Day Seven: In which there is (way too) much gilt plaster

Today’s report will again be more limited, as it was mostly spent in a museum, and my notes are filled with riveting narrative material such as “Britannia standard, 1697, ^ prop of pure silver” and “no hard-paste until late 1760s.”

Sadly, the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers’ Museum is not open on Sundays. I’d noticed its existence last year, and meant to return to it — but, well, that was a year ago, and I’d clean forgotten about it until someone reminded me in the comments yesterday. (I’m not online while typing this, so I don’t know who it was.) Anyway, it’s probably okay, as clocks will not play a terribly huge role in this story. But it’s still a pity.

Instead I swung by Spencer House to buy a ticket for the last tour of the day, then went off to the V&A for the next stage of my slow progress through the British and European galleries. I’m getting old and lazy, it seems; I actually took the Tube. (Hey, the way I figure it, I need all the energy I can get to face the screaming riot of Baroque and Rococo interior design.) The best detail there was probably a stand with a reproduction copy of The Rudiments of Genteel Behavior, from 1737, which was short enough that I “photocopied” the whole thing with my camera. All of my characters will now bow and curtsey and enter and leave rooms with the proper grace, unless they’re supposed to be improper.

I finished that with enough time to spare that I decided I wasn’t so old and lazy after all. The lady at the front desk stared at me like I was mad when I asked how long she thought it would take to walk to St. James’ Park, which made me think it would be over an hour, but not so; it wasn’t bad at all, and that’s with some deliberately inefficient routes through bits of Hyde Park and Green Park I bypassed on Wednesday. My last (official) stop is Spencer House, one of the only surviving truly grand London townhouses, of which eight rooms have been restored to their eighteenth-century form. It’s an amazing contrast with the Geffrye’s model rooms, and gives me an idea of the range from “decently well-off” to “obscenely rich” in that period. (The major difference appears to be size of the room, and how many pounds of gilt and plaster molding are involved.)

Then a return to age and laziness, as I Tube back to St. Paul’s, then cross the river for my last errand. Normally I’d do this on the morning I depart, but tomorrow will be an early enough start that it’s better to deal with it on my final evening instead. After finding dinner in Southwark (no mean feat, at 6:30 on a Sunday night), I go to the south end of London Bridge, hold my breath, walk to the middle of it, and make my wish. It’s the last of the traditions, and I don’t think I’d miss it even if my blisters had ripped open in the middle of Southwark — which, I am glad to say, they did not.

Final thoughts? Coming here on the back end of a month of travel was not my brightest idea ever. I don’t think I regret the choice — there were good reasons for making it, and I stand by them — but I’ve noticed a distinct difference in my ability to keep running all day long, and a fair bit of homesickness. (I want a real bed, dammit, and different shirts, and a kniedzw.) I can make it through New York, but then I will be very glad to go home.

Having said that — man, I love coming here year after year, and I love the fact that for the first time, I have a fair certainty (barring something going very wrong) that I’ll be back next year. My view of the city changes every time, expanding and growing deeper. This year, the big differences were the addition of Westminster, and a new eye for architecture: I never bothered to pay much attention to it before, since 99.95% of the city around me post-dated my period, but the abundance of Georgian buildings means that for the first time, I actually looked at them. There are so many bizarre juxtapositions of old and new I never truly considered before, like the chunk of office building squatting on top of the brick of the Steelyard, flanked by its towers on either side.

I’m going to have to think about what I do next year. The Victorian period is so huge and complex, I may need more than a week . . . but if so, I’m going to have to rethink the pace at which I do this work, and the logistics of how I structure it all. I can’t do this kind of trip for two weeks; I’ll fall apart.

No falling apart yet, though. Airport tomorrow, and New York, and then home. I’ll see you all again when I’m not paying by the minute for my internet access.

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