Send My Conscience Home in a Taxi

Externalised Memory

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Of Squirrels and Aeroplanes
Drawing of a trike
(Quick whinge: I'm writing this without an internet connection, which is both good and bad. Good because it means I'm far less likely to get distracted. And might actually get up to day with my blogging. Bad because it means I can't post links, at least I can't test them. And the rest of the whinge: I had a draft of this entry which my Livejournal client seems to have eaten. Bad livejournal client!)

Thursday of my first week in the UK, we went out looking for Squirrels. Zoya, Catherine and I headed out to Greenwich Park, home of Greenwich Observatory amoungst other things. It's also home to a numer of squirrels! I had to find a source of squirrels (that sounds kind of wrote...) because Deb loves them and she was turning up in the UK on Saturday. What better way get over jetlag than to chase squirrels? And indeed, they are a bit damn cute! And I do follow the Common Squirrel on Twitter...

Greenwich park is a nice one, but a bit busy when we turned up there. It was school holidays, not to mention the large number of tour buses there to visit the observatory. I counted three just from the Czech Republic. So the squirrels were both slightly freaked out and yet also well fed! Zoya had armed us with a bag of peanuts, still in their shells. Squirrels like 'em in their shells, if they're not to hungry they'll bury them, otherwise they'll gnaw the end off and eat the yummy peanut inside! We couldn't get any of them to actually come take the peanuts from our hands, but they did get close enough to make a good photo. So we threw them the peanuts, and if the damn pigeons didn't get them first, they looked like happy squirrels.

We refreshed ourselves at the tea house, and after stuffing my gob with a scone covered in cream (my arteries are not going to be happy with me after this trip) I headed off to the train station, and headed out to the... Imperial War Museum! Grand bloody title. It is indeed a museum of the various wars the UK has fought, and is "imperial" because when it was founded the UK still had an empire, and the various branches of it wanted to be included.

Said museum is in, er, well I'm not sure, but it's near Lambeth and Waterloo station. Parked out the front, as one might expect from a war museum, is a couple of huge ships guns. And, less expected, a piece of the Berlin wall - this making two chunks of it I have now seen (I blundered upon some in New York) before I even make it to Berlin! I suppose it could be seen as a relic of the cold war, which I guess did indeed involve Britain in a big way.

The museum is full of old relics, including things like captured German tanks and aircraft, not to mention beat up trucks found in the desert where they'd been abandoned by a patrol-in-depth group from the New Zealand army. It's a measure of how many museums I've been to that a couple of the bigger items - the V-2 rocket for example - made me go "oh look, another one of them."

The whole place is presented in an understated way, far better than one exhibition I saw in the states on America's wars, which annoyed the hell out of me. The brits seem a little less inclined to show off about battles they have fought.

A couple of vehicles really caught my attention. One was an old London us, a double-decker red thing, kind of like the great-grand-daddy of the buses they have now. It was from about 1910, and duing the first world war, it had more or less been enlisted. It spend the rest of said war driving troops around in France and Belgium. When the war was over, it was sent back to work in the UK, complete with a name (which I can't remember now) and a plaque identifying it as a "war veteran", listing all the places it had been! And so it served some more years trundling around, before finally being retired and ending up in the museum.

The other vehicle with an amusing history was a Jeep - which reminded me of the one I'd seen in MOMA. In 1942 it had been given to a woman who was quite senior in the medical corps, as her personal transport. After the war, she held on to it for forty years, until eventually she bequeathed it to the museum in her will! It didn't say if she'd been driving it all that time, but I had this mental image of a hearty unstoppable woman tearing around in her own jeep!

The had a number of other rare items, such as an intact V-1 flying bomb - which was next to a sign which mentioned that over 10,000 of them had been fired at the UK during the war!

Actually, it was amazing to see just how much of the UK had been bombed and damaged during the war, whole suburbs and towns levelled. More on that later...

The museum kicked me out at 5.30PM, after I'd bought some amusing postcards saying things like "eat less bread!" I looked at a map and realised I was actually quite close to the Thames and indeed one of the bridges over it - I think it was the Waterloo bridge, it was certainly close to that part of London. So I decided to make use of the remaining daylight and head over to the Houses o' Parliament, and have a look around there. So toddled over the bridge - why I don't know, my feet were still killing me from my epic journey from the states - and got my first look at the Thames.

I walked from what turned out to be Lambeth, over said bridge, and into the park at the south(?) end of the houses of parliament. Pretty spot! Westminster is quite an impressive thing from most angles. I walked along the street side of it for a but, and then under Big Ben. Then I ended up on the river front again, this time near Westminster station and a big statue which I took to be Bodicia (turns out I was right).

I had a look at a map, and decided that something called Cleopatra's needle was worth looking at. This sits on the side of the Thames, down past, er, Canning Street station I think.

Cleopatra's needle is a very, very good example of how the amount of history in the UK hurts my brain. It's not just that there's lots of history going back thousands of years, it's that often there is history laid upon history in weird layers. The story of said object is a good example.

The needle is in fact an Egyptian obelisk, if that's what the Egyptian ones are called - one of those tall fou-rsided stone affairs, with a pyramid shaped point at the top. It's some three and a half thousand years old - so relatively recent really! It's carved with hieroglyphs which didn't sound like they had much to do with Cleopatra at all. And at some point in its history, it was carved again with more hieroglyphs.

So that was the first part of it's history.

Then, in 1870-something, an English chap decided he was going to bring it to the UK. So he had it encased in a large steel cylinder, so it would float! They'd towed it a fair way through the Mediterranean when they lost control of it, and later had to reclaim it from some Spanish fishermen. Eventually, it made it to the Thames, and was erected where it sits now...

And then... During the fist World War, a German plane dropped a bomb on the road near it, spraying the pedestal and one of the neighbouring sphinxes with shrapnel. They were left unrepaired to recall the event.

There, is that enough history for ya? Every day in London, I had to go home and look things up on the wikipedia! Too damn much history!

After that I wandered up to what turned out to be the Strand in search of sustenance. I actually stumbled across a really great place called Leon, which turned out to be a chain - isn't everything these days - but they did serve me a very freaking healthy dinner. Then I accidentally stumbled across Charing Cross station, and was delighted to discover that some trains from there went through Blackheath! So I made my way "home".


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