Saturday, July 23, 2011

Wee Snippets

Musicians can get licenses to perform for tips in the Underground. The license is free--it just takes an audition "to prove you're mad enough to play all day in a tube station," according to this guy. His saxophone is a 1959 Selmer Mark VI alto--almost identical to the 1962 horn that has been played by my daughter, my mother, and me.

Our flat did not come equipped with paper towels, dish detergent ("washing up liquid" in the local parlance), or soap. So I bought one of the cheapest bars I could find. Just 65p and it was transparent! (How posh!) Pears Soap turns out to be a true London original, first produced and sold in 1789. In fact, Pears Soap was the world's first registered brand and is therefore the world's oldest continuously existing brand. Cool, right? Also, you should know that it does not smell like pears.

Tower Bridge, NOT London Bridge

You would think a girl from Bridgetown would be able to keep her river crossings straight, wouldn't you? But I've been calling the Tower Bridge by the wrong name all along. The London Bridge is one span up (or down?) the Thames. The famous rhyme is thought to have been inspired by an episode in 1014: "Tradition states that the bridge was pulled down by the Norwegian prince Olaf in 1014, to assist the Anglo-Saxon King Aethelred to divide the forces of the Danes who held the walled City of London and Southwark, on either side of the river; thus regaining London." Thanks Wikipedia.

I didn't go inside the Tower of London, but I did walk all the way around it today.

Study in contrasts: the Tower of London and the Gherkin.

Everything you need to play knight and princess dress-up.

Need to escape from the Tower?
There's an app for that.

 Maternity dress in the window of Harrods

I need to remember the sunscreen!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Those Poor British Bastards

On our first Saturday in London, we were scheduled to have a tour of Bloomsbury, the area in which we live. Somehow it got jumbled and our guide did not show up. Since it was pouring rain, many people chose instead to go to various museums around the city. I headed to the Foundling Museum, a short walk with my pink umbrella.

The museum explains the importance of the Foundling Hospital, London's first institution for housing and educating illegitimate children. Philanthropist Captain Thomas Coram spent nearly two decades trying to convince the crown that there needed to be a home for unwanted babies. He received support for his mission from some of the leading figures of the time including the artist, William Hogarth, and the composer George Frederic Handel.

The Hospital had two missions: to provide a home for children and to enable their mothers to re-establish themselves fully in society. Rules for admission were introduced in the nineteenth century which stated that a child had to be illegitimate and under one year old to be accepted. A lottery system was used to determine the small number of children that could be admitted to the Hospital.

The Foundling Hospital opened in 1741 and continued in much the same manner until it's closure in 1954. Single mothers would place their children in the home with no hope of ever seeing them again. The children, their names changed, would be fostered in the countryside until the age of five, when they would return to the Foundling Hospital School to be educated. When they reached their mid-teens, the girls would go into domestic service, while the boys would be apprenticed to a tradesman or join the military.

Life at the Foundling Hospital was harsh, with many stories of cruel punishments and bullies. Meals were on a weekly rotation, uniforms were always worn, and the entire day, from waking to sleep was strictly governed. There was little thought given to the emotional development of children, so many schools, even posh boarding schools, were managed this same way.

"Coram boys" waiting for their dinners.   
© The Foundling Museum

I found the special exhibit, Foundling Voices, to be particularly interesting. This exhibit features the stories of the youngest London foundlings. Now age seventy and older, they were the final students to progress through the Foundling School before social changes in the post-war era ended the institution.

With the closure of the school, the Hospital officially changed its name to the Thomas Coram Foundation for Children and continues today as the children's charity, Coram, supporting some of the England's most vulnerable children and families. The site of the original Foundling Hospital is now a non-profit playground called Coram's Fields.

Gingers at the gate to Coram's Fields, a children-only playground.

Our first major media assignment was to make a podcast. Since no photos were allowed inside the museum, this was a good subject for audio-only.


I'm now posting stuff somewhat out of order. For example, today was a big day, but I'll be posting a blog (and video!!) about it on Monday. This is because we have assignments due on certain days and I sometimes need to save my big blogging to compliment those multimedia projects.


Resource for the podcast:

The Foundling Museum - London WC1N's first ever public art gallery and Britain's original home for abandoned children. (n.d.). The Foundling Museum - London WC1N's first ever public art gallery and Britain's original home for abandoned children. Retrieved July 22, 2011, from

Music: Handel's Messiah, performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, 2002.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Lit Rally

Today we took a most literary excursion--to the city of Oxford. Let's see if we can count all the sites that figure into kids lit.

We caught the train from Paddington Station, immortalized in the stories about Paddington Bear. They sell Paddington Bear merch at the train station, complete with rain jacket and wellies. The statue, however, shows him with just a hat and tag. "Please take care of this bear. Thank you."

Photo by carmen_seaby on Flickr. Creative commons license.

The train to Oxford takes an hour. Once there, we headed to the Bodleian Library, Oxford University. The library was originally started with a bequest of 280 books in the early 15th Century (a huge jump from the 20 owned by the university previously). We got to see the oldest part of the library, where scholars used to use the resources while standing up, with the books actually chained to the desks. For average tourists like ourselves, no photos were allowed in this area.

And the kids lit connection? Parts of the Harry Potter films were filmed here. The oldest area, Duke Humfrey's Library (with false walls hiding the real 15th/16th century manuscripts), was the restricted area of the library at Hogwarts. And the Divinity School was used as the site for the Hogwarts infirmary.

The Divinity School

From the Bodleian Library website. Lots of CGI went into these movies!
Next stop: Christ Church. I had no idea that Oxford University was comprised of 39 different colleges, each with their own campuses, libraries, and dining and residence halls. Christ Church is particularly famous because Charles Dodgson was a mathematics tutor there. Who? You know, Lewis Carroll! Alice Liddell, Wonderland's Alice, was the daughter of the college dean.

Alice wanted to know what lay beyond the wall that separated her backyard from the Cathedral Garden, so she'd look through the keyhole.

In the Cathedral Garden. Also known as the
Forbidden Garden, since Alice was not allowed to play here.

Looking back at the yard that Alice knew.

Illustration by John Tenniel.
Public domain, found using Google image search.

Christ Church (don't call it Christ Church College, for Christ's sake) was also a location for...Harry Potter!

The dining hall inspired the great hall at Hogwarts. The filmmakers found it better to build a replica on a sound stage rather than attempt to film on location, but it's quite a faithful representation, don't you think?

I also made it to Alice's Shop and The Story Museum. This museum is so new that they offer tours of the building, but it won't open to the public until 2014. Regardless, the concept is brilliant (as they say here) and will be a wonderful addition to the literary life of Oxford.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The English Roses

Let's not talk about the kids book by Madonna--let's talk instead about flowers.

Nestled in the center of London is Regent's Park, a royal park within walking distance of our flats. Originally Henry VIII's hunting grounds, the park was re-imagined as an ornamental park in the early 19th century. The park has facilities for sports and recreation, a cafe', and an open-air theater. One of the most spectacular attractions is Queen Mary's Gardens.

Queen Mary, the wife of George V (reign: 1910-1936, grandfather of Queen Elizabeth II), must have loved roses. Her namesake garden contains over 330 different types of roses, in addition to the national collection of delphiniums and 9,000 begonias. 

I might be inclined to be a bit snobbish about roses, considering that Portland's International Rose Test Gardens has 550 varieties, but the roses here SMELLED so good! They had names like Velvet Fragrance, Valencia, and Woods of Windsor.

Chick plays at being Thumbelina.

Regent's Park is also the site of the London Zoo, where Harry Potter first talks to a snake on Dudley's birthday. Nearby is Primrose Hill where Mary Poppins and the children flew kites. We did that, too.

It's hard to see here, but the skyline is very cool.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The BIG Photo Post

Big Church
Yesterday we toured Westminster Abbey with a guide. I love exploring places on my own, but having a private tour guide is the bomb. Britain's Blue Badge Guides are the best, most knowledgeable guides I've ever seen. There is A LOT of history here, and these guys really know their dates and events. They also know funny, interesting stories and aren't afraid to make jokes at the expense of their (and our) political leadership.

The last time I was at Westminster Abbey, in 1989, I dropped my passport and I spent many hours running around London trying to track it down. It had been turned in to the police, but I had to go to the US Embassy to retrieve it. No such mishaps this time around.

You are not allowed to take photos inside the church, so these shots are from outside or in the cloisters.

Heading to the group tour entrance.

The Cloister Garden

The ten statues above the entrance are 21st Century saints. 
Fifth from the left: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


Big Wheel
After lunch in Trafalgar Square we headed across the Millennium Bridge to the London Eye. Don't call it a Ferris wheel, though, apparently this is an "observation wheel." The Eye opened in 2000, and was, at the time, the tallest observation wheel in the world.

I love Ferris wheels, so this was one of the things I most wanted to do in London. (I'm sort of hoping my daughter will want to ride when she comes to visit in a couple of weeks, so I can do it again.)

The London Eye takes thirty minutes to make a full revolution and rarely is halted. However, just after we got on, it paused briefly for some decorations and then a wedding party boarded the capsule after ours.

Just as we reached the apex, 
the couple getting married were pronounced man and wife.

The Houses of Parliament, with the clock tower that houses Big Ben.


Big Build
Today we headed to East London to the main site of next year's Olympic Games. The Games open on July 27, 2012, so there is a huge push to get everything done. This phase of the Olympic preparations is termed The Big Build. Shawn, the same Blue Badge Guide we had on Sunday, was obviously very proud of how things were shaping up for the Games.

The site of the Olympic Park is a former "industrial wasteland," (his quote) so an incredible amount of clean-up and demolition had to be done before London's Olympic team could start building facilities. One of the hallmarks of this Olympics is sustainability, both in terms of the materials used in the construction and the legacy the Games will leave behind.

The Olympic Site is still a construction zone, with heavy security.

The Olympic Stadium will seat 80,000 people.

The ArcelorMittal Orbit, currently under 
construction, will be a 377 ft. observation tower.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Great Merlin's Beard!

Since I flew to London on July 13 (arriving on the 14th), I missed getting to see the final Harry Potter movie with my YA lit buddies. But the positive news is that I got to see the movie in London with some librarians. We finally had some spare time this evening and took the tube to Notting Hill to see the movie for only £3.50 with our student cards. It wasn't in 3-D, but the savings made it worth it. Typically a movie here would cost £10 more.

I would have thought that London would be a-buzz with Harry Potter madness this weekend, but it seemed strangely unaffected. However, I did see some cool stuff on Friday night that I saved for today's blog...

Hamleys is a London toy store. At seven stories and 54,000 square feet of floor space, it is the largest toy store in the word. It's also one of the oldest; Hamleys celebrated their 250th anniversary in 2009. According to a sales associate, the store is the exclusive outlet for Harry Potter replica merchandise licensed to the Noble Company. This means that they have HP collectibles, not just toys, that are unavailable anywhere else. HP merch is some of their best selling stuff and even though the final movie has just been released, Hamleys has a contract with the Noble Company for another three years.

Ever want to go to Ollivander's Wand Shop? For about £25/$40, you can have a replica of Harry's wand. Or Ron's, Mrs. Weasly's, Draco's, or many more.

You could also practice pulling Godric Gryffindor's sword from the Sorting Hat for a mere £180/$290.

I did see some wizards at Piccadilly Circus (near the limbo dancer.) It's not my best photograph, but the girl in the khaki pants was wearing a Gryffindor tie and had a wand in her back pocket.

Our tour guides have pointed out several places used as locations for the various HP films, such as building that stood in for Gringott's Wizarding Bank and the Millennium Bridge. I know I'll be seeing more as the weeks go by.

As you can probably tell, I'm having a magical time in London!


Last minute bonus!  Hank Green sings his new Harry Potter song!

© Vlogbrothers/Hank Green