Tuesday, May 17, 2011

London weekend

Off to the Big Smoke for a spot of culture. We were very lucky - great friend Erin dog sat, and we were able to stay in our friends flat in Hoxton near Islington while they were away - very generous of them! A fantastic venue, right on the Regent's Canal, already a favourite place of ours. I'm astonished (though I shouldn't be) at the number of people on that canal. A constant stream of cyclists and joggers so you really have to walk single file to allow them all to pass without irritation (to us and them).

It's a 20 minute walk along the towpath to get to the Angel at Islington, so we became very familiar with this stretch of waterway. On Saturday we were heading in with the idea of brunch, but paused at one of the locks to watch a narrowboat coming in, then helped with their lines and the lock gates.

They were a retired couple from the Midlands who spend ten weeks every summer on the English canals. Chat chat chat like boating people do, then

'Would you like to come through the tunnel with us?'

The tunnel passes right under Islington High Street and I've written about it before - we were first on the Regent's Canal in 2009 and again in January this year. But we'd never been through it - in fact I've never been through any waterways tunnel before.

'Yes indeed,' we said, of course.

This is a tunnel through which, in the early, horse-drawn days of the canal, men 'legged' it through, lying on their backs to propel the boat. You can just see the light at the other end of it - half a mile away.

Half way along the tunnel
It was surprisingly airy in there - not as claustrophobic as I'd expected. But there were drips. Big fat drips into your hair and your eyes. We met a coot halfway along, scooting under Islington. Saves dodging the traffic. Coming out the other side felt like another world. 

Into the light

We fitted in a lot over the weekend. Two Tates for a start. I hadn't been to the Tate Modern before. The main exhibition was the Spanish (or I should say Catalan) surrealist painter MirĂ³. Each room in the exhibition covered a different stage of his life and career, from the early days when his paintings were largely of the farm he grew up on, through exile in France during the Civil War to the days of Franco. And finally post-Franco. It was a fabulous experience. I'd love to put a pic of his paintings here, but there will be copyright issues, so have a look here.

At the Tate Britain it was watercolours. Excellent curation - it brought you through from the 17th century via astonishingly accurate botanical paintings used as much as a scientific record as things of beauty, and into the modern day. Part of it was a series of educational displays on the development of watercolours showing the materials used, painboxes, brushes and so on. Right at the end of the exhibition was a hanging crumpled sheet of pink plasticky stuff made from Cellophane, watercolour, emulsion, acrylic paint, vaseline, glass, shampoo, hair gel, toothpaste and thread. This was by Karla Black and entitled 'Opportunities for Girls'.

I read all sorts of things into it, mainly based on the title. I thought of the fragility of opportunities for girls, that the pink represented the 'girliness' of what is available for them, that they are still pushed into 'women's work' in spite of feminism. And so on. Then I read what it said in the catalogue. It seems I was wrong. Not sure what the description meant, but it was somewhat less practical than my ideas.

Then there were the two sticks on the wall by Hayley Tompkins. They were painted and enamelled. Stuck on the wall. Small sticks, bent in the middle.

We fitted in a boat trip down to Woolwich - on a Thames Clipper water taxi. And the Chelsea Physic Garden, a little oasis next to the river, the oldest botanic garden in London and still used as a place of research. Fabulous tea and cake too.

And a play at the Almeida - A Delicate Balance by Edward Albee. Brilliant.

I think we're all cultured out for a while. At least until Listowel Writers Week. Just time to catch our breath.

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