East meets west

(Backdated. Posted 29/9/2017)

Good morning! It was garbage day in our street in Chiswick.

As usual, you notice the little things that are different from home. In the London Borough of Hounslow, the garbos (what’s the local term? Not sure) don’t have an arm on the truck that grabs the bins; they have to manually put the wheelie bins into place.

On this occasion, we could hear raised voices – one of the neighbours was arguing with the garbos about what they should take.

Garbage day in Chiswick

With three and a bit days left of the holiday, we were feverishly trying to work out what to see, and when to meet up with friends.

For today, it’d be Greenwich.

On the walk to the station, we did spot Jeremy Corbyn, creepily standing in an upstairs window.

Jeremy Corbyn in Chiswick

I’m sorry to harp on about this, but one of the joys of a network of frequent public transport services is that you can get from anywhere to anywhere without the hassle of long waits when you change. The various routes mean the whole city is easily accessible. This is something London does really well.

So we caught three trains: walk to Turnham Green station / District Line to Westminster / Jubilee Line to Canary Wharf / Docklands Light Railway to Greenwich… with barely a wait between them.

Westminster Underground Station, London

Docklands Light Rail, London

Turns out the connection at Canary Wharf to the Docklands Light Railway is a few minutes’ walk; something that is in fact indicated on the Tube map.

One thing that did nearly catch us out is that the DLR stations don’t have fare gates, and we didn’t notice the Oyster readers on poles when we initially entered the station. It probably fits in with their automated trains that they wouldn’t have gates and staff at most stations. A train was just coming, and we dashed back down to touch-on.

An alternative route would have taken us via Tower Hill to connect directly from the District Line to the DLR, though Google Maps suggests another route entirely, via Cannon Street and a suburban train. But I was interested to check out the newer part of the Jubilee Line, as well as the Canary Wharf underground station used in Star Wars Rogue One.

Canary Wharf Underground Station, London

We walked through Greenwich up the hill to the Royal Observatory, admiring the view back down the hill along the way.

View from Greenwich over London Docklands

View from London looking east along the Thames

The Observatory museum is very interesting, with some good stuff on the history of fields such as navigation and astronomy, and clocks, watches and timekeeping.

It also of course has the Prime Meridian going right through the courtyard, so you can stand in the eastern and western hemispheres at the same time.

Greenwich Observatory, London, and the Prime Meridian

With an English mother and an Australian Born Chinese father, I guess I am an East Meets West kind of person.

Selfie at the Prime Meridian

Display at Greenwich Observatory

GPS information at Greenwich Observatory

A note in the courtyard mentions that the “satellite meridian” is 100 metres east of the Prime Meridian, so phone GPS might report a slightly different location. Hmm okay.

By 1pm we were ready to move on, but decided to wait for the Time Ball. At 12:55 it rises, then at 1pm it drops again, to mark the hour, visible to ships on the Thames in a similar way to the Flagstaff in Melbourne.

The Time Ball has been in use since 1833. Today, it rose all right, but then failed to drop back down. By a few minutes after 1pm, we were wondering what had happened. I heard a staff member quietly mention to somebody that clearly it was broken. Oh dear.

At present, it’s still not working: the web site says: Please note: unfortunately the the Time Ball is currently not in operation, awaiting repairs due to damage from recent weather conditions.

Greenwich Observatory time ball

We headed down the hill to the Maritime Museum, and had lunch there, though we opted not to look in the museum itself.

Instead we walked back past the Cutty Sark (kind of London’s Polly Woodside, and a similar vintage) to the mighty River Thames and queued for the Thames Clipper river boat.

The boats run roughly every 20 minutes, and accept use Oyster for payment just like the buses and Tube. The fares are more expensive than other modes, but there’s a big discount if using Oyster (or contactless credit cards): for Greenwich to central London it’s £6.50 instead of £8.70 paying cash.

Police wharf, London

The Shard, London

Tower Bridge, London

The boat headed west along the river, stopping at various wharves along the way, then under Tower Bridge. We hopped off an Embankment and caught a Tube to South Kensington.

Here’s a line map from the train, showing the eastern end of the District Line. An memorable line in the old sitcom Drop The Dead Donkey had Henry referring to someone as being “completely Dagenham East!” That’s four stops past Barking.

Line map on District Line, London Underground

Museums pedestrian tunnel, South Kensington, London

South Kensington is stop for the museums – the station is connected via pedestrian subway to the Natural History Museum, Victoria & Albert, and the Science Museum, as well as the Royal Albert Hall. Each of the museums has quite a few free exhibits to see. (The NHM and the SM got into an amusing Twitter spat recently – worth a read)

We started off in the V&A – it’s a delicious mix of design and art – and had a good look around there.

Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Fine French spittoon, V&A Museum, London

A close encounter with Michaelangelo's David (replica), V&A Museum, London

Circus poster that inspired John Lennon to write the Beatles song For The Benefit Of Mr Kite

I&J decided to head off to the other museums, while M went off to look at the V&A’s Balenciaga exhibit.

I decided to look around elsewhere around the V&A, then I diverted out to have a quick look at the Royal Albert Hall – we’d tried but failed to secure tickets to a concert of John Williams music at the Proms, which were on that week.

Royal Albert Hall, London

Detail, Royal Albert Hall, London

The streets were busy, and I noticed ugly, sometimes poorly-placed bollards around the place. Hey, it’s not just a Melbourne thing!

Safety bollards outside Royal Albert Hall, London

Safety bollards in South Kensington, London

Outside the South Kensington Museums, London

On the bright side, there was some interesting street design, blended with the pedestrian area I guess as a form of traffic calming.

I ducked into the Science Museum for a nose around there. I hadn’t been in there before, and there was some good stuff for geeks people into technology and engineering.

Here’s Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine Number 2, built 1989-1991 to an 1820s design:

Babbage's Difference Engine Number 2, Science Museum, London

…whereas this is more my vintage, a Commodore PET 8032 (that’s a display with 80 characters across, and a mighty 32 Kb of memory) from 1980:

Commodore PET 8032, part of Shizuo Ishiguro's Electronic ocean model, Science Museum, London

We all met up again at South Kensington station, where peak hour was in full swing.

South Kensington Underground Station, London

Packed train — as the screens told us, there were plenty just a minute or two behind, so we could wait for the next one… but we needed to catch the correct branch anyway — we needed Richmond or Ealing Broadway.

Peak hour at South Kensington Underground Station, London

Back to the flat for a pause.

I decided to peek out of the top roof windows to see what I could see. With the telephoto lens, I could easily spot the Post Office Tower (now known as the BT Tower; no giant kittens in sight), the Shard, and planes heading into Heathrow Airport.

BT Tower (Post Office Tower) London

Plane over west London heading towards Heathrow Airport

Taking the advice of our host, we walked south to the river and then east along it, admiring the expensive houses, to eventually find the Black Lion pub for dinner.

Homes in Chiswick, West London

The Black Lion pub, Chiswick, London

We walked back a different way, passing another pub, where we noted in the front garden was ex-Top Gear host James May, cheerfully chatting to another patron.

Back along the high street (generic term in Britain for the main street through a suburb, though in this case actually called Chiswick High Road).

You’d trust me to get a photo of Stamford Brook bus garage, which we passed along the way. (Interesting that in Australia, we’re more likely to use the term adopted from French, depot.)

Stamford Brook bus garage, London

It was just getting dark, but it was still warm.

Given that, we stopped off at a place called Oddono’s for an ice-cream before heading back and planning tomorrow’s exploration.

Perth day 3: CBD, Whiteman Park, stargazing

Saturday 7/7/2012

After running some errands, we were dropped at Cannington Station, which unlike some of the others we’d used, is unstaffed. A small group of smoking teenagers was hanging around the station, but they didn’t get in the way of the actual passengers. I bought tickets for the kids, and pretty soon the train arrived, and zoomed us into town.

Happily the weather was much nicer than the previous evening, allowing us to explore the mall and surrounding streets a bit. Then we wandered back towards the station and caught a CAT bus for a bit of a tour of central Perth.

Commonwealth Building, Perth

Perth

After a ride around on the CAT bus (which went from relatively empty to very very full quite rapidly) we jumped off and looked through some of the streets and arcades. It was getting on for lunchtime so we stopped in a food court and after the customary walk around the perimeter, opted for burritos from a Mexican outlet — very tasty.

Masters flavoured milk, Perth

Heading vaguely towards the river, we dropped into a Woolworths supermarket. The boys were intrigued by advertising for Masters (apparently a cousin of Big M, also sporting the M logo), and in particular a flavour which I don’t believe has graced Victoria: Spearmint milk. We picked up a couple of cartons for them to glug down, and the did so. Their reaction? It’s like toothpaste… but milky. And not in a good way.

We walked via Esplanade station to the Bell tower, an odd-looking modern landmark by the river, where we’d agreed to meet my aunt.

While waiting, two cars full of oddly dressed people with wigs and make-up pulled up and asked to have their photos taken in front of the Bell Tower. Evidently they were on some kind of scavenger hunt… or they were the strangest-looking tourists ever to frequent the Perth waterfront.

The Bell Tower, Perth

The Bell Tower, Perth

University of Western Australia

My aunt arrived in her car and we jumped in. First she took us to look around the University of Western Australia main campus. Some very impressive buildings which make it look like it was built earlier than 1911 when it was actually founded.

After that we headed north towards Whiteman Park, which is in Perth’s outer suburbs. Its distinguishing feature is that it has a narrow gauge railway (with a diesel train) and an old Melbourne tram. Both were running, and while my aunt settled down for a read of a newspaper, myself and the boys took a joyride on each.

Inside tram 441, Whiteman Park, Perth

Inside tram 441, Whiteman Park, Perth

Ducks crossing in front of the tram, Whiteman Park, Perth

The old W-class tram got up to a fair speed — probably faster than Melbourne’s ones do these days — and amusingly had to stop at one stage and ding at a family of ducks crossing the track.

Elsewhere in the park were amusement rides, a playground, and a small transport museum called “Revolutions” (which we elected not to look inside, as we needed to move on). I had actually thought there might be a tram museum, but it looks like the workshop is not open for tours. Perhaps there were some on display in Revolutions.

Given that WA’s trams all operated on narrow gauge (like most of the trains still do) and Melbourne’s were standard gauge, I assume there’s nowhere to see actual Western Australian trams in service, which seems a shame from a heritage point of view.

After the park, we headed back to the car and headed west towards the beach for a quick stop off at the Joondalup campus of Edith Cowan University. My aunt wanted to show us the spectacular architecture — and indeed it was, in quite a different way to the UWA campus we’d seen earlier.

Edith Cowan University, Joondalup, Perth

Then we headed north… well out of Perth itself, and via a road which my aunt told us is not on any GPS (Military Road; it wasn’t in Google Maps on my mobile either, though I can see it in the main web version) to the Gingin Observatory for the 6pm stargazing session. They started with a presentation, which was cut short when it was flagged that cloud was starting to come across. At that point we headed out to the observation area to look through the various telescopes they had set up.

With the lights off, it was pitch black, and only after a few minutes of becoming accustomed to the dark could we fumble our way around. Some of the views through the telescopes were very interesting — obviously it was possible to see things simply not visible to the naked eye. Perhaps most inspiring was Saturn; its rings visible through the telescope.

They also showed us Alpha Centauri — our nearest neighbour, and one of the Southern Cross pointers. Through the telescope we could see that it was in fact not one star: you can see two (though there are actually three.)

The observatory session ended about 7:30, and we drove through the dark back into Perth. Perhaps we’d underestimated the time it would take to get back — by the time we got to our intended dinner location it had shut for the night. Instead we found a Japanese restaurant to sit and eat and ponder the stars we’d seen.

Then back to base camp for a good night’s rest — in the morning we’d be heading south towards Margaret River.

The surrealist tram

Surrealist tram

(Probably my favourite lightbulb joke when they were all the rage was:

Q. How many surrealists does it take to change a light bulb?

A. Two. One to hold the giraffe and the other to fill the bathtub with brightly coloured machine tools.)