Travels: London: Saturday 27th January 2001

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Exhibition: the Treasures of Catherine the Great

The journey from Cambridge to the Temple Tube station was routine though there were assorted problems on the network.

I arrived at the Embankment entrance of Somerset House about 10:45, in good time to enter the Hermitage display rooms at 11:00. I'd booked my timed ticket via TicketMaster right after my first attempt.

At the entrance the attendant explained that the exhibition would be varied in the coming months (April, July) and a new one would take over from 1st November, featuring a different set of exhibits from the Hermitage.

Slightly oddly, the first room contained a bank of Internet PCs plus a live satellite link showing the Hermitage. It was far from clear what the point was. Most of the many people attending collected the audio commentary kit - I don't care for that sort of structured guiding and didn't bother.

The exhibition included many portraits, items of jewelery and other fine objects. A large number were purchased by Catherine's agents in the UK, such as Wedgewood plates. It was all well presented, with appropriate blurb on cards. However it was rather cramped. All-in-all a rewarding experience, much helped by the contextual info given.

[This may have been for the BBC's Night Flight drama, shown on 2-Feb-2002.]
I wandered out into the courtyard where a film crew was in operation, filming a group of war veterans on parade - they looked like the real thing acting as extras.

Going westwards along the Strand brought me to where I'd been for my walking trip and I was able to fix in my mind various half-remembered sights, such as the George and the Edgar Wallace, both very famous pubs. Near the latter, in Essex Street, I also spotted the Cheshire Cheese (Little Essex Steet). I had hoped to visit the Twinings shop/museum but it's only open Monday-Friday and not Bank Holidays.

Yet again I went to Porters English Restaurant, this time having a smoked haddock parcel in puff pastry.

As it was not quite 13:30, I thought the Coal Hole on the Strand (Nicholsons) might not be packed out this time and I was right. I had a chilled Old Speckled Hen (1.25/half), that being the least boring of the beers. The place is physically impressive: it looks fairly old, with a very high ceiling and featuring wooden beams and plaster reliefs. There's a gallery area to the rear. It's part of the Savoy development of Richard D'Oyly Carte.

Next I went to the tiny Hogshead nearby and just missed Tanglefoot. Beers still on included Batemans XB and XXXB, 6X, Brakspears and London Pride.

I had hoped to try the Coach & Horses a little further up but that was packed, so I just went to the Porterhouse yet again. I discovered an area I'd missed before - the first floor rear. It was quieter than the main section. After a while the big screen telly was switched on for rugger - several groups seemed to be there specially.

Next I found my way up Charing Cross Road to the Moon Under Water - it's on the left on the upper (northern) section, just passed Cambridge Circus. The former Marquee Club is a standard huge JD Wetherspoon's but much of the volume is unused. The decoration is rather muted by their usual standards. It's very noisy due to echoes. After a long wait I got my Fraoch Heather Ale (85p/half): in my experience JDW staff don't have the basic bar skill of serving people in the correct order. Other interesting beers on included Sheps Premium and Summer Lightning. There was no sign of the supposed February beer festival but it seems these do tend to skip central London. The loos are tucked away upstairs, past a tiny no-smoking area.

I fancied a quiet, comfy sit-down in a reliably decent pub so via the Piccadilly Line I went to Russell Square. I diverted past the British Cartoon Centre and discovered they had a Hoffnung exhibition on until 18th Feb. At the Lamb in Lambs Conduit Street I found Smiles Bitter was on, as well as the usual Young's beers, such as AAA, Special and Bitter.

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