London in August - string musicians in the garden, house-sitting, and Nunhead cemetery.
After four months, our time in Ireland had come to an end but we weren’t quite ready to return to the heat of Southern Spain in August, so we had organised a house sit in Peckham, London for the last two and a half weeks in August.
We arrived in London on Day 6 of a 30+ degree heatwave and stayed with our niece, Andrea, her husband Simon, their son, the gorgeous Gabriel and Claire, (Andrea’s sister and our niece) at their lovely home in Little Venice. Their home backs onto a private communal garden (one of London’s private garden squares that are lovely peaceful sanctuaries away from the hustle and bustle of busy London) and coincidently on our first evening there the residents had arranged a group of string musicians to play. It was a balmy summer evening and the classical music, and the imbibing of a glass or two of wine while listening was a fabulous re-introduction to London in the summertime.
And then to a house-sit in Peckham, SE London...
As well as the house to look after, there was a boisterous young cockerpoo called Corto. His owners, keen horse-racing fans said that he was named after a champion steeplechaser named Kauto Star, who won Cheltenham Gold Cups in 2007 and 2009.
We spent our time exploring Peckham (an area of London we’d never been to before), visiting with family and friends and revisiting a few of the places we used to go to when we lived in London in 2018. The UK lockdown restrictions had eased by the time we arrived but despite this the streets, the pubs and public transport were all extremely quiet as there were very few tourists and many people were still working from home.
The map below shows Peckham in the corner at the bottom right - as well as Southwark, where we visited Olivia; Trafalgar Square, St James’ Park and Millbank - the area where we used to live/work and walk each day; Little Venice where Andrea, Simon, Gabriel and Claire live; and Putney Bridge where we spent a lovely afternoon drinking wine alfresco in the courtyard at Anne and Alain's housesit.
In September 2019 London’s Timeout magazine advertised Peckham as London’s coolest neighbourhood describing its centre as...
'The beating heart of Peckham... is Rye Lane. It’s a throng of colours as stalls sell fruit, veg, clothes, handbags and trainers, jumbled up with the smells of saltfish and raw meat. Walk past the kiosks playing Nigerian pop and the Chinese supermarket inexplicably blasting dance bangers and you’ll reach the Rye: a sprawling patch of green that stretches all the way to East Dulwich.'
We did venture up to that part of Peckham - once - but it was very crowded (throngs of people as well as throngs of colours) and there was very little social distancing happening which was a little disturbing and so we tended to keep our various excursions to the parks (including the Rye described above as a sprawling patch of green) and cemeteries, of which there were several, of Nunhead and East Dulwich.
We also wandered along Lordship Lane in East Dulwich quite often, shopping and stopping for the occasional coffee at one of the cute cafes. It was a good time to be in London when it came to eating out as the UK government had introduced an 'Eat Out to Help Out' scheme for the month of August – which was devised to lure people back out to restaurants after the lockdown was lifted, and offered fifty percent off the price of all meals on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays during the month of August.
Nunhead Cemetery was our favourite place to take Corto - we were able to let him off his lead and he would dash off into the very overgrown areas of the cemetery, having a great time unearthing generally disgusting things, then coming back to us usually wet and a little smelly but always very pleased with himself.
For us the cemetery was incredible - so different to the well kept lawn cemeteries that we have in New Zealand - a fascinating and beautiful place to visit - overgrown, mysterious, maybe a little eerie but also quite peaceful.
In 1840, when London was becoming overcrowded and Parish churches could no longer keep up with the demand for burials, seven large private cemeteries were established in what was then the outskirts of central London and Nunhead is one of the seven (it was originally called All Saints' cemetery). It is now 52 acres of woodland wilderness and is a designated nature reserve/open space with a diverse variety of flora and fauna, as well as many impressive monuments erected in memory of the most eminent and wealthy citizens of the day and small, simple headstones marking common, or public, burials.
In recent years the council (together with Friends of Nunhead Cemetery) have carried out some restoration of the graves and pathways. As you enter the cemetery you walk along an avenue of towering lime trees that lead to the roofless Anglican chapel that was built in 1843 and is now a ruin. In another part of the cemetery, on a hill there is a fabulous view of some of London's landmarks such as the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral.
The cemetery also contains 580 Commonwealth burials from the First World War, The majority are in three war graves plots; the United Kingdom plot with 260 graves, the Australian plot has 16 and there is a further plot that has a total of 35 graves of Canadians, New Zealanders and South Africans. The graves in the Australian and Canadian plots are marked with individual headstones. The graves in the United Kingdom plot and the remaining war graves scattered throughout the cemetery could not be marked individually; the casualties buried in these graves are therefore commemorated by name on a screen wall inside the main entrance gate to the cemetery. A second screen wall commemorates the 110 Second World War casualties buried in a further war graves plot and elsewhere in the cemetery whose graves could not be marked by headstones.
I love this description below found at this link about online British cemetery and cremation records.
'Amidst this beautiful setting lies the bodies of thousands of South London's poor. Unlike those who lie beneath gothic stone monuments, many of the working classes were laid to rest in common graves. With this new release, family historians can now search nearly 300,000 burials in over 45,000 graves of both the rich and the poor from this cemetery on the Deceased Online Database. The website also includes maps showing the section or square in the cemetery where a specific grave is located. However, do be aware that it can be difficult to search for graves in the overgrown, and consequently inaccessible, nature reserve area’.
1 Music in the garden
2 A white horse drawn funeral carriage at the head of a Funeral cortege going to one of the local cemeteries
3-5 Different images of the roofless Anglican chapel built in 1843 at Nunhead cemetery. The chapel is sometimes used as the stage for theatrical and musical performances.
6 A wider path into the woodland wilderness - even though it was only August, the early warmer temperatures in February and then the very hot temperatures in August meant that the leaves on many trees around London were changing colour and shedding their leaves as early as mid August.
7-10 Some of the more elaborate headstones in the more overgrown areas of the cemetery
11 View of St Pauls from the cemetery
12-15 A few images of the very cute Corto - and Alan, Olivia and Fiona!
And on the streets of Dulwich around Lordships Lane
1- 4 Dulwich Outdoor Gallery (DOG) is a collection of street art in south London a painted by celebrated street artists who base their works on Baroque paintings in the nearby Dulwich Picture Gallery. The murals include Fight Club by Conor Harrington which was inspired by the 'Massacre of the Innocents' by Charles Le Bruin and the Fellbrigg Road mural by Ant Carver that shows the fate of the girl if we don’t look after the planet - an expression of the ‘Extinction Rebellion’.
5-8 Images of some of the boutique stores along Lordships Lane - a lovely treelined street with very hip organic stores and cafes.
9 Lovely pastel coloured houses on one of the streets off Lordships Lane
10 Barry's food store - because... well because I liked the colour and it was called Barry's store and it was on Barry Road!
A jungle themed first birthday for our great nephew Gabriel - Andrea and Simon's little one - with jungle greenery in the decorations, most people had managed to don fairly tame jungle themed clothing - with jungle foliage in various outfits, and the odd t-shirt with jungle animals on them, However, to everyones delight Simon dressed up as a rhino - the birthday boy seemed to be unfazed by his father’s transformation and was happy to share his cake with him.
1 Mum and Mr One
2 He thinks it's his Dad, but not quite sure
3 Eating cake - yes rhinos eat cake too
4 With his great aunties and great uncle
The grey clouds are deceiving - it was actually a warm day when we wandered around the centre of London visiting places that were very familiar to us - Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, Regent Street, Carnaby Street, Covent Garden, and the area around St Martins Lane.
But it just didn’t seem like the London we knew - normally August is a time you don’t want to be in London as the North American and European tourist hordes descend on the city taking over the streets, footpaths and attractions. But in Covid 2020, the streets were so empty and quiet; many shops were closed or closed down; it was really odd standing on a platform of the famous Underground and only see 2 or three other people - normally we would have been jostling with the crowds just to get on to the train.
Bars were empty or closed whereas two years ago on a warm August afternoon the bars would have been opened to the street and the patrons would have been spilling off the footpaths and into the road.
In Covent Garden there was a lone classical singer taking advantage of the acoustics in the virtually empty building; and the waiters were - waiting - for customers to fill the tables at the outdoor restaurants (it was lunchtime after all); where normally Trafalgar Square would be bustling with buskers and tourists it was eerily quiet and there were very few people there. Likewise Piccadilly Circus and the Strand were virtually empty of lunchtime shoppers.
1 Blackfriars pub - opposite Blackfriars tube station where we started our day in town
2-3 A little bit of sightseeing to start the day - the stunning Royal Courts of Justice. There were so few cars and people around I was able to stand in the middle of the road (The Strand) to take this picture - it was mid-morning on a Wednesday!
4-6 Trafalgar Square at lunch time on the same day
7 Piccadilly Circus
8-9 Lunchtime shoppers on Regent Street
10 Carnaby Street at lunchtime
11-12 The outdoor seating at restaurants around St Martins Lane
13-15 Covent Garden - at lunchtime
16-22 A few street scenes from around Covent Garden, New Row and St Martins Lane
While in London we were also able to catch up for a marvelous, and a little bit boozy (well we were in London!) evening with the fabulous Lucy and her husband Tim who invited us to their home in East Ham, for an incredible home cooked dinner by Tim - and delicious margaritas (made by Lucy) to go with the main course.
We began with seafood - prawns in butter, white wine, garlic, tomato and parsley and basil
then we moved on to fajitas with meat that was a so tender that it just melted in your mouth -
The meat was a flank steak from an Aberdeen Angus this cut is also known as a bavette, and Tim purchased it at Smithfield Market. It was marinated overnight in olive oil, lime juice, chillies, coriander, garlic & ground cummin. Smoked for 4-5 hours @ 120C (Tim smoked it himself - we were very impressed). It was then chopped into thin strips & heated on a cast iron griddle at a very high heat then served as fajitas (I’m salivating from both the description and the memory as I'm writing this)
.........and we finished with a delicious chocolate fondant with vanilla ice-cream
The bad news was we were so bedazzled by the beautiful food (and the scintillating conversation) that we forgot to take pictures (or it could have been too many glasses of bubbly at the beginning of the evening!). A great evening - thank you so much Lucy and Tim!
We also managed to catch up with Alan’s sport-watching-in-London-buddy Mark and to meet his lovely girlfriend Beth. We took advantage of Boris’ Eat Out to Help Out scheme and met up with them at the Spanish tapas restaurant, Iberica, in Marylebone - where as well as very good company we enjoyed Tapas and some lovely Spanish wine. The perfect send off to our new life in Espana!
1 The flank steak au naturale and marinade ingredients (thank yo Lucy for the picture)
2-4 Iberica in Marylebone - a taste of Spain in London
5 Alan and Mark at Iberia, Spanish Tapas restaurant in Marylebone