London, baby!

I’ve just spent the last three days in London with work. A group of year 10/11 students were on a residential trip visiting various locations and workshops to help support them with their English GCSE exams preparations- they needed an extra member of staff and I’m always interested in exploring new areas (more so when free!).

Plus this trip gave me another opportunity to visit another YHA hostel – this time Thameside in Rotherhithe, South East London- to add to my visits collection. One night I will sit down and write the list of all that have been visited, I know it’s over twenty now! There’s a few more I want to spend the night in – Black Sail (5km walk in), Coniston Coppermines, Eden Project and St Briavels Castle (a castle!!).

This hostel was lovely. It was kept behind gates and in a residential area, less than five minutes walk from the Thames. What was interesting was the safety rules – one specifically asked visitors not to engage with the local youth as there had been issues before there! Oh- er! I wonder what could have gone on then? We saw no local youths at all during our stay.

My room was on the fourth floor. Originally the trip intended for a male member of staff to attend but no one was available and because we have students with Autism on this trip I asked if they needed support and thusly ended up with a room to myself. Bonus.

YHA rooms all have the usual bunks, and green bedding etc but often there are slight differences depending on location- the differences here were the storage containers in the room, fob to get on to the floor of your room and the plug socket and light by the bed (absolutely fantastic I thought!)

My view was great. I could see the Gerkin, London’s highest Sky Garden and the “Cheese Grater” over the Thames. Very majestic looking buildings.

First museum visit was the Imperial War Museum where the students’ had a selfie task to complete on the poems they have been studying.

The museum was bustling with other school groups looking at the war machinery and historic items.

We didn’t have long here and I’ve been a couple of times before, however, I totally have missed this little gem: a made-up ‘doll’ that was used as target practice during World War II. Civilians were discouraged from creating these items and preserve the material for future use. I thought it looked neat.

Following this museum, we headed to the Museum of London, Docklands. I’ve never been here before and didn’t have long enough to explore all of it.

It looked pretty interesting inside with some surprising exhibits you wouldn’t have thought of that would have been related to the Docklands…

There’s a lot to see/read here. Will definitely put it on the list of places to visit when back in London. Could easily spend the morning/afternoon exploring the several floors of this place.

The evening’s activity was exploring Harrods – a luxury department store in Knightsbridge – looking at all the lovely things one would never be able to afford (nor would really want to buy most of the stuff here!).

I tried finding the ‘outdoor clothing’ area of this store as the signs indicated there was one… well, disappointment loomed quickly at finding only Snow and Rock was present and no other outdoor retailer… not even a North Face ‘fashion jacket’ department! It seems money and skiing go hand in hand here!

Nest stop was naturally the toy department…

Found a Lara Croft Barbie doll – the only doll, besides Star Wars’ Rey – that showed an ‘action woman‘; you could easily find Princess dolls and for [the inflated price of] £65 you could buy Lara for your young daughter whereas the Princess Barbies were more reasonably priced at £25+. Frankly, I would prefer the Lara doll, but it saddened me to see little girl’s still being given the impression that they are to be ‘looked after‘ by a man rather than be adventurous, independent and daring somewhere in the wild…

After stepping down off my soapbox, we all we back to the hostel for some sleep.

Next day started with a trip to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre for a MacBeth workshop with Samuel, a charismatic actor at the theatre who just made the whole experience fun and interesting.

He explained to us about the old theatre burning down due to sparks from a live cannon that was used which burnt the building down (none of the 3000 spectators or actors were harmed); the rebuilding, then closure and tearing down of the next theatre and finally the newer, smaller, Globe theatre in the style of the previous.

It was fascinating the hear about the different classes and where they stood/sat – the ‘penny peasants’ who stood in front of the stage who’d get wet/sunburnt from the lack of ceiling (this was because shows begun at 2pm and the natural light was needed) and the middle classes, who had seats, who throw food items on them etc. At the very top was the ‘gentlemen boxes‘ for the wealthy – these boxes didn’t offer the best views, as they were situated at the side of the stage, but gave the peasants and middle classes the view of who was wealthy enough to sit in these areas.

You can see in the photo below where the peasants would stand and the ‘Gentlemen boxes‘, painted in grey, at the side of the stage.

The stage itself was very impressive – it was explained to us that, to help the audience follow the story and the morals of the characters, there would be different levels. On the ceiling was painted the stars, constellations and planets in which there was a hole for lowering actors through – this was ‘Heaven‘ representing a ‘good character with good morals‘. The middle of the stage, the balcony, represented wealth and power – kings, queens, thanes, head of houses would stand here to deliver their lines. Messengers, peasants, lowly people would stand on the stage – the Earth – just above the trap door which a ‘bad character with evil morals‘ would ‘rise‘ from – the devil etc. Truly well thought out to help the audience. It was also mentioned that Shakespeare would mention in his scripts the time of day to help the audience keep track as, due to the shows being shown during the day, they didn’t have the luxury of adaptive lighting etc. So, the audience could easily distract themselves with conversations with others during the three-hour-long plays and easily regain the story through the clever scripting.

The workshop was fab – Samuel, because he knew the script so well, was able to enlighten the student’s into various insights and information about MacBeth and Lady MacBeth’s speeches. All the student’s really thought this was the best part of the visit.

In the evening, after dinner at the hostel, we embarked on the ‘Necrobus’ – a Ghost Tour Bus of London starting from Westminster and travelling around for an hour passing Parliament Square, Nelson’s Column and over Tower Bridge etc.

It was VERY entertaining! What made it so enjoyable was the student’s funny/scared reactions to the story that accompanied the journey and the ‘ghost‘ character on the bus. I thought it was hilarious when we stopped near Cock Lane and the announcer’s microphone kept cutting out so all you could hear were parts of the story of Fanny living down Cock Lane… also some funny bit included making a student jumped by putting my hand on his shoulder and the student next to me shouting “SHE’S GOING TO RUN!” in a scared voice at the top of her lungs – I couldn’t stop laughing all night at how impromptu that was!

After this experience, I would highly recommend going on a Ghost Tour Bus – we even saw the Lyceum Tavern where apparently Bram Stoker lived during his life in London – how true that was? Dunno.

After a late night (teenagers – enough said!) the morning started with a writing workshop in Charles Dicken’s Museum on 48 Doughty Street.

The students’ were told about Dicken’s endeavours to raise awareness about social class, poverty and poor workhouse/school etc conditions through his writings in articles and how his notable works, such as Oliver, were from visitations he made to view these places.

I found the volunteers here to be lovely and welcoming – with so much knowledge about Dicken’s life and work. His house was as grand as expected with several floors.

The basement floor had the servants/kitchen, laundry and wine cellar.

At the front of the house was the dining room for entertaining guests (up to 14 would sit at this small table!) and there was his wife, Catherine’s, room as well. I opened up a can of worms asking how long they were married for – it seems having ten kids and getting fat only to have your husband leave you for an actress was not to be spoken about! Even the rumour of dating your ex-wife’s younger sister was to be hushed!

“Can’t blame a man for trying” was the response from one student… still, back to the focus being on his work and effort’s to change the viewpoint that the poor could be educated in the workhouses…

After the afternoon travelling to the British Library for a creative writing workshop (by now the students’ were flagging), there was a buffet at Pizza Hut (I managed 8 slices – go Jo!) then on to the Prince Edward Theatre to see the musical Aladdin.

Now I’m not one to complain about a free ticket and in this instance I won’t but just look at where we were sat…

Fabulous performance none-the-less! The actor playing the Genie was hilarious and a pleasure to watch and the magic carpet scene was just memorizing. If you can get the chance and loved the film (all songs are still in the show) then go!

After all this was just the journey back to the school to drop the kids back to parents then straight to bed where I slept for a solid 10 hours! Fab bunch of kids and great memories made over these last couple of days. I hope they do well in their GCSE English exams!

Just Joanne

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