Looking beyond cricket: Fresh off the Ashes and World Cup season, we get a whiff of life in London
Near the Bank tube station, in the area known by the same name, on a pavement hangs a board reading, ‘Simpson’s Tavern. Established 1757’.
It’s a dimly lit room with wooden interiors, at the end of a narrow and cobbled alley. It has a collection of sketches of men wearing clothes seen only in period movies these days.
About a couple of dozens, each one almost four times the size of a postcard. The fading strokes and yellowing paper suggest they were drawn a long time ago. Every frame contains a single figure. And, all are of old men.
That’s all the place has for decoration and it creates a strange effect. Sipping a beer or two in the company of weirdly clad elderly figures staring at you from the walls is not a usual experience if you are from India.
We don’t have pubs that old. There are many like Simpson’s in London. An online list of 10 such old haunts of the city has five dating back to the 16th century.
Antique furniture distinguished by the intricacies of design, these ancient waterholes form an integral part of culture in the English capital. They are important destinations as well, for visitors interested in a good evening.
In summer, 6 pm is a good time to be in. It goes on up to 11 pm on weeknights. The crowd spills over to the pavement, where chairs get outnumbered by the footfalls. English folks can initially seem reserved. But once they open up, lively conversations are likely to follow.
Afternoons afford a better glimpse of the characteristics: drawings, small sculptures, ornate entrances, wooden casks and barrels bear signatures of the past. It seems that added attention is paid to ensure that they retain the old look.
Despite the arrival of new pubs with contemporary decor and services, these places continue to draw large numbers.
The holiest final stop
On one such halt, I was told that Lord’s is not the destination, if one is looking for a cricket ground which preserves history. It is the Oval.
That was surprising, because the ‘home of cricket’ is the holiest final stop in a pilgrimage of the game’s most famous shrines. The Oval opened in 1845, about 30 years after Lord’s came to exist in the place where it is now. And my pub-mate was right.
Lord’s retains parts of the past, along with constructions that came up in recent years. The long-standing pavilion and the 20-year-old media centre nicknamed the Spaceship make it a junction where new meets old.
The Oval shows more of how it was. It’s evident at first sight that they take care to put up on display what happened there, and explain the significance.
There is hardly a pillar or stretch of wall without a plaque or an inscription on a memorable moment of cricket that took place there.
Old photographs remind guests of some of the giants of the game who left their mark on those greens.
Experiencing this culture of keeping things the way they were, and remembering what used to be, is a fascinating part of discovering London. Like in some other countries in Europe, co-existence of old and new is a striking feature of England.
It’s common to see state-of-the-art architecture full of technological splendour next to a structure from centuries ago. Equally grand with their curves and columns and rich in details, these testaments of the past stand in harmony with their modern neighbours, rather than causing a visual clash.
That’s how they want it to be. Law prevents changes in the design of old buildings, forget demolishing and handing over the site to a promoter. If one has to sell or upgrade leading to structural alterations, authorities ask for convincing reason.
They even pay to keep things intact. This practice applies to historical monuments, private residences and everything in between. It causes a sight urban India is beginning to forget, of tradition and modernity in the same frame.
Dens of history
Built over the Thames at the turn of the century, Millennium Bridge has St Paul’s Cathedral on one side and Tate Modern on the other.
The building housing the latter came up in the 1940s, and was a power station before being converted into a gallery of modern art in 1981.
The magnificent church was erected afresh after the great fire of London in 1666. It’s a go-to address, where hordes drop in every day.
Linking these contrasting landmarks of different eras, the footbridge has the Tower Bridge running parallel to it at a distance.
Gazing at one of the most iconic symbols of London constructed 125 years ago, it’s impossible to miss on the right The Shard, a 95-storey creation of this decade. At over 1,000 feet, this is the one of tallest skyscrapers in Europe.
In a city that makes its love for the past obvious, a museum or gallery is never far away. British Museum, The National Gallery, Natural History Museum, Science Museum are major attractions. There are many more.
A rough look on the internet reveals that London has well over 100, some of them among the most famous in the world.
The subjects have to be wide-ranging to create such a number and they cover art and craft, history, science and technology, sports, films, literature, war, cartoons, transport, textile and what not, including one called the British Dental Association Museum.
Depending on interest and where one is headed, the length of visit can vary from half an hour to a few days.
A trip to Lord’s or the Arsenal Football Club might prompt a thought about why no notable effort has been made by sport officials in India to set up at least a room dedicated to the preservation and exhibition of our cricketing legacy.
A round of these dens of historical significance, strung together by an underground rail service that started in 1863, churns up a complex cocktail. Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Picasso to WG Grace and The Lord’s Tavern by the cricket ground. Hieroglyphics, Ramesses II, sword of Tipu Sultan with asteroids, skeletons of blue whales and dinosaurs.
Statue of Bobby Moore and Wembley Stadium. Spending time outside The National Gallery at Trafalgar Square is not a bad idea either, if one enjoys the live music dished out by impromptu bands or solo performers hoping to make some money.
And when the time comes to chill after a long day, the pubs are just around the corner. Inviting as always, they make sure one goes home with an urge to come back.