08.01.2009 - 10.01.2009 -6 °C
I had several worries in my mind as I flew in from Hamburg to Heathrow - the first simply arising from the fact that it is Heathrow, notoriously chaotic and a real time-drain (I have no idea what the Government plans to do about Terminals if the recently announced third runway actually happens, which presumably will simply increase the flood). Then travellers on the Thorntree keep reporting horrendous things happening to them when they go through Immigration, even if they're prepared. And, to cap it all, I have my own personal history with the Immigration people - I did sue them and they did respond very high-handedly in making sure I left the country last time.
So, it came as a complete surprise to find a mere four people in the line in front of me, with two Immigration Officers. Mine was so friendly and off hand, I wondered if we were secretly in the pub - he thought it a great lark that I could be sent round the world on full pay to "research" (yes, the quote marks were obvious in the way he said it). I had a bundle of paperwork ready for him, but he glanced at the top page and stamped me through. Done and dusted - I'm in London!
So, I was on the tube, creeping towards the Tower of London - the first of my nine pound hotel rooms was in the brand new Travelodge (it opened three weeks before my arrival) there. After checking in, my first instinct was to have a pint, so I popped around the corner for one. My second instinct was to eat (the pub only had fake pub food) and I'd been craving fish and chips, and I knew just where to go. It is a fair old walk - google maps reckons on it being three miles, following the most logical route; I failed completely in that, so I have no idea how far it was. London put on quite a show for me; I was going through the city, and it was about 5:30, so basically rush hour (more for people rushing to find their trains than vehicles - the streets were narrow, with tall buildings). It was well and truly dark, and to add interest, a heavy fog had fallen and London was in a cold snap. So, basically there were these millions of spectral beings, rushing towards me (I definitely felt I was going against the tide). Here is an indication of how foggy it was - it even drowns out most of the Tower of London:
and it was cold enough for this
But it was an extremely productive trip. I found a decent coffee shop (which has turned out to be a chain of decent coffee shops, with branches in most places I get to - Caffe Nero). I'd seen a telecoms company in my travels through Europe offering good deals on mobile internet, so when I saw an O2 shop, I popped in and bought myself a USB modem - they have a pay as you go mobile internet plan for fifteen quid, and gave me a SIM for my phone as a bonus (that gives me 500 FREE minutes from a nominated post-code (I nominated the University one, as it covers a big area). Most importantly, I found the Golden Fish Bar:
I won't pretend to have remembered it all these years as being the best fish shop in London, but someone made that claim on the Thorntree a couple of months ago, and it brought back memories. It is not a flash place
but it truly does do a nice cod and chips. For entertainment, I had the waitress and her boyfriend - I have no idea what language it was they were speaking in, something from Eastern Europe, but they maintained a passionate argument the whole time I was there. She'd be summoned to deliver some food and go "wait one minute" to him (yes, that bit was in English). They'd hit some sort of peak and he'd snatch up his smokes and storm out, ready to resume when he was done. Then there was the couple my age, but obviously on a date, but he was such a dweeb, I doubt there'll be many more - she kicked off all the conversations, he basically just agreed and said nothing, then she gave up talking.
The Golden Fish Bar may have faded from memory, but its neighbours certainly had not. I have no idea how many late night kebabs I had from the Farringdon Grill:
and the idea of the Quality Chop House always impressed me
In one window, it says "Progressive Working Class Caterer" and in another "Quick Service", "London's Noted Cup of Tea" and "Civility". I liked the idea of it, but never went in - because (a) they never once had chops on the menu and (b) it is actually quite a posh place.
As might be obvious, these places were very close to home - maybe 200 metres from my house, and it was really nice to see they're still there nearly two decades after I left. I never really had a local pub - there were at least a dozen within two blocks of my house, and I never settled on any except, maybe this one
Behind them, in Roseberry Avenue, all I can remember is a curry house but there's quite a bit going on now in terms of eateries and pubs, including
After eating, I couldn't resist any longer, I had to see what had happened to my house, as the idea had taken hold in me that it had been demolished. It was, after all, condemned in the 1980's, then my flatmates moved in as squatters (I was part of their cunning plan - they'd spend the summers in France but had to demonstrate continuous occupation in order to wrest ownership from the Council - that was satisfied by them having tenants). I could see one end of my street dominated by a huge Holiday Inn, but the other end was still the same (my car is even parked where I left it!)
and, hooray, my house is still there
(the two windows on the right, second floor were my room). Oh, my God! The last I heard from my flatmates, Agoshaman had had a damn near fatal accident in India, Iklusha ran off and Umiak was in despair - I have just googled and seen that they are famous - they finally won their court battle in 2004. Maybe they even still live there?!? The irony of me being a tenant of squatters, and thus a sort of squatter myself, never escaped me. What was my job? Lawyer for the Housing Department of the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, and we were tight on squatter control. Camden, on the other hand, was very leftist and didn't believe in it.
Another long walk, and I was back in my hotel. Around 2:00 a.m. I got the munchies so popped across the road to the non-stop. Coming back, I had an encounter. I'd seen this fellow come out of the hotel, to have a smoke I thought, and just had this feeling that he wanted to talk, so I took evasive action (wasn't really in the mood). But I was right - he did want to talk and he'd seen me, so he came after me. Nice fellow, as it happens, but a bit cut up, crying even. When I told him I was a New Zealander, he let loose - he was in town to see his dad off, who was going to join the rest of the family in, where else? New Zealand and he was very very upset at the thought it would be the last he'd see of him. So, I had about an hour long conversation with the bloke, in the freezing cold.
One consequence was that my start was not the earliest on Friday - I had more memories to track down, and I woudn't be satisfied until I'd had a proper pub lunch in the Barge Aground in Barking. Since I biked out to work quite frequently, I decided to take the bus so I could recapture those days. Big mistake - it took an age! The main street of Barking was much the same:
but the pubs, the pubs, they were gone. The Barge Aground seemed to be a closed down Romanian Restaurant. The other pub we'd go to for lunch, the Captain Cook, was still there but empty (on a Friday lunch time) and not serving food. They were great places, places my Property Department colleagues and I would routinely go for lunch. Ah well, at least Barking still has good all-day breakfast places where even the teenaged servers from Eastern Europe call you darling (yes, Eastern Europe was very much in evidence in Barking on this trip, to the point there's even an Eastern Europe supermarket).
My workplace was still there
although the nature of the work has changed somewhat - Barking and Dagenham is doing the opposite of outsourcing its legal work - it competes to do the legal work of other councils. In front of the town hall there used to be a big square with a brick library to match the town hall. Not any more! They're building flats
and this, believe it or not, is the library (with flats above it)
and an art gallery beside it
I just liked this wall of the flats
Shocking confession time - since I've not been in a library for a while, I went in and stayed reading magazines until closing time.
One thing I did do before scuttling into the library was to visit Barking Abbey
It is not really an Abbey - it was an Abbey and there are still elements of it there but is really St Margartes Parish Church. The Abbey had quite a history - started in the seventh century to covert the the East Saxons (which was bastardised into Essex) to Christianity. Then William the Conquerer had some sort of problem in London and based himself in Barking for a while. Henry VIII put an end to the Abbey.
Saint Margarets Church is not without fame, either. If you had been standing here on 21 December 1762
(provided you got the time right) you would have seen Captain James Cook (master of the Grenville) and Elizabeth Batts marry.