Sunday, July 17, 2011

London Finale

The end to the tour was a couple of days in London with Ali and my mother-in-law (and Ali's grandma), Anna.  The plan was to stay at a club in St James (The East India Club) and using Ali's terminology forage out from there.  Ali had to deal with his Uni accommodation issues so I would organise the itinerary for Anna.

I haven't really complained about much in the blogs to date but must make an exception here as I find it scandalous that public transport in England is soooo expensive.  At a time when economic disarray is the norm, public transport should be cheap. Despite what the spin doctors, talking heads and all around numbskulls in the media say about things, the UK is in a nearly bankrupt mess.  This is courtesy of the former government and stupidity/cupidity of the banks and where real inflation is far higher than the 'normalised core' figures the government uses to set policy.  Now that is something that gets me.  How can you exclude food and energy costs when calculating 'core' inflation?  I know the argument is that it is irrelevant at the macro level but the individual doesn't eat computers and drive their cars using flat screen TV's.  Those are the things that are coming down in price.  The consumer eats food, consumes petrol and gas in driving and heating things, and generally consumes all that stuff which is excluded from the 'core' figures.  The reality is that the UK is getting more expensive, unemployment figures are continuously being tinkered with (downwards) by the statisticians in government and the country is facing a huge debt burden that cannot sensibly be repaid in generations.  That will crimp economic growth in the future and it looks like those numbers are starting to be seen now.  All of the political posturing counts for nothing so long as the reality is as bad as it is.  So why is public transport so wretchedly expensive?  I would have thought that making one small aspect of public life slightly more tolerable would have been a good thing now but clearly having privatised public transport, the new owners want their 15% ROE or they start to cut.  Some things really do need to be nationalised and transport is one of those things.  And that's from a died in the wool capitalist who believes that government should stay out of everything!

So we took the coach and not the train.  The coach was clean, virtually empty and got to Victoria Coach Station in 1 hour 45 minutes -- just about the same time the train/tube combo would have taken.  The coach driver helped with the bags and stowed them in the bus' hold.  On the train nobody would have helped and we'd have had to struggle with them on the train and then the tube.  The East India Club was welcoming and ready too so we just dropped the bags and headed off -- Ali to Uni and his accommodation stuff, Anna and I to paint the town red.

It was nearly 3pm and only 100 yards away from Fortnum & Masons so the immediate question of lunch/tea was simple to navigate after which I proceeded to walk Anna around town.

The Mall on Sunday
It was a beautiful day and really nice to bimble around fairly aimlessly taking in shops, Bond Street, Oxford Street and taking tea in a couple of places for a rest.  London is a really nice city and it came as quite a shock then and in the next couple of days to realise that having driven all over Europe and visited endless world heritage sites and old towns, medieval cities, Roman ruins and all the rest that the best place of all was here.  You name it, London has it.  OK, not the weather and beaches but certainly all the rest.  Maybe no Roman amphitheatres either but more museums of all sorts, more palaces in good condition, more memorials and monuments to people of global importance ... well its a huge cosmopolitan city with millennia of history and most importantly it has never been invaded and had a major competing power take it over although as Wellington after Waterloo in 1815 said there have been some close run things.

Dinner that night was in my favourite Youngs pub off Bond Street (called 'The Guinea' -- great steak pies) when we caught up with Ali.

The next day being Sunday was quiet in London so simply wonderful to walk around.  The first obstacle was a road race with 20,000 entries running past the club so Anna and I couldn't cross the street for a while but when we did I walked Anna through 3 parks in a couple of hours -- first St James' Park and the Serpentine, then Green Park and finally Hyde Park.  Just wonderful to see so many Londoners out walking, running, biking or just bimbling.  And as for the tourists, well there were too many to count.

You just have to love the guy in the chicken suit!
Anna told me that Chinese people always referred to Buckingham Palace as the 'dog house' because the statues around the place looked like dogs, hence the nickname.  Never knew that.

With Anna outside the "Dog House"
We stopped off here and there for a brief rest and finally ended up in a Chinese restaurant in Baker Street for dim sum before splitting up and going our separate ways.  Ali wanted to check on some shops.  Anna felt like doing the same or having a rest and in everyone's absence I took in a museum and what a museum it was.

Of course Wellington and Waterloo related, it was the Wellesley family's London residence Apsley House which these days is a museum show casing the Iron Duke's china, silver, gold and art work.  Apparently after the Battle of Vittoria in 1813 when Wellington thrashed Boney's brother Jerome, then King of Spain, and finally kicked the French out of the Peninsular, a cavalry charge overtook Jerome's baggage train and captured it all.  The officer in charge brought the carriages back to the duke who was too busy to pay much attention so he said box it up and send it to London and promptly forgot all about it.  After Waterloo the duke was in London and had a bit of time to take a look and to his surprise found hundreds of works of art, gold, silver, etc.  For this was the entire looted treasury of Spain that Jerome was trying to take back with him to France.

It must have been a temptation for Wellington to say thanks very much and get hanging but he wrote to the restored King of Spain and told him where his treasury was and how it got there.  The King of Spain wrote back thanking the duke for his honesty and generosity and said as a small thank you for liberating Spain from the French yoke, keep it.  The duke did just that other than for 6 huge masterworks which celebrated the history of Spain and lineage of its rulers that he had copied (and hung).  He then sent the originals back to the King of Spain.  Clearly the duke had quite a bit of class.

What is the rule about being on a horse?
What remains is magnificent.  In addition, the duke received a lot of presents from grateful European heads of state.  Where you and I may send a card and bottle of wine, the heads of state sent 400 piece dinner sets commemorating the duke's life and battles.  He also acquired booty from France and all manner of other magnificent stuff that really needed a very large house to show off.  Apsley House is where the duke held his annual Waterloo banquets when he hauled all this stuff out but these days it is simply a joy to see it all laid out.  As for the paintings ... I am not a mad art fan and rarely go to art galleries but seeing 300+ 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th century old masters in one place hung as they were in a sort of any old how manner put shivers down my spine.  The duke really was quite something and this museum really is quite a place.  And it is not one of the must see sights of London.  You do really have to look for it.

The last night was quiet and we parted, Ali with Anna back to Canterbury, me to Heathrow with sadness knowing the trip was all but over.

Can't wait for what's next though...

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