Visit to the Norman Lockyer Observatory

On Saturday, 6th April I visited the Norman Lockyer Observatory near Sidmouth for an “Introduction to Astronomy”.

Domes of the Norman Lockyer Observatory
Norman Lockyer Observatory

This was a daytime course from 10am to 5pm centred in the lecture theatre and planetarium. The idea is to pique your interest or develop an existing hobby, perhaps with the hope you will join as a member and attend their observation nights. At the very least the aim is to get more people interested and talking about astronomy and our place in the universe.

Mum bought the ticket for me for Christmas and she also managed to get a ticket herself. The family had previously got me a telescope, though I must admit I have struggled to work out what I’m doing.

Open Approach

We didn’t know what to expect – we both imagined it could be a dry and dusty lecture to an audience of six elderly, scholarly men looking down their noses at us!

It wasn’t that at all. There must have been 40 people and the course sold out a month ago. There were a mix of ages from children to pensioners, almost as many women as men, including people with physical impairments. Probably some of the demographic wouldn’t have attended such an event 30 years ago, if one existed.

There was a BBC Stargazing banner on the fence as we drove in and the open approach of that scheme was carried into the course. Every session ended with a Q&A where even the most simple question was answered, the course attracting a mix of people with knowledge as well as those with absolutely none at all.

The friendly and approachable volunteer members presenting each segment took the approach of ‘no stupid questions’ – we all have to start somewhere!

Night Sky

First it was off to the Planetarium.

Now this was no whizz-bang thrill ride with digital effects to make you ride from planet to planet, star to star, as modern Planetariums are today. This was old school and frankly it was pretty good for it. It used a projector that was 50 years old, formerly at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. Essentially it was a light source inside a small ball, this had pin pricks in it which let spots of light shine into the large white dome over our heads, once the house lights were down and we were sent into darkness (gradually so our eyes could adjust).

It’s more complicated than that of course, each pin prick had to represent the true position of the stars. The ball would spin under the control of the operator so the stars would move over your head exactly as they would if you were outside overnight – and in the right place for the time of year.

Must’ve been one hell of a job to build accurately. This is a piece of real workmanship.

Because of the whiteness of the dome it wasn’t possible to get a great picture, but hopefully this gives an impression.

The 50 year old planetarium projector
The 50 year old planetarium projector

This was a great introduction. The presenter was open and friendly and didn’t overwhelm us with names and technical terms. As he said, it’s more important to learn the principals and the important ‘landmarks’, rather than all the constellation names.

He showed us how to identify the most prominent and easy to spot constellation, The Plough or Big Dipper, the three bright stars in a row as the handle. Then use this to locate the Pole Star which, at the UK’s location, will always be at true North. This and the rest of this hour was the sort of thing I was hoping to learn.

Planisphere

The next 45 minutes in the lecture theatre was on using star maps and something called a Planisphere. This is two plastic discs put together, the bottom one is the star map, the upper one partly obscures it and partly is a window. Simply spin the upper disc to the date and time marked on the rim and it’ll show you what you can see that night! Amazing!

Obviously I bought one in the shop. You can get the same one here.

They also showed us software for PC and more interestingly apps for smartphones, which use GPS to find your location and accelerometers in the phone. Just move the phone around and the star map will move with you, showing the constellations right in front of you, or over your head, exactly at that moment!

People were asking about free ones but that’s gotta be worth £5 for the paid app!

Planets

After tea & biscuits we had a lecture on the planets of the solar system. When I saw this on the itinerary I was thinking, “OK, I know all this”. But it turns out I didn’t. Science has moved on since I was at school as a teenager in the mid-90s.

They showed us the latest images of Mars, both from recent landers and images of the planet include the polar caps. Images of Mercury and the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. And of course those great shots of Pluto when all we previously had was a smudge. Some I had picked up on TV and online over the years, seeing it all at once was fantastic.

And when you see the relative scale and distance from anything else of Pluto, only the size of our moon but so far away, it’s absolutely amazing a probe got out to it at all!

Always been interested in the planets and a good way to get up speed.

The Grounds

At lunch there was time to wander the grounds. Bit cold in the building and the place has no heating, it wasn’t much different outside, so we sat in the car for a bit.

After warming up we had a potter about. Despite being quite old now everything looks so well maintained.

Observatory Dome
Dome

Sun & Moon

Before getting back indoors a member came up to us with a viewer, just a simple piece of film we could look through to see the sun directly. Without the glare it looked just like a planet!

He then led the next lecture and said you could even see sunspots with it, if there were any, but we’re in a solar minimum right now. About two years from now they’ll start increasing and you can see them with the naked eye protected by one of these. Or of course get something similar to protect your telescope and look that way, even take pictures.

He also pointed out places on the moon. That got me thinking… so far I’ve tried looking at stars with not much success, the obvious thing I’m missing with my ‘scope is our nearest neighbour. I’ll be trying that.

The Universe

There was an explanation of the current science on the beginning of the universe – probably! – as well as how stars are formed and die.

And also the Hubble image of 1995 of the small patch of black sky… which turned out to have hundreds of galaxies in it. Mind blowing.

Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space.
– Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy

At the end he alluded to the fact we’re all from star dust, nebulae, and one day – hopefully a long time from now – our planet and everything on it will be consumed by the stars. Personally I think he could’ve gone much heavier on that. The real circle of life. It beats any religion I know.

Some of the pictures here were fantastic too, the nebulae and galaxies. And many were taken by the very guys who were presenting the course. I know images are coloured to make them look pretty, I suppose that’s an aesthetic because they have to be light-shifted to something to make them visible so you might as well make them look nice. There’s no ‘how they are meant to look’ when they’re outside the spectrum of the human eye.

Telescopes

Explaining different types and how pricey it can get. This was probably the only bit it got truly ‘nerdy’. Not that I’m against nerdy whatsoever, but time and place. In the Q&A an enthusiast in the audience sort of took over. Which is fine, it happens in every single special-interest group that exists on any topic, but maybe that person could’ve broken off for a discussion afterwards.

Although my telescope isn’t bargain basement, at about £150, it certainly wasn’t in the budgets they were talking about of £800 upwards, so I felt put off from asking anything. And to be honest, for my needs right now, I don’t need to spend that kind of money. They were very careful to mention that spending the money isn’t for everyone and plenty of people – like me – just want to observe the night sky and that’s perfectly fine.

I must say some of the kit was fantastic. Computer controlled tracking, just type in what you want to see and it spins it around and points it for you! If I were getting into serious imaging and observation that’s what I would get. The old tech geek side of me wants to do it. But I really don’t want to get into such an expensive hobby. It was pretty cool to learn what’s available and how far you can go.

Telescopes
Telescopes

Observatory Tour

We were taken up to the telescope in the Connaught Dome. It looks brand new but is decades old.

Then across to the telescope Sir Norman Lockyer used to discover helium on the Sun. This was a beautiful piece, really could be stored away in a museum for safekeeping or as a piece of art, yet is used every Friday night in their open evenings and works perfectly after 120 years. They even fixed a motor to it. I’m so glad they use it, absolutely brilliant!

Connaught Telescope
Connaught Telescope
Norman Lockyer's Telescope from 1870
Norman Lockyer’s Telescope from 1870

Summary

It was a pretty full on day and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Even though I was tired from the sheer amount of information, the day flew by and I could’ve stayed longer. (Always leave them wanting more!) It covered more aspects of general astronomy and cosmology than I was expecting, a great way to teach the subject to those with a burgeoning interest and those just tagging along with those who do.

I really do believe more people should understand where we fit into the universe, for one thing I think the political landscape would look very different if they did, for another I suspect more money would be invested in science for the good of humankind, and less in petty political squabbling over fake lines in the ground that we invented.

Am I member now? No I’m not. I want to get some practice in and see what I can do before I decide whether to take it further. Who knows, maybe in five years I will be one of those people geeking out about the latest motorised ‘scopes and software and capturing some great images of my own! But right now I’m perfectly content to navigate the stars and have a go at looking at the moon and the planets.

I highly recommend this course whether you know about space or not.

I’ll leave you with a couple of thoughts from Carl Sagan and a link to the course.

Pale Blue Dot
Carl Sagan

“Introduction to Astronomy” Itinerary

  • 10:15am:  Looking at the night sky. Using the Planetarium to locate interesting objects and orientate yourself with Polaris, the pole star.
  • 11:00am:  How to use star maps and a planisphere, including planetarium apps.
  • 11:45am:  Tea break.
  • Midday:  The planets. Current understanding of the solar system and latest imaging.
  • 12:45pm:  Lunch. Grounds open to walk around.
  • 1:45pm:  The sun and moon. How to observe the sun safely.
  • 2:30pm:  Stars, nebulae, galaxies. Current understanding of the formation of the universe, along with imaging of galaxies and nebulae taken by members.
  • 3:15pm:  Tea break.
  • 3:30pm:  Telescopes. Types of telescopes and binoculars available.
  • 4:15pm:  Tour the Observatory.

Course price:  £20.00 (or £15.00 for NLO members)

Website:  http://normanlockyer.com/education/introduction-to-astronomy-course/

 

Advertisements

London 2012: Part 5 – Paralympics at ExCel

So far in this series I had only been around the margins of London 2012’s Olympic Games. Things were about to be different. When September’s Paralympics came around, when almost the whole of Britain wanted to this great summer to roll on and on forever, I finally got into the midst of the action with real, actual tickets!

Over two days I would see live sport at the ExCel Exhibition Centre in the afternoon, the Olympic Stadium in the evening, and the second day would be spent at Brands Hatch. A busy two days!

September 6th, 2012 – Afternoon

As with the visit in the summer the morning was spent taking the train from Dorset to London Waterloo and making my way to the venue. I’d wanted to try the brand new cable car across the Thames but hadn’t yet found a reason to go all that way over there – I mean who would put it there and expect it to be used? Yet as luck would have it, it turns out the fastest way from Waterloo to the ExCel is to take the tube to the Millennium Dome (the ‘O2 Arena’ as I suppose we have to call it) and use the cable car, which plonks you down about half a mile from the ExCel.

 

This part of London is a mix of the exhibition hall, conference centres, restaurants and so forth. It used to be the famous sprawling docks of the city and some tributes remain as a legacy.

The first thing to do was negotiate the notoriously thorough London 2012 securit, which was as restrictive as airport security: can’t take in more than 100ml of fluid, can’t bring your own drinks, can only bring a small rucksack bag which needed to be emptied in front of them. Not particularly helpful to those who didn’t have time to check into their hotel beforehand (i.e. me) so I had to travel light. The staff, whether G4S or Armed Forces personnel (a lot of RAF) were immensely friendly though and everyone was passing through easily.

ExCel London

I had a day pass so I could go wherever I liked. The ExCel was hosting several sports although several coincided so I had to plot my moves. It was quite difficult as you never knew when something might end, and there were quite a lot of people around especially when there was a break between sessions. The worst part was when all sessions ended at once and everyone was queuing to get in to the next one.

Nearest the door: table tennis. Let’s do that first.

Table Tennis

Table tennis arena. 5 games in progress at the same time!

Within a few minutes I realised four things:

One, wow lots of games at once this is a bargain!

Two, watching from a distance the tables are quite small and so is the ball.

Three, I don’t know anything about any form of tennis except some basics. In fact this whole Paralympic experience was the first time I’d attended a sporting event without knowing anything about the sports or their competitors.

Four, as a motorsport fan when I’m trackside I am accustomed to having a radio in my ear with commentary provided by the circuit or the championship. At the Paralympics there was no commentary, although I’d not brought my radio anyway!

I was confused for a while especially as the crowd on one side of the arena was getting really animated and were cheering one of the games near to them, which made me think I’d missed something in the game I was watching! I hadn’t, they were just watching a different thing.

I’d perhaps naively expected several screens perhaps with one for each table, and very clear modern scoreboard. What we had were a few fairly small screens all focussed on the same match and an old-fashioned single-colour scoreboard right outta the 70s with everything abbreviated so you didn’t know what it meant (unless you did). For the year 2012 at an event sponsored by a giant electronics company I was not impressed.

British competitor on the left hidden behind the marshal

It was fun though. Just because they are in wheelchairs doesn’t mean the game is any slower. I’d say it is a lot more impressive playing in a chair rather than leaping around trying to hit the ball, your reactions have to be very fast to hit the ball before it goes out of your more limited reach and that in turn makes for a very rapid game… or a lot of misses.

I was on the verge of moving but I started to get really into the game happening in front of me, what I think was Turkey vs Russia. It was a team event and these weren’t in chairs so I guess they were partially-sighted or something. There was a singles, then another singles between the other two, then they finished off playing doubles. I’ve been to Turkey and liked it so I was pulling for them.

Turkey vs Russia
Turkey vs Russia doubles

I could see the scores just next to the umpire there and on the screen at the back (just!). It was a close contest, which is why I didn’t move over to the other stand to watch the British athletes! My memory faded now but I think Turkey just about won. It was close all the way through.

Britain vs China (I saw more through the camera than through the eye)

And there was good support for the British team. When the game in front of me finished I decided not to stay, instead I went back out into the atrium and head to the fencing which was on at the same time.

The atrium.

Wheelchair Fencing

I really liked the idea of wheelchair fencing. I just couldn’t see how it would work, from what I’ve seen of fencing one of the key components of it is the ability to move back and forth to attack or defend, yet these guys were sat in chairs which were strapped to the ground and couldn’t move. How could they have a swordfight?

Wheelchair Fencing

As it turned out it was fantastic. Such a fun sport! Such a fast sport as well.

HIT HIM!!

I didn’t have an optimum position so it was hard to see, and again lots of contests to follow which again I found difficult. The nearest me happened to be two Frenchman which I didn’t think was fair on the French team!

I missed a lot though. I thought I was being clever in doing tennis first and fencing second but when I stayed longer at the tennis I’d forgotten that would mean less time at the fencing (even though there should’ve been a clear 1hr15min of fencing after the tennis ended which wasn’t the case). Just inexperience with the sports – had I known beforehand that I’d end up liking fencing I’d have allowed more time for it! The second session wasn’t to start until 5pm and I couldn’t stay that long.

After lunch and a lot of waiting around for the next set of sessions I gave up on Sitting Volleyball thanks to the sheer mass of people. It would’ve taken ages to get in. I wanted to watch that but so did everybody else! So I went to see boccia instead.

Boccia

Boccia turned out to be quite boring. It was basically a form of bowls with a shorter field of play and about as interesting as bowls, which is to say ‘not very’. If it had been a variant of skittles or ten pin bowling I’d have been more interested but I suppose they’re a bit harder to throw from a wheelchair.

Boccia

But again, some Brits were in there doing well with a lot of home support and the home crowds were cheering in the right places so they clearly knew their sport so good on ’em. Probably says a lot that I was happier watching the synchronised sweepers.

Time To Go

And that was pretty much it. I was there for five hours and saw three sports, queued for lots of things, and after not knowing what to expect I actually came away wishing I’d got there earlier and had more time. I really did enjoy it. Not at all bad for what I’d previously thought was just a £10 ‘filler’ to waste the afternoon before the trip to Stratford!

I couldn’t stay any later though, I was off somewhere exciting: The Olympic Stadium!

Goodbye ExCel.

***

This is part five of my series of posts on London 2012 Olympic & Paralympic Games. There are two later parts.

Other parts:

***

London 2012: Part 4 – Olympic Triathlon & Camden

I’m looking back at 2012’s summer of sport centred around the London 2012 Olympic & Paralympic Games. In this part my sister and I visit the Triathlon in Hyde Park with only a little success, before becoming tourists in Covent Garden and Camden. Click the links for extra photos and larger sizes.

Part 4 – London, Tuesday, 7th August 2012

A week and a half after my previous Olympic-related exploits, I returned to London with my sister Celine for a day at the triathlon. We wanted to do something together, she wanted to see the city decked out for the Games even if we couldn’t see a sport. I’d had no luck at all with Olympics tickets but there were free events. The Men’s Triathlon fell on a suitable day and didn’t even require a ticket so it was perfect.

Short of money unable to afford a hotel, we took a morning train up from Dorset (nearly a three hour run) and got to Green Park tube as quickly as we could, Hyde Park tube being closed. It was when we got to Hyde Park Corner that we discovered everybody else had decided to attend as well!

Hyde Park

Hyde Park Corner was very, very busy. The atmosphere was great, a party without the aggressiveness that alcohol can sometimes bring at sports events. Neither of the two of us are great with crowds but I didn’t mind it this time except for the one problem: they’d lined the fences everywhere to be seen, there wasn’t a gap to be found!

All along I had clear intentions. Certain parts of the cycling course would be re-used for the running part of the triathlon so we should just park ourselves along there before the swim finished and stay until the race was over. Alas we were too late, we could barely see anything over the heads of everyone already there.

Just as we got to where I wanted to be and we tried to find a spot the swimming leg of the race finished and the athletes were on their first cycling lap. This is the view from my camera held above my head and from eye level:

Crowds in Hyde Park for the Men’s Triathlon
Crowds cheering on the triathletes

The atmosphere was fantastic, such a good vibe with everyone being cheered on, not just the British athletes. Even though we couldn’t see anything much it was worth just being there.

Mind you it was quite frustrating going all that way.. We probably should’ve stayed there but I insisted on walking up and down looking for a space.. but this wasn’t going to work, we couldn’t see anything. Stay or try somewhere else? We headed across the park to the other side, the return side in the hope it was clearer. It was, only very slightly.

 

Thankfully here we did catch something of a glimpse… burst mode to the rescue!

  

And a cheer for the marshal following them!

Soon they were on the last lap of the cycle race. We’d moved away from the running course and I still wanted to see that part of the race and that meant moving again. On our way we encountered the big screens. Brits love free sport, especially free sport on a huge telly..

Free sport!
Wow.

Now that is a crowd!

It was very tempting to sit with them to watch the end especially with food vendors nearby and us hungry (it was lunchtime). But we didn’t:  frankly the prices being charged were just ridiculous – and I nearly paid it, were it not for the huge lines. There weren’t enough food outlets, I think the organisers under-estimated the potential crowd numbers!

After much walking, I have to say a lot more walking than I expected (it turns out Hyde Park is big) we reached the Princess Diana memorial from where we could see the start/transition/finish area across the water and just about catch a glimpse of the athletes running over the bridge and on this side of the water.

Main grandstand
More big crowds, and athletes now on the 3rd leg of the tri.

By now our stomachs were grumbling so as the race drew to a close we made our way out and stumbled upon an ice cream seller. Perfect for this hot day! We were tucking in to that when Alistair Brownlee crossed the line, his brother finishing not far back: Gold and Bronze for the brothers! A tremendous result.

The atmosphere in the park was really good, everyone relaxed and friendly. It was a shame we couldn’t get there any earlier and that we struggled to find a nice spot but these were just small downers and after all the negativity in the lead up to the Games nobody could’ve predicted such a massive turnout. It was great to have experienced an event this big in such a positive atmosphere.

Being A London Tourist (Again)

That was half the day done. After leaving the park we tried to find some lunch, again a surprisingly difficult task. We eventually got a bit lost and walked to South Kensington station. A long, tiring walk in the heat!

The rest of the day was spent being touristy in London. Instead of seeing the famous landmarks – we’d both done that before – we headed to Covent Garden and to Camden. Here are a few photos from our meanderings.

Albert Memorial
How many stairs?? And a long queue for the lift. Not welcome after our long walk! I’d completely forgotten this aspect of Covent Garden tube station.
Covent Garden, Olympified
Camden
Camden

In the markets of Camden Lock you can find foods from all over the world. And a bronze lion.

  

  

There are also many clothes market stalls and shops and Celine happily wandered among them!

Unfortunately some of the uniqueness is being lost with the prevalence of shops selling identical tourist-trap tat, miniature red phone boxes and black taxis, hundreds of t-shirts with identical designs and identical slogans (‘Keep Calm’, ‘Mind The Gap’, etc.). I don’t mean similar, I mean literally the same stuff. Even one of my personal bugbears of a Union Flag shirt with the word ‘England’ on it – I’m English but No, No, No – that’s the UK flag not the English one!
Similar shops have taken over Picadilly and Leicester Square and they’re infesting other parts of the city as well. Just… stop it.

Somehow we didn’t get food at one of the amazing stalls (we shall have to go back to sample those!). We resisted because our sister Kerryn had recommended another place so we ended our day with dinner The Diner where Celine had a huge veggie taco salad, and I had probably the best caesar salad ever made. If you are in the area you are going to want to go to this place.

There’s More!

That’s it for today and for July, but don’t go away. The Olympics may have passed with me only seeing a bit of it in person, but Britain was not ready for this great summer to end. We wanted more. Just a month later it would be time for the Paralympic Games and I had tickets for those! As it turned out, these Paralympics were no side-show or afterthought..

For the full photo album from the football in Cardiff to the food in Camden please see Picasa or Google+.

***

This is part 4 of my series of posts on London 2012 Olympic & Paralympic Games.

Other parts:

***

London 2012: Part 3 – Torch Relay & London Atmosphere

 I’m looking back at last year’s summer of sport centred around the London 2012 Olympic & Paralympic Games. Click the links for extra photos.

Part 3 – London, Friday, 27th July 2012

Amy and I arrived in London from Cardiff’s football on Thursday night on a train that was standing-room-only for half the journey, and suffered extensive delays for the remainder. We were quite tired when we crashed at mutual friend’s place, yet were determined to see the Torch Relay on Friday. This was her first and only opportunity to see it, and I’d previously missed it because I went on holiday the day it passed through my town. We’d also convened in London for a get together for the Sidepodcast F1 website community. That wasn’t until the evening.

Peckham

Handily, the Torch was visiting Peckham, just a 10-15 minute train ride away from our borrowed lodgings. It was a gloriously sunny day, we found a reasonable spot and the crowds began to gather, thankfully most of them the other side of the road. You got the sense Peckham had tried to clean up, but there’s only so much you can do with such a crappy place (to me it’s forever surprising how nearby parts of London can be so different).

A guy from an Asian TV station turned up (as the pair of us turned our backs and tried to avoid eye contact with him so he wouldn’t interview us) and started talking to camera, saying how it was all very exciting and there was a real buzz, and how many people from Southern Asia were here. It wasn’t quite like that, he was talking while the road was still open to traffic so there wasn’t much buzz yet, and in any case from what I saw Peckham is more a part of the African or Afro-Caribbean communities.

The buzz began when the police outriders appeared to great cheers from the crowd. After all the protests and kettling of a couple of years ago, could you have imagined the Met being cheered? Remarkable. It stepped up again when the first parade vehicles arrived.

The official sponsors had their own floats with loud music and MCs pumping up the crowd, handing out little free Cokes, then the bus of torch bearers goes by, a fully-grown man holding a big plush Wenlock… then there he is! The torch bearer!

High Five the Police!
Olympic Flame in Peckham! (and again!)

And then all of a sudden it was over…for now.

The crowds took over the road briefly, we threaded our way back to the station. Once we were clear away from the parade route, to the pair of us non-London folk from the countryside (England and NZ), this didn’t seem the safest place in the world, so we buggered off to the station pretty quickly!

Central London

For the rest of the day I went for a walk around London. A much longer walk than I’d intended for such a hot day! I didn’t work to any plan except to be at the pub on the Strand by 6pm, so I didn’t take the most direct route. I must’ve walked for three hours in quite a sticky heat. I’m glad I did though, because I got to see London at its’ finest: bright sunshine, as clean and tidy as a major old city can be, all decked out in Olympic trimmings. Here is just a small selection of photos from my journey….and keep scrolling for a surprise!

The Shard next to London Bridge station:

I didn’t expect this on the river. I’d never seen a cruise liner this far into London before, certainly never a ship so large at the Eastern (inland) side of Tower Bridge.

View from London Bridge L-R: Tower of London, MV Silver Cloud moored up with HMS Belfast, Tower Bridge with Olympic Rings on!

I walked along the South Bank to City Hall and Tower Bridge where in addition to the rings on the bridge there were these:

It was fun seeing all the Olympic ‘furniture’, the street signs, the special ‘Olympic lanes’ that Londoners complained so much about before the Games began but in reality didn’t seem to have that great an effect, and the fleet of BMWs being driven around by competing teams, and Games officials.

It was fun trying to spy the country name before the car disappeared again. This is Belarus!

Then you had the Brazilian TV crew riding around on open-topped Routemaster.

I walked around to the Monument and back to the riverside, the aim being to walk along the river to the Millennium Bridge and look for food. As I got to the banks of the Thames, I looked over at Tower Bridge again – the Olympic Rings had retracted and the bridge was being raised!

Rings retracted, bridge raised, tall mast allowed through

It felt like a long way trying to find a shop in this part of town, not wanting to pay quite high cafe/restaurant prices (especially when on my own – I wouldn’t mind when with people), until I grabbed something from a Pret and sat under the Millennium Bridge just to get out of the sun for a while! I could see the recreation of Shakespeare’s Globe.

From there I went to have a look at St Paul’s Cathedral and walked past the front, before thinking, “aha if I just go down Fleet Street I’ll be near the Strand for my pub visit”. I went past whatever this is, and the Royal Courts where the TV reporters always stand outside for the big name trials. I got to the Strand a couple of hours early. Trying to save money, I thought the best free thing to do was to carry on walking, even though I was already quite hot and a bit tired. I also wanted to find somewhere a bit more Olympic-themed, or at least somewhere with atmosphere.

I found the upmarket foodie side of the market selling very expensive things. I found the tacky corner selling a load of the obligatory ‘Keep Calm’ and slogan tat. I found a happy band! I found Batman! This was more like it.

If you go to the top of Covent Garden, past the tube station, you reach a long narrow street called Long Acre. If you wander along there you’ll eventually reach Leicester Square and on to Picadilly Circus.

Long Acre
Picadilly Circus

You could watch the torch relay right there!

On Regent Street, which makes a 90-degree turn through Picadilly Circus, they’d hung the flag of every single competing nation at the Olympic Games. They stretched from the bottom all the way up beyond Oxford Street – not a small distance.

And here’s one I got the next day from the Oxford Street end, I like this photo:

Regent Street flags

Surprise!!

As I was walking around Picadilly, watching the screen, I discovered the Torch Relay was coming this way – I had the chance to see it for a second time! This time in the heart of London! This time the buzz was much greater – I wasn’t going to pass this up.

I knew Picadilly was going to be rammed, so I moved up the street, to Shaftesbury Avenue (the heart of theatre land) to find a good spot.

And this time.. I took a video with my phone. Admittedly it is an old phone and the camera is not great, and the camerawork is dreadful, even so I really hope it gives you a sense of the moment. The long buildup as we waited, the booming music, and the torch going by!

Olympic Torch!

And then it was off to the pub for a well-earned beer after all that walking!

The atmosphere in London was far from flat. This being the day before the Games properly opened there was the definite sense of anticipation, the excitement building as you could tell from the video. Previously the torch relay was very understated and British, yet now people were gathering in big crowds and cheering! Not long now.

***

This is part 3 of my delayed series of posts on London 2012 Olympic & Paralympic Games.

Other parts:

***