London madness

Although summer is pretty much over, during the holidays, whilst in the UK, I managed to travel a bit. I went to Hampshire to see family, and also to London, ostensibly for research. Now, London is very expensive, yes, but it’s also a city I like a lot. I wanted to do some research for a paper I was toying with submitting to a journal on air pollution and I planned on visiting the National Archives, at Kew, and also the library of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). I arrived on a Sunday afternoon, taking the train from Hampshire. This gave me time to potter around the city.

Ono the north bank of the Thames, I happened upon a ship, which was a free museum about the merchant navy during both the World Wars. It wasn’t a massive ship, but going on-board and looking around it killed some time and it was moderately interesting. Following this, I headed through the City, past the Museum of London and St. Pauls, to my hotel in Bethnal Green. Anyone who knows London knows that Bethnal Green is on the other side of the city to Kew where most of my time would be spent. But the hotel was cheap, and the walk only about an hour to central London. I say only an hour… I don’t mind walking and the weather was usually okay. What I ended up doing most days was walking from my hotel to Blackfriars underground station, which took roughly an hour, and then take the underground to Kew, which took about forty-five minutes. Coming back, I’d just take the underground all the way to Whitechapel and walk from there. The hotel was probably a ten/fifteen-minute walk away.

As I was in Bethnal Green on the Sunday afternoon, I went to the Museum of Childhood, which I haven’t been to before, and is just up the road from my hotel. Monday, after breakfast, I was going to spend the day in LSE, as the National Archives was shut. So, I walked down to the university’s library and spent the day among the papers I’d requested. The staff were very good and let me request all the documents I wanted at once, since they were all in a couple of boxes and from the same collection.

Tuesday to Thursday involved hitting the archives in Kew. Using archives can be a frustrating experience. You don’t often know about documents other than the title, and until you handle them you are unclear how useful they will be. Some of those I ordered seemed to have titles which implied the documents would be very useful, then when they arrived, your hopes are dashed as they turned out to be nothing of the sort. I had quite a few of these. It means you flick through them quickly, but it is also annoying that you’ve wasted your time on them. But there were also ones which appeared to be what I wanted and more in tune with what I was looking for.

Now I’m back in hot and steamy Beijing, it’s a case of settling in, planning and exploring. It rained last night and I got wet, very wet. But it was warm rain, it wasn’t cold, and it cleaned the air, which is always great about the rain here. It rarely rains, but when it does, you wake and (usually, though not always) find the air is clean and fresh.

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