What did I expect? That I would find it unchanged and exactly as I left it. Unfortunately, London has become significantly more crowded and expensive since my last visit 10 years ago.
I stayed in a hotel in Earls Court which is served by the Piccadilly and District lines. It takes less than 15 minutes to travel into the West End and the wonderful free museums of Exhibition Road are less than 5 minutes away at South Kensington.
In another few weeks I will have finished my epic year. I suddenly realised I hadn’t visited any of the London locations which I need for the beginning of every book. MI6’s old office was located in Broadway near St James Park which meant I had to visit the area and walk routes. What I did notice for the better was the lack of traffic in central London, a congestion charge applies to all vehicles and this has made the West End less polluted. It failed to help my asthma which I’ve struggled with asthma due to the cold and the damp.
Before I shifted to NZ I lived in London for over 20 years but I couldn’t remember how to get to places without trusty Google Maps. As for the South Bank, I might as well as been in a different city as I didn’t recognise it. I took a trip on the water bus and passed the London Eye. These days regular water buses use the River Thames to ferry commuters.
Onto Fitzroy Square which must be one of the most elegant Regency squares in London. It’s a stone throw from the West End, and I’m using literary licence and this square will serve as Sinclair’s London office in the later books.
I paid a brief visit to the National Portrait Gallery for afternoon tea and viewed the Tudor portraits. An idea sprung to mind, I think Sinclair will meet an asset under the portrait of Elizabeth I.
Onto the London Oratory consecrated in 1884 is a huge Catholic church near the Victoria and Albert Museum. It was rumoured in the Cold War KGB spies would meet their assets in the Oratory. It’s very dark, with dimly lit chapels on both signs of the nave. A perfect setting for spies, and I had an idea for a short story which will showcase the London of the 1970’s.
The next morning, I visited embassies. The old German Democratic Republic in Belgrave Square seems to have fallen into disrepair. Onto the Russian and Israeli embassy where are located in a road next to Kensington Gardens. The Russian Embassy is massive and the fences and buildings are heavily adorned with CTV cameras. A heavy Police presence outside keeps an eye on protestors. I decided not to risk taking photos of the front, but managed to snatch a couple from the side. When I attempted to take photos of the Israeli embassy, a Policemen shouted at me and I had to beat a hasty retreat.
My final afternoon was spent in the National Gallery. A free audio guide is provided. I spent a couple of hours viewing the Impressionists with the hoards of tourists who appeared more interested in taking selfies than actually viewing the paintings.
In the morning I queued at the door of the Victoria and Albert Museum. I could barely recognise it. I must have visited it 30 years ago when today’s bright red brick was thick with grime and pollution. I paid to see the exhibition Winnie -the -Pooh and viewed the original illustrations by E.H. Shepard. The V and A is vast comprising of six floors, and has an amazing army of volunteers who are available to escort visitors to exhibits. One took me through a maze of corridors and stairs to see “The Three Graces.”
My time in London had come to an end. And my time in England is drawing rapidly to a close. I’ve had an awesome time seeing old friends and family again. The goodbyes are hard. Will I return? I don’t know. I hope so, but it depends on my health and finances. Perhaps Nikki Sinclair will make me a best-selling author. Who knows?
I can only echo my cousin’s words when she said, “Nikki Sinclair saved you.”
I wish you a Happy, successful and most of all healthy 2018. Next time Athens!