Monday, January 31, 2011


Last weekend (well, Monday) our adventure was to take the train to Greenwich and explore.  Now, my most tangible association with Greenwich is that it’s the city that Gwyneth Paltrow has to get herself to in order to be rubber stamped by Her Majesty Dame Judy Dench in order to marry the undesirable Lord Colin Firth in Shakespeare in Love.  "Sunday..... Greenwich!"  What I didn’t know (until David told me of course) was that the famous Greenwich Observatory houses an amazing history of timepieces, and showcases how the puzzle of longitude was resolved.  For the record, I did know about the Prime Meridian, so that’s something!

We didn't know exactly what it was - we though it was the Royal Palace in Greenwich, but apparently it's something military-related?

The Royal Observatory, Greenwich

It's up high on a hill.

The uber-official timepiece of all the world.  Back in the day.

It was very interesting to explore the observatory.  I learned all about John Harrison and his fascinating, lifelong project to design a timepiece that would stay accurate at sea, enabling ship captains to accurately determine their longitude.  This was a serious matter, as the unreliability of finding longitude (in contrast to finding latitude, which was easily done by the position of the sun) caused many shipwrecks and deaths.  Harrison, who was born in 1693, designed four timepieces (responding to a Royal prize offered of £20,000 for whoever could solve the mystery) over a course of many years, and tested his timepieces at sea.  The final result was his H4 timepiece, which, along with the others, is actually on working display at the observatory.  Incredible!

Of course, we also couldn’t resist standing on the Prime Meridian.  There is lots of fascinating stuff to see at the Greenwich Observatory – and it’s free! – so I would definitely recommend it for when you come visit us.  ;)

Montreal and Ottawa?  Come on!

The back-in-the-day officially designated lengths of measurement.  People would come from around town to get the proper measurements from this display.

Wandering around Greenwich.

Sell!  Sell!  Sell!

We are conducting a systematic study of fish and chips in England.  We will prepare a full report once field studies are concluded.  Our first expedition was to a Rock n’ Roll themed (??) Fish and Chips Shop in Greenwich – yum.

Next, we walked down into Greenwich itself and passed by what would be the Cutty Sark, except it is being restored and is covered with scaffolding and tarps.  (It is a clipper ship, one of the very fast trading ships from, like, back in the day.)

Speaking of Colin Firth, we concluded the day by going to see The King’s Speech at the local cinema.  Wow, it was wonderful!  We loved seeing the plaza in front of Buckingham Palace and No. 10 Downing Street featured in the film, since we’ve just seen them!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sunday Afternoon at the Tate Modern

The Great London Adventure continues!  Last Sunday David and I headed back to the area right around the Thames for a fun day of exploration/tourism.  We walked up to Tooting Broadway underground station and took the Northern Line north to Bank station.  We walked along the bare Sunday morning downtown streets to St. Paul’s Cathedral, where we attended the 10:15am Matins service.

This was my first time being in St. Paul’s – WOW.  (Of course, you can’t take pictures inside, and I can’t upload mental pictures, sooooo.... sorry.)  I was overcome walking into the great space and seeing that famous black-and-white checkerboard floor for the first time.  How incredible to be in such a historically significant place.  They immaculately dressed ushers warmly welcomed us and directed us right up to the front (moment of liturgical observation: how great that they don’t just let people sit a hundred miles back from the action, and three metres apart from each other person!  End liturgical observation.)  We sat in plain wooden chairs in semicircular rows, RIGHT under the amazing dome.  WOW.  Hard to not look straight up all the time; hi folks, yep, tourist/worshipper here.

The “Mattins and Address” service, a Church of England service of course, is sung by the Vicars Choral, a men’s schola cantorum or chant ensemble.  They were lovely, and to hear the chanted scriptures floating way back in that great space – have I said WOW too many times?

(Moment of liturgical observation: the congregational singing was rubbish.  People were barely singing the two hymns even though I could hear a couple of nice voices around me.  The organ [gorgeous] was not able to guide the people to sing strongly together; they need a cantor, or for the Vicars Choral to come forward during congregational hymns, or something.  Hear me, leadership of St. Paul’s!)

We sang “At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow,” to the tune EVELYNS which I didn’t know.  (W. H. Monk... anybody?  Anybody?)  At the end we sang “Beyond all mortal praise God’s name be ever blest” (get it, Timothy Dudley Smith) to DARWALL’S 148TH, and I was on more solid ground.  The scripture lessons were read and congregational responses were spoken, but all the rest was chanted.  Really, really lovely.  When a reader would come forward to deliver a scripture lesson, their voice didn’t so much echo as gather into a rumbling wave that seemed to emanate from the vaulted ceilings.  (Can I get a WOW?)  The sermon, given by the Reverend Canon Giles Fraser, Chancellor, was relatively brief, and his Chancellorness made extensive reference to the movie “The King’s Speech.”  David and I were both mentally raising our eyebrows when he mentioned he had seen it the previous afternoon... leaving your sermon prep a little late, eh buddy?  I was also concerned that he would give the whole plot away because we are dying to see it... but I think we escaped unscathed.  (He was actually quite a bit younger than his illustrious title would suggest.  Maybe it’s not even an illustrious title, but what do I know?)

David pointed out to me the copyright by-line at the end of the first page of the order of service, which he calls “the coolest copyright notice ever”: Rights in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer are vested in the Crown.  The texts reproduced here are used under licence of the Crown’s patentee, Cambridge University Press.”

After all that loveliness, we walked out the side door and had an instant awesome view of the Millennium Bridge and the Tate Modern, our next destination.  We walked across the Millennium Bridge (and David told me about the snafu when it was first unveiled and started swaying alarmingly as people walked on it... feeling pretty solid now, thankfully!) and took in the sights of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, London Bridge to the east, and the great dome of St. Paul’s immediately behind.  “Can you believe we live in London??”

The Tate Modern.

Note the Globe Theatre - OMG!

Blackfriars Bridge, which is under construction (probably fixing it up for the 2012 Olympics)

No pictures again inside the Tate Modern, of course, but it is a fascinating collection of envelope-pushing art from recent eras.  Its location is a massive converted power plant - it felt like we were entering a second cathedral.  We saw some really neat Picasso pieces including a number of sketches, a room of Andy Warhol offerings completed with neon pink and yellow cow wallpaper, and the fascinating and disturbing art of Sir Francis Bacon.  I tried the gift shop for a possible print to put on our bare walls, but nothing really appealed.  There was one small print of a Picasso piece that I had liked, but the colours were so different from the original it just didn’t hold any spark.

We also took in the much talked-about piece by artist Ai Weiwei, consisting of hundreds of thousands of ceramic sunflower seeds.  Patrons used to be able to walk amongst them in the great turbine hall, but fears of silicosis-inducing dust have now halted that perk – as David put it, the coolest aspect of the exhibit.  Ah, well.  Still very cool.

We went to the fifth floor espresso bar where, so Fodor told us, the balcony offered the best view of St. Paul’s in the city.  Yes indeed!

At this point our day out went off the rails a bit, when the fire alarm went off in the Tate Modern.  We had to evacuate and stood uncertainly in the front walkway for a while, wondering how long we’d be waiting. Just when we were about to give up and go, they let us back in, but we’d lost our stride a bit by that point, ya know?  We’ll have to go back for a second look.

More to come!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Our New Flat

Last Wednesday we moved into our new flat in Mitcham.  We are loving it!  We feel really good about our find.  In the end, we got it through a lettings agency, called Leaders.  As it happens, they manage the entire building (three flats) on behalf of the landlord.  So, they handled all the cleanup, changing the gas and electric to our names, re-connecting the power which had been off during the showings, and – they even got us a new bed!

The flat is a one-bedroom on the top-floor of a row house.  We are about three minutes walk from the rail station (Tooting) and about fifteen minutes’ walk from the tube (Tooting Broadway).  It’s working out really well for David to get to school.  We’ve got ourselves set up with groceries and are figuring out how the interesting European radiator system works.

Mark took me to Ikea last week and I got a big haul.  Mark and Sue also lent us a bunch of house stuff that they have doubles of, which was hugely helpful.  We are feeling quite settled in our new place

Come visit us some time!