DM and MM's Britain 2009 Diary

Day 18 - Camden Town, Lord's, Abbey Road

Wednesday, 17 June, 2009

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Pizza Express, Euston Road

We're sitting having dessert and hot chocolate after an Indian meal at a tandoori restaurant over on Marchmont Street, and another exhausting day wandering around London.

One incredibly weird thing here is how pedestrians tend to keep to the right rather than the left, despite driving on the left. We discovered this on an escalator in the Underground, where we plonked ourselves carefully on the left side, expecting people to walk past us on the right like at home. But no - perversely people stood on the right and passed on the left. Later, walking down a crowded Oxford Street, we had trouble dodging oncoming pedestrians until I realised again that everyone was walking on the right - while we were persistently and doggedly doing our best to keep to the left. When we switched to the right side of the footpath, things went a lot more smoothly. This also explains why we've had that awkward experience of meeting an oncoming pedestrian and doing that little dance where you both mirror each others' movements in an effort to step around them, ducking back and forth a few times until someone eventually stops, why we've done this a few times every day on the trip, whereas normally this is a relatively rare occurrence.

Anyway, on to today's activities, which began after a restrained breakfast of muesli and yoghurt for me, and muesli and toast for M. We've given up on the cooked stuff - it was getting far too heavy.

Camden Market
Camden Town markets

Following brekky, we trekked north on foot to Camden Town, location of the famous Camden Markets. These turned out to be a big disappointment, consisting almost entirely of stalls selling the same old hackneyed T-shirt designs with a few others selling other sorts of clothing. That was it. The one concession to something slightly less clothingy was a hat seller. What's more, the market was quite small and we saw pretty much all of it in about 5 minutes.

Camden Lock
Camden Lock

Disheartened, we continued another block north to the Camden Lock on Regent's Canal and the Camden Lock Markets. This was more like it, with stalls of jewellery, original art, candles, music, photography prints, crafts, and so on, mixed with some hot food stalls. These markets sprawled over several levels in and out of a handsome brick building overlooking the lock on the canal. One guy selling magic tricks lured us into a display of card tricks that was really quite impressive, trying to get us to buy one of the rigged prop decks - a bait which we resisted.

Camden Lock Market
Camden Lock Market

After satisfying our curiosity at the markets, we planned our route on the 274 bus across to St John's Wood. Before leaving Camden though we stopped to get a take away coffee for M. and some water for me.

We missed one bus by being stuck on the wrong side of the road by a traffic light as it pulled up and then left. The sign at the stop said the interval between buses was 7-10 minutes, but no sooner had I read this than another bus appeared. We clambered aboard, flashing our Oyster cards at the yellow card reader as we did so. The bus took us around the north end of Regent's Park, where it turned south and we got off. A short walk took us to St John's Road and the home of cricket: Lord's Cricket Ground.

The Home of Cricket
Outside of Lord's

We walked up St John's Road looking for the visitor's entrance. We passed one entrance which was staffed by a security guard. Asking him, he said that we wanted the next entrance along and that a tour would begin at 12:00. Checking my watch I found it was 11:50, so we hurried up the street. At the entrance we had to submit to a bag search and metal detector scan to be allowed into the ground. From there it was a hurried walk about 100 metres past the rear of some grandstands to the MCC Museum entrance and purchase of our tour tickets. So we were inside Lord's and simply wandering around at our own leisure with nobody paying us any attention! We could see through a gap in the stands right on to the playing surface. How cool!

A man in the museum sold us tour tickets four £14 each and told us to wait there for the tour to start. I ducked out quickly to use the men's room, and when I returned our guide had appeared. He was an elderly gentleman by the name of Irving Bernard and wore a bottle-green Lord's blazer. He spoke volubly and entertainingly to us and a group of about 30 other people - mostly Australians and Indians, but also a couple of Brits. At least this was one major tourist attraction guaranteed to be utterly free of Americans!

Lord's Fisheye
Lord's Cricket Ground

Mr Bernard gave us an introductory speech and then led us straight into the Member's Pavilion and up to the visitor's dressing room. This is the very room where the Australian team will be sitting next month during the Ashes Test. We sat on the plushly upholstered bottle green benches - planting our bottoms on the same spots where countless legends of the game have placed their bottoms over the years. We also went out to the famous balcony from which numerous Australian captains have led celebrations of Australian victory. (And several other teams too, of course, but not England, since they use the home dressing room on the other end of the Pavilion.) Mr Bernard gave us a fact-laden description of the room and the famous honours boards, pointing out trivia such as the fact that only three players appear on both the batting and bowling honours boards in the visitor room, and three in the home room. And only one player's name appears in both rooms - Gordon Greenidge for the West Indies of course, but also for MCC versus The Rest of The World, which counts as equivalent to a Test match for the honour boards. Alas, photography in the Pavilion is strictly prohibited, so I couldn't get any shots of the interior.

Unfortunately we couldn't go into the legendary Long Room, which is normally part of the tour, because it was being used today for a VIP lunch. They couldn't even tell us who was at the lunch since it was secret. But given that every team in the world is here in London at the moment for the ICC Twenty20 World Championship, it's not hard to imagine. We saw a few VIP-looking people in formal attire hovering around here and there as we walked around, but nobody I recognised.

Me at Lord's
Me at Lord's Cricket Ground

Next, Mr Bernard led us to the real tennis court in the museum building behind the Pavilion. Two men were hard at a game of this ancient precursor to lawn tennis and Mr B. explained some of the bizarre rules to us. He stressed that this tennis court and the traditions of the game that went with it were very much a part of Lord's as well as the cricket.

Mr B. led us into one of the main grandstands, from where we had a view south across the ground towards the famous old Father Time weather vane mounted on top of a square white clock tower. Here he said he'd talk for five minutes and then give us all time to take as many photos as we wanted. He talked for about 20 minutes about various aspects of the ground - the slope of the field, the architecture of the Pavilion and stands, the construction and design of the new Media Centre, cricketing trivia such as who hit the only six clear over the Pavilion roof, and so on.

Lord's Fisheye
Lord's Cricket Ground

While he was talking, the ground staff started up the hover-cover and placed it on the pitch being prepared (for Sunday's T20 final, presumably). Mr B. took the opportunity to launch into an explanation of the cover and how it was one of only two in the world - the other being at famously rainy Trent Bridge in Birmingham. Then he took questions for another 15 or so minutes! Finally we had the promised photography time, and the tour group splintered into ones and twos who raced all over the grandstand to seek cool photo ops.

Lord's Media Centre
Inside the Media Centre, Lord's Cricket Ground

Eventually Mr B. herded us all together again and led us around and up into the Media Centre. We sat in the press room with its impressive view out of a full wall of glass angled down to the ground - an amazingly good and obstruction-free view. Mr B. had said that when the architect handed over plans for the Media Centre, every construction company Lord's approached turned down the job saying the architect's plans were impossible to build. So the contract went instead to a firm of shipbuilders, and you could tell from the inside of the Media Centre - all the walls were curved, the interior spiral stairs looked taken straight out of a ship's deck, and the doors all had rounded corners and sealed like bulkheads with raised steps to pass through them. And the entire interior - walls, ceilings, floors - were finished with what looked like sky blue marine paint (actually, the floors were sort of rubberised lino or something, but the same shade of blue). And it echoed and rang of steel just like being inside a submarine or below decks of a modern ship. But what a view!

Lord's Media Centre
View from inside the Media Centre, Lord's Cricket Ground

The next stop was directly below the Media Centre, where the concrete service entry gave way to the actual hallowed turf of the cricket field itself. We stood on the concrete edge, right next to the grass, but a zealous security guard made sure nobody stepped on to the sacred turf itself. I laid down on the concrete to get a good close shot of the grass.

Mr B. now led us to the Lord's shop and ended the tour. He had been so entertaining and informative that the tour had lasted just on two hours without us noticing the time passing. We suddenly realised we'd missed lunch!

We had a quick look in the shop, which sold mostly shirts with some souvenir items and books thrown in. One item in particular was an acrylic block containing a piece of actual turf from the Lord's outfield which was dug up during a recent resurfacing of the field. The sod was about 10×15 centimetres in area and about 2 centimetres thick, with a layer of soil held together by the grass on top. The whole thing was sealed inside the clear acrylic and printed with the Lord's logo on the front. It would make an awesome souvenir. However, a sign next to these stated that the Customs services of Australia and New Zealand considered them prohibited imports because they contained unprocessed plant matter, and would confiscate and destroy them upon arrival. So I didn't even have to think about whether or not to purchase one (alas).

Hallowed Turf
The turf at Lord's Cricket Ground

Leaving the shop, we ate an apple each that we'd bought at a store in yet another market in Camden earlier (a small one with some fruit and veg stalls and not much else). But this had to sustain us for a while since we still had to go see the MCC Museum, which we hadn't had time to see before our tour started.

Re-entering Lord's (the shop had dumped us at an exit that we had to use, rather than walk back around the inside of the ground), we headed for this sanctuary devoted to the greatest relics of the sport. Again, no photography. We saw historical bats, balls, wickets, pads, and so on dating from the origins of the sport in the 1700s and earlier, followed by progressively more modern relics. Of particular note was one of the balls used by Jim Laker in his legendary 19-wicket performance against Australia in 1956; the actual bat used by Bert Oldfield in the infamous 1933 Adelaide Test in the Bodyline series, when he was hit in the head and had his skull fractured by Harold Larwood; a ball from the first Bodyline Test in Sydney; a bat used by and a cap worn by W. G. Grace; and a stump signed by Glenn McGrath from the game in which he took his 500th Test wicket. There was more of course, much, much more.

The Slope
Lord's Cricket Ground

And then upstairs was an exhibition on The Ashes. It contained a history of the series, with the original scorecard used in the legendary 1882 game that began the tradition of The Ashes. Explanatory panels described how the famous urn came to be, and then turning a corner and completely unexpectedly - there it was. The Ashes urn itself. In a box made of reinforced glass that we could see was about two centimetres thick, and surrounded by TV cameras and almost certainly some sort of laser proximity sensors and other protective devices, but there it was. At this point there was no-one else in the museum and there appeared to be no guards around. So it was just us and the most precious and significant and legendary and awe-inspiring artefact in the entire history of sport anywhere in the world, together in this room. I'd seen The Ashes before, when it toured Australia briefly one time, but that was amidst a throng of people shuffling past without really getting close to it or being allowed to fully appreciate it. On that tour, the MCC had requested insurance quotes from several of the major insurance brokers, including Lloyd's of London. Not one would agree to insure The Ashes, as they all said that if it got damaged the payout would be more than their company was worth.

Now here we are, alone with this holy grail. The glass box kept us about 30 centimetres from it, but apart from that it was as if we held The Ashes in our hands. It was an experience to be savoured, and we lingered for several minutes before moving on.

Lord's Turf
Lord's Cricket Ground

Also in this section were the Sheffield Shield (the actual one, on loan to the MCC from Cricket Australia and I think the first time I've seen it in person), and the Pataudi Trophy, and the NatWest Bank Trophy. Gorged on this feast of cricket lore and memorabilia, we departed Lord's to seek out some physical sustenance for our lunch-deprived bodies, it now being after 15:00. We asked the security guards at the exit where we could get a simple snack - not wanting them to point us to the very expensive Lord's Tavern right next door, with its £15 lunch meals. They suggested the tavern next door had meals... We clarified saying we just wanted a sandwich, and they said there was a cafe back around the corner in the direction we came from earlier. So we went there and got baguettes - cheese, cucumber, and tomato for M., and chicken tikka for me, plus a bottle of water.

We ate as we walked back past Lord's again, since our next destination was just around the corner, on the far side of the cricket ground. Passing this spot we found ourselves on Abbey Road, where two young women were busy taking photos of each other crossing on the pedestrian crossing there. This is of course the famous place where The Beatles posed for the cover of their album Abbey Road, not far from the music recording studio of the same name.

Abbey Road Studios
Abbey Road Studios

However, to my memory of the album cover, the crossing on which the women were posing didn't look right. There was a second crossing about 100 metres further down the road that looked much more like the famous photo. I asked them if they were sure this was the right crossing, and they emphatically affirmed that it was. Just still sceptical, I asked how they knew, had someone told them? They answered,"yes," and returned to their photo taking. We couldn't see anyone engaged in similar activity at the other crossing, but walked down to investigate it more closely. There was no plaque or indication at either crossing that it might be the correct one.

A lady with two kids in tow emerged and crossed at the second crossing. Looking local, I figured she'd probably know, and so I asked her. She said it was the first crossing back there that we wanted - she'd seen lots of people up there taking photos of it.

The inevitable Abbey Road shot
Abbey Road crossing

Figuring two out of two were probably right, we went back to the first crossing, where a few more tourists had gathered. We saw the Abbey Road Studios nearby, just a couple of properties down, so this crossing was definitely the closest one to the studio. So we began taking photos. It was tricky getting a decent photo of someone actually crossing the street since there was a significant amount of traffic in both directions and gaps were few and far between. Of course the traffic stopped for people crossing, but this meant inevitably getting streams of waiting cars and buses in your photo. And some of the drivers demonstrated their impatience in no uncertain terms.

I wanted to get a photo with bare feet like Paul McCartney on the album cover. We found a good spot to take a photo from and I undid a shoe. At this point a Japanese couple appeared and asked us in extremely halting English, "Beatles?" while pointing at the crossing. I nodded and said, "Yes," then turned to take my shoe and sock off. The Japanese guy nodded sagely and said, "Ah! Paul McCartney!" So we know this guy was a real Beatles Fan. He even looked a bit like John Lennon, with round glasses and a slightly Lennonesque hairdo. I went to cross the street in a short lull in the traffic after setting M. up with my camera to record the moment, and Japanese Lennon followed right behind me! So he got in my photo too.

The Abbey Road Crossing
Abbey Road crossing

I returned across the crossing, getting the return shot in the correct direction, left to right, then put my shoes back on. By now a few other tourists had also arrived, including one solo woman who had asked me to take some photos of her crossing while I was barefoot on the other side of the road. So by now, following our example, there were six or seven people all eagerly photographing the crossing.

We crossed to the studio side and M. had the brilliant idea of doing a self-portrait shot of my bare foot on the crossing. So I removed my shoe again and did it. While putting shoes back on, other people were busy taking shots of themselves on the crossing. A truck pulled up to let someone cross and the driver yelled out the window, "It's actually the one back there!" jerking his thumb to the second crossing up the street that I'd felt much more closely resembled the album cover. So to cover our bases, we walked down to the second crossing and took photos there too - only I'd had enough shoe removal for the time being and kept them on this time. While doing this and for the entire time we were there, we didn't see a single person taking photos at this second crossing, while a couple of dozen people stopped and crossed and photographed the first one. It was kind of weird being in such an iconic place and yet not being sure exactly which spot was the right one. We'll have to go into a music shop and check the album cover. (We discovered later that the first crossing was definitely the correct one, which was a good thing!)

Foot, meet Abbey Road
Abbey Road crossing

From Abbey Road we simply took one of the buses that stopped there down Baker Street (past the appropriately located Sherlock Holmes Museum), and to Oxford Street. M. wanted to see what this famous shopping Mecca looked like, so we walked the length of it from Selfridges to Charing Cross Road. It was a mass of humanity of almost Bangkok-like proportions, seething and surging along the street past rows of shops - a mixture of high fashion, everyday stuff, and tacky souvenir shops. In other words, a typical city centre mixed shopping district. Only this was London and the hordes of people were at times overwhelming. In Sydney, you basically just walk and you get where you want to go. Here it was a constant dodging of oncoming pedestrians, quick two-steps out of people's ways, and halting behind thick impenetrable walls of humanity until the trickles of people passing opened up enough space to continue walking. It was shoulder-to-shoulder with the odd bit of jostling. Madness!

It was also inconvenient having traffic down the street. I think it would be a good idea if they banned the traffic and made Oxford Street a giant pedestrian mall - although I realise this would probably disrupt traffic flows in London pretty severely. The other bad thing about this walk was the weather with a gusty wind blowing, bits of street debris, gritty dust, and lots of plant seeds and fluff from plane trees and others. Several times we had to stop suddenly and rub our watering eyes as bits of grit and stuff blew into them. Even wearing sunglasses (which weren't really needed in the early evening overcast) didn't help much. When we got back to our room later, I splashed my face with water and dried it on a towel and the towel was noticeably grey from wiping off the street grime. Yuk!

At Charing Cross Road we turned south to head into Soho and Leicester Square, where the discount theatre ticket outlets are. The plan was to see if we could get tickets to a show, but on the way there we decided we were probably too tired for a late night out. This, combined with a confusing profusion of competing cheap ticket places, swayed us against going to the theatre tonight.

So after a quick look around the chaos of Leicester Square we sought the Tube station for the trip home. We had to change trains again, but the trains weren't as crowded as last time and the trip was fairly quick and not too unpleasant.

Marchmont Samosas
Samosas, Motijheel Restaurant

Back in Bloomsbury, we walked out to an Indian restaurant we'd previously scouted on Marchmont Street, called Motijheel. It was a cheap and cheerful local restaurant and unfortunately the food turned out to be unspectacular, though not actively bad. We had samosas to start, which came with a thin crispy pastry a bit like spring roll skins. Then I had the house special curry, consisting of chicken, lamb, and boiled egg in a korma-like sauce. M. had the dahl masala, which was thin and runny, and had a serious chili kick at the end. We also had rice and Peshwari naan. A weird thing we noticed here was the copying of the behaviour of the Indian restaurant staff at both Winchester and Shrewsbury of hovering around and watching you eat. It was impossible to make any comment on the meal without one of the waiters hearing it or noticing that you were whispering secretively. It was rather disconcerting.

Motijheel Dinner
Naan and curries, Motijheel Restaurant

M. had the brilliant idea of going over to the Pizza Express on Euston Road for dessert. We did so, and informed the waiter at the door that that was our intention. He raced off to check with his boss before returning and showing us to a table. I got the cheesecake with more of the good vanilla gelato, while M. luxuriated in a hot chocolate. We consumed slowly, allowing some reading and diary writing time.

Finally, we returned for our last night in the Purgatory of the Jenkins Hotel.

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