Does it still count as stupidity if I have a good reason?
My 10:30 appointment is in Chelsea, approximately four and a half miles from where I’m staying. So I wake up, shoulder my backpack — and start walking.
My reason is the Embankment. (Or rather, the two embankments, Victoria and Chelsea.) I’ve mostly avoided it before now, because it was out of period; that land was river at the time. Now it’s in period, and so I have to give it a proper look. Walking from Blackfriars to Westminster, I can’t help but applaud Bazalgette’s achievement: not only did he improve the river’s flow by narrowing its channel, he provided ground for a new (and desperately-needed) roadway, while using the interior part to house gas mains, the lower-level intercepting sewer, and a stretch of the Underground. Quite an achievement — and a tasteful one, even, given the excesses Victorian aesthetics could be prone to. (The glowering fish on the lamp-posts amuse me, though.)
Blackfriars Bridges — two of them — then Waterloo Bridge. I stop to get pictures of Cleopatra’s Needle, and reflect that I’d have to go to the south bank and take a decent zoom lens with me to get a good photo of it.. Hungerford Bridges (two again), with Bazalgette’s small memorial tucked alongside. Westminster Bridge. Surprise, surprise; the Houses of Parliament are partially scaffolded. I pick up the Embankment again on the far side, write these notes, and keep walking. Lambeth Bridge — which my brain reeeally wants to call Burnside’s Emo Bridge, even though he’s freaking hard-core and would have me shot by the CIA if he heard me calling him emo — anyway, if you’ve seen The Sandbaggers, Lambeth Bridge is where Burnside goes to hang out on the steps by the river. Then Vauxhall; then a fairly long stretch before I get to some railway bridge I don’t know the name of [later note: turns out to be Grosvenor], followed by Chelsea and Albert, which is (more or less) my destination. I meant to look up which of these eixsted back then, in present or extinct forms, but didn’t remember to before I started my walk.
I arrive in the area with over half an hour to spare — or so I think. My directions say that when I get to Albert Bridge, I should look for Cheyne Walk, then turn right on Cheyne Row. Well, I turn right — but it’s Cheyne Gardens, and while I can find Cheyne Mews and Cheyne Place, there’s no Row in sight, and no #24, which is Carlyle’s House, and where I’m trying to go. And nobody I ask has any idea where Cheyne Row might be. Fortunately, I find a pair of French tourists who let me look in their guidebook, and I discover that Cheyne Walk goes farther on than I thought, and Cheyne Row is just a bit along. But it’s a good thing I was early, as this part of the adventure eats about twenty minutes.
Carlyle’s House was the home of Thomas Carlyle (writer and professional curmudgeon) and his wife Jane (who has turned up in the domestic end of my research; she went through thirty-nine maids in thirty-four years, not counting temps). They were friends with a great many artists and writers in mid-Victorian London; my guide gives me the startling bit of information that I have now used the very same privy that once hosted Charles Darwin. (It’s been updated a bit since then, though.) The building itself is even older, built in 1708, but the furnishings are largely the same ones the Carlyles used. What comes through vividly is not so much history as personality: both Thomas and Jane were vivid figures, and they wrote extensively, so we know a lot about their lives — from Jane’s annoyance at the man who came to paint their portraits, to Carlyle’s migratory (and fruitless) quest to find a quiet room of the house to write in. (When Jane turned his study into a drawing-room, he added another floor to the house, specially designed to be “soundproof.” Which it wasn’t, not remotely. But despite the fact that I don’t think I would have liked him, I do have some sympathy on this point: the carriages and organ-grinders and his neighbors’ cockerels must have been bad enough, but he also lived near the Cremorne Pleasure Gardens, where their entertainments involved things like cannons.)
After lunch, I make my annual pilgrimage to the British Galleries of the V&A. This is the point at which I would normally say that I’m going to spare you my reams of tedious notes, but the truth is I don’t have many; I’ve finally embraced the potential of digital photography, which is to say I’m just snapping pics of all the panels and placards, instead of writing down their contents. Lazy of me, I know, but after walking from Blackfriars to Chelsea, I think I’ve earned a bit of laziness. (My feet, which would have to support me during the note-taking, quite agree. Sadly, all the museum’s portable stools seem to have gone astray.)
Two things do strike me enough to report, though. First, the display about the Great Exhibition and the Crystal Palace is quite good — good enough that I really wish I had a time machine, so I could go back and visit the event myself. Second, in the section where it talks about the way British artists looked to other cultures for inspiration, I knew the genuine Japanese aesthetic well enough to see how incredibly non-Japanese the British versions looked. Even the things manufactured in Japan for British markets stick out. There’s one case filled with maybe twenty objects, with a card saying a couple of them were made for a Japanese market instead; like Indiana Jones with the Holy Grail, I could pick them out instantly. (For the same reason: they were the only things not decorated to within an inch of their lives.) Anyway, I presume the same is true of the other aesthetics pillaged by nineteenth-century British cultural imperialism — Indian, Chinese, Islamic — but it helped to have one example where I could really see it for myself.
I stay until the V&A is about to close — or would close, if it weren’t the first Friday of the month and they weren’t staying open late with DJs and things. No LMA today, either; they’re shut down for the day (and not open on weekends), and besides, I have to go do something silly, something that serves only marginal research purpose beyond its symbolic value.
Before I do that, however, I have two other tasks. The second is dinner; inspired by the museum, I get Japanese. (From a Chinese restaurant owner, with an overwhelmingly Chinese clientele. Go figure.) The first is to go have a better look at the houses along Queen’s Gate, since I was in such a(n unecessary) hurry yesterday. On the way there, however, I’m distracted by a house that distracted me yesterday, too: 21 Cromwell Road. shui_long, can you tell me anything about it? The house caught my eye because it’s what my brain insists on calling a “double-wide” — a terrace house five windows across, rather than the more usual two or three — and it may have even been detached originally, since the narrow bit between it and the next house looks newer. It’s home to the French consulate now, but a blue plaque along the side tells me Sir Charles James Freake lived there; Wikipedia adds that it was from 1860-1884 (when he died). I may kick him out and stick the Kitterings in his place — or in one of the other houses along that block, since they’re all five-window, though not on the corner or (possibly) detached.
Anyway, once I’m done looking incredibly suspicious by snapping photos of the French consulate’s basement area and back door, I go do the silly thing: I ride the Circle Line all the way around.
I did have a plan to visit every station that was in operation back then, just for completeness’ sake. But honestly, I don’t much care about what is now the District Line; it’s the Circle Line that will matter for my story. I wish it were still a proper circle; I’d make my round from Cannon Street. Failing that, I wish the circle had been broken at Paddington or Farringdon, which were the termini of the original line. But no: Transport for London broke it at Edgware Road, which is symbolically meaningless for me.
Feh. Feh, I say!
The trip takes just over one hour — now. Who knows how long it took in 1884? I can try to guesstimate when I get home (real-home, not hostel-home), since one of my books tells how long the original Paddington -> Farringdon run took, and also how long the drivers were supposed to wait at stations. (The number of stations hasn’t changed since 1884, though some — like Tower Hill, originally Mark Lane — have moved.) Or possibly I’ll be able to find that out when I dig through the archives of the London Transport Museum in a few days. We’ll see.
Unfortunately, I think I’m coming down with something. I didn’t feel so hot this morning, and then when I went to lunch my eye fell on the “beverages” part of the menu and suddenly my body was all like NO MORE WATER GIVE ME JUICE. So I ordered a glass of pineapple juice, and when it came the only reason I didn’t chug the whole thing in one go was because that seemed kind of gauche. But the remainder went pretty fast, after which my body was still saying GIVE ME JUICE, so I ordered another glass and I don’t remember but I think I may have gone ahead and downed this one in a single chug. Then, since I didn’t want to fill up entirely on liquid, I made myself eat my lunch, and then my body muttered give me juice but at least it had stopped talking in all caps, so I ordered a third glass and drank this one in something like a civilized manner. I also had orange juice with my dinner. Ergo, I think I’m coming down with something. The good news is, my next couple of days are not so heavy-duty; tomorrow is all museums, one of which I know will have chairs for me to sit on while I take notes, and if I have to spend the second half of Sunday collapsed in bed, I can (though I’d like to spend it more productively).
BTW, thank you to everyone who’s given input on my previous post. I don’t know yet what I want to do with this hypothetical Engine; the examples were just that, examples, not actual plans. Several things in the comment thread have sparked thinky thoughts, and that’s very much appreciated. Keep at it if you want to; I’ll keep reading.
Tomorrow. Right now, I go take some medicine and crash.