Travels: London: Saturday 23th September 2000

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Midland Grand Hotel; Kirkaldy testing Museum; Coram Foundation

Main purpose: take advantage of London Open House Weekend and to see more of the new Jubilee Line stations.

Arriving at the station at 09:02, I found the ticket queue reached outside the entrance! It took seven minutes to get a ticket. The far end of the train was largely empty - the rest full.

At Kings Cross most of the escalators were off for safety checks - something to do with "micro cracks". Piccadilly Line trains aren't stopping at Kings Cross at the moment because of that.

I missed a Northern Line train due to a large group of kids blocking the cross passage onto the platform. After a "2 minute wait" lasting 4, I caught a train to London Bridge where there's a longish walk to the Jubilee Line station. Again I just missed a train but after another 4-minute wait I travelled to Southwark station. Its lower parts have the steel cladding of the new Jubilee Line stations then you emerge in a hall that's very striking: a semi-circular wall made of blue triangles. I felt I'd been here before but couldn't work out when. Maybe there's another station like this?

There are exits to Waterloo East station and Blackfriars Road. I took the latter and via Burrel Street and Prices Street I arrived at the Kirkaldy Testing Museum. This time the front entrance was the one in use. It's early days for the Museum as yet, with a limited amount properly organised to see as a visitor. However there's some impressive engineering kit there and it should be a fine sight when operating and when there are proper displays.

Along Southwark Street I passed the striking Hop Exchange building and then crossed over into High Steet. I went into the George Inn which is about 100m south of the road junction. It seems to be run by Nicholsons (i.e. Bass). Disappointingly, the staff are in uniform. Bishops Brewery Southwark [now operating as Old London Bridge Brewery, I believe] supply the place with a special Restoration Ale (3.7%, 1.20/half). There's a large courtyard with bench tables and heaters, and loos on the far side. Whilst I was there a tour arrived - one of the London walks I think.

There were groups of young men roaming about looking for a pub with soccer on the TV - there was some Euro match on.

At 11:35 I arrived at Fish!Diner and this time they were using the outside seating. I had a coffee and excellent monkfish - good value for 18.34. Another tour group turned up alongside to admire the Cathedral.

Next stop was the Market Porter. There have been comments on about the staff being moody or less than polite or whatever. I have to agree. For instance in this case the landlord mumbled somthing to me about listening in when I was minding my own business, concentrating on my own thoughts and wasn't even aware he was speaking to a nearby customer. On my first visit the barman who served seemed off-hand yet two weeks ago the barmaid were fine.

This time Spinaker Pillage (4.7%, 1.15/half), Harveys Sussex BB (4.0%) and Jolly Roger (5.2%) plus several other beers were on. GWR real cider was on and there was no music blaring.

In the Wheatsheaf they only had Milton Electra (2.20) and Courage Directors - a bit of a come-down. Footy was on the telly.

At 13:24 I returned to London Bridge station and just missed a Jubilee Line train. Arriving at Waterloo, I strolled over to the London Eye Ticket office and found the machines for claiming one's tickets.

To get a ticket remotely one makes a phone call to an automated system on an 0870 number. (Not free!) The call lasts about 7 minutes during which time you specify what tickets you want and what charge card to use via the phone's keypad. The earliest time offered for 2nd October was 10:30 yet the Web site says it opens at 09:30 then - which I later found is correct. Having done all that, you have to turn up in person and swipe the card through a machine to get the boarding card.

Only one of the two machines was working. There was a long queue for buying advance tickets and today's were sold out - I think weekends are sold out well in advance but sometimes weekdays are OK. There were lots of scruffy illegal street traders about in spite of the local council's promise to get rid of them. [Lambeth Council finally acted in February 2001, once new bye-laws were in place.]

Next I went to the NFT to pick up the tickets I booked via phone in August. It would be so much simpler if they'd post them - it's so reassuring to get the tickets as soon as possible after ordering them.

Crossing the busy Hungerford Bridge, I travelled by Tube from Charing Cross to Leicester Square and changed to the Piccadilly Line for Russell Square. Most carriages were full. I went through the Brunswick Centre (the Dan Dare exhibition had recently finished) and found Brunswick Square. It's on the NW corner of the large site of the original Thomas Coram Foundation. Nowadays the latter goes by the very 1990s name of the Coram Family. The associated Foundling Museum was open as part of Open House Weekend. It's housed in a fine Georgian-style building. As described in the Web site, the Foundling Hospital was a milestone in charity and the art world. Anyway, the art on display in the Museum was superb: many fine artists are represented.

I travelled on up Judd Street to St Pancras Chambers, until recently shabbily used as offices, but now being transformed back into the stunning Midland Grand Hotel, one of George Gilbert Scott's masterpieces.

On entry a security guard was supposed to be searching bags. In my case he glanced for about half a second into the slim outermost pocket of my shoulderbag, ignoring the bulky inside. There were lots of people about - it must be one of the most popular venues this weekend.

Inside there were sheets to guide one round the major rooms in a fit state to be seen. For instance there's a ladies smoking room from around the 1890s - an innovation. The decoration, though battered through abuse such as suspended ceilings, is still magnificent.

Best of all is the grand staircase, with its startling fine decoration and details. For instance gas was piped up the bannisters.

[Ceiling detail]

It's being converted by Whitbread to become a Marriot hotel as part of the overall redevelopment of Kings Cross and St Pancras by London & Continental Railways for Eurostar services - the Channel Tunnel Rail Link [see also Channel Tunnel Link].

I just had time to dash along Euston Road for the 15:45 train back.

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