Place: Hyde Park Corner, London. Date: February 5, 2014. Camera: iPhone 5.
A 48hr tube strike forced me to ride my bike to work this morning, my first cycle commute since last July. It was brilliant to be back on the bike. And especially brilliant to see the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment crossing Hyde Park Corner — there must have been 50 horses in this line, half of which did not have a rider on board — heading towards Hyde Park Barracks in Knightsbridge at about 8am.
I used to see this sight quite regularly in the summer, but usually as I was whizzing by and with no time to take a photograph. But for once I was in a good position to fire off a quick snap — and am delighted I did so!
Even if you don't know anything about competitive road cycling, I highly recommend The Armstrong Lie — a documentary about seven times Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong's rise and fall — which is currently on limited cinema release here in the UK. It's a fascinating portrait of one man's personality, his obsessions, his sociopathy and his desire for power.
It's also an interesting account of one journalist's about-face: Alex Gibney had to turn what he expected to be celebratory film about Armstrong's 2009 comeback into something entirely different when the cyclist got embroiled in a doping scandal and confessed all on Oprah Winfrey's show in 2013.
Place: St Mary Magdalen Roman Catholic Church, Mortlake, London. Date: February 2, 2014. Camera: Sony DSC-HX20V.
The internet is wonderful. This morning, in a bid to find an interesting walk we could go on, I Googled "West London walks" and then after clicking through a million different links I found a black and white map sketching out a circular route through nearby Mortlake. On the map was a tiny cross marked "Burton's tomb". What's that, I wondered?
More Googling and I discovered that Sir Richard Francis Burton (1821-1890), the explorer, was buried in the graveyard of the Catholic church at Mortlake in a tomb designed to look like an Arabian tent. An hour later, we had both strapped on our walking shoes and were trudging the three miles to Mortlake to take a proper look.
The tomb, which features both Christian and Islamic elements, is in beautiful condition. I suspect it has been "restored" quite recently, because the pictures on the Sir Richard Francis Burton Project website, which were taken in 2008, show the tomb looking grey with age and lacking the gold crescent-and-star motifs along the roof's edge.
Place: Hastings, England. Date: November 2 & 3, 2013. Camera: Sony DSC-HX20V.
Over the past couple of years, T and I have been "picking off" all of the major seaside towns along the south coast. We've done Brighton, Littlehampton, Eastbourne, Rye and Bournemouth. On the weekend we went to Hastings — to celebrate T's birthday — and stayed at the White Rock Hotel in a room overlooking the (burnt out) pier.
We had both expected to find Hastings rather run down and shabby, so we were pleasantly surprised to find it really wasn't like that at all. Indeed, the Old Town, with its bunting-strewn streets, was rather sweet and filled with trendy art and antique-type stores ("Portobello Road on the south coast," is how I saw it described) and The Stade was interesting, with its fresh fish stalls, its beautiful old net shops — tall, black wooden sheds for storing fishing kit — and its miniature railway.
In terms of food and drink, we hit the jackpot — more by chance than proper research. The hotel we were staying in had a terrific bar with local ales (and delicious bowls of hot hand-cut chips) and in neighbouring St Leonards-on-Sea we discovered a brilliant Indian restaurant, called Cinnamon Spice, where we enjoyed a truly delicious curry worthy of all those good reviews on TripAdvisor.
We went back to St Leonards the next morning, mainly to check out Marine Court, the magnificent art deco building that resembles a huge passenger liner sitting in dock, but to also soak up the lovely sunshine and take in the fresh sea air.
And before we caught our mid-afternoon train back to London, we hauled our luggage into the Old Town (again), where we had a couple of pints, stocked up on cakes from a local bakery and purchased a lovely antique-looking jewelry box for my bits and bobs. It was a lovely, relaxing way to end what had been a lovely, relaxing weekend. Hastings, you have a couple of new fans.