diamond geezer

 Saturday, May 25, 2019

Yesterday would have been Queen Victoria's 200th birthday, her death in 1901 not withstanding. I celebrated by going to the room where she was born, then visiting two places named after her.

Kensington Palace

This former country mansion has long been home to royalty, from William and Mary in 1689 to William and Kate today. It's therefore only right and proper that one of Britain's defining monarchs should have been born here, precisely 200 years ago, although nobody necessarily realised at the time.

Her father had been forced to marry in his fifties to try to maintain the line of succession, following the unfortunate death of his niece in childbirth. Duty done he made haste from Germany to Kensington Palace with his heavily-pregnant wife shortly before the birth. They picked a first floor room above the kitchens, ideally sited for the ready supply of hot water, and kitted it out with green drapes, a four-poster bed and a mahogany crib. And on 24th May 1819 Princess Alexandrina Victoria was born, right here, in a bedchamber now very much on the tourist trail.

Kensington Palace is owned by Historic Royal Palaces, an independent charity which also manages Hampton Court and the Tower of London. Admission's not cheap, with a voluntary donation and guide book given the polite hard sell at the ticket desk. Wave an Art Pass and they grit their teeth and let you in for free. Three separate period trails lead off from the Stone Hall, one to wood-panelled Stuart treasures and one to amazing Georgian finery. These were of course splendid, but enjoying the Victorian offering was obviously the focus of my day.

Two fresh Victoria-related exhibitions opened yesterday, one focusing on A Royal Childhood, the other Woman and Crown. The childhood walk-through is located in the family apartments, and includes baby portraits, dolls houses and a full sized puppet theatre (offering regular seated performances), as well as nitty gritty details of her mother's controlling nature. This is where you'll find the room in which she was born, complete with replica furniture and a small silver plaque.

The post-1837 exhibition is an upgrade of rooms I've walked round before, now with a bit more emphasis on international affairs, specifically the Indian subcontinent. Victoria made friends with deposed Sikh princes, learned to speak Urdu and wrote in Hindustani in her diary, which I hope isn't too much of a spoiler for future ITV drama episodes. A London school have been let loose to write poetry to accompany some of the displays, providing some jolting balance lest you thought Empire and acquiring giant diamonds was all a good thing.

I confess I was expecting bicentenary day to be busier, and was pleased when it wasn't. I thought the palace would be making more of a fuss of the date, and was intrigued when they weren't. And I appreciated the opportunity to stand in the room where the royal umbilical was cut, 200 years on, and to reflect on the reverberating significance a single birth can bring.

Victoria Park

With the permission of the sovereign, an eponymous park was laid out across East End fields the 1840s. Generations have enjoyed its spacious acres... just not so many at the moment because a significant portion of the park is sealed off. This weekend and next see a takeover by the All Points East Festival, which is the only event left now that Field Day and Lovebox have skedaddled. A very long green fence has been erected with gates for intermittent access, and a village of music stages, food tents and entertainment foci erected within. And so, late on Friday afternoon, the revellers came.

Average age thirty-something, but with glittery teenagers and paunchy pre-retirees amongst them, the parade trooping up Grove Road stood out somewhat from the local demographic. Some clutched their last cheap drinks for several hours, others tottered on inadvisable heels. I'd like to have been joining them, having entered the Tower Hamlets' prize draw for a handful of daily tickets, and even had my May 24th choices sorted (Kate Tempest, Spiritualized, Hot Chip, Chemical Brothers), but unsurprisingly wasn't successful. Instead I got to listen to their distant thud from home throughout the evening, and smirked slightly when an unforecast heavy downpour drenched the lot of them.

Market Hall Victoria

This Victoria namesake is much younger, a mere six months, and is located in the former Pacha nightclub adjacent to Victoria bus station. It's one of those food halls that send Time Out into paroxysms of joy, essentially a streetfood lineup moved indoors and made permanent. The idea is that mates can turn up together and go off separately to pick their cuisine of choice, then return to sit at a tiny table before disposing of their trays and moving on elsewhere. In this respect it's exactly the same as the food court at a provincial shopping mall in the 1990s except more cramped, and almost all the dishes are foreign-sourced.

Don't expect pie and two veg. Instead plump for roti, tacos, udon, dim sum or pastrami, perhaps with a side of beef curry chips topped with salty satay peanuts. Admittedly one of the current eleven takeaway counters does specialise in fish and chips, but at £10.5 per portion they saw you coming. Market Hall Victoria is of course wildly popular, so expect to have to weave your way awkwardly through brunchers, lunchers or post-work diners with noodles in one hand and prosecco in the other. If you find the right swing doors at the back of the first floor you can ascend to the roof terrace for further seating and an outdoor bar, notionally also the perfect vantage point for bus spotting down below. Not that the clientele would be in any way interested, you understand, but the set-up at Market Hall Victoria is very much the direction of travel.

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