushchairs everywhere, some blocking the doorways.
The day started grey and fairly cool but as we trundle south, the sun is making efforts to break through the clouds.
When we reached Brighton, the station, though busy, wasn’t as crowded as I had feared. Perhaps after all it will not be such a scramble to get a train back to London later.
We soon discovered, however, that the local football team, Brighton and Hove Albion, aka the Seagulls, were at home to Doncaster, kick-off at 3 pm. Many of the pubs were packed with people in blue and white striped shirts, some carrying flags.
From the station we walked down Gloucester Road, which leads to Gardner Street and Kensington Gardens, always picturesque and lively.
As usual, we set out to explore, wandering more or less at random. Knowing Brighton well we enjoy familiar sights but there is always something new to discover.
As we walked along Kensington Place and saw a skip, we thought someone was throwing away cats…
But no, he was a friendly cat who had found that the green canvas in the skip had been deliciously warmed by the sun. He was ready for some attention, though…
Brighton is well known for its wall paintings and seems to have an active community dedicated to filling up blank spaces. Above is a selection from Frederick Place. Note that the Banksy of kissing police officers has been covered to protect it, whereas in some towns they are actively erased. I was glad to see the humble pigeon has been remembered!
Clouds had been gathering and now it began to rain. We could either take shelter or go for a bus ride. We returned to the station looked at the destinations on the fronts of the buses. One was going to Ditchling Beacon, so we went aboard.
The bus route terminates in a car park out in the middle of nowhere. It was still raining and when the bus driver said he was going straight back we remained aboard. I snatched one quick picture of the rain-swept Sussex countryside before the bus left.
The bus travelled up the Ditchling Road and then back down it on the return journey. On the way back we stopped off here, at Dover Road, because this is where I grew up. The post box on the corner always seemed to welcome us home when we had been away. So… this is the nostalgia spot!
Although most of the corner shops to which I was sent on errands have disappeared, some of the shops and places I knew still exist, such as the bread shop. The family that owned it then were German and made all sorts of bread and cakes that were new to the neighbours.
In this era of post office closures, it’s good to see that the one in Preston Drove at Fiveways is still going strong. I could continue, showing you others, but I will desist and spare you that. Suffice it to say that we wandered around my childhood haunts and I lectured Tigger on all the people who had lived in the houses and all the things they were memorable for…
Tigger is interested in cinemas so we caught a bus to Preston Circus and went to look at another of my childhood memories, the Duke of York’s Cinema. Opened on September 22nd 1910, it celebrated its centenary last year.
In my day, the cinema had two domes but these have been removed at some point and the roof has been sporting a pair of legs since March 1995. These originally came from one of the owner’s other cinemas in Oxford.
As is not uncommon with things remembered from childhood, the foyer is smaller than I remember it. Instead of the more common paper tickets, the box office issued tokens, possibly made of Bakelite. These were given up at the door and reused.
Sometimes, as a special treat, we would take seats in the circle. We couldn’t go up there today but they did kindly allow us to take photos from the foyer.
Adjoining the cinema is Preston Circus Fire Station. This understated building dates from 1938 – just in time to help Brighton through the Second World War. It is part of the East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service which has a very informative Web site with a page dedicated to this fire station.
We also took a turn around the Open Market. I remember this as a very lively and busy place. Today it was very quiet but, to be fair, we had left it a bit late and most of the stalls had closed down for the day. It opened in 1926 with trading from barrows, the first permanent stalls being added in 1938. I have read that there are plans to develop and modernize it. I hope these are successful as I would not like the market to disappear.
From the Market, you can easily see the gigantic St Bartholomew’s Church, opened in 1874. What possessed them to build such a monster? My mother always told me that it had been built on the same plan as Noah’s Arc as given in the Bible. I was always mystified as to why she would think this and was therefore greatly amused to read this history of its building and to see that it had in Council been referred to scathingly as a “Noah’s Arc in brick”. Perhaps she had heard about this and misinterpreted it.
Brighton’s other major church is St Peter’s, designed by Sir Charles Barry and built between 1824 and 1828 in Portland stone. When Brighton became a city in 2000, there were demands that St Peter’s be raised to the dignity of a cathedral. Far from that, it looked as though the church – in a state of disrepair and suffering from the disappearing congregation syndrome – might actually be demolished. While it has been saved from that fate, it is very unlikely that it will ever become a cathedral.
Few people will be unaware that Brighton, an obscure and poor fishing village, became famous as a result of the Prince Regent building his country retreat here. Originally a fairly plain house, it was subsequently redeveloped in the most remarkable way to become the archetype of orientalist Regency design and was widely imitated though never equalled. The phrase “Indian outside and Chinese inside” describes it in a nutshell but does not give any idea of the magnificence of this royal palace. You need to visit it to enjoy its splendour.
During World War Two, people caught outside during an air raid would, if nearby, run into the Pavilian grounds. This was because during one of his broadcasts, William Joyce, nicknamed “Lord Haw-Haw”, announced that the Pavilion would not be bombed as Hitler intended to make it his residence in England. One bomb did in fact fall in the Pavilion grounds but no damage was done to the buildings. Were the bomber crew punished for this breach of Hitler’s instructions, I wonder?
We arrived at the Old Steine (which rhymes with “green”) where stands this beautiful fountain. Well, I think it’s beautiful though some opinions differ. The lower bowl is supported by three intertwined dolphins which are the symbolic animal of Brighton. (Walking around Brighton, you will see representations of dolphins everywhere.)
The listed fountain, designed by A.H. Wilds, and financed partly by public subscription and by John Cordy Burrows (to whom a statue stands nearby), was inaugurated in 1846. Unusually, it was not in celebration of one of the Queen’s jubilees but commemorated her 27th birthday. The foundation was cast at the Eagle Foundry in Gloucester Road – a reminder that the seaside resort is also no stranger to industry.
From the Old Steine, we caught a bus to Hove. Brighton and Hove enjoy a strange relationship, being joined at the hip, so to speak, while maintaining separate identities. In my day, we thought of Hove as the posh part. Hove was quieter, more sedate and more affluent. Is it still the same today or have the currents of modern life had a levelling effect?
The bus brought us to Hove railway station where we crossed to the other side of the track by this bridge. I do not know how old it is – it’s a fine piece of iron work dating, I would guess, from the early 1900s or even earlier – but in desperate need of cleaning and refurbishing. It has a feature that is unusual in the UK but common in the Netherlands: on the left-hand side of the stairs, there is a metal runner for the wheels of bicycles being pushed up the stairs. But what was it that led us to cross the bridge?
This, the old Dubarry perfume and cosmetics factory. We spotted it from the train once and decided to take a further look. It is quite difficult to photograph because the surrounding drive is rather narrow in relation to the building’s height. Dubarry went bust in the 1960s and today the block comprises apartments and ancillary facilities including a gymnasium.
I don’t know when the factory was built or, if already built, occupied by Dubarry, though I have seen a reference to a prospectus dating to 1923 that mentions the Hove building. That seems to fit the whimsical Art Nouveau font in the mosaics. The building itself is rather plain and it is these green and white mosaics that are its principal charm. While these proclaim Dubarry’s magic in making women beautiful, men are not forgotten: one inscrption reads “DUBARRY’S SILKASHAVE SOAP FOR A LUXURIOUS SHAVE”.
Before leaving, we took a look at this row of shops, dated 1896. You might think it is just a row of local shops, especially in view of it being tucked away in a corner. However, one of the shopkeepers, intrigued to know what we were up to, came out to speak to us. He was able to tell us that at least the first three shops (as they are today) had once been one big shop. This was confirmed by the fact that the doorsteps of these shops all have the same name in mosaic: “The Store”. Such fascinating quirks of history turn up where you least expect.
While Brighton is the main focus of my nostalgia, Hove plays a role in this too. For a while I went to school in Hove and as the bus took us along Cromwell Road, this suddenly brought back memories. My school was called Cromwell House School and might well have been in this street though I imagine all traces of it are long gone.
We caught a bus which took us back to Brighton and, conveniently, dropped us at the station. I was relieved to see that we had avoided the post-match exodus and even though there a few supporters on the train avidly discussing the match, the train was far from crowded.
Despite the earlier rain and cloudy conditions, we had enjoyed a good day out. We had visited some familiar sights and made some new discoveries. Also, I had been able to indulge myself with a little nostalgia trip. Whether or not Hove is still the posh relation to trendy Brighton, both have a lot to offer and we shall return ere long.
One evening when working in the bookshop, I was approached by a customer. She had a simple request: "May I use your photocopier?" she enquired. "No," we said, "We don’t have one." She insisted; she was sure we had one hidden away "out the back".
Why did she need a photocopier, anyway? She waved a book at us. "All I need," said she, "is the introduction to this book. It would be silly pay for the whole book when you could just photocopy the introduction for me." Top marks for effrontery, if nothing else.
Easy access to high quality photocopiers in workplaces – often relegated to corridors, store rooms and dark corners where people can’t see what you are up to – has encouraged people to make copies of material that, without the photocopier, they would have had to buy. This reflects what happened in the field of recorded music when cheap recording devices came onto the market, and similarly with computer software, once people realized that applications were merely files and could be copied.
Photocopying the paper version of the latest Dan Brown or Jeffrey Archer is still a lengthy task but an ebook in digital form can be copied in seconds and without the labour of turning pages and pressing buttons. This, of course, is a rerun of the débâcle over downloaded recordings of music and, following the lead of the music publishers and software manufacturers, ebook publishers have seen fit to introduce their own version of copy protection.
They don’t call it "copy protection", however, but "Digital Rights Management" or DRM for short. The idea is that the digital text of the book you buy – or, increasingly, borrow from the public library – is contained in a software envelope. This is encrypted and is intended to make the book – or copies of it – impossible to display on computers or book readers other than the one to which it was legitimately downloaded. The DRM envelope also allows other clever things to be done. For example, it will "expire" a book downloaded from a library at the end of the loan period.
There are several schemes of DRM used by different publishers. Why? Surely, if the device is used merely to prevent illegal copying, one scheme would do for all books? The answer is that DRM is not merely there to prevent you copying a book and sharing it with your friends: it is also used as part of the battle between suppliers for supremacy in the market. From the customer’s point of view, the best solution would be that you could read any book from any vendor on any ebook reader. That apparently doesn’t suit the suppliers, however, and they are using different DRM schemes and different ebook formats to prevent this freedom of access. For you the customer, it means that once you have chosen your ebook reader, you are tied to one specific supplier for all your DRM-protected books. You cannot "shop around".
Imagine that in order to buy paper books you had to sign up with a particular bookseller – Waterstone’s or Smith’s, say – and then buy all your books from that one shop. What an outcry there would be and rightly so. And yet the electronic booksellers are being allowed to get away with it, presumably because legislators are always slow to catch on to new technology.
Because applications such as Calibre can easily and quickly convert an ebook from one format to another, use of an exclusive format does not of itself prevent a book supplied, say, by Amazon for the Kindle, being reformatted and read on a Sony Reader or on an iPad. Using a different DRM scheme, however, makes it more difficult (legally speaking, impossible) to transfer a book. You, as the customer, are inconvenienced and subjected to restrictive practices simply because of the spiteful competitiveness of the ebook suppliers and one of those in particular. (I hear that some of the others are fighting back by releasing some of their books DRM-free and therefore transferable across ebook readers.)
That which can be encrypted can also be decrypted. In Classical times the Greeks used many forms of encryption for military communications including the scytale, where a strip of material was wound in a spiral around a stick and the message written across the spiral. To read the message, the recipient needed first to wrap the strip around a similar sized stick. Since then there has been a continuous race between encryptors and code breakers which the computer has only escalated to new and breathtaking heights of intensity.
Copy protection of music and software soon spawned a clandestine industry dedicated to "hacking" or "cracking", i.e. disabling, the protection. For practically any commercial software package, you can now find a site on the Web supplying "cracked" versions from which the copy protection has been removed. Needless to say, the same thing has happened to DRM in the ebook sector.
I am told that DRM protection is actually quite weak by modern encryption standards and that cracking it does not pose serious difficulties to anyone with a modicum of knowledge of the subject. Using a search engine you will find thousands of articles about DRM removal and sites offering software to remove the protection from any ebook. In theory, if you do remove protection from a book, even one you have legitimately bought, you are breaking the law. On the other hand, if you keep the books you unprotect and do not give copies to others, how is anyone to know? And, in that case, where’s the harm?
The complementary question, of course, is Why would you want to remove DRM protection?
The first answer pertains to moral philosophy. If I legally buy some article then I should expect to exercise full control over that article and not be restricted in what I can do with it. For example, if I buy a paper edition of The Da Vinci Code, I can give it away and even sell it to a vendor of secondhand books. I can read it in the living room, in the bedroom and even on the toilet and no one is going to say I cannot do these things. Why, then am I restricted as to what I can do with an ebook? Why can I not read it on my computer, on my Kindle, on my smartphone and on my Android tablet but only on one of these? Why can I not give it away as I can give away a paper copy? Many of us see it as immoral that we do not have full control of a piece of merchandise that we have legally bought. (I think the argument that we have not bought the text but only the right to read it might be hard to substantiate in court, given that a physical electronic object, namely the book file, is delivered to the purchaser.
The second answer is alluded to above: once I have legally downloaded my book, I may want to read it on a variety of devices at home, on the train and at work or at college. It’s my copy of the book, bought and paid for, and who is to dictate how I use it?
DRM copy protection deeply interferes with these natural rights. It exists solely to safeguard the profits of the producer and while that is a quite legitimate aim, in my view it ceases to be legitimate when it interferes with the rights of the purchaser.
I have never cracked the DRM protection on an ebook and I have no intention of doing so. Nor am I going to suggest you do so. However, the fact remains that DRM is widely being cracked and that you don’t need to be a technical whizz to do this because the tools are easily available online. As with music files, ebook suppliers may soon find that DRM protection only punishes the law-abiding while posing no obstacle to the law-breakers. This fact also supports my contention that its real use is to keep customers tied to a specific vendor, much as mobile networks lock the phones they supply – an immoral if not illegal practice which has as yet to be effectively challenged.
To be honest, I hadn’t thought much about this issue until I decided to look at what was on offer at the local public library. Since becoming the owner of an Android tablet with a book reader on it, I have been reading free ebooks which are now in plentiful supply on the Web. Most of the free ones, however, are books on which copyright has expired and they are therefore quite old. Though this has been a good experience in that I have made the acquaintance of some very good books that I am glad to have read, I couldn’t help wondering whether I could get hold of some more modern books through the public library system. The answer is yes.
In the case of the library I have been using (not Islington, whose libraries have as yet to develop a system for borrowing ebooks online), the borrowing system works as follows. You first download and install a copy of Adobe Digital Editions (ADE) and then you register an Adobe ID to "authorize" ADE on that computer. You do not need to register an ID to use ADE simply as a book reader but you do need to do so in order to authorize your computer to receive DRM protected books from libraries and retailers. (At least, I think that’s the case – correct me if I am wrong.) You then go online to your library, choose your book and click "Download". When you do this, up pops ADE and gathers the book to its bosom or, more precisely, adds it to your bookshelf. Here, you can read it offline until the period of loan comes to an end and the book "expires". I am not sure how expiration manifests itself and am awaiting the event with interest. Does the book disappear? Or simply become unreadable?
My first thought was "Can I copy the book to my Android tablet and read it in bed?" The answer is no. In order to do that I would have to install ADE on my tablet, "authorize" it, and transfer the book. The blurb on the ADE site seems to indicate that the software allows you to move a book from one authorized device to another but I have not so far found any function in the software to do this. In any case, it is not even theoretically possible as there is as yet no version of ADE for Android.
The above paragraph provides a graphic example of why perfectly law-abiding citizens feel hostile to DRM and would be tempted to by-pass it. The borrowed book is in a format that I could quite happily read on my tablet were it not copy protected. I am therefore limited to reading it on my PC instead of relaxing in bed reading it on my Android tablet, a quite unnecessary restriction.
Finally, you may think you are quite safe in downloading and circulating DRM-free ebooks but this is not necessarily the case. I believe that in the UK, copyright on a book normally lasts from publication until 70 years after the death of the author, after which it expires and the book is effectively placed in the public domain. However, it is possible for copyright on the same item to expire at different times in different jurisdictions or for copyright to be renewed in certain circumstances. In the age of universal electronic communications, you can obtain an ebook from sites in any countries. It is possible for a book that is out of copyright in country A to still be in copyright in country B. In that case, if you are in country B and you download the book and circulate copies, you may be breaking the law.
The above has been written from the point of view of the consumer of electronic literature. As a blogger, I should also be able to see the question for the other side, that is, as an author. My blog and my pictures have more than once been plagiarized and used without permission or acknowledgement by others. I therefore do recognize that authors have rights and need to be protected from illicit exploitation of their material. Insofar as devices such as DRM are directed to this aim of protecting the authors’ rights, and the concomitant rights of publishers, I am sympathetic to it. However, I feel that it is being used much more restrictively than is required by these laudable aims and that the book-reading community needs to press for a fairer and more liberal regime.
When Tigger left for work around 7 am, it was raining hard and the sky was the colour of lead. I reckoned it was going to be a day to stay indoors and catch up with all those tasks that I keep putting off. For a while I was quite busy too trying to get a piece of recalcitrant software to work (I failed and gave up) but when I next looked out of the window, the sun was shining! It seemed too good an opportunity to miss though I had no plans as to where to go.
So I just switched on my geotagger and went, hoping for the best. (I haven’t mentioned my geotagger recently, so if you would like a reminder, take a look at A walk with a geotagger.) Drifting like a boat on the current, I arrived in Risinghill Street which is a curious little stub of a road opposite the western end of Chapel Market. (See here, if you are a map enthusiast.)
In this back street is to be found “St Silas Church” (sic), founded in 1860 and opened for use in 1863. It is a Catholic church and there is nothing particularly interesting about it, except that we often hear its bell being rung while we are having breakfast in the nearby Cafe Alpino on Sunday morning.
The garden in front of the church, perhaps once part of its churchyard, is maintained by the Council and despite the stone crucifix, is open to public access. It’s quite a pleasant spot to linger a while. Someone had left bread for the pigeons and they were busily scoffing it. They were waddling up and down, throwing large pieces in the air hoping to break them into eatable portions. Pigeons are not the brightest brains on the block but I am very fond of them.
A “dutchpot”, as my knowledgeable readers are no doubt aware, is a cooking pot much used in Jamaican cuisine for stews and so on. Not that I have ever tasted dutchpot food: I just liked the way the colour of the turning bus matched that of the restaurant.
Rambling at random, I found myself in Muriel Street and remembered that this is where the Regent’s Canal emerges from the 976 yard-long tunnel that carries it under the Angel area of Islington. It is an ambition of mine to travel through the Islington Tunnel one day, preferably aboard a motor-powered boat as I don’t fancy having to participate in “legging” it through. (In the days of horse-drawn barges, passage through the tunnel was effected by the crew lying on their backs and powering the barge by “walking” along the wall, a process called “legging” for obvious reasons.)
I was surprised to see a slow but quite definite current carrying the water and the floating duckweed (which causes the green speckled effect on the surface) into the tunnel.
A coot came sailing out of the tunnel making their characteristic sound (which Tigger says sounds like someone hitting a squeaky toy with a mallet). The sound echoed loudly in the tunnel. The coot was intent on seeing off a rival – for such small birds they can be very aggressive.
It was quiet and peaceful along the tow path. There were a few people, including some joggers, and the pigeons and coots were keeping themselves busy.
As I went under the Caledonian Road bridge, I saw this fellow running towards me. The light was low and he was fast moving so the pictures are a little blurred. He didn’t seem at all timid though by the time I had taken to second picture he had disappeared completely.
Under the bridge too were pigeons, making use of niches in the structure. They watched me with interest but, like the rat, seemed far from timid. I think they were hoping I had food to share.
All along this section of the canal there are community gardens. The style and layout depends on the available space and, no doubt, the inspiration of the groups who garden them. All are well tended and show the benefit of regular care.
One of the more elaborately decorated gardens had three “bug hotels”, made of ceramic pipes, like the one in the photo. It’s nice see that the smallest members of the environment have been remembered.
This garden was notable too for its mosaics. There were three groups, birds, fish and insects, all well observed and colourful.
In front of the bird mosaics (though you probably can’t see it in the photo), a spider had built a large web. It was so fine that I wouldn’t have seen it but for the spider sitting near the middle. He must be a successful hunter to judge from the size of him.
Thornhill Bridge Community Garden is large and well laid out. It looks as if it has had a lot of money spent as it has custom made iron gates incorporating its name.
Perhaps you noticed the rough sleeper in the upper photo. Here he makes a strange pair with the gaping wooden whale. Life on the streets is hard and if he has a chance to rest a while in beautiful surroundings we should not begrudge him the chance.
On the way home, I passed through this Council estate, called the Half Moon Crescent Tenants’ Co-operative. The co-operative is one of three models under which Islington tenants can manage the estate themselves. It sounds an interesting initiative and the estate seemed to me to be very clean and well maintained.
You cannot know, of course, what it is really like to live in a place until you actually live there yourself, but the estate looked very pleasant and was tidy and clean.
Back where I started my walk, at the end of Chapel Market, I discovered the smallest garden of the tour. In fact, I don’t think I have ever seen a vegetable garden this small! According to the annotations, it contains butternut squash, purple sprouting broccoli and tomatoes. You might get a decent meal out of it if they all fruit together, I suppose! (You might be able to see a certain tigerish person reflected in the window and the glazed tiles.)
The tiny garden belongs to a pub called the Compass. It is opposite St Silas Church and thus closes the circle of my walk.
Our July “staycation” ended yesterday. As we spent the whole of the day in Islington you might think it would be difficult to tell whether we were still on holiday or not, especially as we went to Sainsbury’s in the morning to do our week’s shopping. We decided that it was still holiday and treated it as such.
There was no doubt about today, however. Today is definitely not holiday. The most obvious indication of that is the fact that Tigger went off to work once again this morning, our first parting for nine days!
I had some errands to run and these took me to Upper Street where I soon noticed the presence of fire engines and a crowd of people milling about as if they had been ejected from one of the buildings.
The fire engines were drawn up outside the National Westminster Bank but, the relaxed attitude of the fire fighters and the bystanders suggested that whatever had caused the call-out had been dealt with and I had missed the main event. Just my luck.
In the course of the last nine days, we went on visits to several places (nine in fact!), both within the London area and outside it. I will write up these trips, with photos as appropriate, and as I usually do, I will post them retrospectively on their dates, so these posts will appear between July 23rd and July 31st. I will also aggregate them as a page under Travels in the sidebar. The title of the page will be July Staycation 2011.
As usual this evening I went down to the Borough to meet Tigger from work. I took yet another photo of the monster they call The Shard, not because I like it but because it exercises a horrid fascination. It is an obscene blot on London’s skyline and the administration that gave permission for it to be built deserves everlasting shame.
Though not born in London, I have lived here for many years and consider myself a Londoner-by-adoption, as someone once kindly put it. Therefore, London and its wellbeing are of as much concern to me as to anyone born and bred in its streets. I deprecate the unholy alliance of money and politics that works to disfigure our city without concern for its character and history and without reference to us whose living environment it is.
Today we are off to an historic city prized in Roman times for its hot springs that enabled the construction of an elaborate bath house. The modern name still reflects this ancient usage: Bath. The weather is being kind and instead of yesterday’s clouded skies we have sunshine.
We left home just after 7 am and caught a 205 to Paddington station. We were too early for many of the breakfast places and made do in the meantime with coffee and croissants at Sloe Bar. Later we found a stall selling porridge which we consumed aboard our train.
As it is the weekend, the cheap rate applies all day and we have reserved seats on the 0900 Weston Super Mare train. Annoyingly, they keep us waiting until the last minute to announce the platform number so that when they do so, there is an undignified rush to board. Although we have reserved seats (they are obligatory as we are limited to specific trains) they are not together. We do what we usually do in such circumstances: hurry ahead of the crowd and grab a pair of unreserved seats. They are so called "Priority Seats" (for disabled passengers) and have extra room for our long legs.
The train, destined for Weston Super Mare, became full as we progressed, with standing room only after Swindon. We had a struggle to disembark in Bath.
From the station, we walked down Manvers Street, past the famous premises of George Bayntun, seller and binder of books,
into Pierrepont Road where the Labour Party occupies Century House,
and so to Terrace Walk, an 18th century (1730) terrace, built inevitably in local stone, originally accommodating luxury shops and coffee houses with living accommodation above them. We also partook of coffee here at Gourmet Scoffs.
On the island limited by Terrace Walk and two other roads, stands this rather pretty fountain. It was made by one S. Stefano Vallerio Pieroni in 1859 and was placed near the Pump Room from where it was removed to this position in 1989. It is a listed building. Pieroni seems a somewhat obscure artist though he was responsible also for the statue of King Bladud that originally topped a fountain of free mineral water (also 1859).
We continued on and our path took as past Bath Abbey, whose full name is The Abbey Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. The present building was begun in 1499 upon the foundations of a demolished Norman cathedral. The tower can be visited as long as you don’t mind scaling the 212 steps.
Bath is of course full of grand buildings, most made of the famous Bath stone. Strict building regulations control the style of modern buildings and the materials that can be used, in order to preserve the visual harmony of the city. Above is the Guildhall, built between 1775 and 1778, the third building on that site. Today it can be hired for “events”.
Contrast the Guildhall with the rather sad looking building above. This is the Corn Market, which I believe was opened in the 1850s, having previously been a Georgian house. Various plans for its use have been proposed though its future seems in doubt, especially as it is not listed.
Our destination was the Assembly Rooms. Built in 1771, they replaced earlier assembly rooms in another part of town. Such establishments performed an important function in polite Georgian society: people would gather, or “assemble”, to dance, converse, take tea, meet and be seen. The building is still open to the public though its rooms can also be hired for private functions. However, one part always remains open, namely the Fashion Museum. This was what we had come to see.
There is an admission charge (see the Fashion Museum site, click on “Visiting”) but we got in free with our Art Fund membership cards. Note that photography is allowed and people were clicking away all around me because, apart from the exhibits, the building itself is also worth seeing for its own sake.
The ground floor exhibition was of costumes designed for cinema costume dramas. Above is the armour worn by Julius Caesar’s personal guard in the 1959 American production of Ben-Hur.
This group of costumes was designed by Michael O’Connor for the 2008 production of The Duchess, based on the life of Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, wife of the 5th Duke. Some of the scenes were filmed in the Assembly Rooms.
While films enthusiasts seemed to enjoy these costumes, they interested me relatively little because, no matter how accurate their design and fabrication, they are not real, but are artificial modern creations. I am much more interested in genuine historical artifacts.
Fortunately, there is a good selection of these in the lower-floor exhibition. Above is a rare dress dating from 1660, called the Silver Tissue Dress because it is made of silk woven with silver thread and parchment lace. Made to fit quite a small person, the dress is thought to have been worn for a debut attendance at court in the presence of Charles II. (The picture is not as sharp as I would like because these rare and valuable exhibits are understandably kept behind glass which causes problems for the photographer.)
Gloves somehow seem more personal than some other items of dress and this collection of raised hands looks rather dramatic. I was only partially successful in minimizing reflections but I at least managed to keep myself out of the picture!
There was a section on dress, for men and women, from the second half of the 20th century. While these made a vivid contrast with the garments of earlier periods, they were just too familiar and I took no photos of them. I’ll go back in a 100 years for another look when they will perhaps seem more interesting.
When the Assembly Rooms were the gathering place of the 18th century glitterati, riding in a sedan chair was the stylish way to arrive. Carried by two “chair men”, they were probably the easiest way to get about town, other than actually walking (perish the thought!). But the sedan was not to have things all its own way…
If you thought that the Bath Chair was invented in Bath, you were right. If, like me, you thought is was only for transporting the sick and infirm, you were wrong. The Bath Chair, running on wheels and steered by the passenger, was invented in the mid-18th century and soon rivalled – and eventually replaced – the sedan chair.
For lunch we went to the pub. Not just any old pub, of course, but The Porter, described as Bath’s only fully vegetarian pub. Such an establishment must be pretty rare even outside Bath, I think. It offers a wide range of meals, all very tasty and all very vegetarian (plenty are also vegan).
After lunch we continued our rambles and saw many interesting sights. We eventually reached the Victoria Art Gallery.
The foundation stone informs us that it was laid in the 60th year of Victoria’s reign, on October 18th 1897. The statue of the Queen over the door has beneath it an inscription telling us that it was “ERECTED IN LOYALTY AND LOVE BY THE WOMEN OF BATH 1901”, possibly as a post mortem tribute. It is interesting, though, that it was an initiative by women in a city so obviously – if beautifully – designed by men.
As is usual, the rules of engagement prohibit photography of the art works but allow the building itself to be photographed. The above picture of the domed ceiling in the entrance hall will give some idea of its quality.
We walked from there to the Pulteney Bridge, the justly famous bridge built across the Avon in 1773. It is a very handsome structure and while we were there was attracting a lot of attention from tourists.
The bridge is also a good place to observe gulls and, if you are lucky, photograph them in flight. The side of the bridge shown in the above two photos is the most usual view but other aspects of the bridge are also of interest.
Another view of the bridge is as a road bridge – called Bridge Street, reasonably enough – which is lined with shops and cafes, a charming alternative to the more conventional picture.
At one end of the bridge is this little coffee shop and tea room. We managed to find a table and ordered two cream teas.
The view of the bridge from the other side is not one tourists usually bother with but I find it has a fascination of its own.
This cliff-like building is the Empire Hotel. The foundation stone (invisible below street level) was laid in 1899 and the hotel completed at the very end of the Victorian era, in 1901. In style and in name, it is a late blossom of the Victorian spirit.
Naturally, we took a turn around Bath’s covered market. Markets vary in size and quality across the country but in a good one, like that in Bath, there is always plenty to see with colourful goods on display and colourful characters selling them. You may pick up a bargain too, especially at the end of the day.
Already in a charter of 1371, Bath was said to have had a market “since time immemorial”. Originally, the market was covered only by the sky but in more recent times, several buildings in several different locations have been dedicated to the purpose. The present market building dates from 1861.
We sat for a while in the gardens at Orange Grove, near the Abbey. When the supposed curative waters of the spa were at the height of their popularity, the rich and famous came to partake of them. Among them was the King, William of Orange, after whom the Grove was named. Richard Beau Nash raised this obelisk in honour of the King in 1734, though it had to be rebuilt in 1834, having by then fallen into a state of disrepair.
We made our way slowly back to the station where we met the station gull. Explaining that we were not supposed to feed the gulls failed to impress him as he was convinced that we had something for him. Actually, it turned out that he was right.
We had reserved seats on the train but they were far apart so we preferred to compete for unreserved ones. The train was quite full but we managed to get seats one in front of the other. At Swindon a lot of people got out and we were able to blag a couple of seats together.
Although we had been to Bath many times before, we hadn’t visited the Fashion Museum or the Victoria Art Gallery, so they were new pleasures for us. Bath is a pretty and a fascinating city with historic traces from many periods and with its collection of irreplaceable buildings, an architectural treasure house.
We are off to Southampton today. In St John Street at the Angel we caught the 421 bus to Waterloo but got off a couple of stops after the station to look for breakfast.
On the way we passed along this tunnel which has been designated a permitted graffiti area. I don’t know of any others but assume this has been tried before. The tunnel walls are completely covered with graffiti, many of which are themselves partially covered by other paintings and defaced by "tags".
Freedom to paint provided an opportunity to watch a graffiti artist at work – rare, because for obvious reasons, they usually perform their art in secret.
The area was set up to encourage young artists (is there another Banksy waiting to be discovered?) and to draw them away from places where their creations are unwelcome and considered to deface the environment. Despite the over-painting, there is clearly not enough space here to cope for all of London’s graffiti artists.
Inevitably, the owners have to enforce rules (or they could be liable for any illegal messages) but it is interesting how taggers have invaded the board, surely demonstrating the anti-social attitude that is associated with their activity.
We found breakfast – not where this sinister gent is lurking – but at Marie’s Thai Cafe in the same street, called Lower Marsh, a dual purpose establishment that is a typical English cafe during the day and a Thai restaurant at night, a clever use of resources.
After breakfast we continued on to Waterloo station and there caught the Weymouth train which calls at Southampton. I did my usual trick and dozed off during the journey, awaking to find the passenger in front complaining that I was pushing his seat with my knees. Tigger suggested he change seats and he did so. Modern trains often have pathetically little space between seats so that if you are taller than average (and the population as a whole is getting larger), you have difficulty fitting in.
At Southampton station we boarded the free bus which took us to the centre where we first stopped off for refreshments and then went on to explore the city in our usual way. We met the Balloon Man who makes animals and hats for children by inflating and twisting balloons into contorted shapes.
We had a look at the Bargate, dating from the 12th century when it was the city’s north gate. Later, two round towers were added (13th century) and it was extended to include a guildhall in the 15th.
The other side was hard to photograph because of various clutter, not least a van. You can see the windows of the Guildhall and the staircase entrance to the Bargate Monument Gallery.
We went up the stone staircase to have a look at the exhibition in the gallery, admission being free.
We were not allowed to take photos of the exhibits, but photographing the building itself was permitted. Above you see a section of the old wooden ceiling, though how old it is I do not know.
I also photographed this sculpture though, for once, I neglected to note who she was and the plate below the statue is illegible in the photo.
We walked on through Southampton which has all the expected features of a modern town, including streets of shops, such as East Street above. Because Southampton has been an important sea port since time immemorial, though, it abounds in reminders of its historic past. You stumble over these, so to speak, at every turn.
Soon after their arrival, the Normans built a castle here. As they did often, they first built it of wood and later rebuilt it in stone. In 1961, archaeologists discovered the remains of two 14th century “drum towers” that had flanked a gate. These have been partially restored. The castle itself is lost: an apartment block now stands on the site.
At this point, I would like to get rid of Jane Austen. To be honest I don’t know a lot about her and don’t care whether she wrote her own books or these were corrected by her editor. We soon discovered that she is connected with Southampton and the sign board on the left tells us that she had a house here. Fair enough, but then other signs popped up until I had the distinct impression that the wretched woman was stalking us. I will note the fact and mention her no further.
In October 1338, 50 French and Genoese ships stole into Southampton Harbour and the crews attacked and looted the town, including the stores of King Edward III. He subsequently ordered the building of a defensive wall along what was then the quay to prevent future raids. This wall is called the Arcades for obvious reasons.
The loading and unloading of ships took place here and valuable cargoes were landed. Further along is the Royal Quay, where goods for the King were unloaded.
The castle reached down to the Royal Quay along which its wall ran. This entrance, called the Watergate, was added in the 14th century to allow goods to enter the castle but was small and stoutly defended against attack. The gate was restored and modified in the 19th century.
Goods were transported up this curvaceous path called Blue Anchor Lane. (Google maps denies its existence but it is real enough.) At the top of the lane is this magnificence house.
One of Southampton’s favourite treasures, this beautiful house belonged to a Tudor merchant.
We were making our way to the seafront because we had it in mind to take lunch at a restaurant we had visited before. We passed this striking building, obviously once the head of a pier though today operating as “Kuti’s Royal Thai Pier”, in other words a Thai restaurant. The pier actually dates from 1833 when it was opened by Princess Victoria, who as Queen, would later preside over what we call the Victorian era. Two fires in 1987 and 1992 destroyed the major part of the structure, leaving the pier head that we see here.
Nearby is this robust 14th century building once known as the Wool House. Wool was an important export in the Middle Ages providing the basis of the town’s prosperity. Wool was stored here before being shipped abroad. During the Napoleonic Wars, French prisoners of war were incarcerated here and some carved their names in the woodwork. It is now occupied by the town’s Maritime Museum.
Despite the many distractions, we eventually reached the restaurant, looking forward to a good lunch. Unfortunately, we were disappointed. The balloons indicate that there was a large party event going on inside and this slowed the kitchen so that we had to wait a long time for our food. When it came, it wasn’t really worth the wait. The mood was not improved by the man with the mobile stuck to his ear who engaged in long complaining phone calls in a loud voice throughout.
After lunch we continued walking and exploring. We discovered the Medieval Merchant’s House, dating from the 14th century. It can be visited though we do not do so today. That is a pleasure awaiting a further visit.
Our circuitous rambles, not all of which I can recount, brought us back to the quay area at Westgate. This was the point of access to the town’s original quay, West Quay. It is very defensive: there are grooves indicating that there was once a portcullis, and arrow slits through which to attack a raider. We are told that some of Henry V’s forces marched through this gate on the way to Agincourt in 1415 and that the Pilgrim Fathers went aboard the Mayflower at West Quay at the start of their epic voyage.
We now had a small adventure to the extent of going somewhere where it was not possible to go. But we did go, and we have the photos to prove it! It started when we entered through a doorway into a yard, one of whose features was a Norman fireplace dating from the 1200s, complete with chimney (though it had actually been brought here from another building).
We found stone steps leading to a passageway and went up to see where it went…
At the top, we had a good view of the courtyard with the Norman chimney and the steps which we had climbed. But where were we?
We had gone back in time and now found ourselves in a beautiful Tudor garden! Well, we hadn’t actually gone back in time, of course, but the restored Tudor Garden, belonging to the Tudor Merchant’s House, was real enough. There were beds and borders of the species of plants and flowers that the Tudors would have known and appreciated.
There was also a Tudor fountain and some seats where you could sit and enjoy the peaceful surroundings.
There was even a big old cannon gun though, strictly speaking, in a part of the grounds that once belonged to St Denys’ Priory. Try keeping the kids off the gun. By the way, where are the kids… and all the tourists? There was a cafe at the back of the garden so we asked for a cup of tea. They looked startled. “Who let you in here?” they asked. “This place isn’t open. It won’t be open until the mayor opens it tomorrow.” Someone must have left the door open and we sneaked in. But I’m glad we did.
The Tudor Garden was one of the highlights of the trip but we had of course only scratched the surface of this complex and interesting town, England’s main sea port during the Norman period.
It was now time to go to the station and take the train back to London but, as ever, with the determination to return again and explore Southampton further.