Robert Hampton

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2nd October 2010

Capital Idea
Posted by at 11.35pm | 1 response | Out and About

Part two of a three (or four, depending on how this works out) part story.

On Saturday we were up and ready for breakfast around 9am. Hotel breakfasts are always disappointing to me and this unfortunately didn’t break the mould. It was buffet-style which is a nice idea in theory: it means you can help yourself to as much as you want. However in practice it means the food has usually been sitting out for half an hour on hotplates which fail to keep even a tiny amount of warmth in it, and the germs of the previous guests are all over it. And they ran out of bacon — how can you run out of bacon? It’s a breakfast staple!

Oh well, it was just about edible and set us up reasonably well for the day. Still, room for improvement here I think.

Did I show you my hotel room yet? I don’t think I did, so some pictures are reproduced below. I get ridiculously excited by mundane hotel room accoutrements: yes, there was a Corby trouser press and a little switch to turn on a “Do Not Disturb” light outside, which was immediately switched on. I guard my privacy with the zealousness of a Premier League footballer.

My hotel room 1 My hotel room 2 Your Sky box is about to go into standby

I also had the luxury of a big LCD flat panel TV with 30-odd channels of varying national original. Even though it was a modern HD-ready set, all the channels still came through with that fuzziness that only hotel room TVs seem to manage. At least one channel had a Sky Digibox message permanently burned on screen. For a moment, it was like being a Telewest analogue cable customer again.

Squirrel in Kensington Gardens, London After breakfast we ventured out into Kensington Gardens themselves. It was a beautiful autumn morning with almost no clouds in the sky. The park was full of joggers and cyclists, some taking advantage of the new “Boris Bikes” cycle hire scheme (there is a rack provided at the park’s entrance).

We walked towards the Round Pond, taking in Kensington Palace as we went. Then we headed out of the park at the other side and strolled along Kensington Road, where we passed the Albert Memorial.

Swans in Kensington Gardens, London Kensington Palace Albert Memorial

We also passed the Royal Albert Hall, where we stopped to enjoy the grandeur for a few minutes. Mum and Jenny posed for a photograph. Look how happy they are!

Mum and Jenny outside the Royal Albert Hall

We were by then within walking distance of three of London’s biggest museums: the Science Museum, the Natural History Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum. We’d already visited the Science Museum on various occasions previously, so divided our afternoon between the latter two buildings.

The Natural History Museum was great. We spent most of our time viewing the section on tectonic plates. The volcano section contained a brilliantly out of date video presentation by Trevor McDonald (filmed in the old 1990s News at Ten studio), while the earthquake exhibit included a “simulation” of the Kobe earthquake where you could stand in a replica Japanese supermarket and get shaken about all over the place by a hydraulic platform.

Unfortunately my photos of the Natural History Museum didn’t really turn out very well. I feel a bit self-conscious taking photos in museums anyway, and turned my camera’s flash off to avoid inviting disapproving sneers. The end result was that all my pictures turned out blurred and generally rubbish. One day I will read my camera’s instruction manual and work out how to use it properly…

The good news is I have lots of pictures from the V&A, a museum of “decorative arts and design”. We headed for the British Galleries which contain lots of frilly dresses, antique furniture and 18th-century pottery.

Victoria and Albert Museum 1 Victoria and Albert Museum 2 Victoria and Albert Museum 3 Victoria and Albert Museum 4 Victoria and Albert Museum 5

It’s the sort of place I could imagine Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen enjoying, but I found it slightly dull. My female companions loved it, however, and spent a lot of time cooing over each successive exhibit. Particularly nauseating was a display where previous museum visitors had been asked to talk about personal possessions they treasure, which was full of quotes from Bible Belt-dwelling religious conservatives: “my treasured possession is my purity ring, a reminder of my commitment to remain chaste until marriage,” that sort of thing.

One thing the V&A does have going for it is some impressive architecture. Every other building in Central London tries hard to be something special, but this place really is lovely:

Victoria and Albert Museum exterior

This picture was taken from the Garden Café where we enjoyed some rather overpriced beverages.

TextileI entertained myself by playing with an interactive exhibit which allowed me to design my own textile. Pleasingly, there was a facility to send it by e-mail, which means the Hampton Pattern is preserved for posterity.

We spent rather longer in the V&A than we expected and it was nearly 3.30pm by the time we left. We wanted to get to the Imperial War Museum, far away on the other side of the River Thames in Lambeth. Walking back to the Underground station, we saw a Routemaster bus operating one of TfL’s “heritage routes”. I wanted a ride, but as time was ticking away (and I knew the Imperial War Museum closed at 6pm) we decided to skip it and head straight for the tube.


Our arrival at the IWM was delayed slightly by the unexpected closure of the nearest station, Lambeth North, due to faulty lifts. We got off at Elephant and Castle instead and promptly got slightly lost thanks to a crazy system of pedestrian underpasses outside the station, with signs, supposedly pointing to the Imperial War Museum, leading us off in random directions. We eventually found the Museum and began exploring.

Me and Mum inside the Imperial War Museum

I was slightly sceptical about the museum — I’m not a fan of war and guns, and in the back of my mind I could hear strains of Frankie Goes to Hollywood singing “War! What is it good for?” In truth, however, the museum was quite informative and tasteful, neither glorifying war nor promoting pacifism. I found the World War II section interesting, including exhibits on the Blitz, the war’s effect on children, and a recreation of a wartime house in London.

We stayed in the Imperial War Museum until closing time. It now being 6pm, we were in need of food. Perhaps unwisely, we headed back to Piccadilly Circus to find some. It being Saturday night, everywhere was extremely busy. We wandered along Shaftesbury Avenue for nearly an hour in an effort to find somewhere. Entertainingly we ended up on Old Compton Street amongst the gay bars (Joe McElderry is performing at G-A-Y soon!) and sex shops. However we then found a Pizza Express on Greek Street which had tables spare. We were served by the world’s campest waiter, who so impressed Mum with his attentiveness that she went online and filled in the customer feedback survey as soon as we got home on Sunday evening.

Houses of Parliament at night

After our meal, the day was still not over. We headed to the London Eye, from where, I had been told, Thames Clippers operate a regular service along the river to Greenwich and the O2. We waited on a rather windswept, dimly lit pier for the boat which turned up a few minutes late. The wait did allow me to get the above view of the Houses of Parliament lit up at night.

The O2 (Millennium Dome) We boarded the boat and sailed east, taking in Tower Bridge and Canary Wharf en route. The trip is fairly swift and less than an hour later we were docking at North Greenwich. This was my first close-up encounter with the Millennium Dome, having previously only experienced it via the EastEnders title sequence and hundreds of cynical tabloid headlines circa 1999-2000. It’s an impressive structure, and I’m happy to see it in regular use as a concert venue, but I do think it was a bit of a waste of public money building it in the first place.

North Greenwich tube stationWe had no particular reason to hang around here so started to head back to the hotel, this time by Underground. At nearby North Greenwich station, things were in a slight state of disarray due to a signal failure, meaning trains were not running beyond Waterloo. I wasn’t too bothered: as long as we could get back into Central London, it would be easy to navigate round the blockage. A train duly turned up within a few minutes to take us to Waterloo, where a long trudge through the winding passageways of that station was necessary to get us to the Bakerloo line to Oxford Circus, where we could transfer to a Central Line train back to Queensway. Phew!

It was about 10.30pm by this point and we were all grateful to return to our rooms and our comfortable beds. It was a very long day, but we squeezed a lot in and it was very enjoyable.

More tomorrow!

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One Response
  1. Pingback by Robert Hampton » Blog Archive » Twenty Ten – again. Again
    31st December 2010 at 12:25 pm

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