October 2015


I’ve never visited the National Gallery, but we wdecided that we couldn’t miss one of the premier collections in Europe, so off we toddler, feet ready and backs straight. I’d have to say that it is definitely worth another visit, because various key rooms were closed, but what was there was magic. I kept my eyes open for Caravaggio, and there was a stunning Emmaus, complete  with the slash of light across the shadows. I may not need to know this next year, but at least I can say I have seen chiaruscuro in the flesh as it were. That’s more than I can say for the characters  in Ondaatje novel.

Of course, the National has stuff they never let the Tate inherit, so there was The Fighting Temeraire, still one of my favourites and I think the greatest Maritime painting of them all. Wonderful Gainsboroughs, and classic Stubbs – the horse man! – and hidden away in a separate space, luminous mediaeval and early  Renaissance stuff. I think the only things missing were Dutch Masters, but I don’t think Dom will complain about the gaps I’ve left in his artistic education. As always, he stopped every now and then to add something to his list, maintained  with care on his phone, and the more I think about it, he has a brilliant strategy. I will certainly adopt this next time! 

Trafalgar Square was in brilliant autumn sunshine, and the usual street performers were out there. Yoda  on a stick keeps cropping up, along with some really poor bunkers. The good ones are in Leicester Square, and at least the touts with their ball in the cup trick stick to Westminster Bridge, where there is always some gullible American ready to take them on. You can watch for five aminutes and see the offsider play the sucker game. The wife insists on  playing, wins ten quid and then loses fifty. How did they become top nation?

Phantom delighted Dom and, in spite of my Webber -phobia, impressed me. The talent was more than up to the task, and looking at their bios, were all getting lots of work, except for  the young ones who were clearly on the up and up. The sheer ofconcentration  shows is always  impressive, and it was a bit of a shame that we couldn’t afford another night out at something that hadn’t become tourist fodder. There were some great revivals and some interesting new shows that Paula and I will have to oninvestigate  our return.

The so-called Etihad Experience is a large chairlift across the Thames, from the Exhibition center near London Airport over to the O2. As far as I can see it is rather pointless for commuters as there is basically nothing at the Woolwich end, including connections on to anywhere else. But you get a great view over the Thames and Docklands from up there, so we decided to get to Greenwich that way – Dom, like me, is very fond of Greenwich, which still has a bit of a village feel.   
  

 

We walked to Greenwich, and made the helpful discovery that the Thames Path at this point is a noisy footpath on a major road. So much for visions of a riparian ramble. It was a stunning day, so it wasn’t  a complete  waste, but we were both happy to walk into Greenwich and find ourselves at the back door of the Old Royal Naval College.

  
We wandered  through the College, full of busy uni students, and did the Cutty Sark from keel to deck, and I was wondering what the view would have been like from the crosstrees! When Paula and I first came to Greenwich, the ship was closed  for  renovation, and shortly after there was the disastrous fire. I’m happy to report rthat the restored vessel is quite magnificent and, as one would expect  in a British Museum, very accessible.

  
Lunch under the keel, and then to the Royal Observatory. Fantastic  views, amazing science, loved all the  gadgets, especially the chronometers. Then to the Maritime Museum, again stunning and requiring a separate post all on its own, but of course  the Nelson displays were immensely moving. I loved the story of the provenance of The Coat: that Emma Hamilton slept with it on her bed for years. Their romance has salwaysstruck me as running the whole gamut from pathos to bathos.

  

We had dinner at the King’s Arms, rushed back up town to get tickets  for Phantom tomorrow night and edecided that enough was enough. Jack the  Ripper could wait for another night. 

It’s certainly true that, as Dr Johnson said, that London holds everything that life can afford, and one can do it quite cheaply and simply. I was determined that at least one of our religious excursions was to see a building at work, so we did Sung Eucharist at Westminster Abbey before heading in the museum district in South Kensington. Howeve, on the way we determined not to waste a minute — well, I did, and Dom was suitably impressed by my (very sketchy) local knowledge. I said that I would take Dom to the Monument, but then I realised I was five minutes walk from both Leadenhall Market and the infamous 20Fenchurch Street. 

Walking over London Bridge seemed a very pedestrian task (sorry!) but this is England. On the Bridge, a flock of sheep and a bunch of blokes in red robes and shepherds crooks, claiming some ancient right. The accents revealed that their were not the All Blacks in disguise — and the relaxed attitude of the sheep should have given that away — but who would have thought?

  

The monument wasn’t worth the effort of climbing, after St Paul’s, but this early crowd obviously didn’t think so. Of course, the nearest bar is called The Hydrant!

 

Leadenhall is for me one of the most beautiful places in London and, oddly, I’ve never been there while it was open. The first time was on a photographic course at about ten at night, and the only other time was, similarly, on a weekend. Its colours and dimensions are perfect for photography and wandering the halls turns up all the oddities that one finds among small British shops.

Fenchurch Street boasts one of the most bizarre buildings in a part of the city that now boasts the inside out building (Lloyds), the Blade, the Gherkin and, just over the river, the Shard. 20 Fenchurch has been mocked for its resemblance to an early Nokia and achieved notoriety for reputedly acting as a reflector and melting a Jag parked outside. The last I don’t believe because there is so little parking in London, but as the thing wasn’t finished last time I was here, I thought Dom would appreciate its interesting form. Predictably, he was amused and interested where some would just huff a bit! Astonishingly, you can buy a ticket to the top — and there was a queue at  Sunday morning!
  

The service at Westminster was delightful, with a setting by Padilla. It was high but not over the top, and Dom remarked rather sagely that he was glad that we had not gone to St Paul’s, as I had been tempted to, because he felt it would have been a much more formal and ritualistic service. I suspect he was right, but I was glad we had made the choice to come to the Abbey, because the congregation mainly sat in the transept (the choir screen would have blocked the view in the nave) and we, completely by chance, ended up in Poets Corner. William Blake glowered at my shoulder — probably deeply pissed off at being memorialised in an Establishment church. The literary worthies of England surrounded is and, after a very nice little mass, we sneaked around to greet lots of old friends. I asked Dom now he had enjoyed the service and he replied that he quite enjoyed it, but as usual I had sung too loud. Sigh.

We hopped on the Big Bus and headed for Kensington, lunch and the Natural History Museum. Dom, as usual, went into museum overdrive, but I struggled with the sheer numbers of ankle biters and the tendency of the displays to talk at the level of a ten year old. In fact, the highlights for me were the gorgeous Edwardian building and the minerals collection, mercifully devoid of the prepubescent mass and a quiet oasis of wonders. 12,000 specimens and samples of something like ¾ of all known minerals, plus an amazing collection of gems. We happily wandered and wondered, while downstairs amidst th dinosaurs, Homo sapiens was demonstrating why evolution doesn’t always work the way Richard Dawkins would like it to.

  
Never one to waste a quid, Dom decided that we would use our free night bus tour. Our feet were the worse for wear but we crossed Westminster Bridge in the dusk and picked up the tour outside County Hall. Your Training College is now the Marriott, Mum: how things change.

Every city has its beauties by night and London is one of my favourites. We staggered home after another one of Dom’s amazing days.

  

I’d bought 48 hour passes for the London bus tour and I hadn’t quite worked out when we were going to use it. The weather has been so picture perfect that just being on the street has been a delight, but I wanted to take Dom up West and the bus seemed like a.plan. It’s odd that the blue route takes you further but has the canned commentary, while the red route misses so much of the West but had those witty Londoners doing live commentary. The cost of the blue route is simple : you never want to hear Elgar ever again.

The advantage is to get you up West on some comfort and above ground. The utilitarian tube avoids any engagement with the touristy bits of the town  and you are left to imagine what is going by above your head as you whoosh across town on the original and best mass transit system. 

Bus it was, to the north and the west, with London and Londoners sunning themselves in those magnificent royal parks. Off the bus after several rounds of the Nimrod variations to have a geeze at Harrods and heave at the Di and Dodi memorial, surely a sign that humanity has really lost its way. How appropriately placed in Harrods, lifestyles of the rich, stupid and entitled. Outside to wander the streets of Brompton, wondering what Faber would have thought of all those hijabs, as we stopped off at the Oratory – site of the least inspiring mass I have ever attended, which is really saying something. They must be doing something right, because you have to get your name ticked off at mass to get your son into the Oratory School. No headscarf here.

A bite to eat and we were into the Victoria and Albert Museum, always one of my favourites. We managed to spend nearly three hours there without repeating much of what if already seen and I’m sure I could go back for another day and not retrace my steps – not that it would worry me at all, because the V&A never stoops to the popular and childish. It is at least the equal of the BM in my view and, with my love of those odd people the Victorians, more engaging and human. It’s like comparing Newton to Dickens in am odd way@

Dinner in Covent Garden followed, though why we didn’t stay up west I have no recollection. My feet and brain are somehow connected, because both are tired.