Tuesday, February 27, 2007

And the theme of the weekend is...Wellington

For our Obligatory London Weekend Adventures last weekend, we accidentally selected a Wellington theme.

(1) Apsley House

We are proud members of National Heritage and therefore feel compelled to visit strange landmarks of historical significance, because it is free. Very few of these are actually in London, thus complicating the process; fortunately, Apsley House, at the corner of Hyde Park and opposite the Victory Arch commemorating the Battle of Waterloo, is one. Therefore, we did the usual hike in via Kensington Palace Gardens and Hyde Park to go have a look.

On the way we ran into a giant peace demonstration, which lapped Hyde Park once or twice and freaked out the horses doing their daily constitutional on Rotten Row (aka Mud Central, since it has been raining all week). Police estimated 10,000 protesters (uh - NOPE) and organisers 60,000, so who knows - I would have thought closer to 100,000, myself. Interesting timing actually, as Blair announced the Iraq pull-out this week - I wonder if he was pre-empting the demonstration? Anyway, there were lots of people marching for various and sundry worthy causes, and we joined in for a bit, making it Grant's first demo - but not, it must be said, mine!

Then to Apsley House, which has been the home of seven Dukes of Wellington since the very first, a certain younger son by the name of Arthur Wellesley who was not expected to amount to much by his family, proved everyone wrong by rocketing up the ranks of the army and eventually defeating Napoleon in the land war in Europe. The house itself is gorgeous and chock full of fairly fabulous artworks, most of which Wellington No. 1 actually purchased (unusually, for an English nobleman, most of whom appear to have been of the "but I found it just lying there!" or "possession is ten-tenths of the law" schools of thought) but some of which were recovered from various Napoleonic lieutenants who had looted much of Europe, including the Vatican City. Wellington returned most of it, and memorably offered to give a particularly nice collection of works taken from Spain back to the reinstated King of Spain, who two years later replied that it was awfully nice of Wellington to offer but in the circumstances he had earned it and could keep it. A contemporary art critic commented that two of the paintings in said collection were so valuable that it was worth fighting the Spanish campaign just for them. Nice one!

Wellington also had a bit of a fascination with representations of Napoleon. He never met the guy, but the house is full of Napoleon busts, portraits, and best of all, through the staircase, a giant twice-life-size naked Napoleon sculpture. AWESOME.

Otherwise, lots of paintings of various heads of Europe and of Wellington's beloved horse Copenhagen, who got shipped around all over the place, did constant duty in the Battle of Waterloo itself, didn't get flighty about pesky things like battles raging around him but would kick you as soon as look at you, which may explain why Wellington made it through unscathed. Copenhagen lived until nearly 30 and had a state funeral, which is more than you can say for most horses I suppose. Portrait artists get extra points if they remember that the horse was not in fact white.

As an interesting matter of etiquette, it appears that if you free Europe, people give you quite a lot of stuff, especially china and silver. Given my silverware collection is meagre, am considering a drive to free Europe; will let you know how it goes.

Also: Duke number 1 had special riding boots made to keep his legs warm and dry. Can you guess what they became known as?

(2) Epping Forest

On Sunday we ventured EAST OF THE CITY (gasp!) to Epping Forest for a bit of a walk in a proper forest. It's actually technically in Essex, a large chunk of which has been eaten by London, so you can get there on the tube. Very convenient.

Things we did not quite take into account:
  • forests in winter are collections of sticks of various heights (although quite neatly, there is very little undergrowth around so you can basically walk whichever way you like) rather than forests in the ordinary Australian understanding of the term, ie. something with leaves (actually, the holly still had leaves and I have plenty of scratches on my hands to prove it); and
  • it rained all last week. We did not quite clue in to the likely results of this until the two people walking in front of us to the forest were wearing waterproof boots and gaiters. In short: MUDFEST.
The theme then for Sunday was Do Not Attempt Without Wellingtons, but unfortunately we had nothing but joggers and therefore got very wet even before it started raining again. I jumped a creek but Grant refused to do so citing inflexibility of jeans; there followed a very exciting half hour of us wading through ankle deep mud on opposite sides on an increasingly swollen body of water until I jumped back across - albeit with Grant's help this time. People were actually mountain-biking in the forest despite the conditions, and thereby giving all cyclists a bad name, because the paths were too muddy and the tyres were wrecking them. Naughty.

Anyway, I'm quite looking forward to going back once they've had another drought or I've acquired some decent waterproof boots, whichever comes first!

Otherwise the weekend was quite lazy, although we did manage to catch up with an old work colleague of mine who lives in the area for Saturday dinner which was nice.

Steps last week: 77K or so
This week: shut up
Bike: the obligatory 40km of uni commute
Thesis: stalled at 6700 words (10000 if you count footnotes, which unfortunately they do) waiting for my supervisor's comments. Two weeks without thesis Monday! My poor precious routine! BUT I have read 3 competition law cases so far this week, which is why you can hear my brain making steam-whistling noises. And now for three more. Sigh.

1 comment:

Robert said...

Wot!?! No piccies!!!