Introduction My wife registered for a week's course in "NLP” - Neuro Linguistic Programming - run by Paul McKenna Training Ltd., in the Millennium Gloucester Hotel, South Kensington. She embarked on this as the final stage of a long recovery program from the loss of our daughter. The course cost a wad of money, but mother-in-law helped out, bless her, and it was money well spent. We decided that we should both go to London, and stay at the hotel in which the course was being conducted. The course was attended by 400 people, 25% of whom were from overseas, including USA, Canada, and even Australia. They worked from 9.15 am to 6 pm every day for seven days. This meant that Yours Truly was to spend the week on his own during the daytime, wandering around London and other areas. This was achieved with the help of a £37 London Transport Travel Card providing 7 days unlimited access to buses, trains, tube, trams, and 30% discount on river buses … excellent value. Sunday 16th March A pleasant drive from our North Yorkshire village to my sister Marcia's house in south-west London, where we were to leave our car for the week. The difference between driving in London and anywhere else can be illustrated by the fact that in the first 60 minutes of our journey out of Yorkshire we travelled 65 miles, whereas during the final 60 minutes driving in London we travelled 5 miles!  My sister’s husband drove us up to Kensington and dropped us at our hotel. The Millennium Gloucester Hotel is very large and very swish, with a grand imposing reception lobby the size of a small theatre, and a doorman resplendent in long dark coat and top hat. Accommodation here was priced at £200 per room per night, but we had managed to get a special deal at £80 a night. It also became clear that eating our meals in this hotel might not be a good idea, not because the restaurants and bars were bad (they were fabulous) but because of the cost. You couldn't get breakfast for less than £15 a head and dinner started at about £25 per head. A small beer in the bar set you back £3.70 a bottle! So on Sunday evening we started our habit of going out to eat. On this evening we just walked about 100 yards to the Texas Lone Star restaurant, for spicy chicken and rice and a couple of bottles of Budweiser, finished off with "American apple pie" and ice cream. (Apple pie is apple pie, and the only difference between this very good pie and any other good apple pie I've had was its name). Monday 17th March. We breakfasted at a café just around the corner advertising "a free croissant with every cup of coffee" .. great idea except that the croissants had not been delivered. So we had a coffee accompanied by a toasted ham and cheese baguette (not free). My first call after my wife had started her first course day, was a local bureau de change selling London travel cards. I had already checked on the Internet that for a 7-day pass I would need to present a photograph, so I had a mug shot ready with me. Armed with my new card, I headed straight for Gloucester Road Underground Station (just around the corner from our hotel), into the lift heading for the bowels of the earth, and on to the Piccadilly Line for the train to Leicester Square. The system was very busy, and we travelled sardine fashion (except that we were standing up, not laying down). I was pleased to emerge at the end of the journey into the sunshine of Leicester Square. This is rip-off city … a small café in Leicester Square charged me £5 for a coffee and apple strudel. I walked up and down Charing Cross Road, checking out the locality of the Palace Theatre in Cambridge Circus, thinking we might go and see Les Miserables if the course times would permit. I then walked south to Trafalgar Square - Nelson was still on his Column but the pigeons were gone (Mayor Ken Livingstone having banned the pigeon food street sellers) - and on to Horse Guards Parade and Whitehall, past Downing Street (still gated off and heavily guarded by Police).   Margaret Thatcher had these gates erected during the height of the IRA bombing campaign. There have been repeated promises to remove them in subsequent years, but they are still there, probably now needed because of bomb threats from other sources.  From Downing Street I ambled onwards to Parliament Square where, as always, I could not help being impressed all over again by the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. I turned down towards St James's Park, and was surprised to find the instantly recognisable Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe walking right past me (without so much as a brief "Hello Lionel"). I was surprised to see how small she looked, giving credence to the oft-stated view that people look bigger than they really are when you see them on TV. I was tempted to stop her and tell her I'd put one of her quotes on my Website, but thought better of it, and in any case she was marching onward in a very purposeful "don't stop me" manner. By lunch time I was outside the Westminster Central Hall at which there was an Art Exhibition being put on by the Society of Women Artists, of which I am proud to say my sister is a member. I went inside and enjoyed the display of paintings and sculpture. There was some really good stuff in there, and I spent about an hour taking it all in. It was good to see a good selection of my sister’s pictures hanging there. Hardly anything there was priced much under £300. I had lunch in the cafeteria downstairs, then walked into St James's Park where the trees were all in blossom and the grass was carpeted with bright yellow swathes of daffodils. I watched the ducks and geese on the lake, and there was even a pelican there! I walked to the far end of the park, finishing up outside Buckingham Palace, pausing to watch the Guards on sentry duty. Suddenly thinking back to my short time as a drill sergeant in the Army, I was amused to see one of these so-called elite guardsmen get his arms out of sync, so that for a brief moment his right arm swung forward with his right leg before he corrected it. From there, on to Hyde Park Corner where I jumped on a bus to South Kensington, from which it was an eight minute walk back to the hotel. My wife was enthused by the first day of her seminar and was looking forward to the rest of the week. We dined out that evening at a little Italian café down the road, where we had something with a fancy sounding Italian name but was essentially bread-crumbed strips of plaice served with peas and chips. Still, at £6 a go who's complaining? Tuesday 18th March Round to Gloucester Road Underground Station again - this time not so deep - down a flight of stairs on to the District Line for a train to Blackfriars. From Blackfriars Station I walked towards the new Millennium Footbridge which spans the Thames, joining up on the other side with the Tate Modern - a modern art gallery developed in what used to be a large power station.   The Millennium Footbridge was famous for being closed almost as soon as it opened. Its revolutionary design - a kind of suspension bridge, except that instead of being suspended from the support cables it sort of sits on top of them - produced a bridge that looked good, but when people walked over, it rocked about so violently that it was making some people feel ill. It was soon dubbed the "white knuckle ride" over the Thames. The architects and engineers were called back, and over the following 12 months, they installed hydraulic dampers at strategic points.  When I walked over, it felt rock solid (almost disappointing, really). From the other side of the river, i.e., on the Tate Modern side, the bridge lined up perfectly with the view of St Paul's Cathedral dome. I am not a great fan of abstract art, but I thought I owed it to myself to see what this Tate Modern was all about before I decided whether or not to lampoon it. As it turned out I found myself spending over two hours in the place. Much of what was on display was highly unconventional, questionable as art in many cases, and yet could not be ignored. A lot of if made a significant impression on the mind. For a start, before I got into the galleries, I found myself in what used to be the huge turbine hall of this old power station, and couldn’t help being knocked back by what was in there. The whole space was filled with one giant "sculpture" that could only be described as a cross between some alien being and a monstrous horn with three outlets - one at each end, and a third aperture near the middle, facing down, (under which you could walk and peer up into the inside). The whole thing was coloured red, and looking inside, it was translucent. In the various galleries there was everything ranging from pictures consisting of nothing more than a large square painted in one solid colour, with a pretentious title, to intricate and abstract sculptures. One room I found interesting displayed original Soviet propaganda poster art dating from the time of Lenin and Trotsky and through the Stalin era. I was surprised to find these here because this art from is neither abstract nor particularly "modern". A sculptress had created her work of art by first constructing a typical garden shed and filling it with all the usual stuff … old bikes, garden tools, benches, chairs, household implements, children's toys etc., then she had arranged for the British Army to blow it up. After the explosion she had collected all the bits and pieces of debris and reassembled them in a complex "mobile" of hanging remnants, suspended in a random formation on fine wires. The result was a frozen three dimensional depiction of the mid-explosion scene. Another very strange, but compelling sculptural piece in a large plain white room consisted of a grand piano suspended upside down from the ceiling on four stout wires. I was looking up at this, wondering what the hell that was all about, when suddenly the main lid fell open, followed by the keyboard lid, and all the piano keys spewed out and dangled at various angles on the ends of the long pieces of wood that connects them to the hammers. After a period of about three minutes there was a sound resembling someone banging piano keys randomly with a metal hammer, and the top lid began closing. That is to say, (remembering this piano is upside down), it was being pulled upwards by a hydraulic mechanism. When it had closed, the piano key struts began slowly moving back inside the piano until all the piano keys were back in place. This display was called "Discordance". It struck a chord with me. I walked from the Tate Modern to a little Chinese café called the Power Station Café for a lunch time snack, after which I had a brief look at the replica Shakespeare Globe Theatre  near the Tate Modern. From there I thought I would travel back up river using the river bus service from the Blackfriars Landing Stage. My travel card got me a 30% discount, so I got a ticket for Waterloo Bridge for just £2. There was a strong wind blowing, against a strong incoming tide, resulting in very choppy water. I was the only passenger standing on the landing stage when the large high-speed catamaran came into view on its journey back from the Thames tidal barrier and Tower Bridge. The master of the vessel, who should have known better, decided to draw up to the landing stage in the same direction as the current. (I've done a bit of river and canal cruising and knew it was a bad idea.) The combined efforts of the wind and waves got the better of his attempts to stop and reverse up against the stage; he got one end in, but the other started swinging out. The crew member in charge of getting the vessel secured to the mooring bollards held on to the best of his ability until the rope snapped and the boat drifted out to the middle of the river. At this point the captain decided he had better do the thing properly, turned the boat right round to the opposite direction to which he had been travelling and came alongside against the tidal current in a more civilised manner. It was a lot of trouble to have gone to just to pick up one passenger, (i.e., me) but I tried not to feel guilty. After all I had purchased a ticket and he was obliged to pick me up; nor had I asked him to stop in the same direction as a raging current. In spite of the cold wind, the sun was shining, and the trip up the river to Waterloo was very pleasant, and I was sorry to get off. I jumped on a bus heading for Covent Garden and was there within 10 minutes. I found a reasonably priced café for lunch. Covent Garden is where the old fruit and vegetable wholesale market used to be, but this was moved many years ago, and the area redeveloped into an upmarket place for boutiques, restaurants, street stalls, and street entertainers. I was delighted to find that a superb soprano was performing today, and getting plenty of donations which in my opinion were well deserved. Having looked around the stalls and paused to watch another street entertainer go through some kind of vaudeville nonsense, in which the greater part of his performance seemed to be concerned with building the audience up to an excited state, then packing everything up and walking away. It could have been described as a slowly-building anti-climax. I then took a leisurely stroll towards Leicester Square and bought myself a ticket for the film Analyse That, starring Billy Crystal and Robert de Niro, showing at the Odeon. I had to purchase a ticket for a specific seat in a specific row - for which I paid the princely sum of £10. When the film started the auditorium contained me and about half a dozen other people. Excellent and very funny film. When I came out of the cinema I walked up to Shaftesbury Avenue  where I picked up a bus for South Kensington. By this time it was "rush hour" and the bus was packed tight, but it didn't take too long to get me "home". It was clear that London Mayor "Red" Ken Livingstone's new Congestion Charging scheme had brought about a significant reduction in car traffic, and buses and taxis could now move from A to B pretty much unhindered. A 10 minute walk from South Kensington got me to the hotel, by which time my wife had finished her day's work on the NLP seminar. We re-visited Texas Lone Star for dinner. Wednesday 19th March I decided to explore some of the south-west London suburbs, taking in Wimbledon and Croydon.  A couple of things prompted this decision. I was born in Wimbledon, and whilst not reason enough on its own for me to re- visit, (I already knew it pretty well), it did contain the source of my second reason for visiting - the new London Tramlink system linking Wimbledon with Croydon, which I was interested to experience. (By coincidence Croydon also happened to be where mother went to ground when she parted with Dad for a couple of years back in the 1950s.) From Gloucester Road Underground Station there was a direct line to Wimbledon Station, where one could not only connect with above-ground main line suburban trains out of Waterloo, but also jump on to the new Tramlink system. I sat in a coffee bar on Wimbledon Station wondering why I felt nothing at all about being where my life had started sixty five years ago .. not that I was actually born on the station platform you understand! .. and then turning my thoughts to the new tramway system and how this country had come full circle on this form of transport. When I was a child every major town and city had trams running through the streets - Double-decker noisy things, clanging and rattling their way through town affording maximum discomfort to their passengers. By the end of the 1950s, the only trams remaining were to be found trundling up and down the Blackpool sea front as tourist attractions (and they still are). Now, with traffic congestion, and greater demand for efficient public transport systems, tramways (or light railway systems) are gradually making a come-back, notably in Sheffield, Manchester and south London. In contrast to their “ancestors”, the modern trams are fast, quiet and comfortable. I found one waiting in Wimbledon Station - a single-deck, two-car vehicle, exactly level with the platform and just enough room to slip a razor blade between the tram and the platform, enabling easy access for wheelchairs. There was certainly no need for anyone to be shouting "Mind the gap!" This precise and easy access was a feature at every stop along the way. I had expected to be travelling through the roads and streets of the suburbs, but discovered that the purpose-built line was for the most part following a near- straight course through land between suburban back gardens, and bits of parkland, only venturing into the streets when it arrived in Croydon. The rate of acceleration was impressive, and speed between stops must have been in the region of 60 mph. One slightly irritating feature (though I suppose it was useful) was the automatic announcement every time we pulled away from a stop, "This tram is for Croydon - the next stop is …."  At the two or three points where the tram line intersected with a major road or railway line, we just "flew" over the top of them; suddenly we’d be going up a steep incline, over the top, and down the other side, just as steeply. It was a kind of public transport roller coaster. I wandered around the streets and shopping malls of Croydon for most of the day. I liked this town. One half of it consisted of the old traditional high street (pedestrianised, which was good) and the other half was all high-rise buildings and broad streets. I returned the way I had come, via Wimbledon, then by Underground to Gloucester Road. Another visit this evening to the Texas Lone Star restaurant. (They were doing well out us.) Thursday 20th March The war against Iraq kicked off today, so now when in our hotel room we are glued to Sky News on TV. I decided a day in the country would be good, and my travel card could get me almost to the northern extremity of the Underground's Metropolitan Line and a couple of extra £s would get me a ticket through to Chesham in the Buckinghamshire countryside. The Metropolitan Line was opened in 1863 (the first underground line) and the trains were, of course, hauled by steam locomotives - causing a lot of smoke problems in the tunnels. My journey took me through the monotonous North London surburbs. The trains on this line were running about every 20 minutes, so I took the opportunity of jumping off at a couple of stations (Harrow-on the-Hill and Rayners Lane) for a walk around and a cup of coffee, picking up later trains to proceed further north west.. Until we reached open countryside the journey was a succession of dreary sameness - factory yards, suburban back gardens, line side rubbish - it was a relentlessly boring tour of  “Boringsville”, “Garbage City”, “Monotony Street”, “Greytown”, “Litter Central”, “Sucksbridge”, “Brokenbridge Junction”, “Drearyville”, and “Graffiti Gardens”. There were monotonous rows of characterless shops, and cafés with pretentious names, for example The Danish Experience which might have indicated that Denmark must be the home of empty coffee bars. But then all this gave way to the rolling hillsides, green meadows, and sparkling rivers of Buckinghamshire as the train picked up speed on its way to a little station called Chalfont & Latimer, where I had to jump off and cross over to another waiting train on a branch line to Chesham. I reflected on the incongruity of seeing these red and silver London Underground trains so far out into the country, and of course very much above ground. I thought about the change of scenery presented to the drivers of these trains; the Metropolitan Line burrows through miles of tunnels under London, finally to emerge from the blackness into the daylight of the suburbs and then onwards into a wholly rural setting. (What a gloomy prospect, doing the journey in reverse.) I enjoyed a 2 mile walk through the woods adjoining the banks of the river Chess, in beautiful sunshine, and back again to Chesham town, for a Guinness and a toasted sandwich in an old pub. It was about 40 years since I had last seen the river Chess, as a young Assistant District River Purification Inspector for the Thames Conservancy. In those days I would have concentrated on the sewage treatment works, but today I only got a glimpse of that from the train. (It was a lot bigger and more hi-tech than when I last saw it.) On my return to South Kensington I met up with my wife again, and this evening we had a superb dinner in a Singaporean Restaurant. Friday 21st March I walked to the South Kensington Museums, spending a couple of absorbing hours in the Science Museum. Unlike earlier visits in my teenage years, large parts of the museum were now given over to space exploration and the world of computing. But the good old fascinating Victorian stuff was still there - the huge full-size working beam engines, and smaller working models of all kinds of steam engine. I was amused to find that there was still a cut-away working model of a water closet, where you could pull the handle and observe the siphon in action, the toilet flushing, and the passage of water via the U-bend. Added realism was provided by the presence of a plastic turd!! This was caught in a little cup attached to a pivoted arm underneath the waste pipe when the toilet flushed, and on completion of the operation an electric motor rotated the arm 180 degrees and the turd was popped back into the toilet bowl ready for the next demonstration. Children watching this little operation were highly amused! The Science Museum tired me out, but I went on to the Victoria & Albert Museum, which (perhaps because of tiredness) bored me to distraction. Of course it was stuffed full of priceless paintings and sculptures and other works of art, but I found the whole place too much to take in (you really needed a full week in the place to do it justice). I confess that the best use I made of the place was to get lunch in their restaurant. In the evening my wife and I jumped on the Picadilly Line to Leicester Square, then walked up to the Palace Theatre at Cambridge Circus and saw a performance of Les Miserables. This was absolutely stunning - great music, and clever use of a revolving stage for changes of scenery and the illusion of walking from one scene to another. The stage props themselves were ingenious, with a cleverly designed street scene consisting of stairways, archways, walkways and entrances to buildings, which later in the show, metamorphosed before our eyes into a jumble of street barricades. Clever design and mechanics. Saturday 22nd March I decided to visit my sister in Teddington, and I got there by using the Underground District Line to Wimbledon Station, where I crossed to the main line trains to take me to Strawberry Hill Station (15 minutes walk to my sister’s place (which was fine apart from having to carry my overnight bag, stuffed with extra things I could dump in our car ready for our journey home.) We went to Bushey Park  for a walk in glorious sunshine. I had forgotten how lucky Londoners are to have these wonderful Royal Parks - these green lungs - dotted around London and the suburbs. Once inside you enter a new and detached world of wide, green space, with trees, flowering shrubs, walkways, woodland plantations and, above all, hundreds of acres of velvety green grass kept short by grazing red and fallow deer.  I spent the night in Teddington. During this week I observed that somebody must have started feeding "happy pills" to the London Underground Staff. They were, for the most part, cheerful, and ready to help you with a smile. Station and train announcements were also notable for some smatterings of humour, for example… “The next train is the District Line train for Edgware Road. For those of you in need of exercise, you can cross the footbridge to pick up a Circle Line Train for the same destination.” Announcements were usually preceded by “Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls”. And .. “This train is about to take the scenic route to Wimbledon, via Fulham and Parsons Green”. (Bear in mind that much of the journey is in tunnels, and Fulham and Parsons Green are somewhat less than scenic.) Sunday 23rd March I returned to Kensington this morning by another route - a 33 Bus (running every 15 minutes - not bad for a Sunday I thought. Having lived in the country for nigh on 40 years I had come to look upon one bus per hour as something of a luxury). This took me to Hammersmith's new Bus/Train Interchange complex, where I was able to jump on a District Line train for Gloucester Road station. My wife’s course was now over. Sunday's evening meal was once again at the Texas Lone Star where I tucked into "Dinosaur-size beef ribs", BBQ sauce, and fried potato skins. (Pass the dyspepsia tablets please). Monday 24th March Time for an experiment in Public Transport usage for my wife (with her newly re- programmed mind!) as we carried our luggage on to a District Line train to Hammersmith, then a 33 Bus to Teddington. Within an hour we were there and ready to pick up our car for our drive back to Yorkshire. A good week's work for my wife and a good week's play for me. © Lionel Beck - North Yorkshire - UK Return to Top Return to Top Return to Top Return to Top Return to Top Return to Top Return to Top Return to Top Return to Top Household Cavalry, Horseguards Parade Click to enlarge Leicester Square Click to enlarge Entrance to Downing Street Click to enlarge Big Ben from St James' Park Click to enlarge Society of Women Artists Exhibition, Westminster Hall Click to enlarge St James' Park Click to enlarge Buckingham Palace Sentries Click to enlarge District Line, Gloucester Rd Underground Station Click to enlarge Millennium Footbrige at Tate Modern looking towards St Pauls Click to enlarge Exhibit in Tate Modern's Turbine Hall Click to enlarge Thames River Bus in choppy water Click to enlarge London Double-decker Wimbledon Station Click to enlarge London Tramlink Wimbledon to Croydon Click to enlarge London Underground train at Chesham, Buckinghamshire Click to enlarge Daffodils in Bushey Park between Teddington & Hampton Court Cherry blossom in Bushey Park Mandarin Duck in Bushey Park A Week exploring London & the Suburbs Return to Top