We began as usual at the Borough Street Market where we returned to our favorite pastry shop at the Market, Konditer & Cook. The cute little shop off of the market area makes a plum crumble that is one of the best things that I have ever tasted. It is addictive. For those who believe English cuisine is a contradiction in terms, I dare you to say that after trying the plum crumble at Konditer & Cook. I dare you. It was fun again to speak with the various fishmongers, flower shop owners and others as they prepared their stalls.
We then went to St. Paul’s to take in that magnificent structure by Sir Christopher Wren, who is buried there. The overwhelming beauty of this place is impossible to describe. Indeed, even pictures do not do it justice. You have to stand beneath the towering dome and just take it in. I consider it the equal of Notre Dame and other great Cathedrals and indeed it may be my favorite. What is incredible about Wren’s design is that you can stand next to the West wall and see all the way to the alter and hear almost perfectly — a sharp contrast with Westminster Cathedral. I did the trek up the roughly 550 steps first to the top of the lower dome (inside) and then to the higher outer dome and then to the very top of the Cathedral, which affords an amazing 360 degree view of London. One of the guides was kind enough to arrange for me to take a picture of Wren’s final resting place given my work on legal and architectural theory. I had a wonderful chat with a couple of the historians/guides. The grave stone of Wren was remarkably similar to the modern architect Mies van der Rohe though hundreds of years separated them. Both men have simple black stone grave sites. For Mies, the selection is not surprising given his form follows function approach and designs. However, Wren also has the same simple design despite his towering and ornate designs. Of course, above his tomb is the wonderful inscription ending with “Reader, if you seek his memorial – look around you.”
Below are a few of the pictures outside of the Cathedral, including the winding stairs to the top of the Cathedral and a surprising bust of George Washington tucked away in a corner of the crypt.
I then left St. Paul’s and journeyed to what can only be described as a type of academic pilgrimage: to visit Jeremy Bentham. I have written a fair amount (and teach the theories of Bentham). However, I have never visited his auto-icon. The father of Utilitarianism and important theories of personal and sexual freedom had a curious final condition in this testament to the University College London, which he helped found. When he died in 1832 he asked for his body to be preserved as an “auto-icon.” Here is the language of the will:
My body I give to my dear friend Doctor Southwood Smith to be disposed of in a manner hereinafter mentioned, and I direct … he will take my body under his charge and take the requisite and appropriate measures for the disposal and preservation of the several parts of my bodily frame in the manner expressed in the paper annexed to this my will and at the top of which I have written Auto Icon. The skeleton he will cause to be put together in such a manner as that the whole figure may be seated in a chair usually occupied by me when living, in the attitude in which I am sitting when engaged in thought in the course of time employed in writing. I direct that the body thus prepared shall be transferred to my executor. He will cause the skeleton to be clad in one of the suits of black occasionally worn by me. The body so clothed, together with the chair and the staff in the my later years bourne by me, he will take charge of and for containing the whole apparatus he will cause to be prepared an appropriate box or case and will cause to be engraved in conspicuous characters on a plate to be affixed thereon and also on the labels on the glass cases in which the preparations of the soft parts of my body shall be contained … my name at length with the letters ob: followed by the day of my decease. If it should so happen that my personal friends and other disciples should be disposed to meet together on some day or days of the year for the purpose of commemorating the founder of the greatest happiness system of morals and legislation my executor will from time to time cause to be conveyed to the room in which they meet the said box or case with the contents therein to be stationed in such part of the room as to the assembled company shall seem meet.
Queens Square Place, Westminster, Wednesday 30th May, 1832.
His head was supposed to be included after being preserved by the process of desiccation, as practiced by New Zealand Maoris. However, the process went badly and his head was severely damaged. Thus, a wax head was fashioned in its place. However, the head was stolen by students at a rival school in 1975 and held for a ransom of £100 to be paid to the charity Shelter. UCL finally agreed to pay a ransom of £10 and the head was returned. It was then stolen again and eventually found in a luggage locker at a Scottish Station (possibly Aberdeen). Bentham now sits alone at the end of a nondescript hallway of the school. I spent time keeping him company yesterday.
After Bentham, I went on the tube to the Imperial War Museum, an unrivaled museum with an extensive collection. As a military war buff, I was thrilled to go through the collection, particularly the World War I collection. It contains a wide array of items, including some odd choices like the pig who was captured alive from the Germans. The English then adopted him and allowed him to keep his Iron Cross collar. When he died, they stuffed him as a trophy. There is also the rusted truck below of the Desert Rats, which was a thrill to see. There was also the remnants of a car bomb on the ground floor.
After a wonderful time at the museum, I decided to walk over to another well-regarded fish and chips restaurant. This one is called The Laughing Halibut. I read reviews saying that it might be the best fish and chips restaurant in London. The restaurant itself is not much to look at — just a stripped down no frills diner. Moreover, there is no ambience beyond a bad ambience of banging plates and pans. Finally, if service could be given a negative number, this restaurant would qualify. The server had the interest and focus of a burned out truck stop waitress. So it was a disaster, right? Nope. All of that was promising that a no ambience and no service restaurant could still produce such rave reviews. I soon found out with a plate of Fish and Chips that was one of the best that I have ever had. I would not go as far as some in proclaiming this as the best London. However, it is very very good Fish and Chips.
Here are some photos from the restaurant and the walk around at the area before I returned to the hotel at the Shard.