Friday, March 27, 2009

On The Fly ....

from Jacqueline

Here I am in yet another internet cafe, so this will really be a post to say that I'll be back in the game next Friday - because I am in London, without access to my own computer, this won't be a proper post (I like to use my own tools ...).

However, a few words from Bligthy. I used to work in London years ago, in the area now known as "Fitzrovia" as well as Bloomsbury (which used to encompass Fitzrovia, but I guess the folks over there wanted their own identity). When you are in a place everyday, there's much that becomes transparent - you don't see what's around you any more. But now I am a visitor as well as a different kind of observer, because every walk around a part of London becomes, essentially, research for my books. So I try to peel back the layers to get to the one I want, to try to see what the London of the 1920's and 1930's looked like. London is an old city, goes back to the middle ages and beyond - indeed, even then it was the hub of a lot of international trade (as far as "international" went, even in those days) - so there's a lot of peeling back to do. It's a bit like preparing an old house for a makeover, taking off one layer of paint and wallpaper after another. I start by looking up. If you keep your eyes on the shop windows, you'll only be distracted by an onslaught of color and modern design that is the hallmark of trendy 21st century London. The amount of high-tech anything available here makes me feel as if I have been living in the dark ages - and I now hail from California. So you have to look up, to the upper floors of buildings that haven't changed in centuries. Then you try to imagine what those lower floors looked like before they became part of the retail experience of the past fifty-odd years.

Yesterday I went over to St. Mary's Hospital in Paddington, to what is now known as The Clarence Wing - it's the oldest part of the hospital, and also where Alexander Fleming invented pencillin in his laboratory on the second floor. Today, as well as a small museum dedicated to Fleming, the hospital houses a "birthing center." The building is extraordinarily ornate, in redbrick and stone with balconies and cornices, and the interesting thing is that when it was built, it was to provide a hospital for the poor - those who had money were treated at home. Interesing, eh?

I entered through the more modern building and followed the signs to the laboratory, and it was a really strange feeling as I passed from one building to the other. It's supposed to be a transparent transition, however, you know when you're in the old wing because the plain white walls give way to butter-yellow tiling extending from the floor to about a third of the way up the wall, then there's a border of brown and green tiles with an art-nouveau design to complete the decoration. The archways along the corridors have remained in place, and the heavy double doors have no doubt never been replaced, just painted again. I could just touch those walls and feel the history of the place.

I went out to meet a friend last night at a "gastro pub" called The Queen's Head & Artichoke" which is close to Regent's Park. London is now the gastronomic epicenter of Europe, having finally, about twenty years ago, shaken off the mantle of post WW2 rationing (the school of cookery where you water everything down so it goes around more people). This pub was a prime example of the renaissance going on - people packed in, drinking interesting wines and beers and eating really good food and having a great old time. I left at 9:00pm and it was still hopping, and as I walked back to my hotel, I passed three more pubs of the same ilk, and they were packed as well - and the food looked lovely! As I said to my friend, Diane, when we met for dinner, "Gone are the days when the ladies sat in the snug with a half a pint of Guinness or a cream sherry!" (the snug was a parlor-like room where people sat who didn't want to be in with the spit and sawdust lot, so invariably, that's where the ladies sat).

I'm off to Covent Garden now, down to the Transport Museum ... and maybe I'll stop for a "skinny latte."

Flying back next Thursday, so jet-lag permitting, see you in a week.

Have a wonderful weekend - no doubt if you haven't already read it, you'll be planning to curl up with Our Paul's latest novel: Illegal. Enjoy!


  1. wonderful post, jackie.
    but far too short for my liking. i could read on for hours.
    enjoy your stay.

  2. I wondered how you Brits got your reputation for watered-down food. It was the necessitites of war.

    I recently took a walking tour of downtown Los Angeles and also learned the importance of looking up at a building's facade because looking at street level is only half of the story.

    Looking forward to having you back, Our J.

  3. Ah a schedule of things to do and how to look at them when we're in London in May. :-D

    Lovely, Jacqueline. :-D

    I'm itching to write about my English protagonist, but am stuck with writing about the Ice Age. Sigh. Soon, though...

    Meanwhile, keep enjoying your trip and travel home safely.


  4. Thanks, all. I'm now in the West Country - Wiltshire -visiting my oldest friends and assorted children and grandchildren (theirs!. And I really enjoyed the London Transport Museum!