Spires and Fragments

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Monday was raining quite heavily in the morning, so we dithered a bit about doing a walking tour.In the end we decided that we wouldn’t melt,and so headed to Westminster . We met up with a London Walks guide for the basic “This Is London” walk, covering the history of the Westminster area. Although the London Walks tours aren’t in the same league as with a good private guide or Context, they’re entertaining, cheap, and a good choice for first timers like Evan.

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From Parliament and Westminster Abbey, ducked down some side streets with elegant Georgian buildings, then we continued down the Birdcage Walk skirting St James Park to see if the Changing of the Guards would take place in spite of the faint drizzle. As we walked, the sun came out and we could hear the band warming up. Playing the theme from Star Wars, of all things. Our guide dryly  commented that Dancing Queen is also in their repertoire.

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Tons of people were waiting, crammed along the fence in front of the barracks and against the barricades in front of Buckingham Palace. And how wonderful, in the midst of this tradition, to see some women among the band and guards.

We continued our walk, listening to the guide talk about Buckingham Palace as we walked down The Mall, through Admiralty Arch and into Tralfagar Square, frantic with traffic and pedestrians after the quiet of the Park. We identified the buildings as we passed , the various Admiralty buildings (I was reminded of books set during the Napoleonic Wars, where people were always running into Admiralty House), horse Guards, where people we posing in front of taciturn horses and guards, and Banqueting House, which is still on my to do list. We ended at Downing Street.

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I’ve wanted to get to the Denis Severs house in Spitalfields for a while, so we took the Tube to Liverpool Street. Another stop off was for Evan to see the statue of the Kindertransport children in front of the station, commemorating the safe arrival of the Jewish children who were sent out of Nazi Germany by their families. Larry’s 13 year old father, along with his four siblings aged 3 to 15, were among them. The children were sent to orphanages or to work,and never saw their parents again. Those five children had over 30 descendants.

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Larry and I had walked through Spitalfields ten years ago, when the covered market was first being developed, and the crumbling neighborhood was in the beginnings of gentrification. We were struck by how scrubbed and lively it is now, with tons of people eating in restaurants, shopping for trendy clothes, and walking the narrow streets of what was a slum not too long ago. In the 18th century many silk workers had their workshops and homes here, and the area went into a decline in the following century. On the outer fringe are blocks of new construction of luxury apartment buildings, with the gleam of the City just beyond.

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We got a table at a crowded Vietnamese restaurant, and had a good lunch of pho for me and Evan, chicken curry for Larry.

Denis Severs bought a derelict house on Folgate Street in the 70s, and gradually turned it into sort of a visual novel to tell the story of a fictional family of Huguenot silk weavers who lived in the house for five generations. No photography is allowed to encourage you to more fully experience your visit. You enter a few at a time, and silently explore the ten rooms by candlelight,each meticulously arranged with items that give a sense of moment in time. In the basement kitchen you seem to have interrupted a meal in progress, complete with the scents of food, candle wax, and fire. The next generation appears to have acquired more wealth, with books, an excess of knickknacks, gentlemen’s wigs forgotten on a chair, cups of tea and glasses of wine half full. Beds look like the sleepers have just left, dressing tables are covered in personal items, family photographs and newspaper clippings clutter surfaces. In a parlor, you hear recorded murmurings of conversation, embroidery work has been cast aside and elaborate mens coats hang from chairs.  When you climb the steep, rickety stairs to the top level, you feel the cold as you pass through tattered laundry strung up to dry among the peeling walls. This top floor, with recorded sounds of the cannons being fired to declare then death of the old king and ascension of the young Victoria, is particularly evocative of the diminished fortunes of the family, now living in poverty.

We took a bus back home, enjoying the street scenery from the top level. As I was knitting in the living room I glanced out the window to see two rainbows stretching across the sky. I snapped a photo and then ran downstairs to see how far they went. By the time I got outside, they had vanished.

We continued Evans education with the last scone from Gail’s bakery in Exmour Market to go with our afternoon tea; and Sunday Roast for dinner. I’d read good things about The Pig and Butcher, and it lived up to its promise. Huge plates of pork, lamb or beef; with vegetables, leek gratin,  roast potatoes and Yorkshire pudding. Loved the condiments, two kinds of mustard, horseradish, mint and shallot jam. I’m not too much of a meat eater, but this was fantastic.

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