Canary Wharf, Crossharbour, Cutty Sark, Mudchute, Pudding Mill Lane, Royal Victoria, West India Quay, Woolwich Arsenal.
Is it any wonder I love travelling on the Docklands Light Railway in London when I visit, with all those evocatively named stations, speaking among other things of London’s past as a thriving port? A port complicit in many things we’d rather forget, such as the slave trade, but can investigate at the Museum of London Docklands.
The journey is a window onto a watery world of harbours, jetties, watery cul-de-sacs and wharfs: old and new in close juxtaposition. And the windows of the train carriage itself reflects the cosmopolitan society that London has always been.
Back in a Previous Life, a viewing platform on the South Bank in London had me exploring the sights on the other side of the Thames. I liked this juxtaposition of old and new, chaste stonework and bright colour. It might not be glazed, but it’s a window through which to get a new perspective on the more usual views of St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Let’s have a day out. Lockdown’s still somewhat in force, so let’s make it a Virtual Day Out. We’ve got homework to do: it’s time for Jude’s assignment:
This week's assignment - Use strong backlighting (i.e. shooting towards the light source, but do not look directly at the sun) to create a contre-jour image where the subject becomes a silhouette, OR shoot the light through flowers or leaves creating a transparent effect.
We’ll stay nearby at first: go to the local woods, and quite simply glance upwards.
Then we’ll whip over to Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal. There’s a group of hikers beginning their day out, but we haven’t got time to join them …
… because we’re off to London. William and I enjoy visiting the Bishop’s Palace at Eltham. Last time we went, the sky turned an extraordinary colour for a while, and I took this photo.
Back at his house in time for sunset, you can see his school from a bedroom window.
Off to Gateshead now. We’ll join a crowd of sightseers at the Baltic, looking over at the Tyne Bridge.
And we’re back home just in time to see another sunset.
When I was a small girl in London food was a big part of my life. I don’t mean eating, but shopping for food and cooking it – I’d made my first Christmas cake when I was four after all. It’s possible I had some help. And I certainly licked the bowl.
Because my mother taught all week, weekends meant a Saturday morning trip to Sainsbury’s in Victoria. I would watch as the shop girls reduced large yellow slabs of butter to half pound blocks using large wooden butter paddles – look, we still have some domestic-sized ones –
while others weighed sugar into dark blue paper bags. I looked on impressed as the man on the bacon counter turned the whining, shining wheel of his slicing machine – ‘Thick or thin madam?’. After she’d bought all we needed, my mother joined the queue for the cashier’s window and fumbled in her purse to find the right change.
It was the greengrocer’s stall on the market next. I liked collecting the decorated tissue squares that oranges and tangerines were wrapped in.
I liked helping to choose the weekly vegetables, and learnt when to expect the different apples coming into season. Discoveries came first, even before the autumn term started. Then James Grieve, Worcester Pearmain, Laxtons (Supreme and Superb), and round about Bonfire Night, the brown-skinned Russett. Oranges and tangerines were for Christmas time. I always hoped that there might be enough money left to buy a seasonal treat – perhaps a single peach.
Ellison’s Orange (all three photos were taken at Harloww Carr Gardens Harrogate, where they have a splendid collection of traditional English apple trees).
Best of all was the delicatessen. This shop wasn’t at all the preserve of the moneyed middle classes, reviving holiday memories by buying exotic food stuffs. Instead it was a refuge for the stateless, rather rudderless foreign populations of shabby 1950s Britain. There were huge numbers of Poles who’d served out the war in the UK – my father was one; Italian ex POWs; Hungarian Jews – all the flotsam of Europe.
Here we’d buy Polish boiling ring, cooked simply in water and eaten with buttery mashed potatoes and sauerkraut or cabbage. I loved the wizened dried sticks of kabanos, a thin sausage that my school friends assured me was made from donkey meat. There was Polish rye bread, speckled with caraway. It was at the delicatessen that my mother learnt about pasta. We started eating spaghetti bolognese in about 1954, long before it became a British standard. We bought Samsoe from Denmark which makes the best toasted cheese in the whole world. My school friends found our food odd. That was alright. I found theirs odd too.
Very occasionally on Saturday afternoon we would catch the tube all the way to Trafalgar Square and walk into Soho and the Italian store there. Those impossibly long packets of spaghetti! Those solid piles of Italian sausage: pink fat-studded mortadella; Neapolitan salamis the colour of dried blood! A great wheel of parmesan from which some cheery Italian with lots of smiles but little English would hack crumbly fragrant slices with a seriously stout and heavy knife! Aromatic roasted coffee beans clattered into special scales used for nothing but weighing coffee! And Italian voices, laughing, chatting, shouting and thoroughly at home. I don’t think we ever bought a great deal here. We were there for a spot of sensory overload, and a few small treats.
Many of my childhood memories centre around preparing the food that we bought. But that’s a story for another day.
‘Look for converging lines’, instructs Jude. They’re there to add depth and distance, so she wants to see what we can find as illustrations. So I went to Cádiz, I went to Brussels, I went to Yorkshire – of course. And finally I went to London.
I’m in London on Half Term Duty. Zoë’s at Nursery, but William’s four, and at school these days, where an early encounter with the planets quickly turned into an all-consuming passion.
So I thought I should take him to the Planetarium in nearby Greenwich. There’s not much he doesn’t know about the solar system (Makemake anyone?),so ‘Moons beyond counting‘ seemed a likely hit. Twelve thirty, I said, that’s when we’ve got to be there.
At 8.30, William was all present and correct, dressed; rucksack packed with essentials such as a pencil case and an I-spy book of birds; shoes on; coat organised, demanding to leave. I fobbed him off for a while, but by just after 9.30, we were on the top of a double-decker bus bound for Blackheath and Greenwich.
Greenwich has one of London’s lovieliest parks. There are wide avenues, trees, green space – hills even – and if you walk to the far end, a wonderful playground. William was persuaded that this was a good place to spend the two and a half hours before the show. We trotted down avenues and gravelly paths. We chatted to dog walkers – William, having given his full address to one, informed him that I was a visitor who didn’t normally live here.
We examined tree bark.
And we reached the playground, where William climbed, chased, crawled, bounced, made new friends and finally announced, round about 11.30, that he was hungry.
We climbed one hill and then another, looking across at the views of Greenwich below, and the City of London, just across the Thames.
And we picnicked pretty much on the Greenwich Meridian line.
Finally, it was time for the show. We sat next to a boy called Jack who turned out to be just as much of a planet geek as William. The performance over (it was very good thanks, and back home, William gave a far better account of it than I did), Jack and William hurled obscure facts and quiz questions at one another, and were half pleased and astonished, half vexed that each knew as much as the other.
We decided enough was enough, and took a different route back through the park to the bus stop and home. Where we spent the rest of the day doing – what else? – a jigsaw of the solar system.
We love a walk along the South Bank in London. It reminds us of happier times, when during the 2012 Olympic Games, London was for a time the capital of the world: inclusive, happy, welcoming, proud. The South Bank was full of festivity, fun, food, friendliness and foreigners – all welcome.
We’ll begin our ‘walk’ on the train into town. Now then. Baffled by the window, it’s hard to pick out which are the city-centre monoliths, and which their reflections.
We arrive at London Bridge. Here’s street art under the bridge by Nathan Bowen.
Long-established buildings reflected on new facades.
Borough Market. Is it too early for lunch? Sadly, yes. Just looking, then.
And all those buildings, new and old juxtaposed, on the opposite side of the Thames.
Ah! This is fun. This is Zoë’s moment. A Bubble Man, providing unalloyed joy to dozens of children. And to Zoë.
Time for a coffee-stop (no cake, Jo). We dive into a narrow alley, which opens up to this: we’re not so far from Shakespeare’s Globe here.
But just as we’re getting a little tired of walking, the rain starts. The team divides. The younger members head off for a spot of retail therapy at South Bank’s Winter Market. The oldest and the youngest join forces and return to London Bridge on the river bus. For us, our winter walk of sights is at an end.
Not quite. Back at Hither Green, this is what awaited us just outside the station.