Saturday, 18 March 2017

London Interrupted Part One

Living, working and studying in London can feel rather relentless. On my way to work the bus can hardly get down some roads because of all the building work going on. So I decided to call my new series of London adventures, London Interrupted, when I catch my breath and savour contemplative moments in London, some secret and others more well known.

Our day started in King's Cross Station, at Platform 9 3/4. We first visited this small Harry Potter attraction in 2012 when it was a lot less busy. It has become quite touristy now and there was a large queue of people waiting to have their picture taken in front of the platform sign with the disappearing trolley below it, the trolley is a lot more impressive than when my daughter was photographed holding onto it. There is now also a Harry Potter gift shop next door which was also very busy. I love Harry Potter myself, having read all the books and watched all the films, my favourites are book number three and film number six.

We moved on from Kings Cross to St Pancras, which is a far more attractive station, with wonderful red and yellow brick archways and a tall clock tower. Inside is the great metallic statue of a kissing couple, but my favourite is the wistful statue of John Betjemen which is accompanied by several circular poems you can walk over. Kings Cross and St Pancras have a special place in my heart because they mark the beginnings of holidays with my family. From King's Cross we took the train to Edinburgh and from St Pancras we boarded Eurostar for Paris.

Next door to St Pancras Station is the British Library. I work in a library all week so don't relish spending too much of my day off in one. However the British Library is exceptional. It still looks new, we used to talk about its construction a lot when I was in library school. The fore court is full of greenery, symmetry and brick work vistas. Inside it is cool and welcoming. There is a dark, permanent exhibition of library treasures to one side; illuminated manuscripts, first editions, bejewelled binding, famous illustrations and classical texts. I have been to the reading rooms before when I consulted old editions of Aubrey Beardsley and Edgar Allan Poe, in my pre-Amy days. These days I mostly go in to enjoy a cup of coffee in the library cafe. My favourite spot is just in front of the glass covered shelves, where sit row upon row of gorgeous, leather bound volumes.

The main reason mum and I were in the King's Cross area was to visit the Camley Street Natural Park. It is situated at the back of St Pancras station next door to Regent's canal. It was talked about in my Secret London book and we were blessed that the March day we chose to visit it was beautiful and spring-like. I think it is a very precious place especially in this massively developed area. There were parties of small school children here, who really seemed to be getting a great deal out of the experience. The place is a haven for London wildlife, which needs all the help it can get. I was most impressed with the stag beetle refuge. Mum and I had a wonderful, all-be-it brief, wander around; a highlight was the kind foreign gentlemen who took lovely pictures of mum and I sitting on a wooden bench.

After our morning in King's Cross, mum and I decided to spend the afternoon in South Kensington, home of the museums and the Royal Albert Hall.

Part of my latest writing project involves a character at college, so I was keen to spend some time in a London college with a busy campus and canteen. A brief google search pointed me in the direction of Imperial College on Exhibition Road. Imperial is a science and technology college and they also had a lot of building work going on, so it took a little while to find the pleasanter places where students congregate. Eventually we found the green square in the middle of the site and the lively student hangout of the library and the canteen. The canteen was large and retro with wide circular tables, 80s style furniture and brown tiled pillars. The food was good and simple, but not really aimed at visitors like mum and me. The canteen was being emptied at 2.15 and it wasn't until we were looking for the ladies that we realised that the library cafe was the place we should have been; a proper cafe, contemporary, friendlier and more permanently open. We managed to leave Imperial by the proper visitor's entrance and decided to have a little look at Hyde Park before heading back to the V&A.

Hyde Part is huge and you could spend the best part of a day there, visiting Kensington Gardens, with the statue of Peter Pan, the Princess Diana memorial fountain, the Serpentine and Kensington Palace. The last time we spent a lot of time there was probably 2011 when we visited Winter Wonderland in January. Then, Hyde park didn't seem wholly alive and the wonderland was glittering and lively, but also a bit overpowering and artificial. Spring brings a different perspective, today there were blue bells.

The Natural History and Science museums are wonderful, but these days I prefer the arts and crafts in the Victoria and Albert museum across the road. There are lovely displays of stone work, iron work, tapestries, sculptures. There are classic paintings including ones by the pre-Raphaelite Edward Burne Jones and the windswept watery impressions of JMW Turner. There is jewellery, fashion and a theatrical exhibition I find rather creepy. Also are collections from Japan and the middle ages and a lot of old pots.

 Mum and I were looking for a cafe where we could talk about her trip to Barcelona and my daughter's trip to Pompeii. The cafe at the V&A is stunning. A circular room with ornate tiling from floor to ceiling, massive stain glass windows and great globe glittering chandeliers. There is a piano in the centre of the room and this afternoon we were even treated to brilliant piano playing as we drank our lattes.

I have a good feeling about the London Interrupted project and am busy thinking of more places to visit and reflect on, including doing more work on My Favourite London Walk.

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