what-lon.htm:;/]A What we've been doing in LONDON  


What we've been doing in ...


Mon. 22 Sept.

Wow, what a day. Our last day in NYC, so we decided to use the last ticket in our CityPass and go over to the Guggenheim in the morning, since we weren't leaving til mid-afternoon. We walked across the park to the Museum and had a pleasant stroll through, as well as taking a bunch of photos. Amy seemed to enjoy the paintings a lot and chatted to Averil about them and what she thought they were about. They particuularly liked the huge Chagall(?) painting of the circus parade. They had some major classics on show, so it was a really nice -- and manageable -- visit. 

We had to check out of the hotel at midday and made it back in the nick of time, having just missed the bus we wanted, but it was no drama. After checking out and booking a car to the airport we left the bags in the room, went up to Zabar's and got some lunch and took it down to Riverside Park, where the kids had a long play in the playground there and made friends with all the schoolkids who were there.

The car picked us up at 3:30pm and we had a really hair-raising drive through New York City -- the guy was a good driver, but so good it was scary -- I was clinging onto the handgrip for dear life most of the way.

We checked in and then Averil thought the kids needed some food (wise girl) so she went to Macca's to get a snack -- that turned out to be a good idea -- our take-off was delayed for some time and it would have been hours more til the kids were fed, as it transpired. We had another amazing stroke of luck at tha point -- Averil was in the queue to be served so I took the kids aside and by chance we were standing next to an airport staffer. Then I heard a message come over his walkie-talkie that the Concorde was about to land, so I asked him if I'd heard that correctly and he said, yes it had just landed and was coming in at Gate 6, which turned out ot be right where we were waiting! So we charged over to the window and had a great view of the plane taxiing along and pulling up at the gate and got some good photos. Lucas was very excited about seeing it.

After we boarded there was a long delay befre we finally took off, almost an hour, and as we taxied down teh runway we saw why -- a jumbo was stopped halfway down the runway with emergency vehicles all around it, so they had obviously had to close the main runway because of that. Didn't look like anything serious, possibly a tire blowout or something similar.

Once on the way we had dinner, which really hit the spot as we were ravenous by then, and to the kids' delight one of the in-flight movies was "Daddy Day Care". Averil and I watched "Identity" which was kind of interesting, a sort of cross between Psyhco and Halloween with a Twilight Zone twist. Neither of us got all that much sleep and Lucas semed to have stayed awake the whole flight.


Tues. 23 Sept.

Coming in to London we had a fabulous early morning view of the city, made even better by the fact that the pilot had to circle for a little while, so we got a great view right around London, and came in right across the Millennium Dome, which we later realised is really near where we are staying.

We were amazed at how quickly we got through Immigrations and Customs. Immigration was packed, huge queues, and we were right at the back, but to our surprise an attendant waved us through and we were taken, along with another family, right to the front of the queue. Going through Customs we weren't even stopped. Phew! I had to laugh as we walked past though -- we went through the "Nothing to Declare" corridor and on the right I saw a bloke with a massive pile of packets of cigarettes, which he presumably assumed he could sneak through without paying duty.

We rang our friend Annabel and got instructions for getting to Greenwich on the Tube, which turned out to be a really easy journey. We had to change trains a couple of times, but it was very quiet and easy to move around. Annabel picked us up at North Greenwich station and took us to her home, which is a lovely terrace-type house in Blackheath. We could scarcely have found a more enjoyable and convenient place to stay, as well as the pleasure of seeing Phil and Annabel again and meeting their gorgeous daughter Frederika.

It turns out that their house is just minutes' walk from Greenwich Park, the Royal Obervatory, the Royal Naval College, Queens House and the Cutty Sark -- what a blast! 

We had not long arrived when we realised we'd need some supplies, so I volunteered to got to the shop, and on the way I had another amazing stroke of luck. I had literally only walked to end of Coleraine Rd, when I saw a blue Rolls Royce cruise by and blow me down if it wan't being driven by Jools Holland!! I noticed it was pulling in further down the street so I hurtled back to the house, grabbed my autograph book and tore back down to the shops where I was lucky enough to find Jools, say hello and express admiration etc and managed to get his autograph. I was gobsmacked, as you can imagine -- this was literally within the first half-hour after we arrived!

Later in the day we took a walk up to Greenwich Park and the Observatory, which is on a high hill with stunning views over East London. We walked up the hill to the Observatory and when I walked over to the statue of Gen. Wolfe to get a photo, who do you think I spotted sitting on a bench? James Valentine! Yes THE James Valentine, ex Models, well-known ABC radio host and now successful children's author. I said g'day, as I knew him slightly from years ago (our friend Margaret Shearer used to work for Models' management company MMA and he came over to our place for dinner once -- lovely bloke) so we chatted for a bit and it turned out he was here for a book promo and today was his last day in London. What a fluke!

We had a lovely dinner cooked by Annabel -- Pippa's risotto recipe -- and had an early night, totally wrecked after such an eventful day.

Wed. 24 Sept.

I slept in hugely -- 11:45 (shame, shame) but we were all exhausted after such a hectic week in NYC. Averil had volunteered to look after Frederika for a while so I took the opportunity to go over to the Royal Observatory and have a look at the magnificent John Harrison clocks, which were the key to the solution of the problem of calculating longitude at sea (as described in Dava Sobel's fascinating book Longitude). They have been beautifully restored and all but the H4 are in full working order and ticking away merrily. The cases are hermetically sealed so you have to lean over and press a little button on the front of each case to hear it -- they have a mic inside each case. The only disappointment was that  no photos are allowed, so I consoled myself with some postcard pictures, which are better than I could take anyway. Averil took the kids down to the playground in Greenwich Park and we met up later on and had a nice stroll home.

Thurs. 25 Sept.

After dragging ourselves out of bed we strolled down to Greenwich and had a walk along the Thames towards the Millennium Dud .. err Dome ... for a bit, but could only go as far as the power station because there were building works going on. We passed Trinity House, which was established by a local bigwig in the early 1600s as a hospice for "retired gentlemen of Greenwich" (the retired gentlewomen had to fend for themselves, evidently). We doubled back to the Cutty Sark then walked down through the Greenwich pedestrian tunnel under the river, over to the Isle of Dogs, where we had some coffee and yummy home-made banana cake at a cute little cafe near the river. The we headed back over to Greenwich and had a late lunch in a noodle shop, then cruised around Greenwich Markets, which was great fun and had some terrific little stands with antiques and curios of all kinds.

Fri. 26 Sept.

Our first excursion into the city -- we took the Tube to Westminster and spent the day ambling around central London, the Houses of Parliament and up to Trafalgar Square.

Amy and Lucas on one of the giant lions at Trafalgar Square, which is now largely pigeon-free, thank goodness!

Sat 27 Sept.

Another museum day -- we went to The Museum of London, which we all enjoyed greatly. We walked past St Paul's and intended going in but were dissuaded by the £6 (about 15 dollars Australia) entry fee! Evidently there's some money in the world the Church of England still hasn't got yet ...

The kids were especially interested in the Prehistoric London section and the Roman section. Unfortunately I forgot to take the camera with me, so we don't have any pics to share of this day, but it was great fun nevertheless. The later sections were a bit less interesting for the kids but we loved it all and there was plenty to engage them elsewhere. They were very taken with the performance by an actor portraying Samuel Pepys, who was really very good and gave an excellent performance in spite of the woman standing nearby with a screaming baby, who made no attempt whatsoever to quiet it down. Some people ... Another interesting thing is that the museum is built right next to the old London Wall and medieval remnants of the wall which were unearthed during the Barbican development in the 70s can be seen just outside.

Sun 28 Sept.
 A slow start today. Annabel had her second exhibition day today so around lunchtime Averil and the kids went with her over to the studio at Deptford and I had the afternoon to myself to visit the Brunel Engine House Museum at Rotherhithe. Being a bit of Brunel fanatic, this was a delight for me. On the way there I stumbled on the ruins of Edward III's moated manor house, built in about 1353 (!) and a fantastic old pub called the Famous Angel, where Captain Cook spent many months planning his voyage to Australia.

The Famous Angel, Rotherhithe. Captain Cook drank here!
The Brunel Engine House originally housed the steam engine and pumps that were used to pump water out of the famous Thames Tunnel, which was contructed in the early 1800s by the famous Marc Brunel and his even more famous son, Isambard Kingdom Brunel. This was the first tunnel under a navigable river anywhere in the world and the incredible story of its construction would be a book in itself. The major breakthrough was Brunel Snr's invention of the Tunnelling Shield (see below), which was inspired by the marine wood borer, Teredo navalis. This little animal gave Brunel the idea to construct an iron framework at the tunnel face, which would support the tunnel all around and enable the miners to tunnel through even the softest ground in relative safety. 

A model of Marc Brunel's tunnelling frame.
It was an incredibly ingenious idea -- the frame was made of multiple rectangular iron cages, each of which was just big enough to hold one miner. The earth at the tunnel face was held back by a row of four-inch-thick oak beams, each of which was braced against the frame by adjustable rods. The miner would remove one beam at a time, excavate out four inches into the soil, then replace the beam and brace it against the neighbouring frame. Each worker would repeat the whole procedure until the entire face was excavated out four inches, then the entire frame -- which was braced against the brickwork behind it -- was jacked forward and the bricklayers would work right up behind the frame, bricking in the tunnel step by step as it was excavated. Pretty cunning eh?

The museum showed a great video about the original construction, which almost cost Brunel Jnr his life, and the recent renovation and restoration; over 100 years later the Brunel tunnel is still in use as part of the Tube network, connecting Rotherhithe and Wapping stations. They even had a Brunel t-shirt on sale and I couldn't resist buying it. What a dag!

The Brunel Engine House Museum

The painted structure in the centre is, believe it or not, the top section of the original brick access shaft 
constructed by Marc Brunel when the Thames Tunnel construction began in 1827. 
The shaft, made of iron-reinforced brick (and about 3 feet thick), was built above ground to a height of approx. 40 feet,
then the workers excavated out underneath it and it gradually sank into the ground under its own weight until only
the portion you see remained above ground. Once in place, the miners then struck a horizontal shaft out towards 
the river and Brunel's ingenious tunnelling shield -- the grandaddy of all tunnelling machines to this day -- 
was put in place and the miners began tunnelling out under the river bed.

 It was incredibly hazardous work, made even more unpleasant by the fact that the Thames was at the time little better than an open sewer and many miners went blind and suffered other horrible illnesses in the fetid conditions in the tunnel caused by the polluted water leaking in. Another peculiar hazard was that the Irish navvies used as labourers were very superstitious -- they were mortally afraid of drowning (few people could swim in those days though Brunel Jr luckily could) and they had a belief that water could not find them in the dark -- so at the slightest sign of water coming in they would douse all the lights and run helter-skelter for the exits!

At several points they were tunelling through silt and gravel only inches under the river bed. The river in fact broke through twice during tunnelling; the first time there were no casualties but the second time Isambard Brunel himself was almost killed and six miners drowned, including the two senior Cornishmen who were standing with Brunel at the tunnelling shield when the river broke through. Knocked unconscious, Brunel was washed down to the far end of the tunnel and his body was carried up a service stairway by the wave. As luck would have it his assistant managed to break in the door to the stair just as the water brought Brunel's inert body up the shaft and he plucked him from the water in the nick of time -- a moment later and the wave would have receded and Brunel would have been sucked back into the tunnel.

When we got back we had a lovely dinner with Phil and Annabel and Frederika and took a photo of us all:

Mon 29 Sept.

A fabulous day at Kew Gardens. The weather was PERFECT, we couldn't possibly have asked for a better day! Clear, warm and sunny with barely a breath of wind. We spent hours wandering around this wonderful place -- now World Heritage listed -- and took the trolley car tour which goes most of the way round the site and takes about 45 minutes.

The glasshouses in particular were fantastic -- what glorious structures they are -- and there are so many incredible plants inside. We started at the famous Palm House, which also had sentimental associations for me, being one of the locations used in the classic Dudley Moore/Peter Cook film, "Bedazzled".

We were rather lucky with this shot, taken just after we arrived. We went through the Palm House and then had lunch out the back in the Rose Garden, but when we walked back we found the gardeners hard at work -- they had ripped out the whole of the circular bed of Canna lilies that you can see behind the kids. 

Here are the kids at the top of a beautiful cast iron staircase in the Palm House. It was HOT in there too!

Another shot shot of the beautiful spiral staircase in the Palm House.

 One of the highlights of the glasshouses were the cycad colletions, including this venerable Encephalartos Altensteinii (below) which is claimed to be the oldest pot plant in the world, planted in 1775!

 Unfortunately the Waterlily House was closed, as they were setting up for an autumn display, but we did get to have a close encounter with some rather impressive pumpkins which were in bins outside waiting to be taken in. Amy thought they were pretty cool


She was also very impressed with this plant, growing next to the lake near the Palm House. 

I've seen some big leaves in my time, but these were HUGE, as you can see. We couldn't find out what it is, though.

The famous pagoda, built in the 1700s. 

Avvy, Lucas and Amy peeking through the ironwork on the Temperate House walkway.

Looking across the central hall of the Temperate House from the upper walkway. 
The palm in the background is said to be the largest indoor plant in the world

More cycad delights -- Averil examines one of the world's rarest plants, the Encephelartos Woodii.
Now extinct in the wild, this species only survives in botanical gardens. Only one plant was ever found and all known specimens have been cultivated from three of its four stems, which were collected from the solitary male plant discovered in Zululand by John Medley Wood in 1895. This species bears male and female cones on different plants, but no female plants have ever been found and this oe has never produced cones. This particular specimen was grown from one of the stems collected by Wood and sent to Kew in 1899. .

Isn't it luvverly? The beautiful Japanese garden and temple gate. Who needs postcards?

Looking down Syon Vista, late afternoon. NB: compare the browned-off grass here to the lush lawn around the Japanese garden above 
(which has been regularly watered) and you'll get an idea of how hot and dry it's been here this summer.

Our last stop -- Averil in front of the Minka House, a geniune Japanese farm house built in the 1920s
and given to the Gardens by the Japanese government.

Tue 30 Sept.

Off to Sunny South Kensington today for a very full day at the increduibly wonderful Natural History Museum. As well as being a truly amazing building, the whole place has been transformed using the original collections and they have modernised many of the displays to make them much more than the old rows of stuffed animals. Happily, the Hall of Minerals, where young Oliver Sacks psent so many hours as a child, was still in its original layout, and what a fantastic collection that is. The dinosaur section was terrific with lots of top-notch animatronic dinos and very informative and engaging displays and activities -- the kids went right through twice.

LIke most of the places we've been to there is just too much to see in one day, but we did pretty well and saw most of the major sections, so everyone was happy. A long and very satisfying day. After we left around 6pm we strolled down to the King's Road, Chelsea and I succeeded in finding The Pheasantry, where Martin Sharp, Phillippe Mora, Robert Whitaker and Eric Clapton used to live in the late 60s. The central hall, once the ballet studio of Mme Asafievna (teahcer of Margot Fonteyn) is now a pizza restaurant, and we were all starving so we ended up having dinner there. Then we caught the bus back to Victoria Station -- sorry kids, we couldn't find Platform 9-1/2 -- and then got the Tube back home.

A tastefully named shoe shop in the King's Rd, Chelsea.

The Pheasantry, Kings Rd, Chelsea -- former home to the stars.

Wed. 1 October

Back to (not-so-sunny-this time) South Kensignton to take the kids to the Science Museum. I left Averil up the road and she had a couple of hours to herself at the Victoria & Albert Museum. I splashed out and took the kids to the 'Lord Of The Rings' exhibition which was on at the SciMuseum which featured many original costumes and props from the film. This included the boat and the dummy replica of Boromir that was used in the funeral scene at the end of the first film -- the dummy of Sean Bean was incredibly lifelike. Alsdo included were the beautiful costumes made for Liv Tyler and our Cate -- Galadriel's gown was really spectacular -- plus heaps of swords, armour and other props. 

As well as the physical stuff they had numerous excellent video displays showing cast and crew members talking about the making of the film. The film-clips which discussed the use of trick photography to make the hobbit actors look the right size was fascinating -- they made brilliant use of forced perspective and did some incredibly ingenious tricks with computer-operated motion-control cameras to create moving forced persepective to enable them to do panning and tracking shots around the actors. 

Another had the property master talkin about how they came up with clever way to make chain mail for all the warriors -- they decided early on that they would not use the standard fake chain mail, which is knitted material, so they devised a machine which sliced off little sections from a 14km length of narrow polybutylene piping. Then the poor staff had to cut, assemble and glue some 12 million links to make all the chain mail needed, which was then zinc or copper plated to create a very convincing facsimile, which of course only weighed a fraction of the real thing. 

We met Averil around 1:30 and walked up to Hyde Park and we had lunch just near the Albert Memorial and the good old Albert Hall. There were squirrels galore so Amy was in heaven. 

Avvy, Amy & Lucas standing behind the magnificent Coalbrookdale 
cast iron gates in Hyde Park, made for the Great Exhibition of 1851.

The we wandered back and spent a few more hours in the Science Museum. SO many amazing things there, including Babbage's Difference Engine No. 1 (the very first mechanical calculator) and to my delight, the Rocket, the world's first famous locomotive. Not a model, not a replica, the really truly actual Rocket.

Amy and Lucas in front of Stephenson's legendary Rocket.

The Flight Hall was pretty fabuluous too -- a Spitfire and a Hurricane, a V-1 bomb, a Messerschmidt Meteor, the world's first rocket plane, and the Whittle WU, one of the world's first turbo-jet engines.

We left fairly early, which was just as well -- we had to get the regular train home to Westcombe Park because the Jubilee tube line was closed due to a security scare, then later on we heard that London Bridge Station had been closed because of a fire and a friend of Annabel's, whose kids Annabel was minding, was held up for ages because of it. We wanted to be home in time to watch the new Ardman animation film, a new edition of "Creature Comforts" in which real-life 'vox-pop' interviews are used as the voices of the animated animals. There were two 15-minute instalments -- the first was circus performers talking about life in the circus, which they animated using a seal, mokeys, an elephant and a pig who gets shot out of a cannon; the second was people talkiing about going to the doctor, which they animated as various animals at the vet -- hilarious stuff! The hypochondriac dog was really funny.

Thurs. 2 Oct.

Hung around Coleraine Rd in the morning and Averil took Amy for a walk up to Blackheath shops to get some necessities. Annabel had an appointment after lunch so we took Frederika and the kids down to the Maritime Museum in the afternoon and had a really nice time -- a great spot to visit! We saw the 'James Caird' -- Shackleton's little boat -- and were even more impressed at the outrageous bravery (or is that stupidity?) of the expedition.

Fri. 3 Oct.

In the morning we swapped over from Tuesday -- Averil took the kids back to the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum while I had a nice long spell at the Victoria & Albert on my own -- what a place!! So much incredible stuff. There was a very interesting exhibition of the fashion of famous London designer Ossie Clark, and the glass section was breathtaking. All that Lalique and Galle -- yum!

One of the stunning Lalique vases on display in the Glass hall at the V&A.

A whole case full of Lalique and Galle glassware. Where's my hammer?

A fine specimen of Clarice Cliff Bizarre ware

We had lunch in the courtyard and strolled around some more until closing time. Averil had a bit of a headache by then, which was not made any better by the long delays in getting home. so I grabbed some Indian takeaway for dinner.

Sat 4. Oct

We spent most of the day in Greenwich town today, food shopping and looking around in the markets. Phil had finally finished his BBC work so in the evening we went over to Deptfordand had a very nice Vietnamese meal with Phil, Annabel and the family.

Sun 5. Oct.

In the morning I went over to Deptford with Annabel, Phil and Frederika to see the open studio and all the artworks, including Annabel's new works. Some great stuff. After lunch I headed off and decided to get the Tube up to St John's Wood and see Abbey Rd, which I duly did. Saw the studio, then walked over to Cavendish Avenue, where McCartney used to live, then back to the Abbey Rd Shop at St John's Wood station for a coffee and some souvenir purchases.

Abbey Rd Recording Studios, St John's Wood

Having some time to spare after that, I caught the Tube back down to London Bridge, then walked from there down to Tower Bridge, past the spot where idiot 'magician' David Blaine is staging his fast in a perspex box suspended from a crane about 40 feet in the air. The place was packed -- some people are easily amused! 

The box hanging in the top left hand corner of the photo contains
alleged magician David Blaine. Note large crowd of slack-jawed gawkers.

Then I strolled over Tower Bridge, along the waterside past the Tower of London and then up through the financial district (which was like a ghost-town, it being a Sunday) to the striking new building near Lloyd's which has been nicknamed "The Gerkhin".

The aptly nicknamed "Gherkin"

Some ofLondon's inimitable street names ...

Mon. 6 Oct

We headed in to Oxford St in the morning then met our friend Hulya for lunch at the Barbican Centre -- she looks great and seems to be having a good time here. After that we wandered around Oxford Circus, Carnaby St and environs before heading back to meet Hulya for dinner. We ended up going over to "Bangla Sreet" (aka Brick Lane) which is an entire street filled with Indian and Bangladeshi restaurants. Had a yummy meal and a long chat and then caught the Tube home. Very cold and windy today. 

Tue. 7 Oct.

A mostly fabulous day at the British Museum -- the weather was pretty bleak, so it was a good day for a museum outing.. Amy was her usual grumpy self for much of it, and it's getting to be a bit wearing, but one has to make allowances for the fact that she's still only six, I suppose. She spent most of the day grizzling because she wanted to go back to Debenham's on Oxford St -- because she had missed out on playing a Wallace & Grommit X-Box game in the games section. Imagine my amusement at these antics? 

The kids pose in front of the arm from a colossal statue of Rameses II in the Egyptian Hall at the British Museum.

Yes, here it is history buffs -- the Rosetta Stone!

A view of the Grand Court and its striking new roof, with the outer wall of the Reading Room on the left.

However she cheered up in the late arvo and we all really enjoyed the British sections, escpecially the fabulous Sutton Hoo treasure. The new Grand Court, where the old Quadrangle around thefamous Reading Room as been roofed in, is really spectacular, as is the restored interior of the Reading Room itself. The only thing marring the experience were the incredibly rude foreign tourists, who blundered in jabbering and chatting andf carrying on mobile phone conversations, oblivious of the fact that it was a library.

In the evening I had arranged to meet my friends Mike Versaci and Dom Lawson but I blew it. We got to London Bridge station right on time -- 6pm -- but for some stupid reason I thought he had said we were meeting at McDonald's -- in fact it was Burger King. The most annoying thing was that we emerged from the Tube station right in front of the Bruger King, so Mike and Dom were only 10 or 15 feet away, but I charged off to the wrong place and totally missed them. I finally found an internet cafe and discovered my mistake but by then it was too late, so I headed home, cursing my bad memory and my even worse habit of not writing things down! Grrrrr.

Wed. 8 Oct.

Not a day I'll remember fondly. Started out OK but almost immediately after breakfast I felt off-colour and it got progressively worse as the day wore on. We were held up in the morning because Phil had to call in a plumber to get their central heating working and there was no water for a few hours. We finally got going in the early arvo and met my Chalkhills friend Mike Versaci for lunch at the Hays Galleria near London Bridge. It was great to catch up with him after the previous night's mishap but I made the mistake of eating when I knew I really shouldn't have. After leaving Mike we headed over to the Museum of Childhood at Bethnal Green and I started to get progressively worse. I sat down to rest on a bench while the family looked around and then suddenly started to feel REALLY bad, broke out in a cold sweat and realised I was going to be sick. I only just made it the toilets in time before I threw up violently! Could have been worse though -- we might have been on the Tube!

I felt a bit better after that, so the family had a bit more of a look around, then we headed home and by the time we arrived back I was feeling pretty crook again so I crashed out for the night.

Thurs. 9 Oct.

Felt MUCH better today, thankfully -- just a 24-hour bug, as it turned out.  I had a big sleep-in and felt heaps better when I woke up. Late in the morning the kids and I walked over with Phil to pick up Frederika from her daycare and then we helped Phil do a letterbox drop with flyers about Rika's school. The kids had great fun doing that and it was a nice opportunity to stroll around and have a look at the area -- there are some beautiful houses here. It was a lovely day too, so that made it even more enjoyable.

Late in the afternoon we walked down to Greeenwich, stopping in the playground for a while om the way, where we saw a dad wheeling his daughter along in a fantistic little cart made from a solid log of wood, with solid wooden wheels, just like one of the Flinstones cars -- what a beauty! 

They're the modern stone age family!

Then we went to the shops and ended up having dinner at the wonderful Goddard's pie shop again -- much to Lucas's delight. He made us all laugh -- I said "Lucas, this must be your favourite shop" and he replied "Ohhh Dad it's like a message from heaven for me!" What a character! 

Lucas devours one of Goddard's heavenly beef pies.

We had a bit of an unexpected "adventure" on the way home -- we took a shortcut through Greenwich Park to show the kids the laser beam at the Observatory, which marks the Greenwich Meridian, but we didn't realise that the park closing hours had changed as of 1 October. To our dismay, when we got to the eastern gate we found it was already closed. We ended up having to walk right up to the top of the park (a good mile or so) where one of the staff let us out . We were pretty lucky -- he said he was going home in ten minutes and had we missed him we would have been stuck in the park all night! Consequently we were rather late home! Seems to be a week for minor mishaps!

The "laser" beaming out from the Royal Observatory, marking 0 degrees longitude.

Fri. 10 Oct.

We had brilliant time today and spent the whole day at the Tower of London -- the whole family had a terrific time. The kids enjoyed the entire experience and there was plenty to engage them throughout. One feature they enjoyed very much was the free performances, where costumed actors would tell stories from the history of the Tower. They particularly liked the story of the theft of the Crown Jewels from Westminster Abbey by a London merchant in 1303, which was quite a fascinating tale. According to the storyteller, it still ranks as the greatest theft in history -- in the money of the day, the Crown Jewels were valued at £100,000, but £1 in the 1300s equates to something like £7000 today, so the sneaky merchant made off with goodies valued at something like £7 billion! Unfortunately, his vanity got the better of him and he was caught a few weeks after the theft -- he hosted a lavish party to celebrate a "successful business deal" but made the unwise decision to invite some of King Edward's court and gave himself away by wearing a ring which they at once recognised as part of the Crown Jewels. Ooops!

One of the famous ravens poses obligingly for us on the steps of the White Tower.

Amy and Lucas outside the Chapel Royal, with two of the friendly Yeomen Warders at the Tower of London.

Amy with one of the costumed storytellers, who then told us the sorry tale of Lady Jane Grey, who was queen for just 9 days.

There was a lot to see, and we were very gald to have the whole day there, but the kids weren't bored for a second and it is defintely one of the most enjoyable outings of the entire trip so far. The weather was fairly pleasant, a bit overcast but much warmer than the last few days. After the Tower we strolled over to Butler's Wharf, just east of Tower Bridge and had a bit of a look around there before heading home. After we got back we took Phil, Annabel and Rika out to dinner at a local restaurant called Thyme and had a lovely meal.

Sat. 11 Oct.

What a fantastic day! The weather was incredible -- sunny, warm, hardly a breath of wind and not a cloud in the sky. It was like mid-summer. We had promised to take Lucas to the London Toy and Model Museum at Lancaster Gate. We had a funny experience at Lancaster Gate station -- as we were coming out to the street a station attendant walked out to the bin on the footpath to throw something away and came back past us, dancing a jig -- he had found a £5 note in the rubbish bin!

We we arrived at the street where the museum was located we discovered to our dismay that it was nowhere to be found -- I subsequently discovered on the Internet that it closed down a couple of years ago . Lucas was a bit upset at first, but got over it remarkably quickly, and it was such a beautiful day that we decided to go over and have a ramble through Hyde Park, which was just across the road. A wise decision -- like our day at Kew Gardens, we could scarcely have picked a better day for it. We had lunch near the fountains at the northern end of the Serpentine, then strolled down along the shore, past the famous statue of Peter Pan and along past the Lido -- where to our surprise we saw someone swimming in the lake (yuk). We made our way around the bottom end of the Serpentine and then hired a paddle boat for half an hour and took the kids for a paddle, which we all enjoyed greatly. Then we walked up to Speaker's Corner, although surprisingly not a speaker was to be heard -- we only saw one fellow standing on a milk crate, reading a book -- maybe he was waiting for an audience to turn up?

We walked over to Marble Arch and then took a stroll down Oxford St for a while. We went into the famous Selfridge's (which makes David Jones look like Woolies -- talk about an amazing range of stock!) and then doubled back and walked up Baker St past the site of the former Apple shop. The kids had to have a toilet stop at McDonalds so I took the opportunity to scoot up the road and see the legendary 221b Baker St, the domicile of Sherlock Holmes. The n we simply jumped on the Tube at Baker St and whizzed home where we had a lovely fish stew dinner cooked by Phil, which the kids really enjoyed.

Hopefully we'll be off around the countryside next week, so it might be a while before our next instalment, but we'll try and keep everyone posted about our continuing adventures. Hoo-roo for now!

Sun. 11 Oct.

One quick instalment before it gets too late. We're off to the West Country tomorrow. We have a car from tomorrow until Friday, so we're driving to Bath tomorrow and staying there overnight at the Bath YHA hostel. Then it's on down through Cornwall to stay at the rather groovy-looking Lizard Point hostel on Tuesday. We're still working on a place to stay for Wednesday night -- we're as well organised as always hahaha -- but have our eye on a rather lovely B&B in Weymouth. Hopefully from there we can explore the "Jurassic Coast" and maybe even hack out a fossil or two from the famous Portland Shale on the Isle of Portland, and perhaps even pay a visit to the Dinosaur Museum in nearby Dorchester. (We haven't told Lucas about that one yet, on the off-chance it's closed down!). All going well we will be able to stay with Annabel's father in Brighton on Thursday night -- we met him last week and he very kindly invited us to stay if we were in the vicinity. Hopefully they'll be there next week, fingers crossed. *IF* we aren't totally wrecked we will try and skirt around London on the Friday and head up to the Ipswich area and try to see a bit of the ancestral Kimball stamping grounds around Ipswich, Hitcham and Bury St Edmunds.

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