Alf's London Extension
(Picking up where Stephani left off)
I am on my own! Well, not really ... Jean and I are currently on the Eurostar to London. What I really meant in that first sentence is that now that Stephani is about to board her Air France flight to Miami I must pick up the quill and tend to the journal entries myself for the next fortnight.
All of us left the Marignan-Elysees Hotel at about 10 am. Robin and Stephani headed out to Charles de Gaulle while Jean and I taxied over to de Paris Norde to catch the 11:43 to Waterloo. We had to take a rather circuitous route to the station, as today is the day when the bikers from the Tour de France will finish up in Paris. The Champs Elysees was closed to vehicular traffic six hours ahead of the expected arrival time. How curious ... we all arrived in Paris for Bastille Day and we left on Tour de France Day ... maximum divergence days for cars ... but, fun.
Anyway, Jean and I are now about 100 K out of Paris. Our Eurostar has reached its maximum cruising speed of 186 MPH (300KPH). We can really tell how fast we are traveling by looking out of the window and gauging our speed by eye-balling the cars and trucks on the Autoroute. As you know, French drivers are not shy when it comes to speed limits ... 90MPH seems to be the norm and we are passing them at twice that speed. HEY, THE EUROSTAR IS THE ONLY WAY TO GO BACK AND FORTH BETWEEN LONDON AND PARIS. The airlines just suck shallow on this short journey.
We are now under the English Channel ... still zooming along at a swift 186MPH. When we hit the tunnel at that speed there was a sudden pressure escalation ... rather like a rapid descent from a plane ... not unpleasant ... just noticeable.
I have to log off now as my laptop battery is yelling at me.
More from London in a few hours.
It's a few hours later and we are at the Kensington Palace Hotel. The place is a bit of a rabbit warren but the location is convenient. This is the forum for the meeting of the Canadian Corkscrew Collectors Club. Most of my fellow addicts will arrive on the 1st of August, but Jean and I decided to pull in some days early as it would have been downright silly to fly home from France for just a few days of Fort Lauderdale R&R.
OK, it's now about time when we have that difficult choice of choosing a restaurant for dinner.
Until tomorrow ... bye
Well, last night's meal was a so-so. I set off for one of my favorite Indian restaurants which is located in the Hotel Montana on the Gloucester Road. Unfortunately, it was out of sight so I nipped into an Indian look-a-like which was just around the corner. It was a thin imitation. Enough said.
This morning we dashed off to Covent Garden to catch the Apple Market. No, it's not a place to buy fruits and vegs; rather it is a Monday tradition for snoopers of antique and junk markets. Every Monday morning several hundred dealers set up their stalls; stalls that offer a really wide range of stuff: from terribly good stuff to awfully junk stuff. The market also offers street entertainment.
While Jean was browsing the stalls I made a couple of nearby excursions that had nothing to do with the stuff above.
I first hit the London Transport Museum which is a really wonderful guy site. It traces the history of London's transport system since 1870. There are trams and trolley buses and motor buses and everything about the tube. There are maps of the transport system that show how everything evolved ... and models of tube lifts and models of tube escalators and models of all sorts of other things related to London transport. It really is a very interesting place for guys who have time to kill while their girl friends do other things. And it has a cool gift shop that caters to the needs of train spotters. Hey, I even bought a mouse pad decorated with a London Transport tube map.
My second stop, while Jean was ferreting her way through the "stuff " stalls, was the Mechanical Cabaret Theatre. It, too, is in Covent Garden. This is a private museum of sorts that boasts a really wide and deep variety of cool mechanical things ... like those ancient fortune tellers that we saw as kids at the fair ... the ones you prod with a coin ... then the wax gypsy passes her hand over some already played cards ... and after a few clinks you get a printed fortune from the brass bowels of the machine. Anyway, this place has this and much more ... for 20 Pence you can watch your hand being severed in a little guillotine ... another 20 will allow you to avoid a cobra attack ... 20 P also tests your courage in front of an attack dog that drools on your hand.
Then it was time for lunch. After a couple weeks in France, TGI Friday's looked pretty good ... and, there was one of these about a block from Covent Garden ... and right next to the Gateway 2000 shop. Talk about double dipping.
Gray's Antique Market is one of my favorite sources for antique corkscrews. David Hogg and his dog, Pontiac, operate a stall in the basement: one that is stuffed with corkscrew, locks, scales, tools and heavy but small goodies that I love to pack into my house.
Jean is peckish for Chinese food tonight. Sounds good.
After performing major plumbing surgery on our sink, in quest of Jean's contact lens, we started our pilgrimage to Mecca. For those of you who are familiar with my May meanderings you know that my Mecca is Christie's South Kensington.
The Bacchus Collection, which will be auctioned on August 6th, consists of 590 lots of corkscrews. As usual, Christie's has produced a strikingly good looking catalog sporting 30 pages of photographs, 10 of which are in color. Dennis Cox, a Christie's specialist, has again done a brilliant job of presenting the items that will be auctioned a week from today. There are some very rarish pieces in that catalog that will surely test the Visa and MasterCard credit limits.
The day after tomorrow (August 1st) about 90 members of the Canadian Corkscrew Collectors Club (CCCC) will gather in London for our annual meeting. This is the first time that the CCCC has had a meeting outside of North America. Usually we meet in Canada or the USA. Since the members will be here for the Christie's auction the bidding should be brisk. Incidentally, many members of the International Correspondence of Corkscrew Addicts (ICCA) are also members of the CCCC; therefore, I should see a lot of familiar faces that I last saw here in May. And, in the fall many of the same cast of characters will resurface in Provence, France for the ICCA annual meeting.
After purchasing the catalog I repaired to the nearest local for a pint of Carlsburg. I have found that a pint of lager and a good catalog read make an excellent combination. More and more items get circled and the prices willing to be paid become far more generous to the seller. It is only on the morning of the auction that better judgment prevails; only again to be tossed into the rubble heap when the actual bidding begins. Sigh ... that's what makes it so much fun and expensive.
We had lunch in a Cuban restaurant on Kensington High Street. This is a very interesting place; aside from being a restaurant it doubles as a photography gallery. The current show is "Ice Cream & Isolation: Cuba" by the photographer Onder Kose. The food is OK.
God, it is such a beautiful day to be in London. The only drawback is that half of the world feels the same way. The place is teaming with un-English accents. Oh well, can't hog the place to ourselves, can we.
Chung's was as tasty as ever. I can never tire of that place. Dear reader, this is my most favorite Chinese restaurant in the world. I know that there are better Chinese restaurants, and I've been to many of them, but Chung's has the best crispy seaweed and the best little pork ribs going. All right, maybe it is just a tradition with me: a subjective thing rather than anything objective.
After days of relative inactivity, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens looked very inviting. We spent three hours hiking these parks in an effort to balance out the calorie intake of the past few days.
We paused at the Monument to Prince Albert. Well, we paused at the gift shop as the monument has been shrouded in scaffolding for years and years. My guess is that the Prince has not seen a sunrise in 10 years. For the longest time a UK budget crunch kept the whole renovation project in moth balls. It's been less than year since the dust was blown off the scheme and people started to work the site. Maybe by next year the Prince will be able to see the light again. Prince Albert was married to Queen Victoria ... or, rather, it appears that Victoria was married to Albert ... as she did precious little without his consent. He even told her when it was bed time. I knew that there WAS something I liked about the Victorian period ... though, those who know me must know that I much prefer the Edwardian era.
A note on Chimney Sweeping ... courtesy of the Vile Victorians:
This was a popular job for young boys and girls, who were chosen for their size and agility. Life was cruel and conditions were vile. Working in hot, dark and cramped conditions was very hard and tiring. Children often scraped their elbows and knees as they climbed up inside of chimneys. One sweep said:
No one knows the cruelty they undergo in learning. The flesh must be hardened. This is done by rubbing it, chiefly on the elbows and the knees, with the strongest brine (salt water) close by a hot fire. You must stand over them with a cane ...
But beware! Any of you who think this is easy, think again! If a worker was found sleeping on the job, or if by his own misfortune he became stuck in the chimney, his master would light a fire beneath him.
After a bitter debate (Jean for Lebanese and I for Thai), we are going to Bangkok for tonight's dinner and to Beirut for tomorrow's lunch. Figuratively.
As beautiful as yesterday was ... today is as ugly. Gray, cold and drizzle everywhere I look. A good day for foraging around antique shops.
Time for some grim news from Florence Nightingale ... again compliments from the Vile Victorians:
Florence Nightingale became a legend for her nursing work during the Crimean War in Russia. She visited Scutari hospital in 1854 and reported back the terrible conditions ...
- The men can lie in filth for two weeks before being seen by a doctor.
- The men are lying on unwashed floors.
- The floors are crawling with vermin and insects.
- One visiting priest left, covered with lice
- Few men have blankets or pillows ...
- ... they rest their heads on their boots and use overcoats for blankets.
- Operations are carried out in the ward in full view of everyone.
- The screams of the men having limbs cut off is terrible.
- I had screens put around the operations ... but they couldn't shut out the sound.
- There are 1000 men in one hospital, many with diarrhea.
- There are 20 chamber pots between them.
- The toilets overflow onto the floor.
- Men without shoes of slippers must paddle through this.
- Amputated limbs are dumped outside to be eaten by dogs.
- Men are surviving the battles and being killed by the hospitals.
Of course, our day was a bit better. Jean spent a rainy afternoon in a Laundromat washing and drying jeans that she did not fancy having being shrunk to child sizes by boiling washers and industrial hot air dryers. Of course, I went to a nearby Irish pub and read a book while comparing the virtues of both Guinness with Beamish stout. I wish my friend, Robin, was here ... he would appreciate the irony of it.
We had lunch in a Persian restaurant. London has so many really cool middle Eastern restaurants. Eventually we'll get to Beirut for Jean's lunch.
As I speak some of the CCCC folks are checking in. Looks like we'll have over 100 in this hotel by evening's end. I can't take it! So many screwy people in one place.
Off to Bangkok again for dinner ... it is just across the street.
Another ten miles of hiking in the parks ... followed by a fabulous lunch at Soraya, a Persian restaurant on the Gloucester Road. Damn fine place ... you should try it right and left.
As our life is a bit dull at this point let me add some more bits from the Vile Victorians:
Jack the Ripper
For over a hundred years police, historians, writers and criminal experts have tried to work out who the dreaded "Jack the Ripper" could have been. He was never caught. Why did he kill? Why did he stop?
Many books have been written by people who claim that they can "prove" who the killer is. But each new book proves the other writers are wrong. The writers have claimed that Jack the Ripper was the following. Which one would you choose?
Or, would you go for one of the wilder ideas? Someone at some time had said it was ...
The truth is hat that nobody really knows who Jack the Ripper was. He (or she) killed just eight women but became a legend as the vilest Victorian of all.
On that sweet note Jean and I are off to the reception for the 1997 CCCC.
More later, dear readers.
Back to the ThinkPad ...
The reception was quite wonderful. Never have there been so many corkscrew nuts in one bar at one time. Of course, no one had a working corkscrew so the staff had to use their own wine waiter screws to serve the stuff up.
Actually, each addict received as a gift from Frank Ellis (our host) a Pivonette corkscrew manufactured by The Wine Waiter's Friend Company of London. It carried "CCCC London, August 1997" on one side. The other side flashed "Canadian Corkscrew Collectors Club" with an illustration of a little helix screw dripping off from the foreleg of the letter "k". It has a 50mm stainless steel helix worm. The little engine is also equipped with a Foilcut that brags that it can cut through PVC, tin, lead and polylaminate with just a ¼ turn. To say nothing about the built in sommelier's knife and the cap opener. It is a nice piece.
God, I'm getting boring over this corkscrew thing. Jean said: "Shut up Alf ... you are droning on about stuff that most people don't give a crap about." OK.
Jean got her wish this evening ... we made it to Bangkok (not really) for dinner ... actually, we just went to the Orchid Restaurant which is an up scale Thai restaurant that is just across the road from our hotel.
During dinner I did boring things with my video camera.
I'll see you guys tomorrow.
Early this morning Jean hiked off to Portobello Road for a morning of antique hunting. I spent the time in the park.
Our afternoon was spent diddling around doing nothing but just having fun.
But, this evening we (the whole CCCC contingent in London) took a hired coach to the Westminster Pier (which is located near the Houses of Parliament). At that point we picked up a launch for a long cruise on the river Thames. Much later the launch conveniently parked us on the deck of the HMS Belfast. The Belfast is perpetually moored near the Tower of London ... and has been for a long time. After a generous on board drinks reception we had a lengthy walking tour of this World War II cruiser. The ship has a great history and the Naval Society has done a magnificent job of preserving this great war ship. They have even preserved loads of bodies of former staff to staff the ship ... the wonders of formaldehyde.
After being convinced that the coach missed us, Jean and I took a black cab back home.
The CCCC roster of folks is really chock full of us corkscrew types (here in London). But, get this ... there are only three members from Canada. There are more members from Switzerland here at the moment (five). Well, I'm counting members and mates so my stats might be a bit, but not far, off. There are 28 of us (them) from the UK: our host spot. And 50 of us from the USA. France follows with a dozen bodies. Germany has eight. The Netherlands sent four. Australia is represented by three. Italy, Austria and Sweden have just one each.
This morning we had the full CCCC meeting at our hotel. It went like this, according to the Program:
7:30 Danish and coffee available 7:30 General sale of corkscrews 10:15 End of sale 10:45 The Bob Nugent Show 'n' Tell 11:45 Annual General Meeting (AGM):
Membership renewal form for 1998
Quarterly Worme Best Six comments-Frank
Passing the CCCC bell
Napa Valley 1998 meeting progress-Fred
Venues for 1999-All
Any other business
12:15 Lunch in a private dining room 14:00 Auction viewing 15:00 Auction-conducted in US dollars by Joe Paradi
I know that all this sounds frightfully boring, but there WERE lots of perky and horny teen age girls who kept us pleased while all the boring stuff was going on.
After that we all scattered and went our own way and did all sorts of selfish things.
It was the Queen Mother's Birthday this morning. She was 92 and the Queen's Horse Cavalry conducted a 21 gun salute for her this morning in Hyde Park. It really caused the pigeons to stress out in a major way.
As you can probably guess we are in a holding pattern ... just waiting for the auction.
Meanwhile, Memories of India at 18 Gloucester Road, London.
Nothing else happened today.
Except for Soraya at 36 Gloucester Road, London, for lunch: great Persian cuisine. Followed by the fare offered by K. Boon at 1 De Vere Gardens, Kensington: Thai stuff (The Orchid Restaurant).
Today was the Christie's corkscrew auction. The first gavel fell at 10:04 AM, just 30 seconds after bidding began. The last lot cleared the table at 4:34 PM ... some 590 lots after the first one fell to a successful bidder.
At first, the bidding was slight. Many pieces were going for way under the Christie's estimates. And, I should point out, dear reader, that Christie's estimates are usually on the way low side. Years ago when I first started bidding here I assumed that the house guesses would be right on. After my first auction I learned that doubling the high range was much more realistic.
Whatever, I was amazed at what was happening. Either the buyers were refusing to live up to the speculations or the house guide lines were terribly inflated.
Anyway, after about 30 lots things swung into the plus side ... perhaps aided by a Dutch bidder who had a phone link and apparently was keen on acquiring silver Dutch pieces at any price. Lot #78 was the major score of the auction. It was an American patent: a T Russell single-lever corkscrew with a turned brass barrel, marked on the steel cam "Patd. Jan. 21st 1862". It went for 7,500 pounds Sterling. This corkscrew can be seen on the cover of the Christies catalog. Go click on it! It is the one that is to the immediate left of the center piece. It looks like a steel shovel attached to a brass garbage can.
In the morning auction I picked up two very modest pieces: both were of German extraction.
We broke for lunch at about 12:45. Jean and I had a Bella Pasta lunch. It is located almost directly across the street from Christie's. Hey, a mozzarella and tomato salad and an al dente dish of spaghetti ... washed down with a little wine prepared us for the afternoon bidding.
That bidding started at 2:00 PM. Jean picked up 11 pieces while I limited myself to just five. The auction rooms were getting quite warm ... record heat in London ... so most of us were pleased when the final lot was sold.
That's all folks.
Our last full day in London. Like a lot of last days this one, too, was uneventful. At least up until dinner. We spent a few hours wrapping and packing our purchases after lunch. For the past year or so I have been in e-mail contact with a guy in London who is a computer genius. In particular, I think he writes software for web cams. Anyway, after many e-mails I finally met Binks (aka Tony Doig). The three of us had a banquet at the Thai restaurant across the road from our hotel.
Today we are booked to fly home. We left the hotel at 7:30 AM and took a taxi to Heathrow Terminal 2. The Delta flight to Miami was uneventful.
Now, I have to look forward to packing again; for another trip to Europe in less than a week. This time I'll fly the balloon in Switzerland, Prague and Austria.
Paul Fjelstad, who will fly with us, will be responsible for writing the journal on the first half of the trip. The quill will be then passed in Prague to either Lisa Bender or Jeff's girl friend, Beth Kelso.