Last Tuesday I spent the day in London. I was early for the morning 9:26 train so I sat there in the cold watching endless people come and go almost all of them wearing black or at least some sort of black coat. I felt like I was on the set of The Damned. I must have looked like a circus freak in my happy multi-coloured striped wool sweater (my Fairy godmother sent it to me for Christmas) worn over my bright orange sweater (they really do match). My sister Sarah will be relieved to hear I did NOT wear my white knitted cap that rides up and makes me look like I dream of being the Pope. My hair looked really good and I felt really beautiful! It was probably the magic lipstick my Fairy godmother also sent me (I have an amazing Fairy godmother). So there I was all Joseph and his Amazing coloured dream-sweater and trying to remember not to put my feet on the opposite train seat because they arrest people for that heinous crime over here and I don’t really want a police record. The ruling Labour Government, when they were at school all read George Orwell’s 1984 and mistook it as a handbook. It must be true because they seem determined to recreate it, but never mind the unelected Mr Brown and his mindless-minions. I’d decided I was going to have a fantastic day. My first destination was The Bank of England museum. I don’t know why, but I was really excited to see it. I sat at the top back of the bus; I was planning to see the Templar’s Temple Church on the way back towards Trafalgar Square so I wanted to figure out where it might be hidden as we drove along, but the only thing I recognised was St Paul’s Cathedral.
It really is the most breathtaking building. As we passed it I craned my neck (ignoring the open top tourist bus right behind us) to see the sunshine break through the clouds and light up the Cathedral dome…magnificent! And then the bus started turning and I was forced to see the ugly monstrosity some idiot is building right next to it. St Paul’s Cathedral is about to be completely surrounded by ugly boring buildings designed by people who either need to make a fast buck to buy more cocaine or who sold their soul to the devil to get a commission. I couldn’t believe it. It was the visual equivalent of smelling roses and then being overpowered by the stench of the sewer. There must be a special hell for bad Architects who inflict the earth with ugliness. I’m not against modern architecture, just bad architecture and that includes old ugly architecture. Sadly, that has to include The Bank of England. John Soames, the Regency architect, designed a beautiful Bank, but it was knocked down to make way for progress… i.e. so they could cram more people into the space. Thankfully I got off at the right stop. I’d been staring at the Victorian monstrosity on the right and nearly missed the one on the left.
On the way in I had to hand over my backpack and remove all metal from my person. That meant removing my plastic glasses so I could remove my 1797 Cartwheel penny that I wear around my neck. I found it in a junk shop and paid 50 pence for it. At some point someone bored button holes in it. In good condition (without holes) they can cost £50. I was allowed in and started wandering around looking for the weird and bizarre. I confess I fondled the 17th century chest that was once used as a strong box. Just think of all the money that’s come and gone through the mouth of that wooden box! When I found a glass case with a Cartwheel penny I was quite “chuffed” as the English say. But there wasn’t just one Cartwheel penny…no, there were two! That was news to me!
On the left was one like mine and on the right was this huge copper twopenny piece. It was wider and literally twice as thick. I was stunned. No man with ill-fitting trousers would have dared put one of those things in his trouser pocket! If you’ve read my free short story Lucky in Love, there’s a scene where someone throws Cartwheel pennies at Edmund. His head would have been bruised for a week if he didn’t end up with brain damage.
Soon after the pennies I found myself in front of this glass case showing piles of gold and a set up showing how they weighed different sizes. I stared in amazement at the pile of gold bullion bars and smaller gold bars and thought, “Wow! I’ve seen a fortune in gold just sitting there behind thin glass…” Then I read the description tag and found it was just some metal painted and stamped to look like gold bars. Feeling like an idiot I continued the tour and on the way back round found myself in front of a small, but thick plastic box with a hole so one could reach in and (as I thought) lift one of those big fake bars of gold. I ignored the tv screen behind the box showing my smiling face and put my hand in the box and tried to lift it to see how heavy it was, but it wouldn’t move. I thought it odd that the fake gold bar we were supposed to lift was somehow suspended in the box so I tried again to forcibly pick it up…and again…and again…and then I noticed the description tag. It was real. We were only supposed to touch the gold. I was on film trying to “lift” it. I stood there and rubbed a real bar of gold as I gave myself a “Double-idiot” award and then calmly removed my hand and quickly moved on. Aside from making a fool of myself, I got to see a real banknote from the Regency era for One Million Pounds! It’s still blank (as in it hasn’t been assigned to someone) apparently it’s still good…though the description didn’t say whose million was payable for the banknote! Who during the Regency could have written a Million Pound Bank note? That’s a staggering amount of money. In 1800 £60,000 was worth a rough estimate of 5 million modern pounds. Someone started to write a blank check for 83 Million Pounds. Why? And why didn’t they use it? This unknown story is going to haunt me. I can only think it must have been a government bank note that went unused. If you know the real answer or wish to correct my mathematics feel free. If you visit The Bank of England Museum, don’t expect any cool souvenirs from their shop. I was so disappointed. I was hoping to buy some cool Georgian reproduction coins or voided bank notes as book markers that I could give away in a competition to my members (yes I know I said I’d have one up for Valentines…must do that). They didn’t have anything. Very disappointing!
My next stop was a place I’ve been wanting to see for a couple of years. If you ever visit London and you love clocks and or pocket watches, you MUST visit The Clockmaker’s Guild Clock Museum. It’s sort of hidden away. The collection was actually started in the Regency, but it didn’t go on display to the public ’till later. I had to ask directions, but it was worth the hunt. It’s at the back of the building in the corner and might be more accurately described as a Clock Closet. It’s one small room stuffed with cases with the most amazing time pieces. They had several like this pear cased pocket watch from 1695.
One day I would like to own a really lovely old pocket watch so I can hold it, smell it and listen to it ticking regularly without anyone telling me I have to put it down before I drop it. I think they’re the most amazing things even if I haven’t much of a clue how the gears all work. So intricate… so tiny… so beautiful both inside and out. Shortly after entering I found myself standing in front of a glass case and looking down at a small capped tube. Staring at it I wondered why they’d stuck an empty tube in the case. And then I accidentally read the correct description. It wasn’t empty; it was holding the smallest manufactured screw in the world. I looked again and I saw it. A speck of black. It’s so small; apparently you can put 47,000 of them in a thimble. I assume that’s a big thimble. I may have misread…highly possible!
For such a tiny museum it’s packed with visual stimuli. By the time I made my way to the back of the room I was feeling a bit woozy… so much beauty… so much… I turned off my iPod to see if I could hear any of the clocks. Three of the grandfather clocks in the back corner were all ticking and chiming… charming… I suddenly wondered what time it was. My Batman watch battery and strap both died so I have no wrist watch. I stared at the three old clocks and realised they were all on their own time. One had nine past two… another had twelve past two… the third something like seven past. I stood there and listened to them ticking… the sound of heaven! And then I pulled myself away and was arrested by a portrait of a woman on the back wall near the grandfather clocks. I hadn’t come across any female clock makers. She was sort of pretty, but with absolutely flat breasts and then I read the tag…”Thomas Tompion”. It wasn’t a woman! He was one of the greatest English clockmakers and reputedly a man, but if you look him up on Wikipedia you’ll see what I mean. He actually looked even more feminine in the painting. If he didn’t like having a feminine face he must have found that a trial!
After the clocks I headed for Temple Church where my hero, William Marshal was buried in 1218. I managed to pass one of the two public entrances to the courtyard outside the church so I ended up walking around the entire block because it’s all private property owned by lawyers and their various chambers. At that point I was feeling shattered. I had this vision that I’d be walking in circles for the rest of the day. I got up the nerve to stop at this small food booth and removed my headphones. There was a blonde good looking guy (late twenties early thirties) buying a coffee or something from an even better looking dark haired guy behind “the counter”. They were so surreal. It was an Alice and Wonderland moment, but instead of stepping through the Looking Glass I felt like I’d rudely stepped into a male fashion magazine advertisement. I asked if they knew how to get to Temple Church and the blonde man cheerfully asked if it was the Da Vinci Code church. I haven’t seen the movie or read the book…I said I didn’t know though it made sense as it was “The Templar’s” church, but to tell the truth my brain was short-circuiting. Beautiful men do that! I go all stupid…or more stupid than normal. The blonde man said he was going that way and he’d show me so I accepted. He had a slight lisp as he bantered on about how one of the Law firms in the nearby buildings had won the case for The Da Vinci Code guy…whatever his name is. I watched him as he chatted; I admit I was only half listening to his waffle…I swear he looked like a romance hero…in the wrong clothes. I thanked him after he pointed me towards the Temple church and carried on feeling quite pleased to have had the experience.
Strangely, the church itself was a big disappointment. After feeling like I’d tripped back into the world from another dimension I entered the church and felt nothing. It was so acute, it was strange. I felt nothing good or bad. Nothing! The round original part of the church should have been interesting, but even seeing the possible effigy of William Marshal, I sat there and felt like I was on a movie set someone forgot to dismantle. During the war the round church was bombed and it required extensive repairs. This is what it looked like in 1810; it’s probably been a tourist trap for a thousand years. You’d think all those people would have affected the building…left something.
I took my sketch book with me. I intended to make a modern sketch of the same view as the Regency print, but I was too tired and there was that…nothing that left me bored. A bus load of people came flooding in and I soon made an exit and that was that. I had three hours before my train back so I sat in Trafalgar Square and watched the tourists and the pigeons as I ate some cake. There was this cute couple who looked like they were on their honeymoon…she was posing for him in front of the fountains…he must have taken 100 shots. She was posing there for ages…meanwhile there was a pigeon resting on Nelson’s hat as the sun went down. I couldn’t help, but wonder if it bothered him that his statue was a pigeon rest. Who knows? It was too cold to sit there for hours, so I went to the National Portrait Gallery. It was really magical to see the Regency portraits in the evening…normally they’re lit by sky lights, but as it had gone dark they were lit only with small spotlights. I spent most of the hour in there admiring all the various familiar faces and then sat in the 18th century section and admired Thomas Gainsborough and George Romney (self portraits) and some of their associates. I was exhausted and my feet were killing me, but it was a fantastic magical day and I can’t wait to go back!