Truthfully? I’ve never really liked London.
Oh, I know that all human life is to be found there. I know it’s a combination of stunning architecture, iconic landmarks and urban regeneration juxtaposed with crumbling hilltops and windows jammed with mesh. I know the London Underground is a masterpiece of engineering and transport logistics. It’s just that I remember being stuck in one of those tube carriages at 5:35 on a hot summer’s evening, surrounded by a mass of hot, sweaty commuters, and wondering what sort of money people had to be paid in order to actively volunteer to do this on a daily basis.
And that pretty much sums up how I feel about the place. It’s just so busy. It’s not that I mind a bit of hustle and bustle. It’s just that we tend to only visit the busy parts, because we’re inevitably doing the tourist thing. The desire to tackle Hamleys on a Saturday in December with four children in tow is perhaps a clearer sign of madness than hairs on the palm of your hand, but after our experience a couple of weeks ago I never want to walk down Regent Street again. Perhaps it’s a sign of age when you suddenly find yourself put off by crowds and traffic. Perhaps not. In either event I find myself getting slightly over-awed by the parts we visit, and in need of smaller, quieter metropolitan areas. Or perhaps this is just a colossal misjudgement on my part. Perhaps, if you live in London yourself, you’ll tell me I’m just doing it wrong, an admonishment I accept willingly.
But you find stuff. A couple of months ago I wrote a reasonably coherent piece for Metro about Doctor Who‘s London locations, cobbled together from a couple of websites and with input from Gareth. One of these days I really ought to do a decent walking tour of The Famous Bits – the steps the Cybermen descended during ‘The Invasion’ (almost but not quite at St. Paul’s), or the dockside locations for ‘Resurrection of the Daleks’, at least the part that hasn’t been rebuilt. Even ignoring Doctor Who, the boys need to see London, because photos on Google Maps don’t really cut it; so we went. There was no dinosaur hovering over Westminster – we’d arrive about 140 years too late – so I added one last night.
Besides, Emily had a grand plan, which involved Paddington Bear. If you’ve been following movie news recently you’ll know that Paddington has been in the media quite a bit, given his transition from line drawing to stop motion model to CG character, with voice provided by Michael Hordern / almost Colin Firth / Ben Whishaw. The film itself (which I have yet to see) looks to be a combination of riotous slapstick and unnecessary meanness: certainly their re-enactment of the bathroom scene in an early trailer didn’t exactly me endear me to the thing, while Nicole Kidman’s evil taxidermist – inserted for dramatic tension – seems a little excessive. Or, as a friend of mine put it, “‘I’m going to stuff you, bear!’ Ah yes, that’s the Paddington we know and love.”
When I was six, we went to visit a Harley Street doctor for reasons that now evade me, and I remember a huge statue of Paddington Bear at the station that towered over me like some sort of gigantic behemoth. In reality it’s only about five feet tall. A little perspective can be a wonderful thing. Remembering how big it seemed when I was small made me wonder how my children were viewing the day, and how they will remember it later. It’s the original, of course, but it was only one of a number of statues we visited the other week; about fifty of them have been scattered around London as part of the Paddington Trail, and Emily had planned out the day so that we got to see ten. Many of these were centred around Little Venice, but that was fine, because it was quiet. There were futuristic robots. There was a London Mayor. And there was one that looked a little like Sully from Monsters Inc.
Little Venice is a hive of canal-side walkways and bars and bridges and contemporary offices, the sort of place ripe for a Who location shoot, presumably involving the Judoon. It has a barge that has its own bookstall. Outside one of the pavement cafes, I found this.
Which has nothing to do with anything, except that anyone who actually reads God Is In The Detail (as opposed to thinking “Oh dear, he’s off again” and skipping to the next entry) will know about my banana conspiracy. In the meantime, just because I’ve been thinking about him a lot lately, here’s a picture of the War Doctor in his earlier years.
I heard just yesterday that one of the statues (the one in Shoreditch) has been decapitated, which is pointless and unfortunate, although it did make me think of Omega in ‘The Three Doctors’.
The Paddington movie has somewhat tenuous connections with Doctor Who, of course. Two of the actors therein have actually played the Doctor (Capaldi, and Jim Broadbent, who played him for just under a minute). Hugh Bonneville starred alongside Matt Smith in ‘The Curse of the Black Spot’ – an episode so poorly written that even the appearance of Amy Pond in a pirate costume seemed dull. Michael Gambon (‘A Christmas Carol’) pops up in a voiceover cameo, and Imelda Staunton, who plays Aunt Lucy, also voiced the computer in ‘The Girl Who Waited’. Nicole Kidman has never appeared in Doctor Who, but she was married to one of the world’s most prominent scientologists – a group who manage to make the more outspoken conspiracy theorists on Gallifrey Base seem relatively sane by comparison. (I’m grasping at straws now, but at the risk of legal action, so are the people who try and justify scientology.)
Still, just outside Greenwich Observatory, there’s this.
We have Peter Capaldi to thank for this design. “Silly,” said Gareth. “Everyone knows Daleks can’t climb bears.”
Greenwich is the home of the Cutty Sark, and the Meridian Line, which you have to pay to see, although there’s an unofficial one that intersects the path outside the observatory. There is also a spectacular twenty-four hour clock that Joshua found.
But we’d gone to see the bear. It’s a testament to how amazing my wife is that she planned an entire chunk of the day – which included two tube journeys and a half-hour trip on the Docklands Light Railway – just to get up to the top of the hill. “But the journey’s fun,” she enthused. “I love the DLR. It’s like you’re actually driving the train!”
Indeed it is; it also took us through parts of London I’d never seen before, such as Canary Wharf, visible here from the viewing platform, and complete with added Daleks.
You get a sense of grounding up on that hill. It feels chronologically significant, as if you’re standing on the edge of the world, or perhaps on the edge of a new one. You become aware that some of the greatest minds in human history have walked that path. There is a lump of rock in the museum entrance (right next to the astronaut bear, designed by Sandra Bullock) that is “possibly the oldest thing you’ll ever touch”. The fleeting sense of your own mortality and insignificance when you think just how vast the universe actually is was both impressive and not a little humbling. You realise how every day is a gift, a blank page as new and fresh as an unwrapped notebook, the cellophane discarded carelessly on the living room floor. And then I started getting Dead Poet’s Society scenes playing in my head and I knew it was time to leave.
We trooped back down to the station, and got the tube to Waterloo, where we got to do this.
The underground is quick, but the bus is far more fun, and it was one of those glorious winter’s afternoons where the sky is just the right colour and the light is perfect. (Any photographer will tell you that taking photos at midday is asking for trouble, and that early mornings and late afternoons are usually much better if you want decent lighting.) I managed to get a few photos on that bus, in between gawping at the Santa fun run and telling the boys to sit down, but you’ve all seen the Big Ben clock tower before, so here it is with the pig spaceship from ‘World War Three’.
Similarly, Trafalgar Square got invaded by forestry in series 8, so I’ve added a tree to Nelson’s Column.
Hamleys was the last stop, and we spent two hours there. I don’t really want to talk about it. Ever. The promise of a gigantic toy shop (and spending money) was a carrot, and we had relatively good behaviour as a result, so in the end you just have to grit your teeth and bear it. Suffice to say I think we probably went during a quiet part of the day, and that was enough. But I did notice some curious model placement in the Hornby railway layout, and I’m guessing this can’t be a coincidence.
The boys all giggled, except for Edward, who is only a year old and doesn’t get the joke. But that’s OK, because we bought him this. It makes noises and everything, and he loves it.
Like I said, you have to find stuff.