Day 41: Achievement 18. Tower Bridge Exhibition

I have an unfortunate trait of leaving things to the last minute.  Friends, family and colleagues and all suffer from my habitual, and quite possibly chronic, fear doing things in good time.  There’s always time to enjoy another ten minutes in bed, to listen to one more song on the radio, to make that final killer move in Facebook Scrabble.  It probably all started in spring 1999 when, instead of revising, I decided playing endless games of Solitare would be an appropriate method of exam preparation.

You might remember me going on about ascending The Monument last Friday.  The ticket I bought, for a tidy £8, allowed access to both The Monument and the Tower Bridge Exhibition (a saving of £2 on buying them separately; we’re living in austere times).  The caveat being, of course, that both attractions needed to be visited within the week.  I waited, naturally, until seven days had passed — despite having had a couple free earlier in the week.  The procrastinator’s holy trinity of a warm bed, Ken Bruce’s Pop Master and the BlackBerry’s BrickBreaker could cause even the most determined man to fail in his important tasks.

So, I’d put myself into an awkward position.  I had to make a decision: go see Kevin Pietersen play for Surrey at The Oval or make use of my ticket for Tower Bridge.  Seeing an out-of-form batsman play for an out-of-sorts county cricket team certainly has its appeal, but the lion of fiscal common sense is an intimidating beast, and one I am generally unable to ignore.  To the District line, batman — there’s a bridge to explore!

My fellow apathists, and those of a lethargic disposition, will be pleased to learn the walkways — 44 metres above the Thames — are accessed by an attended lift.  After clearing the airport-style security check, and avoiding the chroma-key photographer by way of a firm stare and sullen shake of the head, the lift takes a matter of moments to whisk you, and a couple of young European families, to the top.  It’s not so swift that the lift attendant can’t tell you where to buy the souvenier photographs, but I suppose that’s the price of living in a market-driven economy.  That and the £850bn to bail out the banks.

Each of the walkways has its own exhibition.  The east’s is about bridges;  famous examples from all parts of the world flank the inner wall.  The view through the east-facing windows is occasionally interrupted for a bit more detail on Tower Bridge itself.  The west walkway is all about the Thames, tracing the river from its origins in Gloucestershire to its ultimate demise in the Thames Estuary.  The images of picturesque, quintessentially English, places on the walls can’t help but make a chap wonder why on earth he, of all people, would choose to live elsewhere.

The photographic fraternity is well catered for.  Both walkways have small sliding windows to enable decent shots to be taken up or down the river:

City Hall

City Hall

View to the north west (from west walkway)

The City

Both the towers show looping videos on large screens.  The north film explains the story behind the bridge, the south details how the bridge was built.  While you’re up there, see if you can spot these lads:

Workmen
Workmen

The second phase of the experience happens at ground level.  After another attended lift journey, visitors are invited to follow a blue line down the pavement towards the Engine Room.  The old boilers, mechanisms and hydraulic systems have been preserved and restored for the visiting public.  There’s also an opportunity to see a video of Robbie Maddison jump a semi-open Tower Bridge.  While watching, you can stand next to the actual bike on which he performed.  There’s also an interactive demonstration of hydraulics.  Essentially, you put your fat mate in a chair and turn a small handle, then watch as, almost effortlessly, you elevate them to dizzy new heights (of about two feet).

Harding's Improved Counter

Harding’s Improved Counter

On reflection, I'm brassed off

Brassed off
(That’s me, my Canon 350D and its nifty fifty)

The bridge’s bascules  are raised on around 1,000 occasions each year.  Times and dates are given on their website.  Coincidence was kind and, just as I was leaving, the bridge was raised to allow a tall boat to pass downstream:

An open Tower Bridge
An open Tower Bridge

There’s some nice photographic opportunities, and the bridge’s policy seems to be very liberal.  The guide in the first lift had taken the time to explain that taking photos of anything and everything was fine.  I thought the sliding windows in the walkways were a nice touch, too.

A quick note of caution for anyone who doesn’t like the smell of tin-fresh paint: the lads are up on the walkways at the moment, completing an extensive programme of refurbishment.  The fumes are rather pungent, but presumably non-toxic, so it might be one to avoid on a hangover…

Oh, almost forgot: Pietersen managed a single run, giving him an average of 0.5 runs per first class innings this year.  Good work, KP.

Day 39: Achievement 78. Tour the Clock Tower.

Looking at the pamphlet, you could be forgiven for thinking it is the only one of its kind.  This, the pamphlet decrees, is The Clock Tower.  Up at the top, there’s The Great Clock and The Great Bell (and four lesser bells).

This is, of course, The Clock Tower at the Palace of Westminstser.  The Great Clock is a magnificently accurate beast, to within a second a day.  The Great Bell is known, to the proles and peasants, as Big Ben.  The origins of its nickname are shrouded in mystery.  Most with an interest suggest it’s named after Sir Benjamin Hall, Chief Commissioner of Works at the time of installation.  Those with a more left-field opinion claim a heavyweight, bare-knuckle boxer, Benjamin Caunt, known as ‘Big Ben’, was the inspiration.  Anyway, considering they’re both dead, it doesn’t really matter.

Somewhat incongruously, the meeting point for tour is in Portcullis House — at the other side of Bridge Street from the Palace of Westminster.  It’s a reasonably new building, in service for less than a decade, but manages to rate ‘G’ for energy efficiency.  That’s on a scale of A to G, by the way.  With ‘A’ being the best.  What it loses in heat, however, it more than makes up for with its ruthlessly efficient security team.  Luton Airport could learn a thing or two from those lads and lasses, I tell you.

Two members of staff escort groups up the Tower.  We had Tim, a besuited, lanyard-sporting tour guide, working alongside Sarah.  She sported a Houses of Parliament cravat and carried a walkie-talkie. Clearly, this was not someone to cause trouble in front of.

Once all the paperwork was in order, we were taken down an escalator, under the road, and arrived at the base of the Clock Tower.  Look out for the door of the ‘Director of Parliamentary Broadcasting’ around here.  It’s a magnificent job title and even better place to have an office.  Just between you and me, dear reader, it left me teetering on jealousy.

The initial ascent is of around one hundred stairs, in a windowless turret, running up one side of the tower.  Fans of natural light and open space will appreciate the rest stop in the ‘Prison Room’.  It’s in this malevolently-named place Tim chose to besiege with information and bequeath disposable earplugs (37dB NR!) with admirable aplomb.  It’s also the first opportunity we had to hear (and feel) the huge weights of the tower’s various mechanisms drop down the central core.  Boom!

Bags safely stowed in the Prison Room, time to move onwards and upwards.  The next part of the ascent is very similar to the last, just with the added advantage of windows.  Even if you can’t really stop to admire the view, the windows provide pleasing reassurance that you’ve not entered some sort of Escherian voodoo lounge.

Another short break followed by a further eighty or so steps takes you to the clock faces. A narrow corridor runs around the inside perimeter of the tower, passing directly behind each of the four.  Since 1859, each face has been lit by at least three different sources.  The capped off gas pipes and cold cathode warning signs hint at sources past, while 28-strong arrays of modern, long-life, energy-efficient, bulbs take on the mantle today.

The corridor behind the faces cocoons the clock room.  The clock itself is a magnificent object, manufactured by Edward Dent and tended to by three staff horologists.  The brass plaques shine.  Its mechanisms move with grace. The majesty and elegance of the engineering captivate.  The hypnotic rhythm of the pendulum entrance and calm.  The transmission chains of cogs, wheels and axles which unfailingly move the clock hands each and every two seconds are a marvel in themselves.  The whole room oozes with glory; this is some of the finest mechanical engineering in the world.

From the clock room, it’s another few steps to the belfry.  It’s here that Bells 1 to 5 hang.  Big Ben’s hammer is always poised, ready to drop its 200kg load on to the 14 tonne gong at precisely the right time.  The surrounding, lesser, bells are a little more lackadaisical about such matters.  They’re happy to appear within a few seconds of when they should, which is why there’s sometimes a gap between PM and the Six O’Clock News on BBC Radio 4.  On a related note, the four microphones used for the live feed to the BBC are visible just above the door to the belfry.  The sound in real life is very different to the sound of the radio; FM doesn’t convey the palpable rumble of the falling weights, nor the spine-juddering ratcheting of the brakes, nor the twenty-second-long, teeth-tingling, skull-rattling, reverberations.

I was standing three feet from Ben at precisely three o’clock on the 8th September, 2010.  And I’ve got a certificate (and some used earplugs) to prove it.

UK citizens can (and really, really, should) obtain tickets by writing to their MP, specifying some suitable dates.  Thanks to my local MP, Mary MacLeod, and her office for arranging the visit.

Day 34: Achievement 17. Clamber up Monument.

Standby, prole. As an experiment, there now follows an INTERNETFACTBURST about The Monument:

  • Location: Monument Street, off Fish Street Hill
  • Built: Between 1671 and 1677
  • Designed by: Sir Christopher Wren and Dr. Robert Hooke
  • Style: Colossal Doric column in the antique tradition
  • Made out of: Stone
  • Number of steps: 311
  • Height of viewing platform: 160 feet/48.7 metres
  • Height of The Monument: 202 feet (61 metres)
  • Cost of recent restoration: £4.5m
  • Cost of entry: £3, or £8 joint ticket with Tower Bridge Exhibition

It was built to commemorate the Great Fire of London and to celebrate the rebuilding of the City.  The height of The Monument precisely matches the distance between its base and the site the Fire first started.  If someone (and I don’t suggest it’s you) were to attach The Monument to a zip-wire, landing at that troublesome bakery in Pudding Lane, it’d travel a distance of 86.3 metres.  (Whoever said geometry was a waste of school curriculum time? It’s taken a decade, but I’ve just used it in the Real World. Ha.)

Anyway. From the ground, here’s what you’re dealing with:

The Monument

Once you’re inside, there’s precious little to see or do. Just climb up the 311 steps of the spiral staircase.  Do try to mind any Germans who might be on their way back down.  You know what they can be like.

Once on the observation platform, views so far as the nearest tall buildings are available. Here’s a photo of Tower Bridge, The Monument’s sister attraction, as seen from the south-east corner:

Tower Bridge

And here’s the view to the north, featuring both acceptable and unacceptable modern architecture:

Lloyds, Gherkin, etc.

A little bit of HDR on that last picture.  Don’t say you’ve not been treated.  As always, you can click images to go through to Flickr for bigger versions which you can print out and ceremoniously burn.  There’s also a half-arsed panorama of The Monument on there.

A certificate is given to everybody who leaves the monument, complete with a blank space in which a witty and amusing (and possibly offensive) name can be written. Any suggestions?

Day 30: Achievement 75. Notting Hill Carnival

“Bollocks!”, I thought, waking up rather later than I’d planned.  It was Monday, you see, and the last possible opportunity for me to attend the Notting Hill Carnival in the Year of Things (as it shall now be known).  P, one of my learned colleagues, had been advising me about Carnival a few days before.

“If you’re going there on the Monday,” she said, probably nursing a latte, “get there early. Before about two o’clock, because the police sometimes start closing it off if it gets packed.”  She also helpfully suggested going up towards the big Sainsbury’s (where the 295 normally terminates, bus fact fans) where things are a bit more family orientated and less prone to getting tasty.  Simple logistics required us to cast this particular bit of information aside.  I say ‘us’, for this was a Thing to do with Man In Shorts.  He’s my muscle and, in this capacity, had recently accompanied me to darkest Dagenham to buy some second hand turntables.  In other capacities, he’s my housemate, an excellent drinking partner and a worthy addition to any pub quiz team.  He also makes the best Bolognese sauce you’ve yet to taste.

Those simple logistics, then.  We live south-west of Notting Hill, the Sainsbury’s is at the north-east end of it all.  There’s no buses running through the area and the Hammersmith & City line was somewhat constrained by station closures.  Add to this a complete lack of geographic knowledge surrounding W11 and the solution is clear: go to Westbourne Park and follow the crowds.  And, wow, were there a lot of crowds.  And a lot of policemen.  And lady policemen, too.

Having neglected to bring any beer with us, the first task was Operation Red Stripe.  Thankfully, the good people at the local Best One were operating a beer-selling operation of magnificent — almost military — efficiency.  A commissionaire granted access to small groups of people at a time.  Once inside, chest freezers and open-fronted fridges were filled with the promised bounty of tins: Heineken, Red Stripe, Kestrel, Red Stripe, Fosters, Red Stripe.  For the motorist, Old Jamaican and Rubicon were also available.  Three lads were constantly replenishing the stock.  Six similar lads, behind the tills, were taking hundreds of pounds a minute.

In and out in no time, cold booze in hand, and time to explore with our new-found props.  Wasn’t long until we happened upon a sound system:

First sound system

Loudspeaker geeks will be interested in the following:

Loudspeakers

Discuss the combing effect.

We then walked past a guy who was dancing to Frank Sinatra.  On the top of some bay windows. Two floors up:

Dancer

On the way back down to Ladbroke Grove, a gentleman with a Flip camcorder stopped me and asked me for my thoughts on Carnival.  There was an incentive:

Horned tit

Continuing on, a rare chance to see some acoustic/unplugged/live entertainment:

Locals

And then we happened upon the Rampage sound system.  This was unique at Carnival, simply because it was the only think I’d heard of.  And that’s really only because my friend Ian (@iandeeley) works at the same radio station as them.  Anyway, it’s very much where the crowds were (and, if you’re getting bored with Ken Bruce or Woman’s Hour, Rampage are on 1Xtra at the same time):

Rampage

After having a good old wander, we settled down on Ladbroke Grove to watch some floats go past.  Once you’re accustomed to the incredible outfits, dancing, and general bonhomie, take a look at the trucks themselves.  Most had a generator big enough for a large town, trailers replete with concert speaker systems of every shape, size, make and vintage.   Booming times.  Noise exposure limit for the day exceeded, time to head for the barbecue. The man-sized barbecue:

Man-sized BBQ

It was very tasty (as it should have been for £6). Just look at Shorts’ face of delight!

Jerk Chicken

A repeat trip to the Best One, and some portable toilets that would make Michael Eavis blush, and we were back in business.  The booze had clearly tripped a fuse somewhere because, once back on The Grove, I decided it’d be a good idea to dance.  Now, let me put this very plainly: dancing is not a way I like to travel.  It’s not a way I can travel.  A gentleman of my stature and co-ordination simply cannot be graceful in rhythmic motion, no matter how much Red Stripe has been imbibed to assist.  Good job nobody seemed to mind, even though I was blowing a plastic horn and undoubtedly stamping on toes, accompanied by a man who was trying to assail floats at every opportunity. If you woke up with tinnitus and a fractured metatarsal on Tuesday, it was quite possibly my fault.  Sorry.

Tiger

Slipstreaming a float along the eponymous street brought us to Ladbroke Grove station, beneath the Westway  and railway bridges.  I then chose to remember a bit more of the conversation I’d had with P a week earlier.  She said something about avoiding that place because “that’s where it all kicks off”.  And, indeed, it seemed to feel a little bit edgy.  Whoops.  Time to beat a hasty retreat to Holland Park Avenue, working against the flow of both float and human traffic.  Needless to say, with Red Stripe and survival instinct operating in harmonious unison, it wasn’t long before Shorts and I parted company.  Helpfully, he phoned and woke me up just seconds my bus home had left the stop outside our flat.  Timing’s never been his strong point.  He did make me a super bacon sandwich for supper, though.

Day 24: Achievement 14. Visit the newly interactive Museum of London

I don’t mean to keep bringing my personal life into the Project, as it shall now be known, but sometimes necessity overtakes desire in the quest to fulfil.  Just one post ago, I fleetingly referred to my holiday in order to explain a week-long absence.  Now it’s time to mention a new bed — a new bed which I had to wait in for —  to explain why I only managed to knock off a single Thing in a whole day off.  Note to self: need to up the game, Jeffery, if you’re going to succeed at this.

I’ve been to the Museum of London before but, because of the circumstances, never got to look around any of the exhibits.  As I remember it, the evening revolved around drinking wine of both colours, watching Stewart Lee analyse the cover of Franklyn Ajaye’s 1974 comedy album, ‘I’m A Comedian, Seriously’, then retiring to the rightly maligned and now-closed Slug and Lettuce.  If you want to relive the dream, wine of both colours is available in many shops, the Stewart Lee sketch is on the Comedy Vehicle DVD and many other Slug and Lettuce pubs remain open for business.  I don’t recommend getting as drunk as I did, though; the ugly lass from the Tube didn’t stop texting for days.  Anyway, the point I’m making is that this doesn’t count as a visit. So I could do it as a Thing.

So, bed delivered, I went off to meet Ian (@iandeeley) and Nick in one of the City’s many fine Pret-a-Mangers.  Then, after a short work down London Wall, the real fun began: there’s an escalator up to the museum.  From street level!  An escalator!  That goes from the pavement!  It was just like the inclined travelator episode all over again.  Up we went.  Up to the middle of a building site.  Turns out they’re having work done, although those with a penchant for builders’ hoardings and scaffolding will find it a complementary (and, much like the museum, complimentary) bit of fun.

Wordplay out of the way, we can safely move on to logistics.  There’s a Benugo (Coke £1.10), locker room (£1), voluntary donation box (£3) and toilets (free) in reception — the same reception desk where free tickets for guided tours are available.  We didn’t bother, but what did you expect?  Maps (free) in a variety of European languages are available.  After returning with leaflets entitled ‘Vous êtes ici’, it was suggested Nick’s well-meaning endeavour hadn’t quite come off.

It’s an odd place once you’re in.  None of the galleries feel the same — or even broadly similar. There’s a curious mashup of artefacts, mock scenes, dioramas, video shows, interactive  displays and artwork.  It’s probably fair to say that not all of it will appeal, especially if row after row of cripplingly dull and irritatingly similar hunting spears don’t rev your engine.  They’re in the London Before London section of the museum, by the way.  That’s where, perched just next to the reconstruction of the Shepperton Woman,  I saw Stewart Lee that time.   London Before London is the first part of the museum you come to and, should you wish, you can learn about the Thames (fact: it used to start in Wales and contribute to the Danube), look at animal skulls (including that of an aurochs) and look at row after row of cripplingly dull and irritatingly similar hunting spears.

Things get better as you move on (unless you’re a fan of ancient hunting tools, in which case the experience has peaked and you should leave).  The Roman London exhibit is based around a couple of mock living environments (one of which housed another, lesser, comic) replete with tiled surfaces.  There’s also a diorama of a typical Roman-era street scene.  I took an arty (well, f/1.8) photo of it:

Street scene

Continuing on through Medieval London, where 1150 years of history is condensed into a similar number of square feet, things very much remain at the ‘stuff to look at’ stage (including a pewter knight and some ‘fashionable shoes’, c.late 1300s) – although there is a dressing up box one can play with.  Not that we did, of course.  And, even though the opportunity was there, nobody pointed and sniggered at the displayed codpiece.

Things start warming up once you turn the next corner, though. WAR! FIRE! PLAGUE! Twenty five years of pure historical action, climaxing in a double whammy of pestilence and ruination.  For those whose dressing up appetite was whetted in the Medieval era, there’s a couple of fireman’s helmets to try on — one modern, one decidedly more seventeenth century.  Those with excessively styled hair can opt to watch moving pictures in one of the two mini-cinemas instead.  One shows a  film on the plague (standing only, although lightweight folding stools are available to take around) and the other rolls on the fire.  At this stage, about an hour in, the talkies provide a welcome opportunity to set the brain to neutral for a bit.

The journey to the present day continues after a flight of stairs.

The Modern London (1670-) areas are set around an outdoor garden (which, I’m happy to report, is both bee-friendly and non-smoking) and feels much more modern than the upper part of the museum.  Rather than putting artefacts at upper-body level, where they can be seen, some latter-day joker (probably a descendent of the chap who designed Bank station) put them under the floor:

I will crush you

The Wellclose Sqaure prison cell (c.1750) is worth a look.  Its wooden walls are engraved with the names of those incarcerated within.  Some went for quality, others quantity.  On the outside wall of the cell is an exhibition my nervous disposition won’t let me entertain, namely: ‘dark hole with an object in it, stick your hand in and work out what’.  (Top tip to anyone like me: you can open the doors and a little light will illuminate whatever’s in there. Darwin will sort out those who put their hands into dark, mystery-filled, holes.)

Following your entirely expected escape from prison, you can celebrate with hatters, housewives and harlots in the nearby Pleasure Gardens.  The floor is covered in AstroTurf, the ceiling changes from daylight to night time and a number of projectors show an evening’s goings on across all the walls.  For the record, an evening’s goings on is largely restricted to catering, cavorting and courting (and hat-wearing).  Look out for the bloke relieving himself against a tree, just as the lass he’s chasing passes.  Hilarity and innuendo ensue (something about ‘a small one’).

Just beyond the Pleasure Gardens is the Victorian Walk.  You can visit it once you’re over the comedic thrill of the Pleasure Gardens’ thinly veiled knob gags.  The Victorian Walk is a mock-up of a Victorian high street, complete with tobacconist, public house, bank, tailor, baker and gentleman’s urinal.  It’s all very nicely done, even down to the scents in each shop.  There’s also the odd thing to raise your eyebrow:

Tobacco! Snuff!

After some art deco loveliness, accented by a 1928 lift from Selfridge’s, the horrors of World War II are available for inspection.  As someone who is more interested in the anthropological aspects of history, it was bloody marvellous.  A spotlit bomb is suspended from the centre of the ceiling in a darkened, black-walled, room.  A video wall shows wartime imagery.  Disembodied voices recountmemories of camaraderie and friendship, hand in hand with experiences too gruesome and harrowing to imagine today.  A surround sound system assaults the room with a barrage of overhead aircraft, falling bombs, anti-aircraft guns and nearby explosions.  It’s incredibly well done and well worth the time to sit through.

The rest of the Modern London area is filled with things that’ll be familiar anyone who’s not been in a fifty year coma; a Vespa scooter, some Bill and Ben puppets, a model railway set.  You know the sort of thing.  You can even mock-up a plate for the front page of a newspaper:

London Throws Mayor

All said and done, the Museum of London is splendid.  It’s clean and well presented, everything works properly, there’s plenty of staff – but they’re hands off.  Photographers and lingers can rejoice in equal measure; the whole place exudes a wholly pleasant and laid-back atmosphere.  If you’re not massive into history or archaeology, the first half is hard going: there’s lots of reading and not much to get involved with.  But it’s worth studying some of it to get the context of London’s foundations.  It’ll also allow you to leave feeling like a rarefied academic.

Allow two to three hours.  Walk there from Barbican LU (Metropolitan, H&C, Circle) or ride a Boris Bike to the large dock on London Wall, just below the museum.

Day 22: Plan 30(7b), 39. Brunel’s tunnel, heritage Tube stock

Thanks to @LDN for bringing to my attention a chap called Ian Mansfield (@ianvisits).  It transpires that Ian is a ‘London based  blogger and photographer’.  That’s what he calls himself, anyway.  Nomenclature aside, his blog has helpfully indicated a couple of Things that can be done in mid-September:

The afternoon of Saturday 11th September will involve a jolly passage in to Brunel’s tunnel in Rotherhithe (Thing 30(7b)).

On Sunday, much fun will be had riding an old Tube train (Thing 39).

Let me know if you’d like to come and, for the heritage Tube train trip (mmm, alliteration), which of the journeys you would be interested in.  Just pop a comment on here or hit me on twitter (@nickjeffery)

Day 16: Achievements 2, 32, 34. Bank of England museum, Woolwich Ferry, Waterloo & City line

I’ve been on holiday. It was lovely, thank you. Hope you didn’t miss me too much.

Anyway, eager to make up for lost time, Day 16 brought about three Achievements.  If you’ve read the title of this post, you’ll already know what they are.  If you didn’t, you should go read the title of this post to find out what they were.

Living out west, and never having worked in or had much cause to visit the square mile, I’ve had little call for the services of the Waterloo & City line.  But, with nearly ten million passengers a year, I had to be sure I wasn’t missing out on something.  So off to Waterloo I went (on the big train, no less).  This, should you be interested, is what the platform at Waterloo looks like:

The Drain

A couple of things struck me about the Drain.  Firstly, there’s no gate-line, just Oyster readers.  The trains are small, too, comprising only four carriages.  Thankfully, the carriages themselves are full-size and very nearly identical to those in operation on the Central line (save a different moquette and overt CCTV cameras).  It’s not some sort of underground railway for midgets, you know.  But perhaps the most exciting thing about the whole experience was seeing inclined travelators. Not a stepped escalator, not just a travelator. A cross between the two: a travelator on an incline.  Just in case you still can’t get your head around this crazy concept, here’s a picture:

Drain travelator

The only other place I’ve seen such a beast is in a now-knocked-down shopping centre in Leeds. (I can’t remember the name, but it was that horrid, dingy, town-planning-nightmare one bordered by Boar Lane/Briggate/Commercial Street/Albion Street. They were outside the Co-op, now Wilkinson’s.)  Of course, if you can think of any others…
Once at Bank, it seemed sensible to go to The Bank (of England).  Their museum is open on weekdays and it’s free to get in.  The entrance is on Bartholomew Lane.  To quash any confusion, here’s a photo:

Bank of England Museum

Once inside, you’ll be able to learn about the Bank’s history, see a glorious array of bank notes, hold a bar of gold (at the time of writing, to the value of £313k), visit the toilet and mentally remark at quite how naff the gift shop is.  As history is boring and bank notes you can no longer spend are a bit dull, let’s get down to the good stuff: holding a bar of gold is pretty sweet.  Heavier and tougher than you might imagine, the bar on display being a standard 12.4kg.  Looking at it, you’d expect it to be soft (a bit like a Milky Bar) but it’s not.  The things you learn when you try to scrape a bit off with your fingernail…

Fans of vintage news presentation might also like the Economic Shocks display, featuring Sue Lawley, Nicholas Witchell, Michael Buerk, Edward Stourton and Peter Sissons.  All of whom, apart from Peter, have carved out a successful post-TV career at BBC Radio 4.  Relive the glory of the 90s virtual set and the double-headed SIX, wince at the original 1998 rebrand and redesign.  It’s all there.  You know you want to.

One potentially pub-quiz-winning bit of knowledge for you: Kenneth Graham, author of Wind in the Willows, was the Bank’s Secretary until 1908. He retired on grounds of ill-health, aged 39, with a £400pa pension.

The Bank of England is participating in Open House London this September.  Half-hour tours will be offered on a first-come, first-served, basis.

After the Bank, it was time to head east.  To the DLR, to King George V, to the Woolwich Ferrry.  This sounds remarkably simple and straightforward, so much so you’d expect the whole thing to pass without incident.  Unfortunately, though, it involves navigating Bank station.  From the orbital corridor around the main ticket office, through a warren of corridors, escalators, stairs, over and across a working platform, back into a different warren of corridors, escalators and stairs and finally to the DLR platform.  I can only conclude that Bank station was designed: a) for people on drugs, b) by people on drugs, c) both.  It’s truly bonkers, even without adding Monument to the equation.

I digress.  Seventeen minutes after entering the station, I’d found my platform, boarded my train, got my book out and knuckled down for the twenty-minute jaunt across east London, past London City Airport, to King George V — the nearest station to the Woolwich Ferry’s north terminal (and, as it goes, Arqiva’s London teleport).  North Woolwich is probably one of the few places in the world you can wait for a boat while looking at big satellite dishes.  In fact, the satellite dishes were far more interesting, entertaining and fun than the boat journey itself.  Here’s a really dull video of the crossing if you don’t believe me:

Took that on my knackered old Mini DV camera.  And I’m not a cameraman. Or film director. It shows, doesn’t it? YouTube have blocked the sound, too — they were offended that I chose to use Rod Stewart as a backing track. At least, I think that’s what they said…

Stay tuned for details of more Things: planning for the Underground Challenge is underway. More info soon.

Day 5: Works in progress 4, 76, 78. Ceremony of the Keys, PMQs and Big Ben

Fresh from this week’s successes and letter-writing, Day 5 presented itself with a bounty of communication.  Avid readers will remember the paper missives I sent to my MP, Mary MacLeod, and to the good people at the Historic Royal Palaces.  Those who are late to the party, or forgetful, can check the details here.

Best news first: an ‘Invitation to witness The Ceremony of the Keys’ (Thing 4) arrived by Royal Mail this morning.  The good people Jen, Martin, Charlie will join me to witness this fine, 700-year-old, tradition.  From the excitement-inducing covering note from Resident Governor Major General Keith Cima CB:

Set amidst the mighty battlements of this ancient historic fortress, the Ceremony of the Keys is one of the oldest and most colourful surviving ceremonies of its kind, having been enacted every night without fail for approximately seven hundred years, in much the same form as we know it today.

The exact origin of the Ceremony is somewhat obscure, though it probably dates from the time of the White Tower – the great Norman fortress commenced by William the Conqueror and completed by 1100.

We’ll be going on Tuesday, 14th September.  It’d be lovely to see you there and possibly enjoy a drink afterwards; you can apply for tickets by writing to the Tower of London.
More mixed news came in the form of a very pleasant e-mail from Ms. MacLeod’s office.  The good news, subject to me not being considered a miscreant or general ne’er-do-well, is that a tour of St. Stephen’s Tower (Thing 78) is very much available.  I say good news through only partially jangled nerves; there’s 334 steps to ascend.  Whether I’ll be able to appreciate the campanological delights at the top, or simply slouch and gasp for air, will be seen later in the year.  Slightly disappointingly, though, there’s no tickets left for PMQs (Thing 76) — although I’m welcome to be a guest in the public gallery at any other time.

Does anyone know of alternative avenues to witnessing Prime Minister’s Questions?  Get in touch; leave a comment below or hit me up on twitter (@nickjeffery)
A day of good progress.

Day 4: Achievement 28. Be a rampant commercialist at the Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising

So, the first thing to say about this place: it’s tricky to find.  It’s tucked away on a mews, off a quiet side road, in a residential part of Notting Hill.  There’s precious little sign-posting, so make sure you’ve got the location marked on your map.  Also, there’s no bicycle parking outside the museum, in the mews or on the road.  The best you’ll do is a lamp post or somebody’s house-front railings, both on Lonsdale Road.

Once you find Colville Mews, you’ll find the museum in the back left-hand corner:

Entrance to The Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising

No more pictures; the museum has a sign to suggest photography isn’t allowed.   £5.80 to get in, and they harvest your details for Gift Aid.

The museum is a walk through time; you start in the late Victorian era and, as you follow the museum’s warren-like path, head towards the 1990s on a decade-by-decade basis.  Each decade’s display comprises contemporaneous artefacts ranging from groceries to toys to household electrical goods, along with small notices for background information.  If you welcome a diversion, there’s a number of amusing typographical errors and spelling mistakes on these signs.  For example, a martian would: believe Edward V11 to be a monarch; consider wasdemonstrated to be a noun; and think the inaugural Wimbledon tennis championships were held in 1977.  There were others; see how many you can spot.

Being a radio type, the display of wireless paraphernalia from the 1920s and 30s was of great interest.  In modern parlance, radio really had a buzz about it back then.  Board games (Listen In – The Great Wireless Game!), travel games (get the valves on the radio), a cat’s whisker receiver fashioned from a wooden cartoon cat and a Top Trumps-style game of transmitting stations (5XX, Daventry High Power, is worth 100 points) are particular highlights.  There’s also a splendid display featuring tens of 1960s transistor radio sets, all in mint condition.

After you reach the 1990s, there’s a wonderful series of displays charting how products’ appearances have changed over the years.  There’s evolutionary sequences of tens of household brands; Domestos, Pepsi and Coke, Dairy Milk, J&J Talcum Powder, Swan Vestas, and more are represented.

If your visit’s like mine, you’ll be there with a small group of old ladies and the odd transient design student.  There’s no interactive exhibits, just well-lit, nicely-presented, artefacts.  And it’s quite nice for that, really.  Worth a look if you’ve an hour or two to kill in Notting Hill.  Just don’t expect anything flash.

Day 3: Achievement 26. Snap a decent wildlife photo at the London Wetland Centre

Keen followers of the One Hundred Things project will have seen this morning’s tweet about my plans for the day.  A trip to the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust’s site in Barnes, the London Wetland Centre (T26), and a gallop around the Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising (T28).

Because the weather was reasonable and I’m from Yorkshire (ie. tight), the bike was today’s method of transport.  And, because it’s closer, the London Wetland Centre was the first port of call.  Arriving by bicycle, first impressions are super – they’ve got a couple of rows of cages in which to put your bike, along with a shelf for helmet, bags and other cycling paraphernalia.  Then you just use your bike lock on the cage door.  Brilliant stuff.

To business: it’ll cost you £9.95 to get in with an additional £2.50 for a 20-odd page guide.  Knowing pretty much naff-all about mammals, birds, plants and insects, the pamphlet became a wise investment.  The site is big (over 100 acres) and human access is pretty much limited to two of the edges. From the main visitors’ centre, you can go one of two ways: the first option is to an actively-managed area with fourteen zones, each with creatures from particular environments and parts of the world.  The second route is rather more organic, with a number of hides allowing different views of the wetlands.

I decided to sit around in hides. Even with a reasonably long zoom lens on my camera, I was beginning to regret not shelling out a fiver to hire a pair of binoculars.  Ho hum.  It was pleasant enough, but perhaps I wasn’t best equipped (or of the necessary disposition) to be entertained for too long.  Fortunately, there’s also some more child-orientated attractions.  Two of my favourites: a television microscope to put something under (I chose my little finger; my cuticles are wrecked, I tell you) and a remote controlled underwater camera.  Although, true to form, I didn’t manage to spot anything.

Lunchtime. (A couple of ham, cheese and tomato sub rolls with a banana and an orange, if you must know.)

Each day, a there’s a couple of guided walks (11am and 2pm) around one half of the site.  After not having had much luck on my own, I decided to team up with three hardy souls from Ilford to bask in the company of WWT guide Andrea.  (At least, I’m pretty sure it’s Andrea.  But it might be Anthea.  Apologies, Anthea, if it is.)  The fourteen managed habitats are a lot more open to visitors than the rest of the site.  As the birds in this area are born and bred on the site, they’re a lot more accepting of human interaction than those elsewhere — so it’s possible to get really rather close.

Over the course of an hour and a half, Anthea imparted a decent wack of knowledge as she guided us around the place.  If you’re an amateur like me, I’d wholly recommend it.

Anyway. That’s a very nice story, isn’t it? But there was a challenge to this, wasn’t there? I had to take a decent wildlife snap. With nothing but my trusty Canon and the threat of failure hanging high above me, off I went.  My efforts are over on Flickr.  Here’s a few of my favourites:

Wingspan

“Wingspan”


Heron

“Heron”


Icelandic swan

“Icelandic swan”


Baby bird

“Baby bird”


Flap

“Flap”

So, a nice few hours at the London Wetland Centre.  Now, a quick word on Thing 28:

The Museum of Brands, Design and Advertising is in a difficult-to-find mews in Notting Hill.  There’s also no bike parking nearby.  So, by the time I’d found the place, then gone away to find somewhere to put my bike, it wasn’t really worth paying the £5.80 to go around.  Another day…

Anyway, dear reader, here’s where you come in. Do you think I’ve achieved my objective of snapping a decent wildlife photograph? Let me know on the blog, on flickr, or by Twitter.  Ta.