Apart from some 150 species said to inhabit the Thames and an occasional whale washing up in its estuary, there is also a lot of rubbish in it. Go comb the shoreline when it recedes — the usual find is 17th clay pipes (mostly fragments), cotton buds, shipping nails and ceramic pieces. One fellow treasure hunter I spoke to found a well preserved Roman leather shoe, another found a gold coin and gave his daughter for birthday. A colleague once heard a story of someone finding a gun and a bust of Lenin.
Forget the 25-pound-for-the-view Shard. Head for the Walkie-Talkie, officially known as 20 Fenchurch Street. Its top-floor Sky Garden offers breath-taking 360 degree views of London, for free. You may want to buy a coffee or/ and cake to celebrate the view at its Sky Pod bar. Access is airport-style and you have to produce an ID with your name (a credit card will do) before you are whizzed up to the 34th floor. There is a glass balcony and a garden featuring Mediterranean and South African plants. Staff say the best time to come is after 6pm Monday to Friday for the view and live jazz. The fifth-tallest building in the City, designed by Uruguayan architect Rafael Vinoly, it went through a bit of controversy. Still under construction in 2013, acting like mirror for the sun, it sent street-level temperatures up to 91 degrees Celcius melting a few cars parked nearby. Urban legend has it that City boys even came to fry eggs for a laugh. Hence its other nickname: the Fryscraper. Oh, and see if you can say Beschorneria Septentrionalis.
It’s that time of the year when not all buds in the city have blossomed yet but the streets will wear colour green. In honour of St Patrick and all the Irish. The main event of course is the annual parade leaving Piccadilly at noon to proceed to Trafalgar Square where dance schools and marching bands will dance many a reel and play many a cheerful tune for you to enjoy. Do you know the difference between the hard shoe and the soft shoe? If you do, Riverdance away!
If you seek his memorial, look around. Those words were said about Sir Christopher Wren and his most important creation – St. Paul’s Cathedral. And it is a monument to Britain itself and its history in so many ways. From the Roman times when a temple to Diana is said to have stood there through the 1666 Fire of London, to the war with Napoleon to the Blitz and to the present day. What you see today is more than 300 years old, took 35 years to build and is 111 meters high. It lacks the spire which made the previous iteration (one of five) the second tallest in the country at the time. And it is not as long. But it is the only one with a dome.
Admission to St. Paul’s is ticketed and gives you access to the top galleries which provide breath-taking views of London and the crypt with tombs to Lord Nelson, the Duke of Wellington and famous painters. It is well worth paying for and if you are a U.K. tax payer, with gift aid you can come back any time throughout the year. Otherwise pick a Sunday and attend one of the services for free. Even if you are not religious or of different faith it can be a special musical treat for choirs singing at St. Paul’s are some of the best. Come a bit early to take a short tour of the Cathedral to see the monuments to Lord Nelson with his seasick lion, Duke of Wellington (step back to see him on a horse) and the only monument surviving from pre-fire Old St. Paul’s to poet and preacher John Donne.
State funerals for Lord Nelson, the Duke of Wellington and Sir Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher were held at St. Paul’s. Prince Charles and Diana were married there in 1981 and Queen Elizabeth II had services for her 90th birthday at the Cathedral. Outside, Guy Fawkes and his accomplices who had sought to blow up the Parliament, were hung, drawn and quartered in 1606. The first Grand Lodge was formed on June 24, 1717, after four masonic lodges met at the Goose and Gridiron ale house in the cathedral’s churchyard. St Paul’s is also known for giving England its foot measurement. A market place in the middle ages, the area around St. Paul’s was bustling with trading activity. The standard measurement at the time was the so-called ‘foot of St. Paul’ or rather the length of the foot of St. Algar, a statue by the cathedral entrance which was lost in the fire. The foot equals 12 inches.
If you didn’t start well on new year resolutions, you can try again with the Chinese New Year. Head to Trafalgar Square and Chinatown for the traditional parade and musical performances. Martial arts and crafts and workshops. Dress up in red! www.london.gov.uk/events/2017-01-29/chinese-new-year-2017
Or rather more than 5,000 years of it with over 4 million exhibits and over 3 million visitors a year from all over the world. Victoria & Albert museum in South Kensington is there to impress as the world’s biggest museum of decorative art and design. Originating from the Great Exhibition of 1851, it was founded a year later and was dedicated to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Most of it is free but some exhibitions that are charged separately. If you have time make sure you have a drink in its beautiful cafe.
Highgate Gallery in South Grove founded in 1994 exhibits new and established artists alike. Housed in the 19th century vaulted hall within the historic Highgate Literary and Scientific Institution in the heart of Highgate Village, the gallery will host paintings from Soviet Russia in February. For further exhibitions check the website: www.hlsi.net
And joy it brings us! The Guildhall School of Music and Drama and the London Symphony Orchestra offer a range of free concerts at lunchtime and after work at four of its venues including Barbican Centre and LSO St Luke’s. www.gsmd.ac.uk/events
Brick Lane is not just about curry houses. Take a stroll and check out its street art on the side lanes. Some have been there for a long time, some change almost every week. A true open air art gallery!
You may have seen or read ‘History Boys’ to get a glimpse into the life of schoolboys at a British public school. There is now a museum celebrating more than 400 years history of one such school in Southwood Lane in Highgate. The Highgate School Museum recounts the days of this establishment through photographs, documents, artefacts and paintings. It was founded in 1565 by a Royal Charter of Queen Elizabeth I ‘for the education, institution and instruction of boys and youths in grammar.’
The list of its scholars includes poet Ernest Hartley Coleridge, solar panel pioneer William Grylls Adams and Chairman of Lloyds Sir Edward Beauchamp. www.highgateschool.org.uk