Sunday, December 29, 2013

Our Nanny's Gift: A Day Out in Hampstead Heath

Our wonderful part-time nanny gave us the most wonderful gift this year: time.  When you have children, your husband works 80+ hours a week and is the bishop, there isn't much time you can spend alone with him.  Asha gave us a whole free day of babysitting yesterday.

Here's what we did with it:

We first explored four shops.  These included a musical instrument shop on Chalk Farm High Street where you could find hundreds of exotic instruments from around the world (Mary and Ben, we really want to take both of you there sometime); Walden's Books - yes, named after the pond and book - where we paid 8 pounds 50 pence for four treasures; a fishing tackle shop (where, you ask, can you fish in this big town - Hampstead Heath, the Thames, and the Liddo in Hyde Park, no kidding) that doubled as local mafia headquarters (definitely found ourselves in the wrong place at the wrong time); and a toy shop specializing in miniatures just south of the Heath by Gospel Oak Overground Station, pictured below.

The rocking horses were 90 pounds a piece...
In case you can't tell, the miniatures pictured here include a butcher and baker's shop,
complete with individual miniature foodstuffs

Can you see the miniature Harrod's wagon, still sent out to deliver produce in Kensington and Chelsea?

It's old Mother Hubbard's home. Beautiful.  Retails for 1,000 pounds

A handmade Noah's ark for 280 pounds.  Dad, think you can make G an ark
that will fit animals, come apart, and float in the bath? 
The fascinating thing about each of the four shops we went to is that the store fronts were abysmal and, but for the tackle shop, did not adequately convey the treasures which lay inside.  We were told the toy shop window display, pictured below, hadn't change for 40 years.

Then, with only an hour or two more of good sunlight (it is setting these days at about 3:30-4:00), we launched into Hampstead Heath for our picnic and a good stroll in its natural vastness.  Going up to the old "country" estate embedded in the Heath's largely natural wilderness-esque, Kenwood, provided for some good views over London.  We are grateful for the Heath and for how close it is to us, as it allows us to "walk in the woods" quite conveniently.

Then there was Kenwood itself, once owned by Lord Mansfield, the great jurist of the eighteenth century, now an English Heritage site.
Quite a good prospect, eh, Caroline?

 It just re-opened after 18 months of renovations and contains quite a good art collection, with paintings by Vemeer, Gainsborough, Romney, Rembrandt, and even a John Singer Sargent, Lance's favorite.  We loved the library, but found it a bit austere for our tastes.

We then had two hours to leisurely walk through the woods to Hampstead Village, sift through a couple of bookstores, meet a lovely Great Dane/German Weimaraner, grab a little snack from the Coffee Cup, and a warm winter coat G marked down 75% to 13 pounds at Gap.

Then our walking tour of Old Hampstead Village began.  Turns out I failed to tell Lance it was technically a pub crawl, but he eventually forgave me and we enjoyed learning that in the day before the penny post and the house numbering system, people found your house by corresponding your stationary to the fan window above your door, gazing at Jupiter and her moons at the Hampstead Observatory (returning there!), and admiring the home of the boys who inspired Peter Pan, P.L. Travers' home (built by the ex-ship captain who inspired the opening character in Mary Poppins), the site of the judicial court during the Plague in the 1660s, and the insides of two pubs.

Finally, the evening ended with dinner at Le Cellier du Midi, a classic French restaurant on Old Church Row.  We went all out and caught the first cab we could home to relieve our blessed Asha at 11:00 p.m.  Hurray for wonderful nannies! 

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