London Walking Tours    with Joanna Moncrieff

Anorak tales …

I think I’m turning into an anorak although I am sure some people will say I already was one. Having to learn 17 five minute stops around the London Transport Museum for an exam this Saturday the 21st I am beginning to get obsessed with London’s transport and its history. I am ashamed to say I found myself discussing the print font (ie Johnston) with someone from work that I got on the tube with. Am not really sure how that fact managed to come out of my mouth with no prompting. I must apologise next time I see her. I also found myself on Saturday getting off a no. 26 bus and trying to find out what was different about it and even looking it up on the Internet when I got home. It seemed a completely new style to all the other buses but I’ve yet to find the answer. I did notice however that the seat covers had “ELBG” woven into the design ie East London Bus Garage. Think I need to get out more.

I have, however, enjoyed having conversations with my fellow classmates about random obsessive websites we have discovered. I have already signed up to follow one very interesting blog and I think more may follow even beyond the date of the exam.

Tonight I’ve been researching the Routemaster and the Green Line bus and have discovered I can now talk for 5 minutes without even having to learn it as I find it so interesting. Did you know for example that the ceilings of the upper decks of the Routemasters were allegedly painted yellow to disguise cigarette stains? Right, I had better stop now …

Gobbledygook on the buses

Amazingly only 2 days after emailing TfL I have had a response. However I am at a loss to understand their explanation and have requested it in plain English. I requested that the 397 be either changed to a double-decker bus or the frequency of the service increased so I could actually get on it.

At present the buses run every half hour. TfL’s response is:

“We have looked into this matter and found that it was a scheduling issue. We have therefore decided to shift the school AM and PM journeys to a spot half an hour earlier in the schedule. Our investigations show that this should better match services with demand and significantly reduce crowding, so a larger bus should not be necessary. This change is planned to be implemented from 13 April.

Am I being dim? I just can’t figure out how that changes anything seeing as the service is half hourly anyway. The “new” service is also starting on Easter Monday when the schools are closed! If anyone can translate this explanation let me know. In the meantime I await their response.

The novelty is wearing off …

Since starting work in 1979 I am now working locally for the first time ever. It did start off as a bit of a novelty as I could leave home at 8.30, catch the bus at 8.37 and be at work on time for 9am. However I had started in half-term week. The reality is that I wait at the bus stop and the bus goes sailing past full to the gills with students. The bus (397) runs once every half hour and is only a single decker. Grrrrr….. Can’t TfL realise that either the service needs more frequency or a double-decker at least during school start/rush hour times! Last night I penned an email to TfL along those lines so watch this space. I’m trying to persuade other passengers to do the same! There is an alternative but it means getting 2 buses so I have to pay twice plus the first bus (179) goes from the opposite side of the road so you have to pay a dangerous chicken-type game scanning the horizon in both directions seeing which bus will appear first and then wondering whether you can even get on it. So much for a stress-free journey. I would rather travel up to town on the train as at least I can sit down and know I will get on train OK.

One good thing about working in Loughton is the quality of merchandise in the charity shops. I have odd wide feet and it’s always a pain to buy shoes. Amazingly there is someone in Loughton with similar feet to myself who is donating nearly new boots to the Sue Ryder shop. In the past 2 weeks I have bought 2 pairs of boots for £9 each. Both pairs fit perfectly and both pairs are practically new. I don’t think I have ever in my life bought more than 1 pair of boots a year let alone 2 in 2 weeks.

At least I have work. It is around about half the money I’m used to but it’s good to be in the black again. The work is interminably boring but at least I’m earning some money to spend on boots!

Another bizarre comedy night

True to my word I agreed to sell tickets on the door at the local Comedy Night last night. It was a strange night and I have to say I’m not inclined to go back with or without selling tickets.

When I arrived my first job was to lay paper tablecloths onto the tables. I must have led a sheltered life but I never knew that these paper tablecloths came in rolls like a giant kitchen roll. They were completely impossible to tear in a straight line and I was rather ashamed of my efforts.

The comedy was due to start at 8.30 but by 8.25 there were only 3 customers and one of those was my friend D who with me had got free entrance. 14 others eventually joined but it was a much smaller crowd than the month before.

During the first two acts I sat outside with the tickets hearing the acts through the door. I have to say I couldn’t decide whether to listen (which lacked something in not being able to see them and didn’t seem very funny) or get my course work out and study (but I couldn’t concentrate and it felt wrong even though no-one could see me).

In the second half I was part of the audience. I was a bit nervous as had spoken to several of the comedians earlier in the evening when they had passed me at my ticket desk on their way to the gents and had made some remark or other about the lack of customers. I was a bit worried that I had drawn myself to their attention and as I was sitting near the front they would make some remark. I had nothing to worry about. They were more concerned with 2 drunk girls who were continually interrupting and ad-libbing plus talking across the room to the heckler from the first half. I really don’t think the comedians knew how to deal with the situation.

I realise I haven’t even mentioned the comedians but I’m afraid apart from Luke Graves who was quite cute I didn’t really rate any of the comedians.

Apart from catching up with friends K and D I can’t really say I enjoyed the evening. Last month had been so unexpected with a good atmosphere, free Ouzo, plate smashing and Greek dancing that this month had a lot to live up to and it just didn’t do it for me.

Flamenco Flamenca

I can’t dance – I’m unco-ordinated and have been told during my one and only ceroc lesson that I was too wooden. However I love Spanish music so usually just sit and watch the experts.

Today I co-ordinated a flamenco lesson (ticked the names off etc then took party for tapas afterwards) for a social group I belong to. I would never have booked this event for the reasons in the first sentence.

However I had a fantastic time. I continuously got lost with which leg I should be stamping, I raised the wrong arm at the wrong time and was going in the opposite direction to everyone else. However this didn’t matter. I wore a long swishy skirt and tried to dance in some sort of sexy manner swishing my skirt about (we were instructed that you need to act the part right from your very first lesson). This was OK until I caught myself in the mirror and realised that what I thought my dancing looked like was in fact something completely different – cringe-worthy in fact. However I really enjoyed myself. There’s something really satisfying about doing some sort of activity as a one-off, giving it your all, but knowing it doesn’t matter if it all goes wrong as it’s just a bit of fun.

The teacher was very good and by the end of the hour we had a sort of routine although nowhere near as sexy as her interpretation. There was a man sitting in the corner playing the guitar and this rhythmn really helped – now in my flat with no guitar music I can’t get any of the moves to come to mind.

I am now sitting typing this wondering how much I am going to ache tomorrow as this is the most exercise I’ve done in ages and even my fingers seem to be aching! Well worth it though and the tapas afterwards was good too.

A trip to the Cemetery

Kensal Green Cemetery is one of those places I always knew about but didn’t really know much about. Last Saturday I went on a guided tour round it and now have a strange desire to tour other cemeteries around London.

I learnt a host of information not only about the lives of famous people buried there but about the symbolism of the various adornments to the graves. It was interesting to find out that plots were offered on a leasehold or freehold basis. Freehold meaning the grave would never be disturbed whereas leasehold meant that the body could be moved to another location.

If I had the time and was a bit closer I think I would probably join Friends of Kensal Green Cemetery as I find the whole thing fascinating.

Blondin, the tightrope walker is buried here. He crossed Niagara Falls on a tightrope at least 4 times each time doing something completely bizarre such as carrying his manager on his back or stopping halfway across for a bite to eat. He died in his sleep at this home at Niagara House, Ealing. On the top of his grave is the Angel of Hope.

Mary Hogarth, Dickens’ mistress (his sister-in-law) is buried here. We heard that he wanted to be buried with her but is in fact buried in Poet’s Corner, Westminster Abbey.

The Brunel family including Marc Brunel who built the first Thames tunnel which took 18 years and his son Isambard Kingdom Brunel famous for his many engineering feats are buried here.

The most over the top grave must go to Ducrow an equestrian circus performer who has a bizarre monument which includes classical columns, Egyptian sphinxes and many other outlandish items. He may not have been famous during his lifetime but his grave is almost certainly going to be a stop on every tour.

George Grossmith, author of Diary of a Nobody, Harold Pinter who died just a month or so ago, William Thackeray, Anthony Trollope the writer who I discovered also invented the pillar box (he worked for the Post Office), 2 of George III’s children including his daughter Sophia who it is said had an incestuous affair and a child with her brother the Duke of Cumberland.

The eccentric 5th Duke of Portland is buried there. He created amongst other things an underground ballroom to which no-one was ever invited. He would eat alone and his servants would put his meals onto a model railway. The current Duke of Portland (although he may have renounced his title) is an actor, Timothy Bentinck who stars in The Archers.

The saddest grave was that to Marigold Churchill (2 1/2 year old daughter to Winston and Clementine Churchill) who died of meningitis. Her grave is hidden away off the beaten track. It’s very simple but striking. Churchill employed Eric Gill the sculptor who some ten years after this went on to sculpt the controversial Aerial (whose genitals had to be reduced after complaints from passers-by) and Prospero outside the BBC in Langham Place. The inscription on the Churchill grave is written in a font which we heard is named after Eric Gill and is still in use today.

When my course is finished and I have more time I would like to go back, do another tour and discover some more. Our tour was private led by Blue Badge Guide Diana Kersey but the Cemetery do arrange their own tours.

Another VaughanTown trip + Air Fare rip-off

Despite not having any work I’ve been a bit reckless and booked myself onto another VaughanTown trip during the Easter holidays from my course. My theory is that as long as I don’t spend too much in the bar or in Madrid it will be a very cheap week – and possibly the only break I’ll get this year. The hotel in Salamanca looks fantastic and it will be good to be in an urban location rather than in the middle of nowhere. Am already looking forward to meeting everyone. Last time I went in September I was bitten very badly by mosquitos and possibly a spider in Madrid (I still have the mark) and ended up on anti-histamines and antibiotics so not only couldn’t I drink any alcohol (which at least saved me money) but I was drowsy all the time. Will make sure I take loads of insect repellent with me this time.

Have just booked my flight as was tempted by very low fares with Ryanair which is what got me thinking about going. However my 99p return flight Stansted to Madrid actually came in at £83.34. Grrrr…….

I really must “pen a letter” to Ryanair over this deception. There are charges shown next to the flight costs which come to £45 but when you start the booking process you realise you have to pay £19 to take 1 bag plus check-in of £9.50 and £9.50 for paying by debit or credit card – but how else can you pay!

Having said that because the 6 days in Salamanca with 3 meals a day, wine with lunch and dinner are free and staying in a luxury room all to myself – it is a good deal for a week’s break.

Greek Comedy night

On a very cold Saturday night I was at first reluctant to leave my cosy home and wait for a bus to South Woodford, then a tube and then a walk to the Heathcote Arms in Leytonstone but I had promised my friend, D, I would go and am glad I managed it. D’s friend was the compere of the evening – Manos – whom she had met on a retreat weekend. It was good to meet him and he was very kind and gave us a lift home afterwards.

When we arrived we were offered a free glass of Ouzo and there was a voucher for a free drink plus nibbles on the table.

The first 2 acts both had a confident manner and were good at presenting themselves. However they were just too rude and un PC for me. I’m not a prude but just find this sort of humour unfunny and the swearing unnecessary. We did find out however that Simon in the front row was (so he said) a Time Out reviewer. The 3rd act we recognised immediately as the lady who had been selling tickets on the door. I don’t think this was a good plan by the organiser as this immediately gave us an opinion of her. At the end of the evening (after several glasses of Ouzo) I volunteered myself to sell tickets next time. Will see if they take me up on it.

The next act was an Italian who must be the worst comedy act I have ever seen. His English wasn’t fantastic and his delivery of “jokes” was far too slow and painful. He completely lost the audience but although everyone was talking amongst themselves there wasn’t anyone brave enough to shout him off.

After the break things improved. Canadian Wes Zaharuk entertained us in a Tommy Cooper type way with really silly antics using such props as a hoover, some sticky tape and several members of the audience – the funniest being a girl who stood behind him and used her hands to peel him a banana etc. This was absolutely hilarious. So absolutely silly but really funny. He ended up down to his boxer shorts at one point but he was never rude and he didn’t swear as far as I remember. He’s performing at quite a few venues in London in next few weeks – details on Chuckle website below.

The evening finished with some Greek music, more Ouzo, Greek dancing and plate smashing – not what you would usually find above a pub in Leytonstone. Will definitely go again and might even be selling the tickets next time.

Working for a living

I’m now into my fourth week of no work but wonder how I ever managed to fit work in. I have so many projects on the go at the moment and still seem not to have enough hours in the day. In connection with the course I have to put together a walk on paper by the end of April and learn a route with 16 stops around the London Transport Museum by mid March. I also mentioned in passing on Facebook that I was thinking of putting together a tour around some historical London pubs as seem to have a bit of an encylopaedic knowledge of good pubs – and I’ve already had quite a few enquiries.

I still need to find some “proper” work though so I can pay my bills. Have put my mortgage on another “holiday” to take the pressure off a bit but not having any money isn’t a great thing especially as I want to get out there exploring London and having been at home so much recently now notice all those jobs that need doing but require money!