September 2015


I’m reading Bill Bryson notes from a small island and wishing I could write passages like this description of Llandudno:

It is truly a fine and handsome place, built on a generously proportioned bay and lined along its broad front with a huddle of prim but gracious nineteenth-century hotels that reminded me in the fading light of a line-up of Victorian nannies. Llandudno was purpose-built as a resort in the mid-1800s, and it cultivates a nice old-fashioned air. I don’t suppose that Lewis Carroll, who famously strolled this front with little Alice Liddell in the 1860s, telling her captivating stories of white rabbits and hookah-smoking caterpillars and asking between times if he could borrow her knickers to wipe his fevered brow and possibly take a few innocuous snaps ofher in the altogether, would notice a great deal of change today, except of course that the hotels were now lit with electricity and Alice would be -what? -127 years old and perhaps less of a distraction to a poor, perverted mathematician.

Such a power of description might make it easier to describe the types of conditions  of men we encountered in our first real foray into tourist land. Don’t get me wrong, the Eye is a great piece of tourist machinery  and on a picture-perfect day like today, it’s hard to go past just to get photographs. Dom thought it was great, but I’m losing my taste  for snapshots and I can’t really dump him I wander off for a bit of arty photography. I am looking for shots, so my Eye photos are rather dominated by the machine. 

  

Tate Britain was to be our afternoon destination, and we wandered across Westminster Bridge and into  the quiet streets behind the Abbey. A quick lunch and we were good to go, launching into the glories of the collection. Of course, I couldn’t wait to get a good look at the Turner  Collection, because I have no recollection of seeing it with Paula, and it didn’t disappoint. Again, all power to the curators, who seemed to see their role as educating the less than  knowledgeable,so I came away with a completely  different idea of Turner from the one I had somehow imagined.

I’m also developing a strong appreciation for the local art of the thirtiesand forties, something that I had only really known from reading about the Home Front during the war; but I came away with a sense that there is much about British art that is worth knowing, part of a busy intellectual  life that is often discredited  because  of the failure  of the left in the late Thirties.

Dom, of  course, leaves me for dead in an art gallery. That damn memory of his has him cataloging pictures a day he is making lists  of the three of four pictures  he likes best in each gallery. Of course he is making notes  on his iPhone, along with copious photographs. The best I can do is spick up ome general themes and find familiar pictures to help me along.

  
We spent all afternoon wandering around what is a fabulous building and then awanderedalong the south bank thinking  about  dinner. There is so much building  going on that nothing looked nice, so I decided it was time for a cruise down to Greenwich  again, all very easy and relaxing  to the tube!  We found cheap Mexican and came home repeat and ready for bed.
 

I convinced Dom that we needed a break from art galleries, so we decided on some military madness at the Imperial War Museum. We had a walk through a different part of London, through a Lambeth  in transformation, like so much of the South and east. Where will the poor people live when all the properties are worth more than half a million quid?

Neither of us could resist this one: and both of us could think of excellent  ways of repurposing this building. 

The Museum was smaller than I expected, certainly smaller than the Memorial is now, but Brendan Nelson doesn’t have the luxury of four other museums. I was familiar enough with the two 15″ guns mounted at the entrance (and I’ve always wondered where they were aimed – Belfast’s A and B turrets are aimed at a motorway service centre 20 miles away, probably by a frustrated  former gunner ! The surprise was that the central portion of the building was the last London site of Bedlam – most famously at St George’s Fields, but in the Nineteenth Century in Southwark. Lord Harmondsworth purchased it and donated it for the Museum after the Great War, piling irony on irony.

  

I spent much of the tour comparing the various galleries with their inequivalents  Canberra. I’d have to say that the layout in the AWM since its refurbishment is less cramped, but the focus is decidedly on the evils of war – the sanctification  of the ANZACs doesn’t have its English equivalent. Of course, the biggest  difference is the importance  of the home front, with a wartime house recreated around the story of a Lambeth family. 

The otreatment of the Cold War was something with no Australian equivalent. The Secret War section  was  fascinating, as was the rather brief treatment of the troubles; but we wandered upstairs to the VC Gallery for an extraordinary collection of Victoria Crosses and George Crosses. I knew many names and I have to say that I was most impressed by the bomb disposal GCs, including some from Afghanistan and Iraq. Then I found Leopard Cheshire’s  VC, and I  reflected, as a I have in the past, that the measure  of a person (not just a man) is not necessarily found on the field of battle. 

I regularly confess to the sin of not really understanding “modern art”, but that’s really a smokescreen for the fact that I know very little about art, full stop, except for stuff like historical and cultural context. It’s hard work, visual interpretation, so thank the good Lord for curators. Dom, courtesy of a very good art teacher, is a real natural when in comes to understanding and interpreting art of all periods, so I ended up a bit awestruck as he blitzed Tate Modern with the Dom version of panache.

The building itself is a bit of a wonder, and the range of rooms arranged mostly thematically. We started off with a set of surrealists that were far more varied than I expected and linked to the dream paintings of many painters who weren’t strictly surrealists! Dom and I developed an unspoken rule that we stayed in essentially the same art space but for most of the time he was flitting from work to work. The best insight I can give into the way he works is that he finishes each day working our his two or three favourite moments or works. I would struggle to remember the general period.

  
We saw much more: some great Soviet poster art and a great set of rooms on abstract art – I may have started to understand it a.bit better after today!

Then it was off to St Paul’s and some real footpounding. As always, entering the building brings a moment of vertigo and amazement, then for me the sheer pleasure of relating monuments to history. After the obligatory visits to Nelson and Wellington, it was time for the dome. I’d been up to the Stone Gallery – at the top of the dove’s barrel – but never to the top. We both made it, and as London’s weather was picture perfect, it made for soe great panoramas.

  
We walked back to Southwark for dinner and mandatory viewing of the Wallabies playing Fiji. It was quite a day, even if Australia missed out on a bonus point.

   

In Dom’s words, this was a very good day. The weather want glad to begin with, but we were promised better weather so we set out with optimism and raincoats to explore  Southwark  — mainly because I had forgotten to print out the tickets to the Globe.

The Jubilee Line is rapidly becoming familiar. We hopped off at London Bridge and walked across the road and, lo  and behold, there was Southwark Cathedral. I must have walked past it a dozen times over the years and not realised it was there. We dropped in for a visit and Dom was impressed by its “oldness”; but for me, I liked the way that St Mary Overrie had made itself into a place of welcome, with coffee shop and conference centre and a willingness to engage with social issues in a very contemporary way.

Around the cathedral are fantastic food markets and we’ve resolved to have at least one brunch here. Around the corner we ran into the Golden Hind, resting in the St Mary’s Dock. More photos, although Dom was most impressed with the modern building beside  it!

  

Tickets collected and the Globe duly admired, we set off for Holborn and the BM. As a veteran of the Camino and the Coast to Coast, I would have regarded myself as fairly good on my feet, but the couple of runs I’ve done and the roads are taking their toll. Dom, faced with the British Museum was indomitable (pub intended!). He was not to be deterred, though all the rugby tourists on London lay in front of him.  

Of course, the BM is huge, to the extent that they can afford to have a whole room devoted to the Enlightenment, in which the collection is larger than any in a comparable museum anywhere else. Greek and Etruscan pottery stands on beautiful shelves in priceless cabinets amidst a rare book collection  that would make a scientific bibliophile weep. All this to illustratethe voracious scientific appetites of the early natural philosophers. The good stuff was elsewhere.

  

We lunched economically in the cafe and knocked off several millennia of Egyptian and nd Assyrian history after lunch. Dom adeveloped  habit of disappearing into a crowd of primary aged Egyptologists to emerge, iPhone in hand, with more digital memories. At some point, we began to feel like the little mermaid, walking on knives. The time had come.

Back to Carson Road for housework and showers before heading back into London for a good meal and Measure for Measure for good measure. I don’t think this blog is the place for review, there isn’t the time; but we had a ball!

  

No one could have prepared London for Dom, and certainly I wasn’t. From the moment we came off the Tube at Waterloo, and saw the City against the skyline with the Thames beneath in the sunshine, I realised I  had co-created a monster. And, like another modern Prometheus, there will be little rest while he is on the loose!

Monday was the Museum of London. Last time nothing was opened to the public after the great fire  of London – there is a joke in that somewhere – but this time it was the metropolis from BP to CE. We powered happily through hoards of prehistoric hand axes while hordes of primary children in Fluorescent jackets attended by harassed adults thronged around us. It became obvious why the flint tools and weapons were under glass. The my inner teacher had twitching hands, just like my on duty colleagues. If you could kill a Thames Valley hippo with a flint hand axe, then peace might be only a moment away. I pointed out to Dom that we were victims of the weather. If you had to take a child on an excursion in England,  September was it. It might be overcast, but at least it wasn’t sleet.

We clawed our way across the centuries, wondering if plague rats would make good pets for the under nines, but surfaced in the reformation  with some stunning examples of Tudor artistry  and  iconoclasm. From there we were just a match stick from the Fire and on into the Ages of Empire. Dom decided that the various copies of Cromwell’s death mask were worthy of note, but he forgot the gory details of the Protector’s post-mortem execution once we got to the Victorian exhibits, where the curators have built an entire set of lafe-cenfury shops to illustrate life and culture in fin-de-siecle  London. All great fun, but I rather preferred the attempt to deal with this city’s ongoing struggle with poverty and marginalisation.

We emerged, decided on a nice pub for wlunch as it as drizzling… and the heavens opened. We had intended to use our bus tour vouchers, but there were better days than today to it. So a trip to Greenwich and an early tea sounded like the way to go. It poured all the way, but we wandered around what has become a busy and cosmopolitan village surrounded by medium and high rise developments. You wouldn’t recognise Deptford, Mum and Dad; and even down towards Woolwich is now all high rise and trendy bars.

  
Having hit the roads at 7 this morning for a run and then walked about 15 km, my feet were killing me and it only seemed just to head in for an early night. The downside with Canning Town is it is not great  or food, so I think we  will try to experiment a but in Greenwich, Southwark and Canary Wharf. It’s pouring outside, so we may need some plan Bs.

This was a trip long planned, intended for Easter, and implemented at entirely the wrong time of the year, because we arrived in London with hordes of All Black supporters and a sprinkling of gold on our QF1 journey. Ironies of ironies, in that I would have cheerfully train-hopped anywhere in Britain for a game, but Dom and I both know that taking him would be a waste and I’m actually enjoying showing him around my favourite city.

Bringing Dom to London was an easy decision. He is unusually well-informed, although I would describe his reading as eclectic rather than extensive, but he keeps surprising me by making connections between the historical and geographical clues that I love to drop and stuff he knows. This is such a great city for history, probably only rivaled by Paris, because so much has been preserved in a small area; and London is extraordinarily dynamic. Once might have thought that the GFC and years of European worries would have clipped the capital’s wings, but not so. Infrastructure investment is amazing by Australian standards, business is clearly booming, and residential property is a Sydney-sized headache on a much bigger population.

Two stories that illustrate something about this city in the 21st Century; first, that I could purchase a £20 SIM for the mobile which has unlimited data. Last year, this was not possible when we were starting on the Coast to Coast, and the coverage in the north was spotty; but here, technology marches on, with fibre everywhere and satellite dishes ubiquitous. The second story comes from the observation at Canary Wharf tube station, that London has perhaps become even more dgeographically divided than ever. We hopped off the DLR, which has a democratic path from north to south in addition to its role connecting London to the Olympic development. Walking over to the rather more monumental Jubilee line station, it became clear that all of the financial minions that are the reason for the whole development are travelling west to home and hearth. Heading east, as we were, was a much smaller and less expensively dressed group. I suppose the oinhabitants of the East End and beyond should be happy they have transport at all. Let’s face it, those in power left them without much for 140 years. Such is the remnants of London’s social and economic divide, and it is still potent even as housing prices force all except the middle class of much of London.

I can and will write volumes about Canning Town, but I can tell you that its motley collection of Victorian slum housing, council flats and semis won’t survivethe March of new developments down the river. In ten years, this area will be shiny new apartment blocks with distant view of the River. I don’t know where the vibrant communities that fill the Barking Road high street with life will go, and no one would want to go back to the old docklands, but there is always something lost.

Anyway, we’re here, with sore feet after a big plod through Regent Street and Picadilly on Sunday after our arrival, and a day at the Museum of London. Monday afternoon was a wash out, but Dom’s verdict is that he is pleasantly knackered after a really good day. 

Me too.

I’m at my desk surrounded by staffing issues, wondering how to do loaves and fishes with the timetable as usual, and I’m leaving with Dom for London on Saturday. I don’t think I am at all coping: my brain hurts and my bag is not packed. For the record, and so we can keep a record (!), here is the list of things that we/he has planned. I think there are few people who could anticipate such an information intake without Museum Fatigue, and I wonder how long Dom will really last. I’m looking forward more to some exploring in parts of London I’ve never seen. I wonder if I can find a craft  beer-tasting? It may be a useful alloy to the museums, lol).

*Leicester Square

*London Eye

https://www.londoneye.com/

 

 

 

 

 

£28

*British Museum

*Buckingham Palace and Changing of the Guard

*Jack the Ripper Tour

Any night we want to get out (see the sunset times below to see why), there are night tours

Free London Walking Tours
Free Tours of London
London Night Tours

£5
£5

*Imperial War Museum

19:30 Globe Theatre: Measure for Measure (confirmed)

IWM London site Free

Paid

*Tate Britain

*Tate Modern

*Fire, Plague and Pestilence Tour

Visiting TB

Visiting Tate Modern

Free Walking Tours

Free

Free

£5

*National Maritime Museum, Cutty Sark, Royal Observatory

*Night out in Covent Garden (pick a show)

*British Library

*Museum of London

*Westminster Abbey

British Museum Web Site Free
*Harry Potter Museum

*Pick a walk! Pub walks, Literary Walks, Canals!

St Paul’s Cathedral

*London Literary Walk (Dickens and Shakespeare)

London Walks

£5

Hampton Court? Combined with a River Cruise (if the weather’s good) Turks Tours £7
*Natural History Museum
*Day in Oxford
*Day in Kent or Dover (could do Chartwell or Penshurst