Day Five: In which I draw bad diagrams of clocks

Last night Irrith handed me the question I need to ask about her. She didn’t hand me the answer, mind you, but that’s okay. I’ll pry that out of her soon enough.

On less of a cheerful note, last night featured a different set of idiot roommates, in this case ones who apparently don’t grasp the concept that the last one to bed should turn off the lights. I woke up at 4 a.m. to find them all still blazing away, and me in the top bunk (of three), unwilling to risk my sleepy neck just to turn them off. So less than perfect sleep, and it’s a chilly grey morning when I get up. I’m happy to enjoy the comforts of the cabin this time as I head downriver again.

I’m going back to Greenwich because I wanted to speak to two people here, and they were available on mutually exclusive days. Yesterday’s visit was to investigate the buildings and their eighteenth-century uses; today’s is for horology. Greenwich holds both the (old) Royal Observatory and the National Maritime Museum, and the need for precisely-timed measurements on the one hand and longitudinal calculation on the other means that both institutions are very interested in the history of clocks.

The Observatory doesn’t open until 10, so I sit (see? I’m being good! I’m sitting!) while the sky drips meditatively on me, trying to decide if it’s going to rain for real. Through the gate I can see the Prime Meridian, which I walked across three or four times yesterday before noticing it. I get a picture of it now, through the bars; I won’t be able to once they open for business, as the entire population of Germany has come to visit Greenwich today.

By the time my appointment is done, I actually know what an escapement is! Go me. And the curator of horology has given me a much better use for an idea that was already in my head; I grin every time I think of it. (When you get to the giant rock, folks, remember to thank Jonathan Betts.) Then I finish looking through the exhibits, discovering along th eway that Harrison lived in Red Lion Square. I must find out which house, and put my morally objectionable plot point next door to him. ^_^ Also, the sword-cane/telescope/compass combo in one of the display cases may have to go into the novel, simply because it’s awesome.

It’s nice, being here without having to stick to the tightest budget humanly possible. The sky keeps drizzling gently on me and then pausing for thought, so upon arriving at Canary Wharf, I decide to treat myself to a lunch that costs more than five pounds, in a restaurant where they don’t charge extra for sitting down while you eat it. I’m going to be doing a lot of standing when I get to the Museum in Docklands, so the respite is appreciated. Of course, that’s only if I don’t pass out instead — which, after a heaping plate of fettucine carbonara, is debatable . . . .

Virtue wins out, if only because I have nowhere to nap that isn’t a boat ride away. Sigh. But I make use of something that either wasn’t in the museum last year, or I overlooked it: portable folding stools, provided for the comfort of visitors. That not only lets me rest, it makes taking legible notes a lot easier. And while I (regrettably) still have to ignore an entire floor of the museum, it being nineteenth-century in its focus, I’m delighted to see the exhibit on sugar and slavery is still there. Last year I didn’t really have the time to do more than give it a cursory glance, plus it was way out of my period. A lot of it still post-dates this book, but I read through it anyway; I do, after all, intend to write more Onyx Court short stories between the novels, and one of them could be about abolition and/or the presence of Africans in late eighteenth-century/early nineteenth-century London.

After a hot chocolate in the museum cafe — it’s still grey and chill and sporadically rainy — I mean to make an early night of it. I really do. I’ll go back to my hostel, type this up, maybe sort my photos, then venture out again to find a lateish dinner . . .

. . . except the boat cruises right past Blackfriars Pier without stopping, and deposits me halfway down the Embankment.

The smart thing to do would be to turn right around and start marching back up the Embankment toward the City. But we all know my IQ when it comes to things like that, don’t we? Instead I go the other way, because Westminster Bridge is just upriver, and it exists now (Blackfriars Bridge begins construction just after the period of the book). The one there now isn’t the Georgian original, but I cross it anyway, snapping a few obligatory shots of the Houses of Parliament (also not the right buildings, but whatever), and then delude myself into thinking I will in fact hike from Lambeth into Southwark and thence across to the City, possibly stopping for dinner along the way. Fortunately for my podiatric health (which, despite the stool at the Museum in Docklands, probably isn’t up to that), while passing beneath the London Eye I notice there’s a Waterloo Pier, and Thames Clippers stops there. Having ascertained that the next eastbound boat will in fact stop where I want it to (apparently every other westbound vessel at this hour skips Blackfriars), I remind myself that I bought a day-pass this morning, so it will cost me no money whatsoever to take the lazy way back home, and that this might in fact be the Smart Thing To Do.

And there’s a Costa still open on New Bridge Street, so I grab a sandwich, head back to the hostel, and make a not-as-early-as-anticipated-but-still-relatively-early-night of it.

We’ll see how the sleep thing goes, given that I attempted to buy a can of Cherry Coke from the hostel vending machine and got a bottle of Dr. Pepper instead. I should have known better than to reach for caffeine anyway. But whether I sleep or not, tomorrow morning is the Monument basement, and then a jaunt out of London . . . .

0 Responses to “Day Five: In which I draw bad diagrams of clocks”

  1. ckd

    I am simultaneously vicariously enjoying your trip and extremely jealous of it.

  2. shui_long

    John Harrison lived on the south side of Red Lion Square, on a site now occupied by Summit House – which has a blue plaque to commemorate Harrison.

    Have you thought of visiting the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers museum in the Guildhall? Their library, including Harrison manuscripts, is also in the Guildhall Library.

    • Marie Brennan

      I wish I’d remembered the Clockmakers’ Museum when I was planning my trip! Saw it last year, meant to come back, then forgot.

      Ah well. Clocks are a minor part, really. Just a nifty one. 🙂

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