Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Trip to London

There are an awful lot of people in London. Thank heavens for the London Underground, although you wouldn't want to be too claustrophobic when the trains are full. We popped up from the depths at Russell Square close to our hotel, The Lancaster in Bedford Place. A little oasis of calm except for the helicopter hovering overhead, still spying on the student demo that started in Russell Square. Glad we missed that one. Didn't fancy getting caught up in a kettling incident.

That evening we ate at a little bistro in Islington which was full of theatre-goers before crossing the road to the Almeida Theatre. The play, Becky Shaw, was excellent. Dark humour, very well written and at no point did I have that theatre moment where you're very aware that these are actors on the stage, not the characters they are portraying. It's a lovely theatre too with a stage that revolves to reveal the next set.

We were sat next to an American fellow who'd lived in Geneva for 20 years. He worked in International Property Rights at the United Nations. Great conversations during the interval.

Sunday morning and off to Camden Town for brunch and the markets. It was Joe's birthday, and for someone who has a love of markets like he does, this is the place to go. Many of the shop fronts have sculptures hanging high up on the wall above the door. Or maybe you wouldn't call them sculptures. Figures of people, shapes to illustrate the name of the premises, slogans and names. The place we went for brunch had one. This was one of the more tasteful.

The brunch was a full english breakfast but none of your greasy caff stuff here. The sausages were proper butcher's affairs, the rashers were thick and tasty, the eggs done just right. There were hash browns too. Not thoroughly english, I don't think. A touch of  over-the-pondness to them.

Across the road and one of the markets was scattered through a nineteenth century group of stables, workshops and warehouses, brick built and two- and three-storeys high. There were cobbled ramps to allow horse movement between levels. Everywhere were life-size statues of horses. Some more than life size. Here's the birthday boy wearing his new stripey cap just purchased for £8 across the road.
Camden is on the Regent's Canal, and as we can never go anywhere without some waterways interest, we took a walk from Camden Lock to Little Venice in cold winter sunshine. There are more bits of market at Camden Lock - this seemed to be mostly a food area - but then the bohemia is left behind for narrowboats, mansions and exotic birds. The narrowboats are obvious as we were on a canal. The mansions were less expected.

Theses vast classical buildings were constructed between 1987 and 2008 by Terry Quinlan in the style of the architect John Nash. They are quite outrageous, situated in Regent's Park overlooking the canal. Not too far from the zoo, so they doubtless have an interesting background sound track.

The towpath passes through the zoo, right next to the beautiful aviary designed by Lord Snowdon and built in 1964. It was wash time for the pelicans as we walked past.

After the pelicans and mansions and canal it was time for a bit more culture. A dash to the Royal Academy of Arts by Very Slow Bus caught in traffic. The dash was purely in the mind except for the last hurtle down Piccadilly. I'd bought tickets in advance, and you have to give a time. I'd said two and it was already half past. This being London, not Dublin, we didn't know how much it mattered. The woman on information didn't seem bothered. I doubt whether anything much perturbed her. She looked through the envelopes of pre-booked tickets, asked for our address, sighed a little. I mentioned that I'd booked on the phone, the online form getting in a tizz about the lack of postcode.

'Oh, you booked by phone,' she said in a tone you might use on a child walking mud into the house.

'Did she ask?' I said to Joe as we left the desk. 'Did she ask if we'd booked by phone or online?'

'No,' he said. 'She never asked.'

The exhibition of Modern British Sculpture was incredibly interesting. The most amazing and powerful piece was 'Adam' by Jacob Epstein. Some gorgeous works by Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore. Then we were into the very modern including Damien Hirst's 'Let's Eat Outdoors Today', two perspex boxes full of flies, rotting food and maggots. There was half a pear hanging from the ceiling with half an apple glued to the cut side. And by artist Gustav Metzger, a line of pages of The Sun's page three stuck to the wall. Co-curator Penelope Curtis said

"We chose this piece because it reflects quite well on the literary, journalistic day by day quality of the way we perceive British culture now. How, for most people, the way they understand what British culture is, is through the press, through imagery, through magazines so it comes to you pre-digested."

I wonder whether Gustav Metzger, who is 84, chose it for the same reason.

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