Day Three: In which your correspondent goes west, and west, and west some more

Last night’s bedtime wasn’t quite as early as I intended, owing to the sudden brainstorm I had while getting ready for bed, regarding how I could fix some of the problems with Part One of the comet book. I should have known better than to think I was going to accomplish anything on that front before 10 p.m. . . .

But it was a good night’s sleep nonetheless, and thus fortified, I follow the plan and head out to Westminster.

I’ve mostly ignored it up ’til now. The palaces that were there in the days of Midnight and Ashes have long since vanished, and most of the rest was green fields. But the late 17th and early 18th centuries saw an explosion of high-end developments out there, following the pioneering model of Covent Garden, with lesser supporting streets around them, and so finally (from the perspective of this series) there’s a West End to explore.

So after checking out my travel arrangements for the next couple of days, I go west: first the familiar territory of Fleet Street and the Strand, then a northward turn along Bow Street, which in the decade before this book starts has become home to the Bow Street Runners, London’s first detective agency/police force. From there, further west, down Long Acre; I’m pretty sure I was here last year, on my way to somewhere else, but at the time I didn’t know this street was desperately poor during the time of Ashes, and badly hit by plague. It’s a bit odd to see it now, lined with posh shops. That takes me across Charing Cross Road to Leicester Square, the first real stop on my Westminster itinerary.

This is where Galen lives. Not in these buildings; there appears to have been a fair bit of redevelopment, as far as my amateur architectural eye can tell. And the statues of Albert Grant and Charlie Chaplin are definitely new. But I get a feel for the space, and imagine it in the eighteenth century, when the theatres hadn’t yet taken over the place.

Then down Haymarket — formerly a notorious haunt of prostitutes — and over to St. James’ Square, which is much less changed than Leicester. Lots of austere Georgian architecture here, or imitations thereof. Its interior park is now walled off with hedges, which I don’t think was true at the time, but it creates a nice bit of quiet shelter now.

Pause for band-aid application. I’m annoyed; blistering is not something my feet normally do. Even when I was dancing on pointe. But there’s one forming on my left foot. Grr.

Out the west side, up St. James’ Street, west on Piccadilly — another famous place I’ve never bothered to come until now. (Clearly I need to bring this series up to the modern day, or I’ll never actually ride the London Eye.) Detour down into Green Park, wishing I had any ability to identify what kind of trees are scattered all over it. Are those oaks? Hyde Park, which technically existed back in the seventeenth century, too, but it only really becomes relevant to my story now. I need to read up on its history; my path takes me down Rotten Row, but is that a later development, socially speaking? Not sure. I could spend the whole day here; the Rose Garden alone is stunning. (For the first time, I’m glad I’m here in June, instead of May; sure, there’s more tourists and school groups in my way, but I can also stop to smell the roses. Literally.) Time is limited, though, and so I head down the south bank of the Serpentine to the bridge. On the north side I encounter horseback riders; maybe next year I’ll take an afternoon and do that, for the Victorian book.

(Dear Brain: no, you will NOT do so in Victorian dress. If only because they probably don’t rent sidesaddles. You don’t know how to ride sidesaddle anyway.)

Out onto Park Lane — I need lunch, but not at the price of twenty pounds, thanks — and on to Grosvenor Square. (Dear Brain, again: Jeff Ross is not here. Stop looking for him. FDR’s here, though, at least in statue form.) It’s actually taking less time to walk places than I anticipated; after that, and after I scarf down a Pret sandwich in Green Park, I still have an hour and half to kill.

Soho-ward ho! With Golden Square along the way, and then I nip into bookshops as I return via Charing Cross Road, signing the one copy of Midnight I find. (Sorry, U.K. folk; it sounds like the street date for Ashes is the 25th or thereabouts — a bit later than the U.S.) Then, because my feet are increasingly displeased with me, I say “screw it” and go to the Royal Society early.

My target there is their library. I’m led upstairs, park myself at a table, and — Flamsteed is staring at me. No, really. His bust is right across from the seat I’ve chosen. Dude, it is not my fault you and Halley had a falling-out.

Pretty much every available bit of wall here has some dead white guy’s portrait on it, and every nook between the bookcases holds a bust. Hello, history. The room is warm wood and several tons of gilt, with fat cherubs cavorting on the ceiling, and the only other researcher there has fallen asleep in his chair. ^_^

Next year, when I post my photos, you all will probably see virtually nothing from this day; 98% of it is either boring reference shots of squares, or 21st century photocopying: pictures of book pages. I walk out with an SD card full Halley’s pamphlet on the comet (in both Latin and English), a summary of Messier’s observations of the comet’s return, and nearly two years of Royal Society minutes. I never realized just how grateful I was for the digitized minutes of the House of Commons until I had to deal with these things in manuscript copy. But at least it’s eighteenth-century handwriting, not seventeenth; unlike last year’s misadventures with secretary hand, I can read this.

Then I have more than an hour and a half until dinner, and must find some way to fill it. I can’t think of anything that doesn’t involve more walking, so even though it’s a bad idea, I go noth, to hit the squares in the vicinity of dinner. Hanover and Cavendish, and they’re starting to all look alike to me, differing only in size. But I guess that was kind of the idea behind Georgian architecture.

According to the plinth, there is an equestrian statue of William, Duke of Cumberland in the middle of Cavendish Square. I conclude that it must be an invisible duke on an invisible horse, as the only thing I see up there is a pigeon.

In Cavendish I also discover the blister has grown and migrated sideways from its original location, and there’s one starting on the other foot. SERIOUSLY, FEET. WHAT THE HELL. I don’t even know what to do for this, other than putting a band-aid over the bad spot, because I never get blisters and consequently have no idea to treat them. Avoid walking, I suppose — but that isn’t really an option for the next few days. There will be less walking, at least — this was the worst day by far — but “less” still means a fair bit.

I think I did spit in the Cheerios of the travel faeries. There’s a limited number of ways to screw me up on foot (that don’t end with me enjoying the fine hospitality of Britain’s health service), so this is the one they chose.

Fortunately, the staff at Maroush are very nice when I show up, twenty minutes early for dinner, with no idea how many will be in my party. They let me park my blistered, footsore self in a chair by the door, which both makes me stationary and rescues me from the sudden cold that has taken over London. And I don’t even manage to finish that last sentence before Farah’s there, so she and I and Shana (whose name I hope I’ve spelled correctly) enjoy a Lebanese dinner followed by hot chocolate that I’m pretty sure really is just a melted-down chocolate bar.

When that’s done . . . I fold. The plan was to walk back by way of Russell Square and Red Lion Square, the only two I haven’t hit yet, but it’s cold and very windy and I’m trying to limp on both sides at once, which doesn’t work well. Oxford Circus is on the Central Line, which can drop me off at St. Paul’s, which is just as convenient to my hostel as Blackfriars. I take the Tube home, and feel like I am somehow slacking. (You may laugh at me now. I deserve it.)

One of the places I’m visiting tomorrow is nearby; the other is most easily reachable via boat. The tough part will be convincing myself not to attempt to fill the odd gaps of time that lie between those plans, because I need to stay off my feet as much as possible. The Orbit folk were commenting on the breakneck pace of my research, but it’s not just because of my limited time in London; it’s because I don’t know what to do with myself here other than research. The kind of procrastination I do at home just doesn’t work.

Three days down, four to go. I can make it, right?

0 Responses to “Day Three: In which your correspondent goes west, and west, and west some more”

  1. eclectician

    Y’know, the roses were in bloom when we were in London 3 weeks back too…

  2. Anonymous


    That’s why Dad always wanted you to have moleskin!

    • Marie Brennan

      Re: Blisters

      I can acknowledge the virtue of it while also acknowledging that I’m in a civilized country where it can be bought if needed.

  3. gollumgollum

    You said Jeff Ross. Nerd. 😀

  4. kurayami_hime

    A third shout out from family re: moleskin. The kind for feet, not the kind for writing. Go to a drugstore, buy some, cut out a piece and stick it to the ouch bits on the footses.

    I’ve been using some this week and it’s a life saver. I managed to get a very prodigious blister on the back of my heel and half rip it away by the time I got home on Friday and I’d say the moleskin is the only way I’ve been able to wear shoes this week. (Sure, maybe a six mile jaunt in new boots that desperately need breaking in was not a “good” plan. Whatever.)

    • doriscrockford2

      I have tried molekin and it always seems to come off after about 2 steps. I there a super secret way to keep it on? Thanks!

      • kurayami_hime

        Not that I am aware of. I just, erm, stick it on and it stays.

        A couple thoughts:
        -Try a different brand
        -Try sticking it to your shoe; doesn’t work as well, but it’s a lot better than nothing (try molefoam?)
        -Cut a bigger piece than the ouch and make sure your feet are completely dry before adhering.

  5. april_art

    Rotten Row

    If you trust wiki at all…
    Rotten Row is a broad track running along the south side of Hyde Park in London, leading from Hyde Park Corner to the west. In its heyday in the 18th century, Rotten Row was a fashionable place for upper-class Londoners to be seen. Today it is maintained as a place to ride horses in the centre of London, but it is little used.

    Rotten Row was established by William III at the end of the 17th century. Having moved court to Kensington Palace, William wanted a safer way to travel to the previous St. James’s Palace. He created the broad avenue through Hyde Park, lit with 300 oil lamps in 1690 – the first artificially lit highway in Britain.

    In the 18th century, Rotten Row became a popular meeting place for upper-class Londoners. Particularly on weekend evenings, people would dress in their finest clothes in order to ride along the row and be seen. The adjacent South Carriage Drive was used by people in carriages for the same purpose.

  6. eastlondon1

    Rose Garden

    I use to own a house in west london near rose garden. Wonderful area and lovely people.

    Glaziers West London

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