Thursday : Peace Marches, Free Indian Meals and Decadent Pub Surroundings

Does travel get any more exciting than this? This is Barking railway station, the pearl in the crown of East London’s transportation network. I exaggerate a little perhaps, but there are frequent Underground and rail connections into London. It makes me wonder why Barking hasn’t gentrified already, but I’ve noticed some substantial residential blocks of modern apartments are being built, so it won’t be long before there are craft beer bars and coffee shops littering the streets of Barking town centre.

The train into Fenchurch Street, operated by C2C, it’s an efficient and quick way into the city centre.

This is how I spend a lot of my time in London, using my coffee subscription and getting work done whilst people watching, and also taking the opportunity to charge my devices. I’ve got a list of my favourite Prets in London for this purpose, including this outlet at Aldgate. I’m not very productive at home, so this is an ideal environment for me.

Last time I visited the Guildhall, it was all barriered off, with only the Guildhall Art Gallery (on the right of this photo) accessible. The impressive frontage is now visible again, with its shiny paving reminding me of Florence. This is where the court proceedings following the Zong Massacre took place, as a link to the slavery problems of the past.

The rear of the Guildhall, which is a little less impressive to look at if I’m being honest. I keep walking through the back streets of London in a bid to understand the history and the evolution of the streets a little more, there’s often more to discover at the rear of buildings like this.

This is what is left of St. Alban’s Church, perhaps dating back to the time of King Offa of Mercia. It was rebuilt in 1634, although that didn’t last long, as the church was destroyed in the 1666 Great Fire of London. Sir Christopher Wren designed the replacement, which was completed in 1685, with George Gilbert Scott modernising the structure between 1858 and 1859. Sadly, the church was badly damaged during during air raids in 1940, but it bravely stood until 1965 when the remaining walls were demolished.

The tower is now a residential property and I think it was entirely the wrong decision not to rebuild this. I understand that some other churches have been left with their ruins now public gardens, but these structures were hugely important and more could have been done here, rather than just turning the tower into a traffic island. The argument at the time was one of pragmatism, there were lots of damaged churches, they weren’t being used due to a change in residential arrangements and there was a chance to modernise the areas. But, not only is heritage lost when decisions like this are made, it also distorts the street-line and integrity of the area. Although at least they’ve left the tower.

The landscape around here has changed quite substantially, St. Alban’s is the church in the centre of the above map from the beginning of the twentieth century. Very little remains.

The church of St Anne and St Agnes which was rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren in 1680, who certainly found himself busy following the Great Fire of London. This church was also badly damaged during the Second World War, but it was rebuilt and there’s a pleasant little modern looking garden on top of the former graveyard.

Into the grand Paternoster Square. There was a feel of summer in the air, London felt quite optimistic, a long way from the days of my being almost the only person walking through the city centre. Families were out, people were seating on tables outside cafes, it seemed like it would be a good weekend for the city.

A quick photo of St. Paul’s as I walked through Paternoster Square. I always find this odd in many ways, I’ve walked by many times and I have plenty of photos of St. Paul’s, but I still like to capture it even though it’ll never change. Maybe the permanence itself is important, as well as the beauty.

I’ve been visiting the pubs on Fleet Street every now and then recently, I’ve been to most of them now I think. Not that long ago they would often be closed on weekends and packed on weekdays, but at the moment, it seems they’re busier on Saturdays than on weekdays. I haven’t visited the Old Bell before and it’s said to have been built in the early 1670s by Christopher Wren for the stonemasons working on his churches.

The real ale selection was limited to just two options, neither were particularly exciting, but I opted for half a pint of the Timothy Taylor’s Landlord. In fairness, it was well kept, although it’s not the most exciting of drinks.

The pub was very quiet, but I quite enjoyed the decor that they’ve installed in the pub. I had to use the night mode on my phone to even be able to take this photo, but I liked the ambience of this arrangement and I remained there for about an hour. It was quite a productive time, this is a very relaxing environment when there aren’t many customers in.

I’m not entirely sure what the works taking place around here are, but I’m hoping it opens up the area to pedestrians a little. This is St. Clement Danes Church, also designed by Christopher Wren (I’m not sure I’ve ever mentioned him so many times in one post before….), which is stuck in the traffic island in the middle of the Strand. It was also badly damaged during the Second World War, but more on this another time as I got chance to go in here today (but I’m catching up writing about events from several days ago).

Somerset House with an advert for the Beano exhibition which is currently taking place. This grand building once backed onto the River Thames, but then they built the Embankment and there’s now a road there, which must have annoyed the owners at the time. It’s used by a range of community and arts groups today, a building often missed by visitors to the city, despite its grandeur.

The buildings to the rear of Somerset House. I only took this as I thought it might look quite interesting as a photo.

I popped into Charing Cross railway station, the large screen was showing the latest news of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which it’s hard to get away from.

This is a nice idea, it’s the “Show Time in Stations” which are pop-up events organised by Official London Theatre and they’re taking part in a number of railway stations this month. Perhaps not really my kind of thing, but there were plenty of people watching and it lifted the whole atmosphere in the station.

I popped down Whitehall and spoke to a few people in this demonstration against the war in Ukraine. I used one of those photos, after checking with the people in it, on Twitter and that photo reached 18,000 likes and several thousand shares. On it were two younger Russian ladies with a sign saying they opposed the war. I felt in the end that given the state of Russia, it was best to take it down, as I had only initially intended for it to get about 20 people seeing it.

There were mostly Ukrainian flags, but it was a delight to see a few Polish flags amongst them, there’s a great deal of solidarity between the nations of course.

I can only hope that the crisis is resolved in the near future, although I fear that this will be a real challenge for the Ukrainian people, but they’re a brave and proud nation.

With that, I made the 45 minute walk to the Indian restaurant Shezan at Cheval Place in Knightsbridge. I got this meal free with points from TheFork which they keep dishing out with some enthusiasm. And I’m not going to turn down free meals.

It was a pleasant environment, although very quiet and I imagine that’s why they wanted to take part in TheFork’s Yum points deal thing, to get more custom in. I didn’t even see a drinks menu, I just ordered a mango lassi and a beer, with the poppadoms brought to the table without my asking. Under usual circumstances I would have had a little internal panic about how much this was costing, but I knew I had the flexibility of having £50 to spend.

The food was well presented and the staff member checked if I wanted a starter, but I thought that this was more than sufficient.

I must admit that I didn’t even finish all of this, as the quantity of rice was too much. The curry is ginger chicken and this was excellent, with the sauce having a depth of flavour and there were plenty of ginger running through the dish, as well as some chillis which added texture and hear.

I had £50 to spend on my voucher and the total bill came to £45, and although I’m not sure how they worked that out (Indian restaurants so often seem quite vague on the details if I’m being honest) that was fine by me as I didn’t have to pay anything. The staff member lingered slightly as if to see if I was going to leave a tip, but I suspect they’d already included that in the £45. Itemised bills would be helpful, but it wasn’t of a concern on this occasion.

And then it was back to Barking, reminding myself that even though I didn’t order a starter at the Indian, it was still all a bit much. There’s a direct District Line train from near to the restaurant back to Barking which proved quite handy, before my uneventful walk back to the Ibis Hotel.