Day 898: Achievement 31: Get around to visiting the Wellcome Collection

The Wellcome Collection is, they seek to claim, a destination for the incurably curious.  And a mere 900 days after drawing up my list of 100 Things to do in London within a year, latent curiosity struck.  It was certainly nothing to do with an unsuccessful mission to find a case for my new phone on Edgware Road, ending up sulky, and deciding to pop in when I walked past it on my way home.

The Wellcome Collection is based on two floors; the permanent articles reside upstairs meanwhile, on the ground floor, a temporary exhibition is concubine to the cafe, gift shop, and branch of Blackwell’s bookshop.  My companion for the afternoon, @njb, is a frequent visitor to the Wellcome Collection.  Although conceding it is expensive, he made the point that the cafe ‘absolutely smashes it’ and the bookshop has ‘excellent books about London’.  After a perusal of the cafe price list, the universally sated faces, and the shelves of Blackwell’s, I’m inclined to agree.

Until the 24th February, the temporary exhibition is the somewhat morbid ‘Death: A self-portrait’.  Assembled by Richard Harris, a Chicago-based curator of the macabre, the exhibition explores attitudes to death.  Skulls, masks, paintings.  An interactive computer system for people to leave their thoughts and memories about death.  Not really somewhere to lurk with the new year blues, even if you end up accidentally reading about someone’s late mother’s shopping list.  It was written a day before she’d died, apparently, and left in the usual place on the mantelpiece.

For me, the most striking article in the Deadibition was a wall-sized hub-and-spoke diagram (with proportional hubs) showing causes of death in the last century.  Snakes won it, by a long way, for the animal kingdom.  Claire is evidently right to be wary of them.  And, although war and famine made noble efforts, cardiovascular diseases and infectious diseases completely smashed it out of the park.  Nothing else came close to those two titans of termination.

Upstairs, the permanent exhibition contains all manner of 19th and 20th century medical devices.  Amongst hundreds of other bits, you’ll see a Victorian dentist’s chair, an opium pipe (for purely medicinal purposes, you understand), and a selection of surgeons’ weapons.  ‘Tools’ doesn’t do their majesty and stature justice.  You might also see a heavily tattooed and pierced Dutchman taking photographs.  Around the corner, there’s a behemoth of a machine that was used to do some DNA stuff at the Wolfson Institute for Biomedical Research.  It runs Windows 95:

DNA Sequence Machine

Entry is free.  A good way to spend a couple of hours, particularly if you can get on one of the free guided tours. @njb highly recommends the one on dentistry. Being somewhat odontophobic, I don’t.

(The new phone is an LG Nexus 4, since you ask.  Hat-tip to Martin for recommending the excellent Yoshie & Nico.  They supplied a good quality case and screen protectors, in a timely manner, for a most reasonable price.)

Day 365: Achievement 10. Go to Highgate Cemetery; be sure to look at Karl Marx’s grave

It’s been a while since I went, but I can pinpoint the day, the time, and where I went for breakfast. It’s 10:06 on the 31st July 2011, I’m sitting in the beer garden of The Gatehouse in Highgate, having just eaten breakfast, and sent this email to my friend Nick (forgive the typo, I had no doubt over-nourished myself on hash browns):

Remarking on breakfast

At the risk of treading on the toes of the London Review of Breakfasts, luxuriate in the knowledge of what comprised a Wetherspoons veggie breakfast back in 2011:


The walk from The Gatehouse down to Highgate Cemetery, on Swain’s Lane, involves passing the Swain’s Lane communications tower.  Although I couldn’t possibly go on about work-related things (this blog isn’t the place for that, after all, this blog not representing my employer or its views) I could suggest, for those so inclined, a visit to this page of the fantastically anoraky mb21 transmitter gallery website.  Then get ready for a slightly uncomfortable gear-change in the next paragraph.

This is a cemetery of two halves.  The east half, where famous folk like Karl Marx, Paul Foot and Jeremy Beadle are interred, along with literary agent Pat Kavanagh who, as her headstone explains, was wife of Julian Fellowes.  There are some incredibly moving monuments, such as the London Fire Brigade’s.  One of the many casualties remembered is Colin James Townsley, a Station Officer who died in the King’s Cross fire of November 1987.  It is thought he was killed by the ticket hall flashover when attempting to assist a passenger. Spending some time on a summer’s morning, just sitting and thinking by the LFB monument, is a humbling experience.  There’s a bench right there for you.

Over in the west, meanwhile, you’ll find the graves of Alexander Litvinenko and Michael Faraday, in a grade 1 listed site, replete with gothic catacombes, Egyptian Avenue, the Circle of Lebanon and the Columbarium.  Speaking as someone who knows little-to-nothing about architecture, much of it is architecturally stunning, its impact often aided by over a hundred years of decay. Access to the west is only possible as part of a tour, the details of which are available, along with plenty of history and other interesting articles about the cemetery, from the Friends of Highgate Cemetery website.

And, just in case you want to see a photo of London’s most-visited headstone…

Karl Marx headstone

A couple more photos are, as you might expect, over on flickr.

Day 366: Achievement 66. Attend a BBC Prom

Yes, I did it.  Finally.  After six years of working for the organisation that puts them on, twice attending Proms in the Park, annually watching a good few concerts on the tellybox and ‘always meaning to’, I went to see a Prom.  Yay.

The gig in question was Prom 23; Beethoven’s 4th, Saint-Saëns Piano Concerto No. 5 and Liszt’s Dante Symphony.  Those demonstrating their skills were Stephen Hough (tinkling the ivories), Julia Doyle and the CBSO Chorus provided the vocals and the BBC Philharmonic set the whole thing to music (under the stick-waving of Gianandrea Noseda).  Perhaps that means something to you.

Heather was to be my gig buddy for the night.  After queuing up for around half an hour around the back of the Royal Albert Hall, she appeared (both mysteriously and magically) just before the doors opened.  Thus avoiding having to queue (and endure a conversation with me).  Having made the cut, and having paid only £5 for an arena day ticket, it seemed appropriate to celebrate with beer.  This is where the night’s first (and, if I remember, only) mistake came into being: visiting one of the Royal Albert Hall’s bars.  Expensive, not very nice, beer in a flimsy plastic beaker.  Bleurgh.  A much better idea, for the drinkers, is to visit the Imperial College student union bar.  A pint of beer and a gin and tonic for £4.40, real glass to drink out of, and a lovely beer garden to drink in.

It’s quite a strange crowd that goes to The Proms.  Among other more normal sites, a couple were laid out on the floor, heads resting on a bag.  A lone woman spent the whole concert sitting on the floor, cross legged, playing with an iPad.  An elderly couple in the front row listened to the whole event with there eyes closed.  More surprisingly, so did a number of people who were standing on the arena floor.  A few of them were swaying, most were resolute in their stillness.  Then there were those who decided to do what I can only think of as the classical equivalent of playing air guitar.  Air conducting?

I’m not best placed to review the music of the night, so I’ll leave that to my colleague David (who was also there with a decidedly more high-brow crowd).  I’ve not sought his permission, so hopefully he’ll either never read this or not at all mind:

The Beethoven was rather leaden, the Saint-Saëns fun but a tad shallow, and the Liszt dragged rather. Otherwise, it wasn’t too bad!


So there you have it.

Day 371: Achievement 83. Visit Neasden Temple

OK, let’s get this out of the way here and now: a year has gone by and I’ve failed to do the One Hundred Things.  But let’s ignore that and, instead, turn our collective attention to the Neasden Temple.  Or, if you will, BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir.  Just so you’re in the zone with me, I’m currently sitting on a train listening to England give India a bit of a kicking in the third test match.  Cook’s just knocked 250.

Back to Neasden Temple, then.  It’s a bit of a pain in the arse to get to.  For me, a couple of trains to get me to Stonebridge Park followed by one of those peculiar tiny buses with two letters in its number.  In this case, the PR2.  It’s a half-hourly service, except for on Sundays (when it doesn’t bother to show up at all).  Those who don’t obtain the same thrill as I from spending 25 minutes at a bus stop on an overcast North Circular can explore other avenues of getting there.  But then you might not get to go past the Taylors Lane Power Station (132MW of open cycle gas turbine power, kids).  It’s all fun in Willesden.

So, etiquette and process when you get to the Mandir.  This is the useful stuff you need to know to not look like a fool, so pay attention: put all your bags in the security hut in the car park opposite the Mandir.  Leave any cameras and food/drink in there as well.  At the gate is a nice chap in a stab vest; it’s probably nice if you say hello to him.  There’s an airport style security checkpoint just inside the front door of the Haveli (the community/wedding/function centre stuck on the side of the Mandir).  All the security chaps are very pleasant.

Right. Once you’ve been through the metal detector, stallions to the left and fillies to the right.  Shoes off and into the self-service cloakroom.  You won’t be alone in this, of course — everybody’s loafing around in socks or bare feet (I couldn’t find anybody who could give me an official line on those Totes slipper-sock type things that were popular in the 90s (although I didn’t really make a point of asking)).

To get to the Mandir itself, walk down towards the left; you’ll pass a wall of screens showing public transport information, a photo display of visiting dignitaries, a cabinet rammed with Guinness World Record certificates, and some puff pieces for the Swaminarayan School.  At the end of the corridor, you’ll reach the Mandir itself.  The door on the left houses seven shrines, one under each of the pinnacles, each of which contains images of the Deities.  These are revered like God in person and are tended to, each day, by the Mandir’s monks.  I can’t really say too much more than what’s on Wikipedia, seeing as I decided to go when the shrines were closed.  Check before you travel.

I can tell you that there’s some very nice stone carving upstairs and, when I was there, God was on a swing.  The Understanding Hinduism exhibition is well worth the £2, too (although one of my associates, who has subsequently visited, has complained the aspect ratio on one of the video exhibits was incorrect).  Although it’s very cheap for a couple of hours out, and educational, it has made me want to visit India (which I expect will be a considerably more expensive affair).  I’ll keep you posted on that one.

Tea’s been called, Cook’s on 266, and the train’s nearly at Doncaster.  More wittering soon.

Day 175: Achievement 86. Go ice skating at Somerset House.

Tickets to skate

Tickets for ice skating.  Photographed in summer. (Above.)

Nat is one of the most awesome people I know.  She used to come to a pub quiz I ran in central London but, for some reason, decided she’d move to Australia for a couple of years.  And then she came back and came ice skating with me.

As is a lady’s prerogative, Nat showed up to Victoria about 20 minutes late.  She’d got the coach up from some city with a cathedral and ended up stuck in a traffic jam all the way into central London.  Undeterred that we’d miss the start of the skating session, Nat bounds over to a sushi stall (the one by the toilets, Victoria station fans) and proceeds to select from a variety of raw fish.  She’s one of the most awesome people I know, though, so can get away with wasting valuable ice time in this manner.

To the Misery (nee District) line!  Except, it being a weekend, there’s some sort of added complication.  On this particular Saturday in January, there was no service east of Embankment.  So, like all good BTO fans would, we took what we could get from the tube and legged it down the Victoria Embankment on foot.  Except we didn’t leg it, because Nat was eating sushi (the rammed Misery Train was not conducive to lunching) and I was carrying Nat’s mentally heavy bag.  But Nat can get away with wasting valuable ice time in this manner, and no doubt causing my back a later mischief, because she’s one of the most awesome people I know.

Once we finally get up inside Somerset House, Nat decides she needs to find the toilet.  I go and pick up the tickets and drop her mentally heavy bag in the cloakroom.  Then I wait.  And wait.  And walk around the ice rink.  And wait.  And wonder where the hell she’s got to.  Turns out there was a queue.  I’m told, from a good number of sources, this always happens at ladies’ toilets.  What I don’t understand is why, then, they don’t put more toilets in ladies’ toilets.  I don’t want to be accused of standing and sniping on the sidelines, so I’ll even offer a suggestion about how to do it: take some floorspace from the gents! As a double bonus, I have a gut feeling that forcing men closer to the toilet bowl would also serve to bring about more sanitary conditions.

I digress.  Nat, being one of the most awesome people I know, has got feet like a normal person.  She knows her size and the acts of picking flippers at the swimming pool, choosing bowling shoes at the alley, and ordering ice skates at the rink are straightforward affairs.  Not so for me.  Three different pairs of skates later, and a few tibial tendon-related yelps of discomfort, I’m sort of sorted.  Sorted, that is, for the half second between standing up and falling over again.  Great start, made even better by the sniggering of a six year old.

My last time at an ice rink (this one, in fact) had involved drinking mulled wine and taking photos, then visiting the India Club for a curry.  It didn’t, for reasons that might already be apparent to you, involve wearing blades under my feet and careering around on a hard, yet slippy, surface.

So, we get out on the ice.  And, I can tell you now, it’s not a sport for those who feel the need to be emasculated.  Not only will an entire Spanish school party shoot past you as if they are direct descendants of Jayne Torvill (there’s your T&D reference, should you be playing cliche bingo), but so will the elderly and the infirm, the very young and those with a white stick and a dog.  Depending on the time of day, the dog might or might not be wearing a high visibility tabard.

Clinging to the side for dear life, and using the handrail as a method of propulsion, is a technique fraught with problems.  I’d go so far as to say that, between them, lollygaggers and children ensure it’s not a way the uncoordinated young professional is permitted to travel.  Forced on to the ice, straight lines are the thing to conquer first.  Well, not falling over, then starting to move, then moving in a straight line.  After that, it’s time to master stopping.  Then stopping using something other than the rink-perimeter rapid deceleration technique.  Then going around corners.  Then putting it all together.  Then avoiding people.  Then falling arse first on the ice.

Set up for a fall

Me, mid-fall.  Nat really captures the moment.

Great fun, though.  See you there next year.  More pictures on flickr.

(Note to readers: I do actually like Nat.  She’s one of the most awesome people I know.)

Day 233: Achievement 65. Try to find the Big Breakfast house.

Hello again.

Keen readers will know I recently took up a new job. Before I did that, though, I had to use up a fair whack of my shift worker’s holiday allowance. Accordingly, March consisted of some long weekends, a trip to Berlin, and hanging out at Claire’s house a fair bit. Usefully, she lives out in east London and goes to work very early. Essentially, this meant I had a handy base to explore some of the things that happen over on the other side of the town.

One place I needed to visit was the Old Ford Lock, on the River Lee Navigation, in Bow. The lock keepers’ cottages will have a special place in the hearts, minds and early morning memories of a generation: they were, of course, home to Channel 4’s Big Breakfast. These are the cottages in which Chris Evans fell over a table, where Paula Yates met Micheal Hutchence, and where Richard Bacon and Amanda Byram managed to get everybody watching GMTV instead.

So. It was an overcast and glum morning when I joined The Regent’s Canal, just where it meets Mare Street. The towpath hugs the southern boundary of Victoria Park for quite a distance, heading south-east before heading north-east to meet the East Cross Route. To those with a cartographic tool at their disposal (like the A-Z I was carrying, or the Google Maps on my phone) it should be obvious that this, perhaps, isn’t the most direct way of doing things. Have a look and see what I mean.
View Larger Map

When the destination is north east of the starting point, walking several hundred metres to the south unnecessarily lengthens the journey and uses valuable time that could be better spent burning parsnips or failing to eradicate a colony of ants. Just so you know. I am now, in Hackney parlance, ‘proper well schooled’ on the matter.

So, jolly amounts of over-walking aside, Old Ford Lock is accessed from the end of Dace Road. It’s possible to walk over the lock to the cottages, but it’s not possible to walk far down the Lee from here. Something about a development that’s costing us about the same as a Walnut Whip (although I don’t have the precise details). Here’s a view of the cottages from the middle of the lock:

Lock Keeper's Cottages

There’s another picture on Flickr, too, but it’s just of sign. You can still go look at it, though.

There’s not much else to say, really.  Not much can be seen through the security fence, the  bricks are painted on and there’s a mobile telephone number on the gatepost in case of deliveries.

More soon. x

Meta: A seven month update

Hello, Things Fan!

Updates have been a little thin on the ground recently.  Apologies for that but, as you might expect, I’ve got a few excuses up my sleeve (always handy when you’re as disorganised and lazy as me).  Firstly, the impetus to do the Hundred Things within a year is gone.  I’ve accepted the offer of a new job that’s based in London, so I’m going to be knocking around the south east for the foreseeable.  Secondly, I’m sure you remember Claire from the Winter Wonderland post.  Well, we’ve been hanging out a fair bit and that, along with working at Stupid O’Clock, has left me with precious little time to do Things.  But there’s precious few Stupid O’Clock shifts left to do before I join the leagues of nine-to-five desk jockeys and generally have a more sensible life.  Good news there, then.

Be assured, though, that although there’s been a drought of updates, there’s been a veritable feast of Things that are just waiting to be written about.  From an utterly disappointing two hours in the IMAX (Tron Legacy) to a mooch around St. Paul’s Cathedral (no road to Damascus moment), via the delights of the Crystal Palace maze (took far too long, especially as I’m taller than the hedge).  That, and more, is still to come — including the bizarre tale of how I spent two months at the Old Bailey but didn’t manage to see anyone get sent down.

In sad news, Konstam, the restaurant that sourced all its ingredients from around the M25, has joined Woolworths in the great big High Street in the sky.  The Terrace Garden at The Langham has probably shut, too, it being last summer’s pop-up champagne bar.  If you’ve got any idea about what could replace these Things, stick your thoughts down in the comments.  I promise to read each one of them.

Think that’s about it for now.  Stay tuned for an actual update… soon. Ish.

Day 170: Achievement 57. See a film at the IMAX cinema.

The BFI IMAX has Europe’s largest cinema screen and it’s right there, bang smack in the middle of a large roundabout on Waterloo Road. Access is by a network of subterranean walkways, each painstakingly, and quite possibly post-modernly, decorated with an assortment of fairy lights and bold paintings. But nothing can detract from the sheer amount of brutal concrete on display.

Tron: Legacy 3D

A cinema ticket (above).

So, we’ve got the location. Let’s set up the anthropological elements to this tale. Claire and I were in the early stages of courtship and a Monday afternoon trip to the cinema seemed like a good thing to do. I’d had the day off, Claire had spent the morning in Kent. (This isn’t relevant, really, I’m just trying to pad this out so there’s some sort of length-based justification for it popping up in my Twitter and Facebook feeds.) So, we rock up, pick up the tickets, and hit the cafe for a couple of soft drinks. They were really quite expensive but, not wanting to appear a tight arse (and ruin my chances of a snog), dutifully swallowed hard and paid up. And then drank every little bit of that Coke. Very slowly. Savouring every last drop.

And up to the auditorium. Bloody hell. That screen is big. Good job our seats are quite far ba… oh, no, they’re not.  If you’ve never had twelve metres of cinema screen on a wall almost directly in front of you, it’s something you should try. Once. Briefly. And remember to not do again. Especially if it’s a 3D film. Which ‘Tron: Legacy 3D’ most certainly is.  Well, certain scenes are.  Others are just plain old 2D.  In the IMAX, in fact, it’s a 70mm 1.78:1 blow-up p&s of 1080p HDCAM SR. Meaning you’d probably get better picture quality by watching it on a BluRay at home.

Anyway, it was my first time in an IMAX in about 20 years and also my first ever time of seeing a modern 3D flick.   Neither convinced me; the IMAX screen is simply too big for a feature film, the cutting between 2D and 3D did my head in and the 3D effect was, at best, a novelty.  In reality, it was nauseating and headache-inducing.  And the 3D glasses just served to remind me that my ears are a bit lop-sided.

Anyway.  Enough of me.  Let’s end with Claire’s review the film: “Looks good – boring.”

Day 139: Achievement 85. Go see the darts at Alexandra Palace

Happy new year.  Hope you had a good Christmas.

A few things quickly struck me about going to see the darts at Alexandra Palace.  Firstly, it’s a lot smaller than you’d think.  Secondly, and incongruously, the dart board is a lot further away than you’d think.  Thankfully, a pair of giant projection screens flank the stage and provide a helpful clue about what on earth’s going on.  This is surprisingly useful; the alternative is seeing the back of fine, athletic, players throwing darts at a fuzzy round target.

Gaaaaame on!
Andree Welge at the oche in his match with Colin Lloyd

So, in summary: it’s £30 to watch a the evening’s darts on a big TV. And it didn’t even look to be HD. And there was no commentary from the legendary Sid Waddell.  And the beer was £3.40 a pint (but served at the table by enterprising keg-carriers).  Freebies included boards to write amusing and/or coded messages on and some amusing Ladbroke’s ear warmers. This was just as well, considering our night at the darts coincided with London’s worst cold snap for at least a year.

Prat with a sign
Proof. I really was there.

But, those major pitfalls aside, the atmosphere is excellent.  Excellent and boozy.  Even the attending ladies were going in hard with the grain.  Luckily for them, relieving themselves didn’t entail a half-mile walk and a long flight of stairs.  It did, and my thighs concur with my view here, for us chaps.

In terms of the action, we saw a first round surprise as Co Stompé went out to Peter Wright.  The crowd boo’d and jeered when Colin Lloyd (playing Andree Welge) thumped the board, mid-game, in frustration.  The noise picked up by the board’s microphones nearly blew the roof off the place; Nick’s top tip is to not be near the PA system next time Jaws steps up to the oche.  I could tell you more, but I’d merely be repeating what’s on the PDC Website.  Go have a look there if you’re massively bothered.  Which I suspect you’re not.  So you won’t click that link.  Which makes me wonder why I’ve put it in.

Oh, yes, and I managed to get on TV.  Sort of.

Can you see my sign?

Hopefully Sky TV won’t mind too much.

I aim to do more Things soon.  Sorry I’ve been hopeless lately.  (Not that you care; you’ve probably already skipped over this post in Google Reader or something.  What’s that?  Hmm.  Oh, OK.)