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  • Shelley Dark

#5 Riding the tube

I knew from my trip prep that the tube line I'd be using most in London is the circle line - it goes round and round the centre of London, so you can't really end up in the middle of woop woop. Which I'd prefer not to. But when I popped in to Gloucester Station on Friday to get a tube map, the first sign I saw was this one. No circle line service this weekend. At all.

I walked up to a ticket machine to buy an oyster card, looked at the screen. It looked confusing so I walked away. I don't know why ticket machines intimidate me, but they do. I always think they're going to require me to input things I don't know, like what line I want, or how many stops, or how many zones I'm crossing.

This turned out to be a lucky thing, because I later found out that you don't need an oyster card at all! All you need is a 'contactless' debit or credit card (read one you can tap, with a chip, and one which doesn't charge you international transaction fees) and you don't need to go NEAR a vending machine.

Like a true Londoner, I took the tube to Euston Station this morning, then a twenty minute walk to Columbia Road Flower Market - I certainly didn't need flowers, but it was near other things I wanted to do today. I was very chuffed when a car stopped to ask directions to the market. I must even look like Londoner!

The markets are simply a double row of flower and plant stalls along a section of the road which closes for it on Sunday, and I enjoyed being out in the fresh morning air. Not a cloud in the sky.

Can you ever see too many flowers?

What I enjoyed almost as much as the flowers was listening to all the Cockney accents!

One man was yelling out, 'Ay, Arry!' (hey Harry). Another was crying 'Ay, a fiver for a bunch of sunflowers! The more you buy the more they shine!' It made me laugh when even little children spoke proper Cockney!

My next stop (after a trip on a double decker red bus and another twenty minute walk) was the Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury, close to where Virginia Wolfe lived. One for my research. On the way I saw Pentreath & Hall - shut up very tightly behind black shutters! I was very sad I couldn't visit!

I can't believe the beautiful weeping begonias in London!

They weren't the only ones weeping. I did my share later. This is philanthropist Thomas Coram who established a Foundling Hospital in 1739 to care for abandoned babies.

A museum volunteer called Roy was also waiting for it to open, and asked me if I'd seen the tiny sculpture on the fence behind it.

A foundling, I guess you know, is an orphan. The photo above is a work by controversial artist Tracey Emin, a tiny child's mitten.

When mothers left their babies at the hospital, they were allowed to bring a token, so that if ever they came back to claim the child again, they could prove their motherhood by naming what they had left. I defy anyone not to cry at this exhibit.

Even if mothers came back to get their children, they were often denied, unless they could prove that they had the means to provide a better upbringing than the hospital could.

It was all so sad, but I learned quite a bit from my visit.

Off on Shanks' pony again, and half an hour later I was at the Rosewood Hotel for lunch.

A glass of champagne and a slice of pâté de foie gras made in heaven and I was ready to go again!

I was in a hurry because I had booked a tour at 2pm at the Sir John Soane's Museum nearby. When I arrived, I went down to the kitchen to join the tour. Except I was the only participant who'd booked. I had the gorgeous Leila all to myself.

Sir John Soane (1753 – 1837) was an architect (Bank of England among other buildings), a self-made man, and an avid collector of amazing Greek and Roman antiquity, furniture, terracotta, alabaster, sculpture, paintings, drawings, you name it!

Mrs Soane kept meticulous diaries, as did her husband, so Leila was able to tell me, floor by floor, from breakfast room, to dining and sitting rooms, to their bedrooms upstairs, how their day ran, in the loveliest detail. I was riveted, and I don't remember what was so funny, but we laughed a lot. What a happy couple of hours.

Breakfast room, Sir John Soane's house, llustrated London News, 1864

There is no photography allowed so I can't share any of visuals with you. But this is a drawing of the breakfast room which looks just the same now. That ceiling!

If you ever have the chance, you must visit, and you must book a tour - hopefully with Leila! Soane was ahead of his time - instead of discrete rooms for dining and living - he opened his up into one big room! He loved skylights, arched roofs, mirrors, faux finishes, rosettes, concealed lighting, red walls, yellow walls. And he has Turners and Canalettos!

Photo: An Apulian (Greek) Mascaroon krater known as the 'Cawdor Vase' © Sir John Soane’s Museum, London (it's ok to use it - I've acknowledged as required)

OMG he even has this massive 4th century BC Greek urn from a Greek settlement in southern Italy.

Chair, one of a set of eight, Cantonese, c.1725-35, rosewood (Dalbergia) inlaid with mother-of-pearl. ©Sir John Soane's Museum, London. Photograph: Hugh Kelly.

And these dining chairs! It's quite ridiculous to show you anything, because to pick two out of thousands of amazing objects is silly.

I heard the sad details too - how Mrs Soane died in her fifties of a ruptured gall bladder. (I'm glad they know what to do now or I could have gone the same way!) How their son George turned out to be a waster who went to debtors' prison. And how the mausoleum John Soane designed became the inspiration for the red London telephone box!

I was so sad to say goodbye to Leila, but I had another tube to catch. Holborn to Gloucester Road on the Picadilly line. Huh. Nothing to it.

Until tomorrow buddies, or when next I write, I wait you!

shelley dark, writer 

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