Okay so there are other things to do in London besides staging a belly dance flash mob on Southbank. The friends I went to visit last week actually work, so on Friday I had to amuse myself during the day.
Headed into the city on the Tube in the morning, idly musing that I tend to accidentally run into a lot of people I know in London even when neither they nor I live there. This has happened two or three times now. Just as I was thinking this, who hops on the train but one of my former Holland Hall students and one of his friends–the one I sold my original train ticket to when I couldn’t use it because of an appointment that week.
Hopped off in Holborn where I intended to head for the Rock and Sole Fish Plaice, a fish and chip restaurant that I’d visited with my aunt and uncle when they were in town and that I remembered as having the best fish cakes ever. Sadly, the fish cakes didn’t live up to my nostalgic imaginings, but before I got there, I took a bit of a detour.
Basically what happened is that I blithely headed off in the complete wrong direction when I came out of the Tube station and I didn’t want to get the map out. Not out of some sort of misguidedly masculine attemt to prove my directional prowess, but because I don’t want to get marked as a hopeless tourist by opportunistic muggers and all the advice for single female travelers always says DON’T LOOK LIKE YOU ARE LOST. So I’m pretty cautious about getting the map out in a public place and I try to walk confidently and without hesitation even if I actually have no idea where I’m going. Though this is a bit overly cautious because the one time a guy did come up to me when I had the map out, it was to kindly ask if I was lost and needed help. “No thanks! I’ve got a map.”
Anyway, in this case I was forced to get the map out and realized I’d set off striding purposefully down the King’s Way instead of along Holborn High Street. Not that I minded; I love wandering around London because wherever you go there is something interesting to see–in this case, the stately classical visage of Bush House. Having consulted the map, I discovered I could get back on course by nipping up Drury Lane (naturally chorusing “Do You Know the Muffin Man” to myself all the while.)
Once at my destination I had to decide what I wanted to do next: the Hunterian Museum, which belongs to the Royal College of Surgeons and which commemorates research surgeon John Hunter’s incredible collection of specimens begun in the 18th century, or the National Gallery, housing the national collection of Western European paintings from the 13th to the 19th centuries.
Obviously this was an easy choice. The Hunterian Museum was everything I’d expected in the way of slightly ghoulish medical exhibitions from the 18th century and beyond, the jewel of the collection being the Crystal Gallery, a two-story collection of gooey stuff gently oscillating in jars. I spent my entire time there looking at something in a jar, matching the number on the jar to the display catalogue and then quietly recoiling in horror. I can tell you now, a sea mouse is really gross.
I tried not to be too noisy about my enjoyable sqeamishness (there must be a word for that) because there were a number of other visitors wandering around looking Very Serious. Plus a few art students bent over sketch pads tracing the Heart and Trachea of an Anteater or various arcane pieces of medical equipment. Oh the drills!
There was also a small rotating exhibit on nanotechnology and robotics, as well as the application of these things in the popular imagination, titled “Sci-Fi Surgery.” I told the girl at the desk how much I enjoyed that part and she told me that in a few weeks they would be hosting a joint event with the Cartoon Museum, something I thought was a very novel way of connecting two different disciplines. She said, “Well, you know, I have a lot of friends from when I used to work at the British Museum and we’ve all moved on now, and setting up these events is a great way to meet over lunch!” I want to work in a museum.
Incidentally the Hunterian museum is across a small park from one of my favorite museums of all time, the Sir John Soane Museum, the preserved house of an architect who also designed the nearby Freemason’s Hall. The Freemason’s Hall hosts a small museum about Freemasonry, the scene of one of my former adventures in London. If you’re ever in that part of town you should make a day of it. (I didn’t visit those two this time, though–my memories were still fresh from the last time I was there.)
In the end I had time to visit the National Gallery as well, the highlight of which was seeing some Monet paintings of the garden at his house in Giverny and the Japanese bridge. I reflected that it’s only a few months ago I was able to go there in person with my mother and a close family friend. I sat in that gallery for a long time.