A Rare Day in London

A rare day for me, that is.

Many years ago whilst at work, a friend and colleague noted that I seemed to prefer animals to people. With the single notable exception of dogs, she was pretty much right on the money. It’s not that I don’t like individual people, I value friends very highly, but I don’t like being in swarming crowds of humanity, especially as the humanity part seems to get lost somewhere. That being the case, I am not a great fan of cities which cram more and more people into ever denser masses. London being one of the more extreme examples on our planet, I’ve tended to give it a relatively wide berth. My outlook is not helped, it must be noted, by my having been stranded in London 30+ years ago when I  missed the last train home leaving Euston at a mere 11:25 PM. Duh!

Yesterday was different. We had been given a pair of tickets to Mara Watch 2012, a slide show by photographer and tour guide Paul Goldstein. [Can we still have slide shows if the pictures are digital, I wonder? Anyway …] This show was to kick off at the Royal Institute at 7:15 PM. A few weeks ago, we also noticed that the Greenwich Maritime Museum currently has an exhibition of landscape photographs by the justly famous Ansel Adams, whose most notable pictures depict Yosemite Valley, a location as deserving of the description spiritual as any place I’ve ever seen. We thought we’d make an afternoon of it by throwing grabbing a bite to eat between photography shows.

I cannot remember the last time I travelled into London. I was quite looking forward to to it. Carol had pre-ordered travel cards to get us into Euston, around London on the underground, and back again for £20 each, which I thought was good value. I did not, however, feel the same about the £7.20 car parking charge at the mainline station. We’d have walked had it not been raining but rain is really all it has done this year. As well as collecting our tickets, we grabbed a 2-for-1 deal which was valid for the Ansel Adams exhibition. That’s good value, too. Now, if we could just do something about the ludicrous car parking charges … The train was 12 minutes late (signalling problems) but we were not pressed for time so no real bother.

Punctuality may not have improved since I last boarded a train but the ride they provide is noticeably smoother. In fact, we could do some of that comforting old “clickety clack, clickety clack” noise to drown out the monotonous “tsch, tsch, tsch, tsch” sounds of fellow passengers ear buds. Whoever thought that ear buds would keep noise under control? And why is everyone always listening to the same tune which just goes, “tsch, tsch, tsch, tsch”? Those of our fellow passengers, and the train was curiously full at midday on a Monday, who were not wired up to their iPods were tapping away furiously on their iPhones. In a few cases, someone was wired for sound and tapping away on their iPhone. In my experience, other than in times of bad weather disruption when all strangers gleefully unite against the common foe, teh rail company, commuters have never been communicative with each other. Now though, there are new technological ways to cut oneself off from the rest of the world.

I think trains are the third unhealthiest environment on our planet, coming in only a short distance behind doctors’ waiting rooms and planes. At this time of year especially, every now and then the gently rhythmic “tsch, tsch, tsch, tsch” sounds are drowned by a much more explosive and worrisome, “a-tishoo, a-tishoo!” followed by “parp!” into a tissue. We took the precaution of overdosing on vitamin-C before we set off. Let’s hope it will do what it says on the tin and protect us.

We arrived at Euston and further risked our health by making our way to Greenwich on the underground. Our journey included our first ever experience on the over-ground Docklands Light Railway. In better weather – it was still raining a little – the sights around various dockland water bodies, including Canary Wharf, would have been modestly pleasant. Strange how simple things can feel exciting. I was particularly amused by one DLR station called “Mudchute”. An odd name which must, presumably, have some historical context. The nearby “Island Gardens” sounds much more appealing.

A long time owner of an Ansel Adams coffee table book, I confess that the exhibition left me a little disappointed. His classic “Clearing Winter Storm”, possibly the finest landscape picture ever shot, was there and as impressive as ever but I really found only about four other prints that moved me to superlatives. Consequently we left rather earlier than we had planned and found ourselves wondering what to do with our extra hour. Long time fans of Sam Clark and Sam Clarke, we had an embryonic idea about visiting Moro or, as seemed more likely time-wise, Morito, the little tapas bar next door. Our problem was that Moro doesn’t begin dinner service until 6:00 PM, a little too late, whereas Morito begins tapas at 5:00 PM. We got there at 4:00 PM. No problem! we were welcome to sit wash down some smoked almonds with an excellent bottle of Albarino for an hour before the kitchen fired up. Another half bottle was soon made necessary by the arrival of our tapas:

  • chicharrones de Cadiz (slow roasted belly pork, cumin & lemon)
  • puntillitas (baby squid & sumac)
  • tortilla of courgette and sweet herbs
  • spiced lamb, aubergine yoghurt & pine nuts
  • butifarra sausage, white beans & alioli
  • chickpeas, pumpin, coriander & tahini

all of which varied between very good, excellent and absolutely stunning. I was mightily impressed and, where restaurant food is concerned, I am not easily impressed.

The evening slides and presentation about the Masai Mara were very entertaining in a no-holds-barred kind of way. Paul Goldstein has several, in my view justifiably held, strong opinions and does not take prisoners in voicing them. The inconsiderate two-wheel drive minibus brigade came in for a bashing as did their loads of Japanese tourists interfering inappropriately with cheetahs tails (I’ll leave your imagination to work on that one), and I was left wishing I’d heard him lambaste the Chinese and their destruction of the natural world on a previous year. Traditional medicine, my arse! This was a charity event with proceeds going to Friends of Conservation Kenya Mara Boma which I think seeks to help the Masai cattle herds and wildlife coexist more comfortably together. Good cause, the Mara is an irreplaceable environment.

We even managed not to get stranded, our return train whisking us home in a mere 30 minutes. Most of our fellow passengers were tapping away at iPhone-alikes again, of course, and one person sneezed a couple of times.Watch this space. More vitamin-C when we hit the sack.

I might even be tempted to do something like this again.

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