London 2012

P1020509.JPG We took ourselves off to London last weekend. Partly because we felt we deserved a break, because we haven’t been anywhere apart from hospitals and Glasgow for ages,  we wanted to visit some exhibitions, and also to lay a few ghosts (it was on a train coming back from London that I started to feel unwell last June).

What a novelty is a train journey south that starts and ends in Edinburgh. Four and a half hours to London passes really quickly when you haven’t started the journey four hours previously in the dark in Inverness. East Coast (the people’s train) now provide complimentary hot food and alcoholic beverages as well as tea, coffee, biscuits and mince pies in first class (but not the hot food and alcohol at the weekend, as we found out to our cost on the way back). I also discovered the delights of knitting on a train – much more fun than writing reports.

DSCF1992.JPG We trod a familiar path. Stayed at the President on Russell Square (where at any time of the year you can observe the world at breakfast). Ate at Misato in Chinatown, Maoz in Old Compton Street and the Masala Zone in Soho. Drank Samuel Smith’s ale in the White Horse and the John Snow. Shopped in Muji, Stanfords, Liberty’s, the cluster of outdoor shops around Covent Garden, and John Lewis on Oxford Street.

P1020513.JPG We loved the Grayson Perry Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman exhibition at the British Museum. He subverts, reinterprets and enlightens traditional attitudes to art and craft – the gallery as temple, visitors as pilgrims, veneration of objects, themes of death and rebirth, journeys of discovery and self-discovery.

P1020642.JPG We went to Kew Gardens on a beautiful, cold, clear day (as clear as London ever is through the fug of traffic and the criss-crossing of air trails). The parakeets were habitually noisy. The holly collection was interesting, the witch hazels quite lovely. The champion Ginkgo was impressive, its perfect form appreciable as a bare skeleton without leaves. The Marianne North Gallery  was a stunning revelation – 833 oil paintings, one woman’s output over thirty years or so in the late nineteenth century, painted in oil on journeys to the farthest corners of the empire, housed in a gallery she funded and oversaw herself. She even has some plants named after her (Kniphofia northiae if you know your red-hot pokers). I have a new heroine.

Next door is the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art, where Dee was able to indulge in some close scrutiny of the incredibly detailed brushwork of the modern masters of this art (with a nod to Grayson Perry having raised our awareness that viewing pictures in a gallery is displaying our reverence before objects in a temple).

P1020693.JPGBack in London, Dee took me to one of her most iconic childhood haunts, the roof garden at Derry & Tom’s in Kensington. The glory days of the independent department store being over, the building is now owned by Richard Branson, and the garden an up-market event location, but open to the public if you know where it is and there’s not an event on. There was something quite lovely about spotting a Garrya elliptica (silver tassel bush) just coming into flower above a London winter skyline. And the flamingos were very amusing (and pretty).

DSCF1988.JPG We forewent the opportunity to queue from seven in the morning for the chance of tickets to the National Gallery’s da Vinci exhibition. Instead we went to the Gallery itself. I have never been to the National Gallery in London. It’s full of great works (I think I did know that). I was amused to feel Grandma Stewart on my shoulder when I was looking at Constable’s The Hay Wain – for reasons I never fully understood, she loved that painting, and Turner, with a strange mixture of art appreciation and patriotism, traces of which I fear I may have inherited.

We had a great time in London (here are some pictorial highlights). Then it was also great to come back home again, the first time we have actually come back to the flat having been away overnight. The cats were at the top of the stairs to greet us, a bit hungry, but well and calm. Did we know a strange woman had been coming in twice a day to feed and clean up after them? Yes we did, we have found a great local cat-sitter. Maybe we’ll get away again soon.


This entry was posted in Archive. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.