The best wardrobes

When we lived at Haslemere, we had Sliderobes come over and fit our wardrobes. I don’t remember how we found them but we thought they were so good that when we (finally) decided to get wardrobes fitted at Farnham, we called Sliderobes in there as well. And today, I met with Chris from Sliderobes to get a quote for building a new wardrobe at the flat.

We had a pleasant chat as he fed information into his laptop and created a virtual cupboard for me. He plays tenor trombone for the Guards band. In fact, last night he was playing something ceremonial at the Palace for St George’s Day.

Anyway, he measured and plotted then printed out the design for Mirinda to okay before Monday. Then left.

Apart from this little interlude and Skyping with Mum & Dad (and some important admin) it was all about tidying up.

Which means…that’s it for today.

Cutting grass

I had my hair done today, not before time, so I popped into Flamingo’s on my way back to London.

Gordon (who does my hair) is always ready with a story of four and today was no different. We were discussing the extension and he was saying how he had downsized a few years ago to a flat and how much h loved it. One of the big things he didn’t miss was having a garden. According to him, he suffers from slight OCD and so he has to make sure the grass is always at a uniform (very low) height and the edges are all crisp and clean. His OCD was so bad that he had to mow his neighbour’s front garden whenever it became unruly. Given he hated all the time it was taking him, getting rid of the garden was the best option.

He then told me the following story of rank stupidity…

Like a lot of homeowners, Gordon would always mow the nature strip in front of his house. While he understood that it wasn’t his, he also saw it as an extension of his front garden. So he mowed it. He’d been mowing it for as long as he’d lived there. Then, one Monday there was a knock at his door.

The caller was a guy from the council. He asked Gordon if he’d mowed the nature strip. When Gordon told him that he had, the council guy told him to stop mowing it because it was the council’s property. Gordon was confused. He told the council guy that he’d been mowing it for 25 years and wondered why it had taken so long for the council to notice. The council guy had no answer to this. When asked why he couldn’t mow the nature strip, Gordon was told it was a health and safety issue. The guy from the council told him to desist in the future.

As you’d expect, Gordon wasn’t happy about that and told the council guy that if they came on a regular basis and mowed it properly, he’d leave it alone but he doubted this would happen. And he was right. Although promised they’d return in four weeks, after five, no-one had appeared. Gordon was on the phone, asking them why.

The next day, three guys turned up to do the job. Gordon, quite naturally, asked why they needed three guys to do something that every householder managed alone. He was told that one guy was there to mow, a second was to remove obstacles (sticks, dog poo, large rocks) while the third was to keep an eye out for traffic. (Gordon lived in a cul-de-sac.)

This didn’t fill him with confidence so he continued mowing the nature strip whenever he mowed his front garden. He never heard from the council again.

Speaking of mowing…I cut the grass in what is left of our back garden while Paul and Robbie slaved away. Progress in the past week has been slow but only because of the Easter break which has meant the last week has only consisted of two days. Even so, a lot of the Acro props have gone and the central pillar has been made. This is holding up the external wall of the second floor. Today they put down hard core, flattened it out level then started to add a layer of sand. Insulation goes on top of this and the floor should be poured next Monday.

Holding up the wall

Holding up the wall

In the meanwhilst, the garden continues to blossom, including the clematis that we put up against the fence between us and Dave and Gail. Every time I look at it, it looks dead and then, against all probability, flowers appear. It looks much better in bloom.

c yearslematis

Down the side of the office, a most of the new tulips re out, some passed their best. I noticed that I can see the tops of most of them while sitting at my desk. Perfect. While I sit in my chair, I feel almost surrounded in bright colours.

tulips1

And that was it for today. I went back to the flat to a still poorly Mirinda who is contin uing her battle with the very important document – I’d just missed Sarah. We went for a lovely walk around Mill Quay to give her a break. I think that made her feel a bit better.

Walking under the Thames

Today being Tuesday meant it was Exhibition Day for me. I had decided that seeing as I went to see Veronese then Hamilton, it was only right that I went to see a contemporary artist for my final week. I’m glad I did.

Martin Creed is a British artist born in 1968. While born in Wakefield, he lived in Scotland from the age of three until he moved to London to study art in 1986. He won the Turner prize in 2001 and moved to Italy. These days he lives and works between London and Italy. He won the Turner prize for a massive neon sign across the top of the Tate Gallery. You can see it here.

A lot of people (including my wife) would not consider most (if not all) of Creed’s work as actually being art. I, on the other hand, found him very witty (he had me laughing out loud at some pieces), clever, confusing and original. Naturally there were pieces I didn’t like but, on the whole, I enjoyed the exhibition a lot.

I have been trying to work out what my favourite piece was but I haven’t been able to whittle it down further than two…so, here they are:

Work No 1092
This is a huge neon sign spelling out the word MOTHERS. The word sits on a massive steel frame and revolves on a central pivot. It felt like it was just inches from the top of my head but it must have been higher than that. Still, it was quite intriguing.

Work No 360 – Half the air in a given space
This comprised a big room almost full of big white inflated balloons. Having read and agreed to the personal health and safety laminate, you enter the room and make your way around it. You have to shuffle and sort of push the balloons out of the way as you get more and more surrounded by them. It was extraordinary and so much fun! I felt like a kid in one of those playpens full of plastic balls. Now I know why Rafi loved them so much.

There were so many other pieces that tickled me, baffled me or just made me gaze in wonder. I love being tested like I was today. With Veronese, it’s easy to see why I love his work; with Creed, it’s not so easy to explain. But surely, in part, isn’t that what art is?

Leaving the exhibition, I walked across the river via Westminster Bridge. I’d heard there is a plaque on it and wanted to photograph it – the iron for the bridge was made at Thames Ironworks.

bridge

Well, I can safely say, if there is a plaque, it’s not on the east side. I guess I’ll have to walk on the other side some other time. I didn’t have time today because I was off to the National Gallery to buy Mirinda a nice cover for her new Kindle. Sadly, that didn’t work out because they didn’t have any. But I didn’t have enough time to worry about that, I had to get up to Leicester Square and the Spanish Guitar Shop to buy Mirinda a set of guitar strings. Sadly, when I eventually found it hidden between a pub and a pizza restaurant, it seemed to have closed down.

But I didn’t have enough time to worry about that because I had to high tail it back over to Canary Wharf to buy lunch for Mirinda (and Sarah who was helping her slave over a really important document) and to be there for when the boiler chap arrived. As it was, I arrived about five minutes before he did. And, happily, we don’t need a new boiler. We thought we did because it sounds like a jet taking off when it heats up and it sometimes drops black stuff. However, that is all normal for the make and type of boiler. Jason (the boiler guy) said we can always get a new one if we wanted because the existing one wouldn’t get serviced because it contravenes a new rule added since the boiler was installed. Anyway, I’m just happy we don’t have to change the existing one right away.

After lunch, I left Mirinda and Sarah to return to their document and headed over to Greenwich. For ages I’ve been meaning to visit the Royal Naval College so, given I had a free afternoon, decided I’d do it today.

The Royal Naval College started life as the Royal Hospital for Seaman, designed by Christopher Wren in the 17th century. Th two sites I saw today were the Painted Hall and the Chapel. I also walked along Ripley’s Passage, quite by accident and just in time but that’s not really a site, as such.

The Painted Hall is amazing. Imagine a massive room with a very high ceiling, covered in allegorical imagery. As Mirinda said after seeing my photos, it looks more European than British. I was reminded of the Giant’s Hall in Innsbruck where Marie Antoinette once skipped.

pHall

It was all painted by Sir James Thornhill between 1708 and 1727 and was originally intended as a dining room. This didn’t last long when they quickly realised what a brilliant tourist attraction it was.

The ceiling and back wall are just covered with lots and lots of figures. Fortunately, the guide book I bought, includes keys to who al the images belong to. For instance…

painting

…in this section, the two in the round frame are Queen Anne and Prince George of Denmark. The woman flashing her breast is Concord Conjugal (odd name, odder goddess) while behind her is Piety and the bearded chap on the right is Neptune. Holding the left hand side of the frame is Heroic Virtue (or Hercules), above him is Liberality and that’s Victory’s arm resting on the top.

It’s all like that. Quite simply, amazing.

Then, after walking downstairs, lured by the most brilliant model ship I’ve ever seen, I wandered down a passage which turned out to be the atmospheric Ripley Tunnel. It was added to Wren’s design by Thomas Ripley in order to provide access between buildings without the annoyance of having to go outside. It runs between the Painted Hall and the Chapel.

As I emerged from the Ripley Tunnel, an old little man suddenly appeared on a high step of a spiral staircase.

“Are you alone?” He asked mysteriously.
“Err…yes…” I answered.
“Good. Come on then. In you go. I’m locking up the tunnel now.” He almost shoved me through a small door into the ante room leading to the beautiful chapel.

Now I’ve been in an awful lot of churches and I’ve found a lot of serenity in some of them but nothing has ever been quite so serene as this chapel. It is bright, it feels welcoming, the walls exude warmth…everything you’d want a chapel to be but never is.

It was completed in 1789 and built by James ‘Athenian’ Stuart and William Newton. I’m not sure how they did it but I’m glad they did.

Part of the chapel ceiling

Part of the chapel ceiling

Following an amble along the Thames Path, I ended up at the entrance to the tunnel underneath it. Opened in 1902, it is designated a public highway and so must be open 24 hours a day. It is also part of the national cycle route although bike riders are supposed to dismount and walk their bikes through – there are big painted signs every few yards saying as much.

Surely that's not a cyclist riding through the tunnel?

Surely that’s not a cyclist riding through the tunnel?

As I walked through the tunnel, I was passed by at least a dozen cyclists and not one of them had bothered dismounting. Maybe illiteracy is a bit rampant on the Isle of Dogs. Anyway, it was a wonderfully weird way to cross the river. It is also the cheapest…being free.

On the other side, I had a bit of a wander before stopping off in the oddly named Pepper Saint Ontiod pub for a lovely pint. And then back to the flat. A splendid day.

Oh, and before I forget…it was Earth Day today.

Occasional clouds

Following the rain yesterday (the first for ages) today’s forecast was for occasional clouds with showers. First thing, it was hard to imagine the day was going to be anything but perfectly blue.

I headed out for Starbucks and Waitrose wearing my sunnies, a spring in my step and a song in my heart. Mirinda stayed at the flat, feeling a lot better apart from the sore ribs and persistent headache.

I have found the perfect time to go shopping in Canary Wharf. Between 9 and 10 on a bank holiday morning. The place was delightfully deserted. Even at the usually impossible to get a seat at Starbucks, there were only three customers. And I was one of them.

Strolling around Waitrose was almost like being at Farnham first thing in the morning…almost. There were about 20 people in the place but it is the largest Waitrose in the country, so it looked quite empty. I said as much to the woman on the check out. She assured me that the crowds would arrive, just later than usual. It being a bank holiday, I assume they’ll all be sleeping in.

Back at the flat, I had some breakfast and then Mirinda announced she felt well enough to go for a walk. She then added that we wouldn’t be going far in case she was struck down again. So we set off, heading towards Westferry Road in order to ascertain whether there was a supermarket anywhere near any of the river view flats she quite liked.

As it turned out, there wasn’t, however, we did walk passed what was once Millwall Ironworks and Ship Building Company from where was launched the Great Eastern!

grtEastern

Apart from being extremely famous for that, it was also, more importantly, the shipyard that Charles Mare took over after he went bankrupt and after John Scott Russell also went bankrupt because of the Great Eastern. It was awfully exciting to see a building that Charles would have known and entered. Interesting that he didn’t rename it.

sign

From here we ended up in Millwall Park, a big open area surrounded by trees and home to a large number of exercising and excessively beefy looking men. And another boy called Rafi. I’m assuming his name was Raphael that had been shortened to Rafi because there couldn’t possibly be another, genuine Rafi.

The most impressive thing about Millwall Park has to be the viaduct. There was no sign explaining its history or significance but, upon returning home, I discovered that it was once part of a railway branch line that ended at the river. Apparently when it was first opened (1871), there was a lot of opposition from the owners of East and West India Docks because they feared the steam engines would send sparks flying onto their highly flammable cargo and wooden buildings. This was only natural so to combat such a thing happening, the train company had horses pulling a tram car until they reached a safe distance from where a locomotive could take over.

The line was closed down in 1926 and a lot of it was used by the DLR. In fact, the old Millwall Dock station (which has completely disappeared) is where Crossharbour DLR station is today. The viaduct, however, was left in place as a permanent reminder of past glories…and as a rather odd entrance into Canary Wharf College.

viaduct

There’s a rather interesting history of the line here. Okay, Mirinda, I think it’s interesting…

From the park we headed across to Mudchute Park and Farm, walking back towards the flat. It was then that the rain decided to fall on us. We’d all but missed the occasional clouds that had crept up on us, blackening the sky. We didn’t miss the massive raindrops that drenched with every single fall.

People went scurrying for shelter as the giant rain fell. Everywhere was chaos and mayhem except for this little chap, happily chewing away at something only a squirrel could eat.

squirrel

Being Australian and not afraid of a few raindrops, we continued walking back to the flat, cocking a snoot at the people shivering beneath the DLR railway bridge.

The rest of the day was spent at the flat (for Mirinda) and shopping for stationery supplies (me).

As for the occasional clouds…well they all disappeared until after the sun had set. Then they must have returned, bringing with them a few close friends, because the rain didn’t stop.

Tummy trouble

Just to set the record straight. An over indulgence in Easter eggs was not the cause of Mirinda’s upset stomach. It was more likely caused by Savoy sweets and Royal China takeaway. Either singularly or combined.

Whatever the cause, Mirinda spent the day in agony. She spent some time awake, lying on the lounge but for the vast majority of Easter Sunday, she was bed ridden and fast asleep.

Apart from the obvious discomfort the bug also meant we had to miss out on having lunch with Amanda and Carlos. This had been planned for quite some time, to coincide with our stay at the flat. Alas, it was not to be.

And weather-wise, it was a rather good job. It rained most of the day with drenching showers punctuating the otherwise overcast conditions.

Subsequently, I spent most of the day working on my possible book about the Thames Ironworks.

My research proved very fruitful. I was able to discount some inaccuracies and found some wonderful links in the most unlikely places. It seems that the ship building industry of the 19th century was like some big boy’s club with everyone knowing everyone else. How delightfully Victorian it all was.

I’m not going to write much about it at the moment except for one tidbit…Peter Rolt, the man who saved his son-in-law’s business from vanishing forever from the history books, had a timber yard at Acorn Wharf. This might not seem that amazing (and it’s not, really) but it was on the site of Surrey Docks Farm. We visited the farm back on April 5. Looks like I’ll have to return.

The driest Martini

When you ask for a dry vodka Martini in the American Bar at the Savoy, this is what you get.

martini

And it was the driest Martini I have ever had. Superb.

The reason we were at the Savoy was because today we had tickets to see Dirty Rotten Scoundrels with Robert Lindsay, Rufus Hound and Samantha Bond. It’s a musical version of the movie. It was fantastic! We thoroughly enjoyed it. We also thoroughly enjoyed going to the Savoy, which has to be our favourite venue.

dirty

Imagine, leaving your flat, hopping on a ferry, leaving the ferry at Embankment, strolling through the beautifully blooming tulips in Embankment Gardens, entering the labyrinthine lower parts of the Savoy, head to the American Bar to enjoy a perfect dry Martini with olives (and nibbly things) before taking our seats to be royally entertained by an enthusiastic and talented cast. Then, after the curtain, imagine walking back through the tulips, back onto a ferry, and back to the flat, stopping off to collect some takeaway Chinese that Mirinda had ordered from the ferry.

That was pretty much our day though I did leave out a couple of things. They have to do with the appalling customer service displayed by the Thames Clipper staff.

Today, it was mainly about the woman selling tickets at Canary Wharf. First of all she assumed I wanted two tickets when I’d only asked for one. Well, actually, I just said “A return to Embankment, please” so I guess I didn’t actually say I only wanted one. That has stood me in good stead in previous mercantile dealings. I mean, when I go into Starbucks and order “A grande, triple shot, hazelnut latte, please” they don’t prepare me ten of them. Last week when I bought a pair of trainers, the guy didn’t try and sell me four boxes. No. Normally, I only get one.

But that was only half the problem. Mirinda wanted to renew her monthly pass. This was something the ticket seller was frightened of. Subsequently, she had to wait for the ticket collector guy to return and help her. Any delay or query about every day operations makes Mirinda somewhat tetchy. As the ferry arrived, she was a little bit further on than merely tetchy.

She’d already told a woman in the queue behind her that she could buy a ticket on the ferry (the ticket seller insisted that the woman could not, to which Mirinda merely replied by repeating that she could…this could have gone on a long time) so she took her own advice and told the ticket seller she would buy her ticket on the ferry as well.

That was all a bit unnecessary and could have spoiled our day but we didn’t let it…and the ferry ride was so wonderful, it couldn’t be ruined anyway.

Then, on our return trip, we came across the Ferry Nazi. This woman was pretty ferocious. But we, basically, ignored her, talked about our garden and watched the boats float by on the busy Thames.

boat

But, briefly back to Dirty Rotten Scoundrels…it would be remiss of me not to mention Katherine Kingsley who played Christine Colgate. She has the longest legs possible and a wonderful voice. We thoroughly enjoyed her performance. And we mustn’t forget John Marquez, (he usually plays the hapless policeman, PC Penhale, in Doc Martin) who played Andre Thibault, the hapless French policeman.

To be fair, everyone was fantastic, as I said earlier. As soon as it finished, I wanted to see it again.

Greenwich

For Mirinda’s birthday, she decided she’d like to go and visit Greenwich, walk around some flats, have tapas for lunch…as you do. And so, that’s exactly what we did.

Following a lovely long lie in, we made our way to the wharf in order to catch the ferry across the river (and east a couple of stops). I was immediately put on guard by the ticket seller telling me that it should be okay for one (they count people on and off because they have quite a strict limit). I quickly explained that it was two (Mirinda has a season ticket) and the ticket seller looked querulous. She checked with the big ticket collector standing just behind me. He suggested it would be okay for two.

As we waited for the ferry (which arrived late) another four people turned up. As they fiddled about with some sort of tablet device, taking photos of one of them whose birthday it was (coincidence), I was thinking, very loudly, if there was only room for two, we were getting on and these people could swim for all I cared.

The ferry arrived and the boat-boy was taken aside by the ticket collector who told him we were allowed the first two places. What a lovely chap! Anyway, as it turned out, there were heaps of free seats on the ferry and there was no need for any wrestling or fisticuffs or anything else even remotely embarrassing.

We arrived at Greenwich to a wall of people. They were blocking the ferry exit ramp because they didn’t have their tickets ready. That was our first taste of the crowds out to have a good Friday. Or a Good Friday, depending on your personal preference and belief system.

We stood by the Cutty Sark, weighing up our options.

cutty

Mirinda was a bit hungry but wasn’t sure whether to go walking first. I reminded her that there were a lot of people in Greenwich and we may not get in anyway so why not try and then take it from there. She thought this was a workable idea so we headed for the San Miguel.

As it turned out, this was a very good decision. When we entered the restaurant, we had a choice of just about every table. By the time we left, the staff were sending people away, telling them there was a 45 minute wait for a table. Our timing was impeccable. As was the food. We had six delicious tapas dishes (four to share and oysters for Mirinda and grilled sardines for me) and our waiter was so grumpy, we could have been back in Madrid.

Completely full of Spanish nosh, we headed over to the river to check out a new apartment complex being built and almost completely sold. A great location with a Waitrose deliberately close at hand. Interestingly, between the main tourist area of Greenwich and this delightfully expensive apartment building are council estates. So bad, they have post silly signs like this one:

Seriously?  Dog toilet facilities?

Seriously? Dog toilet facilities?

I’m fairly certain there’s not many dog owners who have successfully taught their animals to use toilet facilities. If you ignore Brice, I suppose. But this is the sort of ridiculous thing you often see put up around low at heel estates. Don’t ask me why. Back at home, where the civilised people live, it’s enough to tell dog owners to bag it and put it in a bin.

Still, the block of flats was very impressive and the view over the river, wonderful. We then headed up the High Street and found an extremely quiet part of Greenwich. It was like one moment the noise was horrendous and all pervading and then, suddenly, we turned a corner and there was nothing. I have to say, it was very pleasant.

One of these is for sale

One of these is for sale

We finished the day with a wander through Waterstones, a purchase of some lovely vintage sweets in a vintage sweet shop and, finally, the DLR back to Crossharbour.

A lovely, if somewhat tourist intensive, day.

A local woman, not happy with all the tourists.

A local woman, not happy with all the tourists.