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

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