Which is nice, because I love daffodils. They are my favorite flower. They were blooming when my son and I were in London in December, and they are blooming now, in late February. Because they are slightly past prime, I have to assume that they were blooming last weekend, when I was last here, though I did not see any. This year, I get a bonus round of daffodils in Illinois, usually in mid-April.
Between leaving London last Monday and arriving again on Sunday, my husband picked up a pretty nasty cold. As we were on our way back I was experiencing the telltale sore throat and weariness, but I’ve been consuming Vitamin C and pineapple juice like nobody’s business, and trying to get as much sleep as I possibly can. My husband awoke early this morning, but I slept until 9:30 when drilling began at the construction site outside our window at the Wesley. I was happy for the sleep, but also happy for the drilling. A shame to miss out on seeing the sights.
We had a quick breakfast of porridge at the Cafe Nero down the street, and then headed out with plans to go to Greenwich and the Docklands. We had planned to walk through Greenwich quickly and spend most of the day at the Docklands, but Greenwich was so interesting, we couldn’t even do that justice.
We took the DLR from Tower Gate, exiting at Crossharbour and walking past Mudchute to Island Gardens. Normally, you can take DLR right to Island Gardens, but there was some kind of “passenger incident” and the train wasn’t running the full route. No matter (except for the “incident”). It was raining a little, but a nice walk.
Island Gardens is on the Isle of Dogs. It you remember your Arsenal history, David Danskin’s Dial Square played its first match on the Isle of Dogs, before Dial Square became The Royal Arsenal, then The Arsenal, then finally Arsenal. Greenwich foot tunnel starts in the Island Gardens and runs under the Thames, ending at Greenwich. Walking through the tunnel was a lot of fun. It feels a bit like walking through a giant sewage tunnel, but no stink. On the Greenwich side you are able to see the Cutty Sark as you exit the tunnel, the clipper that was instrumental in the tea trade before steam engines were used. We looked from the outside at the Cutty Sark before deciding to go up to the Royal Observatory, cutting through the National Maritime Museum. The special exhibit caught our eye on the way through, and a helpful staffer gave us enough information to be able to weigh our options on the way up the hill to the Royal Observatory. We happened to arrive close to 1 p.m., just as the Time Ball was dropping. Beautiful views from the top of the hill of the city.
With time running short, we decided the best use of it that afternoon was visiting the special exhibit at the National Maritime Museum that we’d heard about on our way through, “Samuel Pepys Plague, Fire, Revolution.” Samuel Pepys was best known as a diarist, writing from 1660 to 1669. You may remember from our last visit that I mentioned he had once lived in the same building as Gordon’s Wine Bar that we had tried to visit (although not at the same time the bar was in operation.) He was actively writing through an extraordinary time in London’s history, during the Plague that killed more than 300,000, the Great Fire that occurred the following year, and the Second Anglo Dutch war.
He wrote of those incredible events and the mundane moments of his life equally, some of which turned out to be quite interesting in the fullness of time. For example, he wrote of tasting tea for the first time, as it was becoming trendy. It’s funny to think about England before tea was a way of life, but there was Samuel Pepys, on the edge of that trend.
The exhibit used the diary to add richness to the exhibit, but it actually covered many events during Pepys’s life that didn’t occur at the time he was writing his diary. Pepys was well-connected and somewhat of a real life Zelig or Forrest Gump in his involvement in the events of historical significance that occurred.
For example, as a 15-year old, he was present when King Charles I was beheaded for treason, clearing the way for Puritan leader Oliver Cromwell, whom he supported. After Cromwell died, leaving his less-effective son in charge and opening the door for the return of Charles II in a reborn monarchy, Pepys was a supporter of Charles II as well. He was a weak critic and enthusiastic participant in the Restoration, the period of time in which all of the fun (theatre, drink, debauchery) that Cromwell had rid the country of returned with gusto. He served as a naval administrator under two kings, was a nominated Fellow of the Royal Society, serving as President during the time that Isaac Newton’s book Principia Mathematica that described the Laws of Motion was published. His political career ultimately ended with the commencement of the reign of William and Mary.
His diary, above all, gave a good understanding of how a relatively wealthy and well-positioned individual reacted to the events of his day. The plague did not much touch him and he wrote only a little about it, although the exhibit covered it more completely. With regard to the Great Fire, it concerned him so much that as it raged on, a friend sent a cart to help him carry away his money in case his house burned. Pepys not only sent his money away in a cart, he buried his Parmesan cheese and wine for safe keeping. His house was untouched by the fire in the end, and we can assume that he celebrated with garden-fresh wine and cheese.
My husband and both enjoyed the exhibit, but it was all we could accomplish in Greenwich before returning back to the Wesley to enjoy the same beverage that Pepys himself tasted for the first time before it became England’s drink of choice. In all our time in London, we had never had traditional afternoon tea, so we set about rectifying that lapse. We had tea at the Wesley, which included a variety of finger sandwiches (salmon, cucumber, chicken, cheese) scones with clotted cream and jam, and several desserts. It is a complete shame and inexplicable that the U.S. has not adopted clotted cream as a part of its melting pot of foods. Why, oh why not?
After our tea, we took the Tube over to the Tower station, across from the Tower of London for a Jack the Ripper walking tour. Quite grim, the tour covers the murders that took place in London in 1888. If the Pepys diary is a story from a wealthy and well-connected person’s point of view, this tour is definitely from the perspective of the poorest of the poor. The women who were murdered were all prostitutes, all facing a series of daily challenges that put them in harm’s way of the first known serial killer, or at least the first person to whom that term was applied. The tour goes to the murder sites themselves, as well as to locations that were frequented by the women, including a church that allowed the homeless to sleep in its gates, a housing complex run by nuns for those who had sworn off of drink and illicit activity that all of the women had lived in at least for some short period of their lives, and a bar where they gathered, and met clients. Many of murder sites no longer exist, certainly not in the form they were in, but the touring companies (and believe me, there are many) do a good job trying to evoke the feeling of the times and the locations.
The tour ended at the bar frequented by the prostitutes, called the Ten Bells. We stopped in and had a Sharp’s Cornish Pilsner. Then we went back to the “first ethical hotel in the U.K.” for a good night’s sleep.