Yes I know. London isn’t at the extreme end of eastern Europe. You’ll just have be patient. We’ll get there eventually.
We arrived on the day after the completion of the Games to a city suffused with euphoria, good will and self-satisfaction, where public services were efficient and well-practised and where Australia had just nudged past Kazakhstan in the medal count. The Russian team appeared to be using our hotel as a social centre; either that or they’d popped in to see Steve Bracks who was also staying there. The Mall and various other places were still fenced off, but otherwise London was lying back in welcome.
Amiable good humour seemed the order of the day.
And there were those sights which are completely and uniquely English. A smoke, a beer and a book …
Most of the special Olympic cultural things had finished, but we did get to the British Museum’s ‘Age of Shakespeare’ show, and what a show it was. Why seeing a first folio should move one I’m not sure, but one was moved. There were all sorts of bits and pieces included — such as portraits of Henry VIII and his various spice. [We read Henry VIII while we were away and decided, I did anyway, that it was a puff piece. It has a coronation procession in it, a very wordy and somewhat dull third act masquerading as a legal battle and a three-page speech sucking up to Elizabeth who of course was alive when the events the play describes occurred. So you’d want to be a bit cautious.] Also in attendance were Scottish bits and pieces for spell casting and good deal about Venice including this extraordinary Burano ewer from about 1600.
Some blokes were cleaning the dome over the Museum’s internal gallery, all new since we last were guests.
The Thames walk
Before we left I found myself wondering why we were putting ourselves through the pain associated with travelling in countries where we didn’t speak the language, & so many c.s. I found and read some guides to walking along the Thames from the Barrage to the spring it rises from in the Cotswolds. Sounded great, and so doable, so easy. Some months later I am now over the general problem of seeking pain-free travelling, but as an antidote to jetlag we did a couple of sections of this walk — in fact from Teddington to Hammersmith Bridge — and it was certainly one of the highlights of the trip. It didn’t hurt at all that it was a beautiful day. Myrna was sure she saw Mole and Ratty as we wandered along through avenues and past grand houses. Teddington is an undistinguished slightly rural suburb not far from Hampton Court Palace, but we started somewhere near here.
We passed Eel Pie Island in whose eponymous studios nearby The Who made some of their greatest hits and lunched at the London Apprentice which has a long list of charming yarns, no doubt largely apochryphal, attached. Charles Dickens seems to have drunk in most pubs in London, but Henry VIII may well have dallied here with Jane Seymour, this being a convenient stopover on the watery way between palaces. He had taken Hampton Court from Wolsey by this time and it appears to have become a favourite residence. Whatever, the sandwiches were excellent.
When roads were rutty mud, the river was the highway from one grand house to the next and there was still plenty of evidence of this. Green sward or what? England generally had had a great volume of rain and it was deliciously evident.
And below is one of the Duke of Northumberlands’ (pl.) country houses; not quite in the country, not quite a house. Hardly beautiful. But I’m sure someone got some value out of it.
I was most taken by the engineering of the bridges as we passed them. This is a bit of the Tower Bridge which we didn’t pass on this occasion, but have a look how it is built. Suspension leaves around a rivetted box for stiffness with a gigantic hinge. The Chain Bridge in Budapest is built in a not dissimilar fashion (and was designed by a Scottish engineer).
Ok that was a digression. Point taken. Enough said.
The route took us through the locks and barge building/ maintenance works at Brentford, upping the quotient of the picturesque,
and buildings taking a leaf perhaps out of Roman polymorphism and layering. This is All Saints at Isleworth and it does have a remarkable history. (That material is strikingly interesting.) Most of the church was destroyed during WWII and the resultant architecture is perhaps remarkable like its history rather than beautiful like its location.
And finally to Hammersmith. This is looking back up the river. I note in passing the dozens of rowing clubs and sheds we passed over the 25 or so k.s. No wonder GB does well in rowing. I note also the fabulous Gainsborough sky.
The Saatchi Exhibition
The Saatchi Gallery is in the King’s Rd just west of Sloane Square. For decades now it has been renowned for leading trends in visual arts. Backed by advertising money of a very substantial order, more than I can imagine anyway, it makes its gifts and tastes available to the public for nothing. We left to go there fairly late on the number 11 bus which incorporates most of the sights of London but doesn’t really cut through the traffic. I was a bit tired and querulous when we got there — short of a cup of tea and a sit down — but the exhibits were simply stunning, actually worth a full day’s absorption. One floor contained frames lifted from Google’s great adventure of photographing the world for Google maps. So, a guy climbing out a window, a stag running through cars on a highway, the very recent aftermath of a car crash, an argument in the street, and so on. Life as it is lived.
Two floors were devoted to ‘Korean Eye’ which was Saatchi’s Olympic moment. Every ‘piece’ was somehow remarkable, out of the box, springing with intelligence and the most remarkable creativity. This, five metres high was called ‘Wood’. Or did you guess that?
Another example is this room full of fabulous pottery.
Some translucent, all beautifully figured … and all made of soap and starting to slump slightly after four weeks of exhibition.
There was so much more. But in the basement is this permanent exhibit, one of the most remarkable pieces of art I have ever seen.
Formidably hard to photograph successfully, it is a metre of sump oil (and smells like it) with almost perfect reflectivity coupled with these weird shadings of grey. Perfectly still, perfectly composed. There is a clue to its nature, otherwise not obvious, in the metre-deep slot cut into the ‘pond’ mid left. It is one of the most unarguably beautiful things I have ever seen.
And yes you can climb the shard (if you’ve got some work to do) …
become a figurehead …
(Hi Robin, who with Andre were fine companions in London.)
Or pat the Visible Man on the bum.
And all this before we’d even left something that had so many resonances of home. Considerably more was to come.
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