Well I’ve been hiding away in Libraries for the last three days. Apart from Ann, and the odd person in a shop, a cafe, or across a library counter, I haven’t spoken to any one. The chatterer is therefore banging on the door, so a blog!
What to talk about? It’s the UK. Then Weather! Everyone told me how hot it would be over here; it’s a tropical island now etc etc. I guess I missed that. It’s mostly been grey with the odd outburst of sun which makes it very pleasant. But the other morning I was sitting outside a cafe (not Costa) in shirt sleeves and it was so cold I had to move inside. Think Auckland in August!
On Sunday, went down by train to Dartford and went for lunch with Candice and Geoff. They also have a pleasant garden to sit in, eat and drink. Since I moved away from China, I’ve been keen to try other food experiences and my first three dinners in England were Fish and Chips, Curry, and now Roast Beef and Yorkshire pudding! The three most popular English foods. Nice to catch up with C&G. They’ve had an interesting (ie fraught) couple of years but seem to have come out of the tunnel and are moving on. very relaxed.
So I’ve done a weekend of socialising and now it’s down to work. I’ve set myself a whole pile of old documents, old newspapers, old everythings to read while I’m here. Sadly, to me, this is exciting and for three days I retreat into the 1870s (well 1876 and 1877 to be exact). The Victorian period is not really some sort of nostalgic refuge (remember Mrs Thatcher and her Victorian values) and for a lot of (most) people it was horrific, but there is something fascinating to me and being locked in the archives reading musty old documents that almost nobody has read for a 100 years is heaven! The British Library has several hundred people with the same disorder and we spend twelve hours with our pencils or computers in silence.
As a result of working until about 7.30 I’ve sort of gone into retreat and apart from walking back from the BL in the evenings have been stuck in the hotel or a library. Walking up there and back is nice because it does take me through the part of London I like. On the Euston Road/Tottenham Court Road corner I bump into the new University College Hospital. The old one was a classic redbrick Victorian pile, gothic and gloomy. The new one is glass and green and 20 stories high. Clean, light and airy, with a reception that looks like a smart hotel lobby and rooms with paintings on the wall. It almost makes you feel sorry for Tony Blair. Over 100 of these new hospitals but the press tell me that that the NHS is a scandal and no one would go into hospital as they are death traps. The Guardian’s Polly Toynbee tells us that 95% of people who have been in hospital are pleased with their experience, whilst the polls say that 60% of the population don’t want to go anywhere near them. I nearly get to test this out when, while admiring the hospital and just opposite the A&E, I walk through a red light and nearly get run over.
Today I went to the Bishopsgate Institute Library just near Liverpool Street Station in the East End. This is one of those late nineteenth/early twentieth century places which had a Library, meeting and reading rooms, etc, all part of the attempt to educate the working classes. It’s in a wonderful, but very odd, Art Nouveau monstrosity of a building. It retains its working class roots and the archives are full of stuff that’s very interesting to me. When I arrive, the corridors are full of young people sitting on the floor reading intently. Realising that they are unlikely to be Victorian historians, I eventually fathom out that the building is also being used for examinations for the local University. Inside it is an old fashi0ned library with oak all over. They don’t assume you are a thief, a terrorist, or a vandal, so you just ask for what you want and they bring it. You can use pens if you wish. You can even bring water in. So a perfect environment.
To get there I have to experience the Tube for the first time in a while. In the morning, every line has a delay for signalling, fire brigade investigation, operational difficulties, etc though it all runs reasonably smoothly. In the evening it’s all perfect and they can’t find any problems for us, despite their best efforts. One of the odd things about being back in London is hearing all the British accents and rembering how much some of them annoy me!
As far as news in the UK is concerned the principal items are the celebration of 25 years since the Falklands War started and someone said nr on Big Brother. Oh the excitement!
Tmorrow I head off to Kingston University for a conference and on Saturday off to Yorkshire to stay with David and Maureen and also visit our other house. I wonder.