173: London (North)

OS Explorer map 173, London North: The City, West End, Enfield, Ealing, Harrow & Watford  – I own this map, and I have visited it before I started this blog. Visited for this post 13th December 2017.

So this post continues on immediately from the last one, since I came to London directly from Millicent’s house on the train with Erithacus. Now Erithacus and I were both travelling in order to go to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi on its opening night, however, we were doing so separately; Erithacus with her friends somewhere down south, and I with my school friends Cabbage and Climbing Programmer, in London. Cabbage is a responsible adult now and works doing a proper job, so, arriving at King’s Cross at half past one, I had time to wait around in London before going to meet him later. Before we separated, Erithacus and I had lunch, buying wraps in King’s Cross.

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Erithacus and I looking unimpressed as we eat our station wraps

We then got on the Underground, taking the Victoria Line to change onto the Northern at Warren Street, whereupon I was to get off at Tottenham Court Road to do shopping while Erithacus went on to Waterloo to get her onward train. However, we were too busy talking and missed Warren Street and so got out at Oxford Circus. Although Erithacus could from there have just continued one more stop on the Victoria Line to change onto the Jubilee Line at Green Park for Waterloo, we did not do this and instead went back to Warren Street following the original plan. At Tottenham Court Road we parted, not to physically meet again until after Christmas, although our Dungeons and Dragons group will be meeting via Skype sooner than that.

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I have this map!

My thought for how to fill my hours was that I would perhaps do some Christmas shopping, however I called Mother Dearest and found that between what she and I had already bought most of the buying was already accounted for. Nonetheless, I need no excuse whatsoever to visit the wonderland that is Forbidden Planet on Shaftesbury Avenue (a science fiction/fantasy/geek culture shop that had a wonderful selection of books and other things), and so there I went!

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The fount of glory and joy that is Forbidden Planet

I spent an enjoyable hour or so in Forbidden Planet as always and looked at lots of books, however I was disappointed that they didn’t seem to have any Star Trek Discovery merchandise or posters (Discovery has been truly wonderful so far!). I bought very last-minute Christmas presents for Cabbage and Climbing Programmer, which I gave to them about six hours later. [1] I also made a trip to Happy Socks, a shop that sells wonderfully happy socks and from which I now like to get all of my socks.

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Today’s Happy Socks. Also featuring my current very tired pair of shoes, [2] and me writing this blog entry in the background!
After this, I was going to go to sit in a coffee shop and read (currently I’m reading Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer) or write some of this blog, but a lack of ones that looked like they had a lot of space made me decide to instead go straight to Stratford and find somewhere there to wait. As there was no hurry, I decided to wander with only a vague aim in search of Leicester Square tube station, and went entirely the wrong direction and ended up at Embankment, but still, there I got on a Circle Line train and made my way around to Liverpool Street station.

Now I had earlier that day got excited in my message thread with my school friends (We named it the Pitsford Nerd Diaspora, Pitsford being our school – it consists of me, Cabbage, Climbing Programmer, Geochunderer, and The Other One Who Hasn’t Picked A Nickname Yet) about the fact that going to Stratford would mean that I could use TfL Rail, which I’d never been on before. Geochunderer noted that my comment seemed rather more like something he would say, since he in school was notable for getting excited about transport infrastructure, such as the M6 Toll road and the Hanger Lane Gyratory. I seem to have adopted this habit from him.

So at Liverpool Street I got on TfL Rail for just one stop to Stratford, thus leaving map 173. (TfL rail is a temporary brand replacing an older rail service when Transport for London acquired it because it’s going to be needed to form part of the new wonderfully exciting Crossrail / “Elizabeth Line” route once that opens in a couple of years.) Alas my TfL Rail experience was a little disappointing although I there are certainly more exciting journeys to be had on it; I was clearly in an old hastily-rebranded set of carriages rather than new exciting Crossrail stock which Cabbage tells me also runs along the line already; the train was just a bit dingy and off-white everywhere. (I also thought the seat moquette looked a bit sad and grey, and searching for it led me to this article that light-heartedly critiques lots of London Underground and related train moquettes; the TfL Rail one got 2/5. But then I found this video, and I’m not sure that I can disagree when so authoritative a source likes it!)

Previous visits

Although I haven’t spent nearly as much time in London as I have in Cambridge, I have been there rather a lot and so, just like my Cambridge post, this is going to have to select a few times in my life when I’ve been in London.

This summer, I lived in London for six weeks while I was on a summer course studying Ancient Greek at King’s College London. I had previously taught myself Latin in summer 2014 using the absolutely amazing Lingua latina per se illustrata books by Hans Ørberg. (It’s just wonderful, there’s not a word of English in the book; it uses a natural-language method, easing you in through gradually complexifying Latin in a very natural way from such a basic start that one can read it without knowing any Latin at all; I just loved it.) Now while I’ve used Latin a lot since starting to study ASNaC, I’ve only ever had teaching on medieval texts, having learnt using a textbook  composed in modern times, and so I am woefully ignorant of Classical literature and culture. I went for the Greek course even though I don’t really think I’m going to use Greek going forwards in the hope that I’d gain some Classical background knowledge, and just because learning languages is fun, and I’d  studied Indo-European philology through Germanic and Celtic languages already so I thought it would link up well.

I very much enjoyed learning Greek; the teachers and most of my fellow students were very pleasant, and the language has some lovely grammar. I didn’t find the teaching style quite to my liking, it being very crammed, paradigm-memorisation- and original texts- heavy rather than stressing more slowly acquiring a more natural fluency in the language, but I suppose that’s natural in such a condensed course, and my language desires are rather unconventional. [3]

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My Ancient Greek class, when we went for lunch after the first half of the course ended as a thank-you to our lovely teacher!

I lived on Edgware Road, and used to daily get the Circle Line to Temple for my classes at the King’s College Strand campus. I had rented a spare room in someone’s flat, however my landlady was unexpectedly in France for the whole of my time there (I met her only once) so it turned out I had a whole two-bedroom flat to myself. Classes finished at 3pm for the first three weeks, and 1pm in the second half of the course, so I had plenty of time left over; I tried to visit places of interest in London that I hadn’t been to before, and went to the amazing London Transport Museum, St Paul’s, discovered the V&A’s medieval gallery, the Museum of London, and things like that.

What else to tell of? As mentioned, there are far too many things I’ve done in London to mention them all. London is where Nine Worlds happens, a truly lovely convention that I’ve been to each of the last two years; it describes itself as “London’s inclusive fan culture convention” and is three days of generally wonderful geekery in panels, talks and entertainment and, of course, costumes! In 2016, I made and wore the costume pictured below; I was attempting to cosplay Childermass from Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell as portrayed in the BBC’s television adaptation, [4] but was admittedly not particularly successful as Childermass is recognisable mostly for his long overcoat and floppy top hat, neither of which I had; most people thought I was cosplaying someone from Hamilton. [5]

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Me at Nine Worlds in 2016

To pick an occasion from further back, it seems that it was on the 26th August 2009 (which would be the summer between school years 9 and 10) that I, Cabbage, and Geochunderer, went on a trip to London on the train. I think that may have been the first time I travelled just with my friends without an adult, in fact. We decided to try to go to as many London landmarks as possible within a day and take annoying touristy photos in front of them, although, alas, I was taking the pictures so they are all of Cabbage and Geochunderer alone except for one. (I believe we did 19 landmarks in the end.)

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Cabbage and Geochunderer with a Horse Guard all the way back in 2009

As you can see, we also bought silly touristy hats. In fact, Cabbage and Geochunderer bought the hats, but I got jealous and wanted one too, so made us go all the way back to Westminster to get me one later in the day but, alas, the stall was closed by then.

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Me and Cabbage in the ancient days of 2009 in London, wearing the silly hats

Unfortunately my SMS records only start in October 2009, so I can’t find out interesting facts. I also hadn’t really started using Facebook messaging yet (my archive only seems to contain about 30 messages from that entire year), and although I was certainly still using Windows Live / MSN messenger, I have no archives from that to my dismay. It also looks like we didn’t email about it – I do have one email to Geochunderer the day before, 25th August, but it is only sending him the email address of our old ICT teacher Frog Lady, and telling him what I had bought but not yet given him for his birthday for some reason. My emails for the preceding week seem mostly to concern sets of hotel toiletries that I, having taken from hotels when on holiday with my parents, was selling on eBay…

A final thing to tell of is of when less than a month ago, I convened with my Oxford friends in Reading – Ex-Linguistician studies there – for an early Christmas dinner. (I know this isn’t in London, but bear with me.) When there, we were discussing the huge cheese tower that a different Oxford friend, not present, had had at his wedding last year (which was indeed in this London map). I, looking for my picture of the cheese tower, found that it was the only picture I had taken at the wedding, leading No Longer Hairy to comment that anyone looking at my archive might never know that I went to a wedding, and think only that I went to see a cheese tower. Nay indeed, said I, for they could look at my SMS archive. I duly dug into it and found a very lengthy conversation between me and No Longer Hairy coordinating our attendance at said wedding and our accommodation in the Travelodge, but it was pointed out that a future reader might have a little trouble with it, since it was written entirely in our dodgy Latin…


[1] I bought them two of my favourite books since I was in Forbidden Planet and they hadn’t read them – Curtis got The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, which is possibly my new favourite book since I reread it earlier this year and is just wonderful and lovely in every way, while Jamie got The Clockwork Rocket by Greg Egan, an old favourite that manages to be such hard SF that it has diagrams  while still being a wonderful story without any of the science at all – I normally don’t go for hard SF, but I would read and enjoy that book if it were its story without the science, or if it were just a book of imaginary physics with no story at all.

[2] I have had this pair of shoes for about three years and they really need replacing as you can see from the large hole; I wear them nearly every day, that is, whenever I am wearing shoes unless it’s a time for formal shoes or walking boots. They are my third pair of exactly the same shoes from Clarks, which I have found reliably last for three years of daily wear, so I think this time when I get new ones I am just going to order about four pairs and so set myself up for over a decade.

[3] I very much believe that ancient languages, even though you’re never going to speak them, should be learnt as if you are, with regular writing and speaking practice and all. Wwe humans are rather good at languages, using them all our lives as we do, and so learning an ancient language as a language rather than some abstract symbols and codes just has to give much faster and better results. There were people in the past who spoke these things (although, well, I suppose one can make the “artificial literary dialect” argument for Classical Latin), and they weren’t more intelligent than we are; it’s perfectly possible, and it’s just utterly pathetic the standard that is expected of, say, a GCSE or A-Level student of Latin compared to of French (when I started teaching myself Latin in summer 2014, I got an A* on a GCSE past paper within three weeks of an hour or so a day); it’s only dodgy teaching methods that are to blame. When I helped my young cousin revise for her GCSE Latin exam, I found that she had never had to say a word of Latin out loud.

[4] I love Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell both as a book and for the adaptation. If you haven’t read it, firstly, do, but secondly so that you vaguely know what it is, it is set in a Napoleonic-era England where magic, once a very present part of the world, has become  nothing more than a scholarly pastime for respectable gentlemen. But naturally, our protagonists bring the practice of magic back to England, and while England has become the restricted, repressive, respectable society of the early 19th century, magic is as wild and untamed as ever, a fact which Strange embraces and Norrell rejects. It’s really very good, although I can understand why some have found it a little dense. (If that’s the case for you, try Zen Cho’s Sorcerer to the Crown or Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series, both of which I also dearly love and are similarly intelligent mannered fantasy set in the same period.) The BBC adaptation was also great, both solidly including everything that made the book so good and taking it in its own interesting directions. The costumes were also lovely!

[5] Many people have told me I need to listen to Hamilton but I still have not – Millicent and Erithacus played me the first half on our way back from Paris this summer, but the second half I still have not heard.

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