Natural History Museum

OK, I seem to have neglected talking about the The Natural History Museum

I was as impressed with the building as with the actual collection. As with most things in London, the museum has been around in some form or another since 1753 …when physician and collector of natural curiosities, Sir Hans Sloane, left his extensive collection to the nation… The current building dates from about 1883.

The collection includes:

  • 55 million animals, including 28 million insects
  • nine million fossils
  • six million plant specimens
  • more than 500,000 rocks and minerals
  • 3,200 meteorites in our collections

Well…thats quite a bit, isnt it?
Needless to say, I didnt see everything.

Fossils, plants, animals, insects, the human body and how it works, rocks, minerals, gold, silver, copper, diamonds, iron, the earth and how it works (there is a giant spring in the middle that has to be kept wound) and numerous school groups.

This leads me to a story.

As I wandered through the museum, I noticed that lots of the boys, in high school, wore their ties very short and some had pins at the bottom. I asked one boy about the pins, he explained that there were for various school sports; this case he was the captain of the cricket team. Dont ask me about cricket, Ill just refer you to the Insect collection. I thanked him, before I could offer him a flag pin, he was gone.

Later, in the gift shop, where I didnt buy an 8 £ mug, and while waiting at the cash, I asked another boy about his short tie, he response was quick and too the point…Fashion I had my answer.

He asked if I was from America, I responded that no, I was from Canada, and offered him a flag pin. I also offered the other kids around (3 or 4 flag pins) He was very cheeky, asking me more questions in the 4 or 5 minutes were together than I could answer. I did my best.

We all paid and went on our way, less than a minute later, a small group of students from the same school surrounded me asking for pins, of course I gave them each a pin, more smiles and more rapid fire questions. How did they know about the pins? The boyfrom the cash.

Their teacher tried to get them together, but without much luck. I moved into a corner to pack myself to get on my way and again more students. I had a problem, there were 8 or 9 of them, but I only had 4 pins left. I wasnt happy, and I know I was going to disappoint some of them. I explained that I only had 4 pins and that couldnt do anything about it. I reached out and put the 4 pins in 4 hands. I apologized again, they thanked me and started to walk off to join their classmates, I had to find out who told them about the pins, boy number 1 again. I laughed and told him that I didnt have any more, so dont send anyone else.

They and I were finally on my way out, we ended up walking to the tube station together, more questions and more of the teachers trying to control them.

I would have loved to chat with them, given them a lesson about Canada, but that was not part of their teachers plans.

We went on our separate way at the Tube station.

I didn’t get much else done, museums are exausting.


A Museum, A church and A Needle

Museum of London

“The Museum of London Group represents a quarter of a million years of history and over seven million modern Londoners. Our collections include over a million items.”

That’s about it! The Museum of London is a historical museum, from prehistory to the Romans through medieval times right up to the present. A couple of notable items are The Lord Mayors coach

“a masterpiece of wood-carving, gilding and painting, built in 1757 and still rolled out every year for the Lord Mayor’s Show”

There is also a gallery about the great fire in 1666, explaining its cause and the results.

From inside the museum you can see a portion of the old Roman wall, from outside, you can walk right up to this section of the wall. Again London’s history comes alive and is tangible.

St Paul’s Cathedral
Is big, very big. St. Paul’s was designed by and built between 1675 and 1710 by Sir Christopher Wren after the 1666 fire destroyed the previous cathedral.

It is not the first church to stand on this spot; there have been three before since 604AD. Like all of London, this place has a history.

This was the first church of any kind that I could climb to the top of the dome. There are three galleries or levels that are open to the public. The first is the Whispering Gallery, this circles the dome and if you pay attention you can here people speaking from almost anywhere on the gallery. Either Wren knew what he was doing or he was very lucky. The Stone gallery is next; it is the first of the two galleries that are open to the air. The Golden Gallery is almost at the very top of the dome it is a total of 530 steps from the floor of the cathedral, almost 85 meters up.

The view from the top is amazing, spectacular, out of this world…. The only place that offers something comparable is the London Eye, except St. Paul’s is open to the elements

The Crypt contains tombs, memorials, a chapel, the gift shop and café. Nelson, Wellington and Sir Christopher Wren’s Tombs are here great men of London and the UK. There are also memorials to other people, like Alexander Fleming the discoverer of penicillin. There were also tombs and memorials to loads of people I’ve never heard of. Then again, who’s heard of me?

Cleopatra’s Needle

“Cleopatra’s Needle is located on the Thames Embankment in London close to the Embankment underground station. The Obelisk was actually constructed for Tuthmose III and is carved with Hieroglyphics praising Tuthmose and commemorating his third sed festival. Later inscriptions were added by Ramesses II to commemorate his victories.”

It is a twin to a similar Obelisk in New York City

It’s there; its old and I saw it!

The Imperial war Museum

The Imperial war Museum is not just a museum that glorifies war, despite what you might think. This museum is, like every museum, an archive of what was. As you walk up to the museum you are greeted by two huge guns (12 inch if I can remember) from a battle ship. As you walk in, above you are a collection of Britain’s war planes; a sopwith camel, made famous by Snoopy, to a spitfire. On the floor are a collection of tanks, both from the allies and from the axis(?) powers. There are “memories” of the war with a set of searchlights on the floor anchoring the multimedia displays.

There are two exhibits of special note; the first is about British children during the war (I will verify the correct name later) showing how the children managed during the Second World War. They cover everything, home life, school, and play, food and life after the war. The exhibit revolves around a 1940’s house, the bedrooms, kitchen and living rooms. What was typical, and the rationing and conservation that was needed. I happened to go through this exhibit with a group of school children, (8-10 year olds)

The war is only history to me; I was born 16 years after the war as part of the baby boom. As well, there has not been a war in Canada. There is very little I can directly relate to. I know about rationing in Canada, my grandfather worked as a concessionaire and the old Montreal Forum (he sold candy) and was able to bring extra candy home for my mom and her brothers; but this too is not part of my personal history. I am at a loss when it comes to the war.

The second exhibit is about the Holocaust. The Holocaust is explained using artifacts, models, multimedia presentations and personal histories. Its causes, the victims and the perpetrators are all examined. The exhibit also examines the reactions throughout the world and the response to it.

This was one of the most difficult Holocaust exhibits I have seen. I think partly because It was so close to where it actually happened. I don’t really know.

I also was able to get to Old Spitalfields Market. It was a bit disappointing, there were not many vendors and they were doing major renovations to the building. Can’t have everything.


Its Monday, must be Greenwich

I took the Thames to Greenwich; I needed a change from the Tube or Bus. The cruise is just over an hour long. It was worth the extra time and money. London from the river is a different experience; you can see details of the city not visible from the roads. One of the operators kept us entertained with a running commentary. He made a possibly boring trip more interesting. He also pointed out some specific sites from various stories or historical events. We landed in Greenwich and I set off for the Royal Observatory. Down the street, towards the Maritime Museum, around the building, through the field, up the hill, and there it was…more hill to climb. OK, not a hill, but big steps.
I made it! THE Royal Observatory and the Prime Meridian, the place where time begins 9as they say in Greenwich. Zero degrees east or west. This is it, the beginning.

OK, not that impressive, but there aren’t too many places on earth you can stand on both the eastern and western hemisphere. I suppose you could try standing on the International Date Line, but you might have a small problem, most of it runs through the Pacific Ocean.

Without going through all the history, buy an international agreement this was chosen as the 0° line of Longitude. I had a tour of the buildings and the observatory. Every day at 1 PM the red ball drops signaling to the ships the correct time, so that they can verify their clocks. The BBC and the CBC still broadcast a 1 PM time signal for everyone to set their watches. This was another of London’s pieces of tangible history. Although you can’t touch the instruments (they are too fragile) you can touch the buildings.

One notable building is the Camera Obscura; A blackened room with a pinhole on one side. In this case the pin hole was in the roof and with a series of mirrors the image is projected onto a table so it is easier to see. This was one of the earliest forms or creating a “photographic” image. I was able to get a couple of digital pictures of the live projected image. I used the newest photographic technology to capture an image produced with the oldest technology, pretty cool, ‘eh!

I met a group of students fro St. Georges School, I asked if they were going to or coming back from a dragon slaying, unfortunately all I got were strange looks. Their teacher had to explain the joke. It took a couple of tries, but they eventually got it. These were 12-14 year old students. Was this a reflection of the education system here, I hope not.

From here I head back down the hill. On to the Maritime Museum. The museum contains a collection of Britain’s maritime history; from royal barges covered in gold (yes real gold), explorers artifacts, information about the oceans (Britain is an island), a titanic exhibit, and general information about Britain’s maritime history. Arranged in a kind of chronological order, if not an order you can follow, you are taken through a logical progression of history and information.

Something I wanted to see were some of the first ship’s chronographs, these are very accurate clocks used on ships to navigate and to tell where they are. Based on measurements from the prime meridian (remember the observatory stuff)

Based on time (see the chronograph) and speed a ship’s captain could work out where he was east to west and based on the stars how far north or south he was. A ships captain could then with some accuracy plot a course.

I was able to take the DLR or Docklands Light railway back to London. The DLR is similar to Vancouver’s Subway system, except the tunnels are similar in construction to the Channel Tunnel, a tunnel boring machine was used to cut the hole and a second machine was used to place pre formed concrete blocks around the hole, thereby creating a lined tunnel. The DLR is mostly completely automatic.

The docklands are just that, the old London docks, a series of canals and wharfs. I passed by Canary wharf, built by Olympia & York That Canadian company. They call the tallest of the buildings Canada place. A pretty good name if you ask me J

I will post links to more complete information about the Observatory, longitude, chronographs, Canary Wharf and the DLR.

Sunday afternoon in London

Chris and I went into London for the afternoon (and evening…if you must know)

We walked through Leicester Square for a bit then I was taken into the Trocadaro Club, a HUGE video and game arcade, four floors of fun and terror. Well…only a bit of terror…the shocking chair, you sit on it hold the handles and you get shocked. Why? I don’t know! ‘nuff said about that!

We went to HMV to look at the music sealection, then in to the Virgin Megastore…yes THE one and only, another really BIG thing in London. Why is everything so big here; something to prove London? ‘eh?

All this is around Piccadilly Circus, No tents, no clown or trapeze…where is the circus?
I know, I know…its not That kind of circus. Circus from the Roman circle (or square sorta)

We walked down Regent Street, a long curved road with really nice victorial buildings on both sides…at least I think they were Victorian…I’ll get back to you on that. We made our way to Hamleys, the worlds biggest toy store (their words, not mine, but it was huge!)

I wanted to get a stuffed giraffe, but I didn’t think a life-sized stuffed giraffe would fin it my suit case, that and it was ₤3500. I suppose that and the stuffed elephant from Harrods would make a great gift for someone. From there we walked back along Regent Street towards the BBC building. Time for some food, it was getting towards dinner time. Chris opted for KFC, yeah that stuff….I passed. Pizza Hut was my choice, although at 99p for a tiny slice I only had 1 slice. I would get something at the train station, if there was time. There was about 20 minutes before our train, I had a bagle with smoked salmon with cream cheese, a reasonable ₤3.45 Reasonable till you remember that it is over $7.00 CAD. Oh well…I gotta eat.

An hour on the train and we were home.
A cup of tea some TV and then time for bed.

The 2 Tates

After a chat on the train, I found out that there is a boat that connects the two Tate Galleries. This sounds like a plan, I will go to The Tate Britain, then the Tate Modern.

The Tate Britain contains a chronology of British art from the 1500’s to the present. I was amazes with the depth and breadth of the collection; every age and every style. If you follow the galleries in order you can se the progression in technical skill and style. The style usually matched the times, what was going on in society.

I will post links and pictures later.

The Tate Modern contains a very broad based collection of Modern art; Picasso and Warhol to name a couple.

The Tate Modern is housed in an old electric generating station, making good use of an old building also allowing the galleries to have huge spaces.

Modern art forces you to think about what is and what isn’t art. What makes a makes something art.

Some examples:

“The Fountain” an urinal on its side signed and dated. Is this art?

“9 Tables” This, on first look is nine concrete blocks, but on closer examination there are parts cut out. These are the negative spaces left when a table is removed, the cut out spaces in the blocks are where the legs and rails would be. Is this art?

“Tomato sauce” By Andy Warhol. This is a copy of a Heinz tomato sauce box. Is this art?

I can’t answer these questions for you. I think art is in the eye of the beholder.



Two Squares and a garden?

Leicester (Pronounced Lester) Square, Trafalgar Square, Canada House, Covent Garden

This was going to be an “interesting” day; I was going to meet another online friend. We’d been talking for a few months, and since I was going to be in London, it was a good excuse to meet for lunch and some chat.

We met for lunch and a nice café, had lunch and we talked about everything, especially about how we were going to change the world. I talk a lot about changing the world, don’t I?

Anyway, Leicester Square, was interesting, it is the hub for the London theater scene. There is a bronze statue of one of the greats of theater; Charlie Chaplin. Around the center of the square there are bronze plaques in the ground with the names of all the commonwealth countries, their capital city and their distance from London; of course I looked for Canada.

We made our way down to Trafalgar Square, four giant bronze lions, a tribute to Lord Admiral Nelson, similar but taller than the tribute we have in Montreal. I think Montreal’s was first. Trafalgar Square is surrounded by Canada House, The National Gallery and Portrait Gallery and St. Martin in the Fields church; the one with the choir.

Canada House was the highlight. Aside from the security check, I was “home” Canada House as well as being part of the Canadian Embassy, is set up so that Canadians in London can keep in touch with home. There are newspapers from Montreal and Toronto, computer terminals with e-mail access, information about Canada, and a small research library with Canadian books.

I was able to show off, after all this was MY country, I knew about the pictures and the places mentioned in the books.

What I found strange was, no one was around from Canada house. There was no one to answer questions or to keep watch on the place. We did meet another family from Canada…Oh, Canada is a BIG place, they were from Alberta.

We made our way to Covent Garden, but I couldn’t find any flowers. Strangest garden I’ve ever seen.


I knew it is a market. It wasn’t what I thought it would be, I was expecting something more like a big farmers market and crafts. There were crafts, but mostly it was retail shops and restaurants. There what seemed like a big flea market.

I wanted to see the London Transport museum, but it is presently closed for renovations, oh well.

I walked back to Victoria Station along The Whitehall (check this) I walked till the parliament buildings, from there I took a bus the rest of the way.

The National Gallery and Portrait Gallery are planned for another day.


A tangible history

There is something about London that keeps coming back to me. The history is real and tangible. You can feel it. I know this may sound a bit strange; every city has a history that’s real. In London you can actually touch it; the easiest way to explain it is, the town I’m staying in, has been occupied since roman times, the house I’m in is an old Victorian, yes its been renovated, plumbing and heating have been added, and there is electricity. But this house has been here since the late 1800’s, not only this one, but the houses for blocks around. The street barely has enough room for 2 cars to pass. Most of central London is the same. At the Tower of London I was able to run my hands along walls that have been there for over 900 years. At the British Museum, I was able to hold artifacts that are thousands of years old; a stone tool, a ceramic tile, and others.

Montreal has a history too, 360 years, but most of that history is centered around the old port area, the rest of the cith has been developed and redeveloped over time. Where are the narrow streets? Where are the old houses along those streets? Gone and forgotten I would suggest.

Who are we?
Where did we come from?
Where are we going?

Some of the answers are in our history.


Keeping Busy

We went down to Brighton and the Beach. We explored the pier and walked along the beach. The beach is interesting in that it is a pebble beach. Small rounded beach pebbles, until you reach the high tide mark where it becomes a sand beach. Brighton is a sleepy town south of London, very relaxed compared to London, with very few CCTV closed circuit TV) cameras. It is the artsy “wild” part of England lots of small shops selling almost anything you would want. A bit bohemian.

For dinner we went to Harry Ramsden famous fish ‘n chips for….wait for it….Fish ‘n Chips!! We started in the restaurant, but after waiting way too long we made our way to the take-away (take out) counter. For about ₤5 we had fish, chips and a drink, I had the cod; deep fried with a light batter. It was quite good. We may go down to Brighton again for dinner with a friend of Chris.

Doing things here always seem to take longer than you expect. Monday for example, I was hoping to do the Tower Bridge, The Tower of London and St. Pauls. Good plan right. I thought so too. I take the earliest train with an off peak rate, 9:00 am, to London Bridge, the closest to everything. And then head for the bridge.

The bridge exhibit explains the history and building of the bridge, allows you to walk across the two foot paths at the top of the bridge, you can even go into the old engine rooms to see how the bridge was operated. Nineteenth century engineering at its best.

Just a note, Tower Bridge is NOT London Bridge. There has been a bridge at “London bridge” since Roman times, and the bridge has been rebuilt many times, the current bridge is of modern design and construction. Tower Bridge was built to help ease the congestion in and out of London. There is more information on the web.

After getting a quick and too expensive lunch, I head for The Tower of London. I purchase my ticket and head toward the welcome center, where there is a brief introduction to what is in the tower, then I make my way into the tower. A guided tour seems the best way to get the most out of the tower. The tower is not what you would expect of a “tower” it is more like a castle with towers. To continue, There are tours given by the Yeomen Warders, or Beefeaters. They bring life to the tower, explaining the history and telling stories about who did what to whom and why…sometimes.

They point out the main buildings, major historical facts, and explain who they, the Yeomen Warders are. They are the Queen’s personal bodyguards. They are all retired military personnel holding the rank of sergeant major. Aside from the Queen’s family and personal staff, they are the closest to her.

The tour is about an hour long, but they do not take you through the armory or the crown jewels…not those jewels!

The crown jewels are the Queens crowns and other symbols of her power. Whatever you think of the Queen and the royalty, the crown jewels are stunning. There are gems from all over the world and pieces from the early kings and queens. Although the Queen owns the crown jewels, I doubt you’ll find them on eBay any time soon.

From the crown jewels, I went to the White Tower, the oldest part of the Tower of London. The White tower was the first castle built to show the king’s power. It is 900+ years old!

Four floors of history, including artifacts, weapons, real suits of armor, especially Henry VIII’s with a, shall we say, large cod piece…if you get my drift.

The Bloody tower was next. I’ll find an explanation somewhere on the web J

Back to where this all began, I spent more that 3 hours exploring the tower and its galleries. It was now after 4 pm, and the tower bridge would be raising at 4:30 this afternoon, something that doesn’t happen too often.

By this time is was too late to get to St. Pauls. It will have to wait.

I went to the Jewish Museum, both Branches, Finchley and Camdon Town, only a couple of tube stops away from each other. Both museums contained the history and artifacts of the Jewish community in England, The Finchley branch was a social history, with a special emphasis on the holocaust, with a survivor’s story in his own words and his family’s pictures and artifacts. Camdon Town’s branch was a religuos history, with lots of holiday and synagogue artifacts. It was interesting not because of what was in the collection, but the age and the stories about where things were found. There were pieces from the 1600’s and 1700’s
From the Camden Town museum I head up to Golders Green. I need some meat! And Golders Green is where I will find kosher restaurants, a butcher and a baker, no candle stick maker. Although Golders Green was the heart of the Jewish community, it no longer is, but it remains central to the Jewish community. I got a small kosher salami and some karnatazel hurray!!

Tuesday Night
I went back to Brighton with Chris to see one of his friends perform and to be at the launch concert for a new album for Kit Ashton . A good time was had by all J

Train Strangeness
I take the train into London every day, it seems that I can take a train the leaves Horsham at 9:00 AM and arrives in London about 10:10 am. I can also take a train that leaves Horsham at 9:20 AM and arrives in London at 10:15 Either train is ok, because the museums and attractions only open at 10 or 10:30. I just thought would mention it because it’s strange


The British Pub

Have you ever been to a get together with your friends? Beer, games, conversation?

That is the definition of the British Pub. We went out for drinks tonight. The Bear was the name of the pub. Even if you can’t read, the big bear hanging right over the door will tell you exactly where you are. That goes for The Black Jug restaurant around the corner, their sign is a…you guessed it, a big black jug.

Back to the pub, It had the feeling of someone’s living room, and it may very well have been, because the pub’s owner lived right upstairs. The experience was made more pleasant when I asked about a particular beer, the owner offered me a sample, only a couple of ounces, but I did end up getting a pint.

We played darts, my buddy played the flower machine…a very sophisticated video lottery terminal that actually pays out cash and I enjoyed my beer.

We moved to the front room and talked about how we are going to change the world; When we have the time.

Maybe I’ll open a British pub when I get home….or maybe not; I might be too busy changing the world.