Another Dispatch from London

London is a major city and there are always fabulous events happening, something to feast the eye around every corner and the opportunity to see and do things which are quite special. These are but a few recent examples.

Grand Designs is a TV show where the host, Kevin McCloud follows home owners building their dream home from blueprint to completion. There are often elements of interesting architecture or design and lots of drama in the form of cost and schedule overruns. Recently, there was an event held called Grand Designs Live. We had the opportunity to peruse stalls related to all aspects of home-building and design but best of all, we could see Kevin McCloud himself! He looks and sounds just like he does on TV!

Kevin McCloud – host of Grand Designs

London is still reveling in the joyous beauty of spring. The weather is warming up and moods are lightening along with clothing. As spring progresses, different flowers take the stage and have their moment to shine.

A sea of beautiful blue flowers not far from the front of Kensington Palace
A peacock strutting it’s stuff at the Kyoto Garden in Holland Park. This cocky fellow was used to parading itself for all the tourists!
Tulips at Holland Park

There was plenty happening in London on Coronation weekend. The city was heaving with extra tourists who had made the special trip to see the Coronation of King Charles. In the picturesque St Katherine’s Docks, they had a special exhibition of the Little Ships of Dunkirk to celebrate the Coronation. These small boats were spotlessly cleaned and decorated.

St Katherine’s Docks
To celebrate the coronation, there was a display of small boats at St Katherine’s Docks. They were all spick and span and decked up with celebratory bunting. The most amazing thing is that this was an exhibition of some of the ‘little ships’ that were involved in Operation Dynamo, in World War 2. These small private boats were used to help the navy to rescue soldiers trapped on the beaches in Dunkirk, France. The condition of these boats were incredible considering their age. They have been so well cared for.

Right next to St Katherine’s Docks is this lovely historic pub, The Dickens Inn looking resplendent with yellow flowers.

The Dickens Inn, Wapping – built in the 1700s.

The magic of London is the unexpected surprises and hidden gems to be found. Look up at the architectural detail, look down the side street and you never know what you might find.

London is full of surprises around every corner. Who would expect to see this statue on a small side street? It’s part of a pair and they are looking at each other from either end of the small street.

Many of the shops decorated themselves for the Coronation weekend. Some famous shops like Fortnum and Mason are always well decorated with their window displays a particular highlight especially at Christmas time. For the Coronation, the front of the shop was adorned with this show-stopping peacock. Upon close inspection, this whole sculpture was made using the colourful and classic Fortnum and Mason cookie tins! So cool!

Peacock sculpture adorning the front of Fortnum and Masons. The peacock was created from the famous cookie tins sold at the shop.
The city was relatively quiet on the Monday Bank Holiday after the coronation of King Charles. I stumbled onto Saville Row which looked unusually deserted and it was such a treat to see that these old British business had a part to play in providing the coronation regalia.

In the posh suburb of Chelsea is the Saatchi Gallery. On a random Sunday that I visited, I lucked upon both free entry and a rare book fair. Entry prices vary depending on the day of the week and the exhibition on display. This rare book fair is one of the most popular and prestigious book fairs in the world. They were displaying rare first edition copies and other ephemera from authors and books worldwide.

Whilst an exhibition of old books seems dry and boring, this was curiously so wonderfully engaging. There were old books from all over the world in exquisite condition. Books that ran the gamut of topics like fiction, medicine, botany, science, cartography, architecture and religious texts. Free tours were given by some of the book sellers. To hear the stories around some of the books added so much colour and context to them. It turns out that if you have a first edition book in good condition, it would be worth multiple times more money if the associated dustcover is still with the book and in good condition. Most of the value is strangely associated with the dustcover. We learnt how to spot a refurbished dust cover. There was a very special book signed by 7 UK prime ministers and about 280 people who worked in the UK parliament at the time.

We also saw the very first book published by the feminist author, Margaret Atwood, of the Handmaid’s Tale and the famous children’s author Julia Donaldson, of the Gruffalo fame. The first book published by Margaret Atwood is a tiny, thin, insubstantial pamphlet. It provided no hint of the massive worldwide success she would become. It was shocking to see the book sellers handling this many decades old piece of paper history with their bare fingers. They said that wearing white gloves reduces the sensitivity of the fingers thus putting the books in greater risk of being damaged. They then proceeded to offer me this book to touch! No way! I’m not putting my grimy fingers on this precious artifact worth £4000! It didn’t stop other people handling it with their dirty bare hands.

I’m not sure what made this book fair so fascinating as I have no interest in buying expensive, rare, first edition books. As an avid reader, it was something about being amongst people who love books, people who understand their value and magic. It was like finding your tribe!

First Edition George Orwell, Animal Farm, £9500.
First Edition Roald Dahl Book
Shakespeare – The headline of this year’s book fair is this 400 year old publication of a folio of Shakespeare’s works.

A few blog posts ago, I had bemoaned the sad fate of so many beautiful church buildings being used by an ever-diminishing elderly congregation. They should be used for other purposes and be used by much more people. There is a wonderful example of re-purposing an old church in London at Mercato Mayfair. This building, St Mark’s was deconsecrated in 1974 and is now used as a posh food court.

There are international food stalls lining the edge of the interior of the church on two floors with the bar at the alter end of the church under the stained glass. You can even pop downstairs to the crypt and partake at the boutique gin bar. It is a lively place full of good food and buzzy chatter amongst friends and family sharing a meal. Surely this is a much better use of this once religious place.

There are parallels in this place from then to now. Instead of partaking in communion bread and wine, you can now eat a spicy laksa and drink a boutique gin and tonic. Instead of confessing to a crusty old priest, you can now confess your sins to your supportive girlfriends. Instead of bowing to the awe of god, you can now look up to the rafters and marvel at the beautiful work of skilled human tradespeople. Instead of the “love” of god, it has been replaced with the love that comes from eating food from all over the world, dishes that have descended and been perfected from generations of loving home cooks, the sharing of diverse heritages and eating with friends and family. This is a different kind of love but I would say a more beautiful kind of love.

Mercato Mayfair – a church now used as a food court.
Mercato Mayfair – the crypt / gin bar.

Eventbrite is an event ticketing website which has been an awesome source of free events in London. There was a Parliamentary Digital Economy Summit being held and we went to a session about Building the Future. It was held by the Parliament Street Think Tank. What a treat it was to be able to enter the Houses of Parliament to attend this free event! The session itself, held in a parliamentary committee room, was with an MP and a number of prominent individuals working in the digital economy. There were also plenty of people in the audience with a vested interest in promoting the digital economy. It was interesting content but really, the highlight was being able to walk through the historic and hallowed halls of the Palace of Westminster!

State Coach of the Speaker of the House of Commons
Houses of Parliament – inside a committee room
The view of Big Ben at sunset from within the Houses of Parliament

Tower of London

Considering the crowds, a visit to the historic Tower of London seems to be a “must do” for anyone visiting London. This building complex which dates back to 1066 has been used as an armoury, the Royal Mint, a dungeon, a menagerie, the home of the Crown Jewels and the site of a number of executions. Amongst the executions are some of the wives of King Henry VIII. Here are my tips for a good visit.

Are you a Tower Hamlets resident?

The entry fee for adults is £33.60. For those lucky enough to live in the borough of Tower Hamlets, you can get into this attraction for a mere £1. Go to the ticket booth with your Ideas Card (i.e. your library card), proof of address and your identification.

Guard Duty

Go at opening time.

This is a major tourist attraction for London and is always inundated with visitors. The queue for tickets is long, the queue to get into the complex is long and the queue to see the Crown Jewels is ridiculously long. Get there at or before opening to reduce the wait times. Pre-purchase your tickets online to avoid the ticket office line.

The White Tower

Bee-line for the Crown Jewels.

If you have heeded my tip to go at opening time, make a bee-line upon entry to the Crown Jewels. You might be able to get in at this point without waiting. Dilly-dally and the queue will build and build and build! By midday, the queue can be 2 hours long! It’s quite crazy that the queue is so long considering that a conveyor belt has been installed inside to move tourists past the Crown Jewels at pace to avoid any loitering.

Don’t miss seeing the Crown Jewels. Photos are not allowed so I cannot show you how ostentatious and priceless these pieces are but it is definitely worth looking at. It’s not everyday you see this many precious gemstones of such prodigious sizes!

The crown jewels are kept in this building.
The queue to see the crown jewels snakes so far out that the building that the crown jewels are stored in can no longer be seen!

Go on a Yeoman Warder Tour

The Yeoman Warders have been guarding the Tower of London since Tudor times. They are also called Beefeaters. These days, to even apply for a job as a Yeoman Warder, you need to have completed at least 22 years of military service and be of good character. There is a Yeoman Warder tour every half hour from 10am. They are very entertaining and informative. It’s always interesting to know where the two princes were buried and where Anne Boleyn was executed!

The other interesting fact about the Yeoman Warders is that they live at the Tower of London with their families. This means that there are children who grow up playing in the grounds of the Tower of London and popping in to see the Crown Jewels after school.

Yeoman Warder Tour

Bring Snacks

There is quite a lot to see once inside the Tower of London complex, especially if you are a history buff. Plus, it does cost a fair bit to get in. It took me 5 hours to see everything. Pack some water and snacks to keep yourself going so you can enjoy the visit.

The ravens of the Tower of London. These were surprisingly lare birds. They get fed mice, rats, chicks and sometimes biscuits soaked in blood. The myth is that the crown will fall if these birds ever leave the Tower so they are well cared for by the Ravenmaster.
The Royal Armouries
The Royal Armouries
The Royal Armouries
A gorgeous view of Tower Bridge from the Tower of London

Lovely London in Springtime!

London is gorgeous in springtime. People start to wear lighter jackets and sometimes you even see some shorts and skirts with bare legs! The flowers that sprout up everywhere are simply joyous. These flowers can be observed just doing everyday things around London. No special trip to some pricey gardens required. Just keep your eyes open and feast them on the cherry blossoms, daffodils, bluebells, hyacinths, tulips and all the other plants bursting into life to celebrate a new year of growth.

Columbia Road Flower Market – so unbelievably beautiful (but you will have to battle the crowds!)
Westminster Abbey – but really, I’m looking at that tree in bloom!
Tulips – near New Change
Cherry Blossoms
Flower Beds by St Paul’s Cathedral
Tulips Near Leicester Square

Lots of big world events happen in London. Preparations are in full swing for the coronation of King Charles! The London Marathon with 42,000 runners only just happened recently!

Preparations are underway for the King’s coronation All manner of companies are jumping on the bandwagon using the coronation as a business and advertising opportunity!
London Marathon – These runners are simply amazing! What a feat!

In true London style, around every corner, there is some beautiful architectural building, picturesque view or interesting detail to catch the eye!

View from Bonner Gate, Victoria Par Market
Natural History Museum – the museum is sensational but when you are there, take a moment to look at the building. This building was designed and purpose-built to display Natural History artefacts and the level of detail throughout this building is an absolute marvel!
Natural History Museum-The massive blue whale skeleton that dangles over the main foyer!
Charles Darwin – da man himself!
The Albert Memorial
Royal Albert Hall
Tate Britain
St Bartholomew’s Hospital Fountain – seems incongruous to have such lovely stone buildings and this beautiful fountain used for a hospital in a prime central London location
A glimpse of St Paul’s Cathedral – look up, turn around, look down the alleyway. London is full of lovely surprises if you care to look.
St Paul’s Cathedral from Reflection Garden. What a beautiful spot!
London City Skyline
Tower Bridge
Outernet – Free immersive artwork. It’s much more impressive in person as the video screens constantly change artworks.
Fancy Cheesemongers – selling cheese since 1797
Because no visit to the UK is complete without some stinky British Stilton cheese!
The Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn

The White Cliffs of Dover and Canterbury Cathedral

The white cliffs of Dover is famous but there is nothing like seeing something like this in person on a beautiful, blue sky day! The cliff-side walk is really stunning. Best to pay for parking up near the cliffs. You could search for parking close to Dover town but then you would have to climb up the hill to get to the cliffs!

I kept my eyes peeled on the water for some whales or dolphins but I didn’t see any but is that France I see? The high location also gives a stunning view of Dover port.


Stretch your legs on the drive home from Dover by stopping in Canterbury for a look at the magnificent Canterbury Cathedral. Tickets are about £15.50/adult or you can time your visit for a service so you pop your head in for a quick look for free!

Canterbury Cathedral
Canterbury Cathedral
Canterbury Cathedral