The Old Fogies go to London Zoo

Although Zoos are not normally our favourite places to go, our youngest grandchild wanted to go to the new attraction called Zoorassic Park. So, with grandchild in tow, off Mr Curmudgeon and I went to see this new experience.

Getting to London Zoo is not the easiest in the world, but walking from Camden Town Tube it is not too bad. On the way, our grandchild constantly sang about going to the Zoo, and the passing people all had a little chuckle to themselves, Mr Curmudgeon raised his eyebrows and his blue eyes twinkled as we all walked towards the zoo.

The admission to the zoo is quite expensive, but as Old Fogies we did get a discount, so once inside the zoo we immediately went to the new attraction. Well what a surprise, not an animal in sight, but a lot of automated dinosaurs. Strolling through the attraction was a real joy, for all of us, and after being transplanted back to the land of the dinosaurs you are then transported into the future, and you are confronted with the bones of animals that are alive now but in 2050 are extinct. This was very well done, and little one got to brush the sand away from some bones, although I am not sure she understood the meaning of it all.

Both Mr Curmudgeon and I are ambivalent about keeping large animals in confined spaces, but it is always wonderful (emotionally) to see such wonderful creatures as Tigers and Lions. Tigers are my absolute favourite cat, and all three of us got some wonderful views and photos of these splendid animals.

Seeing the zoo through our grandchild’s eyes made visiting the zoo a valuable experience, in the aquarium she was fascinated by the different types and sizes of fish, especially the brightly coloured ones, and she obviously associated the clown fish with Finding Nemo.

Andy from the CBeebies TV Show was at the Zoo, and he entertained all the little ones, parents and grandparents with his antics with dinosaurs (these were large puppets with people inside, but the children obviously felt they were real), it was a wonderful half hour of fun entertainment.

Having had some lunch, which was fair value, and a quick ride on the carousel, Mr Curmudgeon, begrudgingly gave us a £5 so I could go on with the grandchild, we went through the tunnel into Africa.

Here are larger animals, I do wonder if this is necessary in today’s world, but the grandchild enjoyed the Giraffes, the Zebras and the lonely pygmy hippo.

Although I did like some elements of the Zoo and I do feel they are trying to give animals a better environment, there is still a lot of work to do, and I would question the need to keep very large animals in such small (in comparison of what they would have in the wild) enclosures. However despite these misgivings, we did have an unusual and enjoyable day.

The Old Fogies go to Canary Wharf

You don’t want to go to Canary Wharf we are told, it is a concrete jungle, but Old Fogies think they must try everything, so off we trotted.

Having exited Canary Wharf Underground Station, we were presented with Reuters Square, and the concrete jungle was there in front of us, well maybe everyone was right. Undaunted Mr Curmudgeon said look some greenery, so turning left and going through a small opening in the hedge we stumble upon a spectacular water garden, a series of raised water beds each with its own small fountain meander along a lovely green space. The first raised bed even has some fish we counted 5 plus one goldfish. There is a large golden ornament, perhaps a flower, stretching over 10 feet in height is also there.

Having wandered through the garden, we exit at the back of the station, and see a long glass building about 100 yards to our left.

Wandering towards the building, on the left is another green space, with restaurants and places to sit. The long glass building turned out to be part of the new Crossrail line, but people are invited to visit the roof garden.

The roof garden, is partially open air, and is another wonderful green space for people to relax in. I expect if you are working in this environment you would want some green space.

Leaving the roof garden, we wandered into the shopping mall, Mr Curmudgeon as usual wants to hurry through the shopping mall, but I did note that there was a Waitrose with a small John Lewis above it, and a series of the usual High Street stores, albeit small ones.

Exiting the shopping mall at Cabot Place, you cross the road and wander into another Square, this one has an impressive fountain, and water features around the sides. There are truly an awful lot of public art around the estate, in the fountain square there is an impressive couple sitting down.

Wandering through towards West India Quay, over the bridge there are a whole row of eateries ranging from traditional Browns to Rum & Sugar. Whilst residing in one of the old warehouses is the Museum of Docklands, this is part of the Museum of London and shows the rise and fall of the Docks in the surrounding area.

Finally, we head towards the river to take the Thames clipper back to central London, again the road is lined with large buildings but at the end there is a small garden square. Mr Curmudgeon did not believe that the grass was real, but it was, and like the rest of the Canary Wharf estate is extremely well maintained.

Crossing the road, there is a splendid view of the City standing proud in the distance, is that another concrete jungle?

Yes, Canary Wharf does have many large buildings, and a lot of concrete however, it is interspersed with a variety of open spaces that are a pleasure to visit. Next time I will come without Mr Curmudgeon so I can spend a little more time browsing the shops and having a lovely drink on the water’s edge.

The Old Fogies look for a good view of St Paul’s and visit the Museum of London

Last Sunday the Old Fogies decided to take a stroll around the St Paul’s area of London, taking in the magnificent building of St Paul’s but also looking for the unusual and quirky aspects of London. We started early, always best as you beat the main tourist times which always result in a better experience.

Arriving at London Bridge Underground station, we walked along the river to the Millennium Bridge, there before us was St Paul’s Cathedral, the view across the bridge towards St Paul’s is one of the better views, although the view from Ludgate Hill is probably the best at ground level.

Walking through the grounds of St Paul’s we decided to visit the Museum of London. The Museum of London is quite well hidden, but by following the signs around St Paul’s you do eventually reach it. The entrance is not really inviting but we ventured forth into the museum to see what the museum has to offer.

You are guided through the museum by dates, starting at the prehistoric remnants of London moving through the Roman period reaching the great Fire and Plague sections. Here you will also can find the London Stone. The Stone has many myths surrounding it and it is claimed to be the oldest stone in the City. It is taking a holiday at the Museum while its home in Cannon Street is undergoing building works. If you are looking for old stones, look out of the window to see one of the few remaining sections of the old London Wall.

Moving downstairs into the Victorian section, the streets of Victorian London are on display with bars, grocers etc, but one of the highlights for us was the recreation of the 18th Century Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, this is the most interactive bit of the museum where you can step inside the Pleasure Gardens and with the aid of a film, feel the atmosphere of Georgian London.

Other notable exhibits are the remarkable 1928 Selfridges department store decorative lift doors, these are stunning, as well as the 1908 London Taxi beside it. The Lord Mayors coach is also a highlight of the museum if it is on display.

Having felt we had done enough, we decided to ride the elevator up to the 6th floor of the nearby Number One Change shopping centre. We are not here for the shopping but an unexpected treat, having bemoaned the lack of a beautiful view of St Paul’s, the elevator ride gives a wonderful framed view, but this was surpassed by the view from the 6th floor terrace. Here is London spread at your feet, and it is free as well. St Paul’s stands front and centre and that elusive photograph can be taken.

Descending to the ground floor, we decided to take a Number 17 bus back to London Bridge station and another treat, never having rode on the top deck of a London Bus over London Bridge it was a complete surprise to enjoy, an unusual view of the Thames, Tower Bridge and beyond.

We sat quite smugly, because being London Old Fogies, we have our bus passes and the ride did not cost us a penny.

A Blooming Nice Time at Columbia Road Flower Market

Flower markets have been a feature of London life for centuries, however in the past fifty years they have sadly declined.

Thankfully you can still get a taste of the delights of such markets by visiting Columbia Road Flower Market in East London which is only open on Sundays.

There has been a Columbia Market since 1869, the original Columbia Road flower market began as a Saturday trading market. It was moved to Sunday, by Act of Parliament, in order to accommodate the local Jewish traders. The market was popular with traders from other flower markets who could sell their leftover stock .

The market declined after the Second World War until the 1960s, however in recent years it has become very popular and becomes very busy later in the day.

The market operates every Sunday from 8 am to 2 pm. Traders arrive in early morning and sell a wide range of plants, bedding plants, shrubs, bulbs and freshly cut flowers at very

The market also has shops selling a variety of goods and there are coffee shops, cafes and the occasional street performers.

You can always tell when you are near the market as people wander past with armfuls of flowers and plants. The narrow streets do get very crowded but the market has an atmosphere all of its own and the flower displays are attractive at any time of the year.

The Strange Story of the London Stone

London has had more than fair share of myths and legends, however the story of the London Stone is one of the most remarkable because of its historical significance and the way that it has been ignored for centuries.

Now in a display at the Museum of London, visitors can see the stone, up close and find out more about its strange history.

The stone is made up of oolitic limestone which is a type first brought to London for building and other purposes in the Roman period, it has been suggested that the stone was placed in front of a Great Roman building or was a central milestone from which distances in the Roman province of Britain were measured. However it was first mentioned in Saxon times as ‘Lundene Stane’ in Old English. Since medieval times, the stone stood towards the southern edge of the medieval Candlewick Street (now Cannon Street) opposite St Swithin’s church.

It is possible the stone was damaged by the Great Fire of 1666, which destroyed all the surrounding buildings. By 1720 the stone was covered by a small stone cupola built over it, and was moved on the north side of the street against the door of the new Wren church of St Swithin. In the 1820s, it was built into the middle of the church’s south wall.

Remarkably, although the Wren church was gutted by bombing in the Second World War, the London Stone survived and remained in place until 1960, when it was moved to the then Guildhall Museum until the church was demolished and a new building (The Bank of China) constructed. In 1962 the Stone was placed in the specially constructed grilled alcove in the wall where it has remained until recently. Now that building is being demolished and it has moved to the Museum of London for safe keeping.

Over the centuries, a number of myths and legends have surrounded the stone, in 1720, John Strype, in his 1720 edition of John Stow’s Survey of London, suggests that the London Stone was ‘an Object, or Monument, of Heathen Worship’ erected by the Druids. This idea was taken up by the poet William Blake.

Where Albion slept beneath the Fatal Tree,
And the Druids’ golden Knife
Rioted in human gore, In Offerings of Human Life…
They groan’d aloud on London Stone,
They groan’d aloud on Tyburn’s Brook…

The London Stone played an important role in 1450, when Jack Cade, leader of the Kentish rebellion against Henry VI, entered London and, striking the London Stone with his sword, claimed to be ‘lord of this city’. Shakespeare recreated the scene in Henry VI Part 2.

By the end of the 18th century, writers began to suggest that the survival of London Stone was crucial to the well-being of London itself. The discovery of an ‘ancient saying’ which suggests ‘So long as the Stone of Brutus is safe, so long will London flourish’ seemed to support this theory. This saying was first mentioned in an article for the periodical Notes and Queries in 1862. The article was written by the Revd Richard Williams Morgan who was a Anglican priest who seems to have invented the saying to put forward his own rather bizarre conspiracy theory that he and many others where descendants of Brutus. In more recent times, the stone has attracted the attention of those who believe in leylines and who suggest that its removal will have dire consequences. The stone has also been featured in a number of urban fantasy novels.

One remarkable aspect of the story of the London Stone is considering its history and legend, it has virtually ignored by everyone, it was only in 1972 that the London Stone was officially Listed (Grade II) as a structure of special historic interest.

If you make the trip to the Museum of London, you will not be impressed by the stone itself but you will be fascinated by the surrounding mythology and how over the centuries it taken on a number of symbolic roles. Interestingly, although no one will say they believe the myths, when the new building is completed in Cannon Street, the stone will be returned and placed in a prominent position.

Taking a wander down Brick Lane

One of our occasional excursions on a Sunday morning is walk down Brick Lane, we often begin at the Columbia Road flower market and then immerse ourselves in the various delights of Brick Lane.

East London has been the location of waves of immigration over the centuries and a walk down the Lane gives plenty of reminders of its diverse past.

Brick Lane gets it names from the brick and tile manufacture in the area that began in the 15th century. Brewing was another industry that came to Brick Lane before 1680, one of the most famous brewers was Joseph Truman whose family to establish the Black Eagle Brewery on Brick Lane.

In the 17th century, French Huguenots bought their weaving skills to Spitalfields, they were followed by Irish immigrants and Ashkenazi Jews in the 19th century and early 20th century. In the later 20th century, Bangladeshis became the major group of immigrants especially from the Greater Sylhet region. Nicknamed ‘Banglatown’, sections of Brick Lane are known for the numerous curry houses that populate the streets.

So what is so special about Brick Lane on a Sunday? Well it is noisy, busy and chaotic which is always the sign of a good market. Street performers entertain the crowds to enhance the vibrant and lively atmosphere. The street art is some of the best in London, even Banksy has been known to daub his paint on the walls of Brick Lane.

Food from all around the world permeates the air and there are plenty of shops and stores to hunt for those unusual bargains.

The Rough Trade store is great for music lovers, up and coming designers can be found all over market and there is plenty of space to sit down and watch the world go by.

Brick Lane is a place where the past and present combine in a number of fascinating ways and illustrates the way how different waves of immigration create a cultural mix that creates a lasting legacy.

The Old Fogies go to Legoland Windsor

It was Mr Curmudgeon’s fault ! Whilst enjoying a family Christmas and helping his two granddaughters with their Lego, he foolishly asked where they would like us to take them in 2017. ‘Legoland ‘ they both said in unison, my stare indicated my disapproval but Mr Curmudgeon whispered they will soon forget.

A few months later and after incessant nagging from the children, we found ourselves outside the entrance of Legoland with two very excited children.

Theme parks have never been our favourite destinations because they tend to be expensive, have long queues and children’s initial excitement often turns tears and disappointment. To be fair to Legoland, they have tried to prevent large queues from the entrance by allowing people into a beginning area in which the kids can have a look around before the main part of the park is opened.

The remarkable Miniland area which features over 40 million Lego bricks which are part of numerous buildings and objects from small scale towns and cities from around the world.  The Lego brick is one of the most amazing toy inventions since the Second World War and proves that any toy that allows the creativity of the child or adult to come through will probably be successful.

Amongst the hundreds of nervous parents and excited children, we waited in anticipation for the park to open. People who had visited before, clutched their maps with plans of which attractions to visit first. We decided to take a more leisurely approach and slowly wander around the park.

The park is split into 12 themed lands, incorporating various attractions for particular age groups. The Beginning, Imagination Centre, Duplo Valley, Miniland, Adventure Land, LEGO City, Pirate Shores, Heartlake City, Knight´s Kingdom, Land of the Vikings and Kingdom of the pharaohs.

Duplo Valley is generally aimed at the 3 – 6 age group with a series of water features including Fairy Tale Brook, Raft Racers, Splash Safari and Drench Towers. The weather was not conducive for this area, so we made our way to Lego City which has transport themes and allows the 6-13 age group to try Balloon School: Experience the ups and downs of a hot air balloon ride. Coastguard HQ: an interactive boat ride for children. Fire Academy: helping the ‘firefighters’ to power a LEGO fire engine and putting out a ‘burning’ building. And Lego City Driving School.

Other areas have their own attractions; popular areas include Land of the Vikings, Kingdom of the Pharaohs, Pirate Shores and Knights Kingdom with the major rides being The Dragon and the Dragon’s Apprentice. This area also has a very popular Adventure playground. Adventure Land is situated around a lake at the far end of the park, where the main attraction is Atlantis Submarine Voyage which features “submarine” vehicles used to travel through the tank of sharks and other marine creatures.

The park’s attractions are a mixture of Lego-themed rides, Lego models and interactive areas where children can build with Lego. Once again, Legoland cleverly incorporates building tables in the queues to keep children’s minds occupied.

Many of the attractions are geared to the 3 to 13 age group and allow adults to join children on the rides. Whilst there is an element of ‘fun’ to this, getting in and out of the rides can be a bit of a struggle for those with creaking bones and expanding waistlines.

In some ways, Legoland Windsor is a victim of its own success, In 2015, the park had 2.25 million visitors, making it the most visited theme park in the United Kingdom. This means it can get extremely busy in peak times especially weekends and school holidays. Queues can be quite long for some rides, although most of the rides are quite short in duration. By the late afternoon, tiredness begins to come into play with some parents and children with a few tears and tantrums.

Legoland suffers from the negatives of most theme parks; expensive admission, queues, limited food and drink options. However because it caters for younger age groups and Legoland does think about entertaining visitors in a number of ways, Legoland Winsdor is one of the better attractions of its kind.

Making our way out of the park, our tired but happy granddaughters ran ahead. I smiled to Mr Curmudgeon and said ‘ It has been a quite enjoyable day, but if you ever promise the girls again to take them to a theme park, you will be in the doghouse’.

‘Woof’ he replied as he nearly fell over a Lego character.

Legoland Windsor generally opens from March to November, but there are closures on some days.


The Old Fogies go to Dublin

Dublin has been on our travel radar for years, but for one reason or another has remained on the must do list. To rectify this oversight, we finally decided to bite the bullet and spend a few days in the Emerald Isle.

With a flight of just over a hour from London and a short coach ride from Dublin Airport to the centre of Dublin, the relatively stress free travelling experience meant we arrived in Dublin in good spirits.

We stayed near O’ Connell Street which is one of the main hubs of the city and the perfect place to begin our exploration of the city.

First impressions were that the city was small and compact which was easily traversed by foot.

North of the Liffey has plenty of shopping options with a number of shopping centres and the outside market in Moore Street. Places of interest include the General Post Office which played a pivotal part in the Easter Rising, The Dublin Writers Museum, The Hugh Lane Art Gallery, the Parnell, O’ Connell and James Joyce statues and the strange Monument of Light or Spire which is a stainless steel 393ft monument .

Also north of the river near the old dock area is the new Docklands area with the Custom House, a reminder of Dublin’s maritime past. The relatively new Sean O’Casey Bridge and Samuel Beckett Bridge connect the new developments.

It is safe to say that it is on the south side of the Liffey that will interest most visitors to Dublin, Trinity College is a popular attraction especially the library where you can find The Book of Kells.

Behind the college is the main Georgian buildings and squares which are location of many of the museums and art galleries. This is also the location of Irish Government buildings and relaxing parks.

One of the delights of visiting Dublin is to walk around this area enjoying the cultural organisations, the many small eateries and finding some of the hidden treasures.

Grafton Street is a major shopping and entertainment thoroughfare that leads in the north to Temple Bar which is full of shops, pubs and bars. A pleasant area to walk around in the day, in the evening it gets a bit more exciting with plenty of drink flowing and Irish music coming out of many of the establishments.

Religion plays an important part in Irish society and many of the main cathedrals have fascinating histories and are well worth a visit.

The Irish are often associated with drink and a visit to the Guinness Storehouse and the Old Jameson Distillery are on most people’s to do list, however due to time limits, we decided to pass on these attractions.

Dublin is one of those small European capitals which may lack many wow factors but is an enjoyable place with many diverse attractions. What really makes Dublin different is the Dubliners themselves, their legendary ability in enjoying themselves translates into a relaxing and good natured atmosphere with a genuine friendliness that is found almost everywhere.

The Story of The Ha’penny Bridge

 It might not be the most spectacular bridge in the world, but the The Ha’penny Bridge or Liffey Bridge is one of the iconic landmarks in Dublin. The story of the pedestrian bridge is a fascinating one. It was built in 1816 over the River Liffey , the bridge is made of cast iron and was cast at Coalbrookdale in Shropshire. The manufacturer, the Coalbrookdale Company cast the bridge in 18 sections then shipped it to Dublin.

The structure was originally called the Wellington Bridge before it was changed to the Liffey Bridge. However, Dubliners called it the Ha’penny Bridge due to the toll charged for crossing the bridge.

Before the bridge, a certain William Walsh operated a series of leaky ferries across the Liffey, Dubliners complained and the local authority told him to fix the ferries or build a bridge. Walsh being a canny businessman decided to build a bridge with the right to charge a ha’penny toll from anyone crossing it for 100 years. Remarkably the toll remained until 1919.

In the early years, Dubliners tried to take their horses across the bridge for free, arguing that they were not pedestrians, so could not be charged. Turnstiles were put in place to stop this practice. It was also said that during the Easter Rising in 1916, two men with bombs were refused entry to the bridge because they did not have the toll money. Only hundreds would cross the bridge when there was a toll, but know it is estimated that 30,000 cross it daily.

A plaque for leprechauns perhaps 

This addition traffic has put a strain on the bridge and it was closed for repair and renovation in 2001. More recently the habit of leaving love locks on the bridge has been frowned upon and they are removed.

The short trip over the 141 feet long bridge is perhaps not the most exciting, but the bridge remains one of Dublin’s iconic landmarks loved by Dubliners and visitors.


An Irish History Lesson in St Stephen’s Green, Dublin

 St Stephen’s Green is one of the most popular public parks in Dublin and is a favourite with many Dubliners and visitors. Situated near Grafton Street which is one of Dublin’s main shopping streets, the park is one of the largest parks in Dublin’s main Georgian area.

As well as enjoying the pleasant surroundings, the park has a series of statues and monuments that provide some intriguing insights into Irish History.

Until the mid 17th century, St Stephen’s Green was a common on the edge of Dublin, used for grazing. Dublin Corporation decided to enclose some of the common and to sell land. By the end of the eighteenth century, the Green and surroundings was favoured by the wealthy of Dublin.

Access to the Green was restricted to local residents, until 1877, when Parliament passed an Act to open St Stephen’s Green to the public. The initiative of Lord Ardilaun and his generous funding of a new layout of the Green provided a greatly needed green space in the middle of Dublin. In a response to his generosity, the local corporation commissioned a statue of him, which still faces the College of Surgeons.

Working around the park provides an opportunity to discover other Irish heroes, there are statues and monuments to Fenian leader Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, Theobald Wolfe Tone, the leader of the 1798 rebellion and Robert Emmet, the Irish nationalist and Republican.

One of Ireland greatest writers, James Joyce is celebrated with a bust and garden. One of the more unusual statues is the Three Fates. The statue was designed by Joseph Wackerle in bronze in 1956. The statue was a gift from the German people in thanks for Irish help to refugee children following World War II.

The peace and quiet of the park was shattered during the Easter Rising of 1916, when a group of 200 to 250 members of the Irish Citizen Army established a position in St Stephen’s Green. They established road blocks but were soon under fire from Army positions and withdrew to the Royal College of Surgeons. The full drama of this incident is told on a large number of boards around the park, one of our favourites was that in the heat of the battle, fire was temporarily halted to allow the park’s groundsman to feed the local ducks.

Thankfully, now you can sit and feed the ducks in peace whilst admiring this most attractive park.