Travels: London: Saturday 30th September 2000

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Dali Universe exhibition; NFT Noggin the Nog presentation

I left the hotel at 09:35 and walked eastwards along the Strand to Somerset House (general opening time: 10:00) and then westwards, noting useful places such as a Boots Pharmacy, a 24-hour Select'n'Save convenience store and ATMs outside a branch of my bank.

I went down Villiers Street, up past the Collectors Fair (next to the entrance to Charing Cross station) and down the passage through a PricewaterhouseCoopers building onto Hungerford Bridge.

Crossing the river, the embankment upriver was still being refurbished, so after the slight diversion I arrived at County Hall. There were huge crowds milling about and the London Eye was sold out for the day, even though nominally the first flight was fifteen minutes away. [More of this on Monday.]

About half way along the County Hall frontage is the entrance to the Dali Universe exhibition. I bought my ticket a couple of weeks before via First Call.

The exhibition was much larger that I'd expected, with all the classic, much-cited works such as the Mae West Lips Sofa and the Lobster Telephone (one of two made - possibly the other being in Tate Modern, unless the one there is a replica). The penultimate room was a set of works for sale, with prices between 400 and 11,000. I had a rest in the tea room (which was also the inevitable shop) - a large cardboard cup of Earl Grey cost 1.20.

After scouting out the newish Fish!Diner behind County Hall in Belvedere Road, I crossed Westminster Bridge, stopping to buy a 1-day Tube Travelcard for the day and for Sunday (they can only be bought for one day in advance), and then walked up Whitehall. There was a small crowd around the entrance to Downing Street.
[See The World at War.]
The various Government buildings in the area look suitably impressive, such as the large Ministry of Defence site, as do the various statues and memorials.

[It's interesting comparing the present appearance of Trafalgar Square with the 1960s version from my memory, revived via recent viewing of TV clips from then. The Square has far more pigeons and seemingly more tourists - back then it was relatively empty. It's no wonder there are plans afoot to pedestrianise it, no doubt with great opposition from vehicle users.]
I arrived at Trafalgar Square on the lookout for the new wardens who started operating that morning, the Greater London Authority having just taken over responsibility for the Square and for Parliament Square. One of their jobs is to get rid of unlicenced street traders but the vendors seemed to be present in the usual numbers.

I carried on into the Strand, crossed to Bedford Place and on up to the Marquis of Granby in Chandos Place, a supposedly recommended Nicholsons (i.e. Bass) pub. A half of Tim Taylor's Landlord cost 1.25 (steep). Other beers included Adnams. Annoying, fairly loud music was playing and there were three other customers and two staff - strangely empty for about 12:10 on a Saturday.

[Historical note: Porterhouse is on the site of the family barber shop where J.W.M. Turner was brought up.]
Roughly eastwards is Maiden Lane and the new Porterhouse pub, of the Dublin Porterhouse Brewery. They have a fine selection of their beers, such as Oyster Stout (4.8%; 1.40/half - reasonable in the circs.) and their Red ale. The pub is on three main levels with lots of wood and brasswork and a variety of seating. The beer was somewhat too chilled (and pressurised) but excellent. The music is rather loud but one can sit away from it. There's a reasonable menu, seemingly incorporating the beers wherever possible! A speciality of the house is a tray of nine beer samples.

I walked on through the Covent Garden area and past the recommended Hogshead - said to be small and friendly - in Wellington Street and then rambled northwards and past The Sun at no. 21 Drury Lane (the top end of Drury Lane), another small & friendly pub. I noticed it had a Rebellion (Marlow) beer on.

The next street over westwards is Endell Street and I spotted a popular pub (for possible visiting later), the Cross Keys, and a fish & chips restaurant, the Rock & Sole Place, with people sitting outside it in the fine weather.

I made my way northwards to Gower Street for the Council for British Archaeology AGM at UCL. My main interest in attending was to see if old friends would be there (answer: no). It was a typical meeting for clubs and societies: a large chunk of time was taken up by the inevitable awkward squad nit-picking over trivial matters.

To save wear & tear and ensure I wasn't late, I decided to return via tube and in a rush made the mistake of using Euston Square station (at the top of Gower Street) rather than Euston. This meant a long Circle Line journey (16:15 - 16:52) rather than a short Northern Line one to Charing Cross, followed by a dash to the hotel to freshen up.

I had planned on having coffee in my room but the sachets provided didn't include any coffee, just decaff. [Note for next time: bring my own or buy some first-thing!]

I left at 17:50 for the National Film Theatre, which is just to the right of Waterloo Bridge as one arrives on the far side.

Oliver Postgate, Peter Firmin and Noggin the Nog

There was a big display of Noggin the Nog videos and mechandising, set up by the group of fans who've helped revive the Sagas and put on this evening - the Dragons' Friendly Society.

The programme started at 18:38 with two rediscovered early sagas and then Peter Firmin and Oliver Postgate were introduced. They chatted for a while, talked through more clips and answered questions and then introduced the fine character actor Ronnie Stevens, who had voiced some of the characters.

Oliver explained that the early shows cost just 150 - all that Rediffusion could afford. They rapidly learned to mass-produce body parts for the characters - Peter drew cardboard sheets of the stuff. The equipment was primitive, mostly 2nd-hand stuff, in a shed on Peter's farm. Steve Race, the Head of Music at Rediffusion, found them Vernon Elliot to do the music.
[Highly recommended: Seeing Things - an Autobiography by Oliver Postgate
Sidgwick & Jackson 2000
ISBN 0 283 06363 7]

It was all over too soon - 20:12!


Being determined to eat "out" rather that at the hotel this time, I wondered about going to the newish Fish!Diner in Belvedere Road by County Hall. I'd been past it just after leaving the Dali exhibition so as to pinpoint its location. However as I thought it might be fully booked, instead I wandered out behind the NFT onto Upper Ground/Belvedere Road and immediately found a Chez Gerard and a Pizza Express there. I opted for the latter even though both had plenty of empty seats. Some "posh" and "trendy" restaurants can be off-putting but CG didn't seem too bad in that respect. It has a high-profile outlet in the new Covent Garden Opera House extension. The prices on the menu outside were't too excessive. I don't believe that any 3-course meal plus wine is worth significantly more than 20. Anything higher is rip-off and pretension.

Anyway there was a jazz pianist playing in the PE (many of the chain's restaurants feature jazz) and friendly and efficient service.
[It subsequently became my standard place to go after a show on the South Bank, being that highly-useful thing, a restaurant large enough that you can be sure you won't need to wait.]
I opted for garlic bread, a half bot. of Valpolicella and a Sloppy Guiseppe pizza - nothing exciting but tasty and reliable. I had Choc. Fudge Cake for pud - all for a reasonable (for London) 18.80. The place is echoey, so it's not good for group conversation.

I fancied seeing what the Theatreland and Covent Garden area was like at this time on a Saturday night and crossed via Hungerford Bridge to the Ship and Shovell. The bridge was as busy now as it was 12 hours earlier. The smaller half of the pub was closed and in the other about 80% of seats were occupied. I had Badger Special (4.6%, 2.30) and then went on up Villiers Street to the front of Charing Cross station. There a vendor was selling Sunday newpapers, which seemed to be in great demand.

I followed a similar route to earlier, around the Covent Garden area, finding most pubs were full, whereas restaurants were around half full.

There were plenty of people wandering about in the hot evening, especially in Covent Garden itself. When comparing that with a Friday in August I wondered if it worked like this:

Upon returning to my room there was a teletext bulletin from the manager advising that as the hotel was so full, people should come down for breakfast before 08:30. Judging by voices heard during my stay, most other guests were foreign tourists. Actually most seemed to leave on Sunday - the place was much quieter that evening.

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