Sunday, 11 July 2010

Doings in London

Our last week began in London and like our previous visits in 2006 and 2002, the weather was hot and sticky. Most uncomfortable for sightseeing, and the small friendly hotel we stayed in near Kings Cross did not have airconditioning. (They kindly upgraded the basic fan to a super-charged model though!)

The main reason for a return visit to London was to try and track down some of Peter’s Beckett ancestors who for reasons best known to themselves, refuse to be found earlier than 1871. A morning spent in the LMA (London Metropolitan Archives) only provided details of the death of a Beckett baby, and the possible place of burial for the family (Islington Cemetery, East Finchley). Of course I insisted on travelling there to inspect the registers ourselves rather than paying $90 for a postal request. By the time we paid for Zone 3 return tube tickets, a taxi fare from station to cemetery and return, Peter was muttering that the $90 fee sounded quite reasonable to him. However we duly arrived and were allowed to inspect the registers and what did we discover? Samuel Beckett was there but his wife who died 4 years earlier wasn’t. (What DID they do with her?). Apart from the grave location, no other details were discovered. No other family were there apart from Peter’s paternal grandparents (hidden in a wilderness area). Ah well, the Beckett family enigma continues.

Our second day was devoted to the British Museum, as Peter wanted to see the British-Romano collection, and I was interested in the British Bronze-age, Anglo-Saxon, Viking, etc. etc. artifacts. Both these sections had been closed for renovations during our last visit in 2006. We were not disappointed this time and spent several hours happily browsing the exhibits. Lunch was in the cafĂ© within the Great Dome, then the trek back to the tube and a late afternoon siesta at the hotel. Decided on an evening meal at the local ‘family’ friendly Irish pub only to discover it packed with people watching the Germany/Spanish FIFA cup match, 99% of whom loudly supported Spain. Who were we seated with? A lone family of Germans!

Our final day was rather busy with visits to several museums. First was the Natural History Museum primarily to see the fossils found by Mary Anning at Lyme, Dorset. (I had recently read Tracy Chevalier’s fascinating “Remarkable Creatures” which tells of the marine reptile fossils found at Lyme, and just had to see for myself these huge skeletons).

Next across the road was the famous Victoria & Albert Museum (the V&A) with exhibits of art and design. The textile collection was just wonderful – tapestries, lace, woven fabric, carpets, etc., some of which were many hundreds of years old.

Later as Peter finally achieved his wish to travel on the London Eye, I walked around the block and spent several hours visiting the absolutely stunning Westminster Abbey. In the evening, we travelled via tube to the Covent Garden area to the Fortune Theatre to see “The Woman in Black”. Only two actors, but they were able to instil a scary sense of horror in the ghost story. Very well done.

Today, before travelling to Kent for a weekend with our relative, Brenda, we nipped over the road from our hotel to the wonderful British Library. They have a most amazing exhibition of original manuscripts. Some of the items there include Beowulf, a Gutenberg Bible, Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Thomas Malory's Le Morte D’arthur (King Arthur) Captain Cook's journal, Jane Austen's writing desk and handwritten notes, Charlotte BrontĂ«'s Jane Eyre, Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures Under Ground, Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories, Charles Dickens's Nicholas Nickleby, Captain Scott’s diary (of Antarctic fame) and even the original handwritten lyrics to the Beatles “Yesterday” to name just a few, also some absolutely gorgeously illustrated religious texts, ancient hand-drawn maps and a room devoted solely to Magna Carta. This is a stunning collection and incredibly not too many tourists seem to know about it.

Now we’re at the end of our trip and enjoying a couple of relaxing days before flying home on Monday. So, dear friends who have followed our travel adventures, I am signing off until our next trip. Best wishes to all!

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