Sunday 16 February 2020

A Week in London - but not by boat

So where have we been this last week? In London but sadly not on nb Alchemy, but in the Travelodge at Waterloo. The main reason for our visit was so that Mike could attend General Synod from Monday lunch time through to Thursday afternoon. To make the journey from Droitwich less of a hassle we opted to go on Sunday, after having been to St Peter's church for the morning service. We booked a taxi to take us to the station for the train into Birminghm, which arrived on time as well as into New Street on time,.

However, by now, Storm Ciara was making itself felt and trains from Birmingham on the main lines were badly disrupted. The 12:50 train we were booked on no longer appeared on the list of departures, not even to say that it was cancelled so we guess that it had been removed from the schedule much earlier in the day. we went straight to the information centre who said that it would be at least two hours before the next departure to London so we should walk across to Moor Street and try there - but they could not tell us when the next departure might be! We were a bit mystified as the 13:30 out of New Street was still being listed even though all the others were gradually being cancelled. We worked out that we had time to walk to Moor Street and get back for that train if there was nothing on the other route.

Arriving at Moor Street (finding the right way out of new Street is not as easy as it might be!) we found that there was a 13:13 departure into Marylebone and was already boarding. We were advised go right to the front - there were two sets of four coaches (perhaps they had coupled up the previous cancelled train - and there were enough seats for everyone boarding. The train was routed via Aylesbury (not its usual way into London) but the expected arrival time into London was much the same as the other train from New Street so we settled back and found our packed lunches.

Alas, it was not that smooth! We already knew that a 50 mph speed restriction was in place but the first few stations were almost on time until the train manager gave an announcement that the signaller had sent a message that there was a power failure ahead! After about 20 minutes we were able to move on once more.

Just before Princes Risborough there was another delay, this time the reason given was that there was a train in the way at the station ahead. This time the delay was about half an hour. Once we had made it into the platform the train changed direction to go back up a less well used line to Aylesbury where we joined another main line and another change of direction! Eventually we made it into Marylebone just before five o'clock over two and a half hours after our expected arrival!

This would not have mattered unduly but that we had arranged to meet some friends fro dinner at 6:30 - they live near the Tate in Pimlico. So once we were at the hotel we had a quick turn around and back to the underground.

We were only a few minutes late and had a great evening, catching up on events of the past year since we saw them in January 2019.

We did not have much to do in the morning except that Christine popped to a nearby shop for items to make a snack lunch in our room. Mike headed off to Westminster for a 2:30 start whilst Christine went up to Oxford Street in search of a new suitcase - the handle on one of those we came with broke on the journey and was uncomfortable to pull along (with exposed sharp screws it was almost dangerous).

She also checked out a place to eat near the station so that Mike was able to be directed there on his return - the session ended at 7 pm. We had a tasty pizza each in a place that has a 'proper'oven for cooking them.

Whilst walking across Parliament Square, Mike noticed the full moon - by the time he had managed to get out his phone to take a picture, clouds had come across so the picture is not as spectacular as a few moments before.

Tuesday was a long session for Mike - starting at 9:15 and ending at 7:00 with a meeting in the lunch break as well. he then had to walk over the river to Lambeth for a reception in the evening, back at the hotel not much before 10 o'clock.

The friends we met on Sunday have a membership of the Tate which allows two friends to visit as well so Christine was able to go to the new Baroque exhibition. she also joined a guided tour of other parts of the gallery.

A font cover by Grinling Gibbons caught Christine's attention - njust amazing the intricate detail and that it has survived unbroken!

Mike's day was a similar schedule except that he could return to the hotel after the end of the session at 7:15. Christine met up with Ellie, our oldest grand daughter who lives in a flat near Bow Road, close to her university - this is his final year. They took the underground to the Monument for a wider choice of places to eat and Ellie guided Christine to a sushi place (a new experience for Christine but much appreciated)

As she wandered back towards Waterloo, Christine discovered St Stephen's Walbrook which was designed by Wren as a trial of ideas (on a small scale) which he later used in St Paul's, especially the dome structure. The central area has been re-ordered - it once had box pews - and the altar is by Henry Moore - apparently there was quite a task to get the stone into the church!

On the way back to the hotel she also picked up a range of salads (and a bottle of wine) from M&S for our evening meal.

Thursday had a similar start for Mike but he was able to leave Westminster by 2:15. We already had seats booked for a concert by the Philharmonia Orchestra in the Royal Festival Hall this evening. We set out to walk from the hotel in good time and found a place to eat very closer to the concert hall. A quite a large seating area it catered for a wide range of needs - happy to service tea of coffee with pastries as well as full meals. We both opted for their Steak and Ale pie which proved excellent - the service was efficient and very pleasant.

Christine had collected the tickets earlier and so already knew which floor to go to and where the lifts were! We had time to sit in the gallery before making our way into the auditorium and finding our seats. The programme contained items by Prokoviev and Rachmaninov and was well received by the audience - we enjoyed it just as much. Alas, we did also notice that the hall is much in need of refurbishment - the chairs in the gallery, for example, were faded and worn, with several tears in their fabric. The seating in the hall itself has also seen better days. At least the orchestra were up to scratch!

On Friday we had the luxury of   slower start and took our time over breakfast - our train from Euston was at 11:03. Fortunately the return trip was very much smoother and both were on time. As we waited at New Street we were able to book a taxi which was waiting for us on arrival at Droitwich.

By Saturday, Storm Dennis was already making its way in from the Atlantic - so after shopping in the morning to top up our food stores, the remainder of the day was a chance to recover from the week's activity. These visits to London do involve a lot of walking!

This morning we went to St Peter'd again - some of the people there are beginning to recognise us now. The storm was making conditions quite uncomfortable so we were quite pleased to be in the warm once we returned to the boat. After lunch there were some chores to be done - Mike found the outdoor temperature rather cold as he carried out several different disposals. After lunch, it was necessary to empty out rather a lot of water that had collected in the engine bilges - in sections not emptied by the automatic pump. It looks as if the heavy rain over the past week had swept some leaves into the gullies around the deck board so forcing some of the rain into the engine bay.

By mid afternoon sunshine had arrived and stayed for a couple of hours - it was then quite warm. Mike went into town to start photoing St Augustine's churchyard graves.

On the way back he took a look at the navigation where the Salwarpe joins the canal. The river level was quite high - no way a boat could get under even Bromsgrove Road Bridge. The lock just below the motorway had a fall about half normal and the weir alongside was levelled out and not visible. The lock landing was under water as well as the towpath. Our next door neighbour said later tat first thing this morning the level was even higher. Christine walked up the locks to the junction, taking a look at the Eagle and Sun (which always seems popular, especially at weekends) On the way back she spotted a hire boat having to come into the marina as they were unable to reach their hire base as the end of their cruise.

Saturday 8 February 2020

Shopping, Gravestones, Snoozing

This will not be the most exciting of blogs to read as we have not been over energetic today - just marking time, I guess.

Mid morning we popped into town for a top up to the stores and for rolls to have on our journey into London tomorrow. Christine had hoped to find a jeweller's shop as the battery in her 30+ year old watch is fast dying. Alas, she was told that there are none in Droitwich. Should be no problem in London (we hope!)

After taking the shopping back to the boat, Mike took time to take some more gravestone photos at St Nicholas's church in town.

Then time for lunch. (I warned you about the excitement quotient!)

We planned separate outings for the afternoon - Mike returned to St Nicholas where he completed as much as he expected to do on this trip. There is one patch of 'ashes tablets' but they are a bit difficult to see and will take a bit of time so he left them for another visit. He then, in the fading light, called at St Augustine, mainly to take enough photos to sort out the layout of the churchyard and how best to divide it up to help locate individual photos later on.

Back at the boat he found Christine already back from her walk - well actually no. She had opted instead to doze comfortably and then read a book!

Time then to sort out things for tomorrow, book a taxi to the station and prepare the evening meal. Gosh,how tired we are at such a heavy day . . .

Friday 7 February 2020

Back to the boat

We are now back on the boat for a couple of night on the way to London where Mike has a meeting Monday to Thursday. As in previous years, Christine is coming as well since the hotel charges by the room rather than by person. She can then explore more of London.

We managed a good get away this morning, leaving the house by just after half past nine (but Mike did forget to redirect the phone so if you read this and wondered why no reply, try the mobile!) Traffic was moderate and we made good progress with a brief comfort break at Sedgemoor.

However, as we approached Junction 21, with traffic a little busier, and driving with the flow in the middle lane, a flat truck tried to pull in front of us from the slow lane into a space that was not enough. What then made it worse was that he had forgotten that he was towing a rather large empty trailer! We were side swiped into our front left wheel which caused us to swerve around but fortunately we were able to regain control without straying into the path of another vehicle.

Despite his protestations to the contrary, he pulled onto the hard shoulder before we did - Christine managed to persuade him to go off at the junction just ahead rather than risk life and limb for any longer than necessary on the main motorway!

Whilst the driver gave us his details - he is employed by a small transport company - he was not especially apologetic but, at a guess, was rather more shaken by his experience than he wanted to let on. Fortunately, apart from some cosmetic damage to the wheel trim, the body work was unscathed and, as far as we can tell, the car suffered no other damage. Still, it was an unwelcome reminder of how quickly things can go wrong on a fast moving motorway.

At the boat we found all well - for once! - and we did not have as much as usual to unload. After a mug of tea, filling the water tank etc and chat to neighbours, Mike was allowed to go off to photograph some more gravestones (his continuing diversion). Although it was fast approaching sunset, he was able to do quite a bit at two churchyards to take general pictures that show the layout and are important later when it comes to tying each memorial to a specific spot. This is something that is not always done on listings of memorials and, as we know from experience, it can take some time to locate a specific grave even with a photo, if all that one knows is 'south of the church'.

Eventually we were all sorted and unpacked - even if just for  couple of nights, but we will be back for another few after London - and then it was time to prepare an evening meal. Our plan is to travel to London, via Birmingham, around lunch time on Sunday we are meeting some friends in the evening) but are a little concerned that the radio news is indicating that trains may be difficult as a result of high winds from the latest storm in from the Atlantic. Maybe we will pop to the station some time tomorrow when in town to see what the local advice is.