Sunday, April 24, 2011

St. George's Day

Yesterday was St. George's Day, which is the closest thing they have to a national holiday here. As Josh pointed out, most countries (including our own) have a national holiday to celebrate independence from the British.  We thought we'd check out some of the events that were going on in the city, so we hopped on the tube and started out at the Southbank Centre, where the Festival of Britain had just opened up for the summer.

Those little colorful boxes along the waterfront are part of an exhibit of beach huts painted by different artists.
The also had what appeared to be the World's Cutest Ice Cream Truck:
...and a fake beach, complete with boardwalk and beach toys.  On this warm, sunny day, it was just as crowded as a real beach would have been:
The interactive fountain was also very popular.  Walls of water kept appearing and disappearing.  The challenge was to make your way through the four "rooms" and back out without getting wet, but most kids were more interested in playing in the water.
After watching an Indian dance performance and eating lunch in a Mexican-ish restaurant, we discovered a South Asian street festival on the other side of the Royal Festival Hall.  This is the same spot where they had a Chocolate Festival when we were here in December, so it's definitely under consideration for one of our favorite places in London.
After wandering around the festival, we walked under the bridge to check out the scene on the other side.  As usual, every inch of green space was covered with people soaking in the sun,
Here was the site of the Udderbelly Festival, dominated by a giant purple inverted inflatable cow.
Most of it seemed to be an astroturf beer garden, which was quite popular, but there was also a "funfair" area for kids with rides and cotton candy.
Josh perused the list of performers (unhelpfully arranged in alphabetical, rather than chronological, order) by the head of the cow. 
Based on what we saw -- and the purple cow theme -- we ascertained that this was a comedy festival. We noted that Charles Ross will be performing his One-Man Star Wars Trilogy here on May 31, so we may have to book tickets for that. We saw his One-Man Lord of the Rings in DC for Josh's birthday last year and it was quite entertaining!

Since nothing was actually happening at the festival that day, we walked up to Trafalgar Square to see some of the big St. George's Day concert we'd been hearing about.  We were expecting it to be a mob scene, but, in fact, it was rather sparsely attended.  We were able to walk right up to the front of the stage.  We then quickly retreated to the back, as the current performers appeared to be a high school band who had not had enough rehearsal time and were woefully out of tune.

As with any large (or medium-sized) gathering of people, there seemed to be a high percentage of wacky attention-seekers among the crowd. Josh dubbed it "The Rally to Restore Insanity and/or Fear." We were particularly puzzled by the couple dressed as candy canes.  At least the dragon made sense in the context of St. George's Day.
There were also a lot of people wearing or brandishing the flag of England, with St. George's cross.
We saw several people wearing t-shirts proclaiming themselves members of the English Shieldwall.  I looked them up this morning, and was a little baffled by their mission statement:
The English Shieldwall is a lawful campaign group who aim to raise awareness of and to Shield against ill treatment & discrimination towards those of English ethnicity - with a view of obtaining an independent England free from British & EU rule. 
Sounds like a thinly disguised white supremacist group, but perhaps I haven't been in England long enough to become aware of the ill treatment and discrimination suffered by people of English ethnicity.

We hung around Trafalgar Square for a little while, enjoying the people-watching more than the concert, and then headed up Piccadilly towards the Wellington Arch, which Josh had read was hosting an exhibit of historic royal wedding cake replicas in honor of the upcoming nuptials of Wills & Kate.  Along the way, we passed a small demonstration march that seemed to involve more police (in yellow) than actual demonstrators. 
Congolese demonstration march
The odd part was that the march was lead by a police truck filled with orange traffic cones, followed by policemen with rolls of tape who would set down the cones on either side of the road and affix the tape as they moved forward.  This was followed by a string of policemen on either side of the protesters, and then another truck at the end that would pick up the cones and and tape as the mach progressed along the street.

"Why don't the police just hold onto one long piece of tape as they walk alongside the protesters?" Josh wondered.

"Because they are British, and that would be too efficient?" I suggested.

We finally made it to the arch around 4:30 and wondered where the exhibit was.  It turned out to be INSIDE the arch, which is not just a monument, but a building that can be rented out for special events.  Sadly, even though the exhibit was open until 5 pm, the lady at the front desk sweetly informed us that the last admission time had passed and suggested we come back the next day.  Bummer.

By this point we'd already had a pretty full day, so we walked to Victoria and hopped back on the tube towards Wimbledon. On the way home, we stopped at Sainsbury's to pick up some groceries for Easter dinner.  Our friends Jason & Elizabeth invited us over for Honeybaked ham, but since they live in Arlington, VA, we had to regretfully define.  Coincidentally, we also heard from our new London friends Jason & Bethie (who were introduced to us by the first Jason), who suggested we get together for Easter dinner.  Since they don't have any furniture, they offered to cook if we could host them at our place.  Jason came up with a menu and they sent us a shopping list.

Of course, some things are easier to find (asparagus, potatoes) than others (whipping cream, rib roast), so we had to go to two different stores and talk to several dubious clerks before we found everything we needed.  At one point I called Bethie to say we may have trouble finding the cut of beef they were asking for, and she suggested they could try to pick something up on their way over.  I had to remind her that everything is closed here on Easter Sunday.  We are so used to grocery stores being open all the time, even on major holidays, that we don't really think about planning in advance, but here we don't have that luxury.  Everything shuts down by 5 on Sundays, and is closed on major holidays.  Fortunately, Morrison's had a meat counter and a butcher on duty.  We marched home triumphantly with one of the two remaining rib roasts like hunters back from the kill.

We spent the morning tidying up our apartment and prepping for dinner.  We're looking forward to seeing Jason, Bethie, and little Charlotte again.  It's nice to have someone to socialize with when we're so far away from all our friends and family.

Happy Easter!

No comments:

Post a Comment

To prevent spam and other inappropriate messages, all comments are moderated before being posted.