London Calling:

Life For the past six months or so I've been travelling to London for one day per month and visiting all the places which I've read about in books, seen in films, simply known about but never seen. As I said in the V&A post about one of these such days, it's because at the age of forty-two I'm not getting any younger and if anything were to happen to me, or lets face it at this point potentially all of us, I don't want it to be without having had these adventures. Plus for years I've complained about how so much of our cultural heritage is concentrated in London and realised that if it wasn't going to visit Liverpool any time soon, I'd best drag myself down there instead. "Down there." Such a Northerner.

One of the elements of these visits has been to purposefully not write them up as blog posts, a rule which I've already broken on a couple of occasions. Much of this had to do with not wanting to make the visit about what I'd subsequently scribble here, wanting to experience everything like someone who doesn't have a blog. But the problem is, this blog does exist and if when I look back at this time in a few years there isn't anything here, that negates the whole point of writing it in the first place. I'm grouping everything under how I'd describe them on a bucket list, which doesn't really exist other than as a set of random ideas for "things I haven't done yet".  Oh and purposefully just a paragraph or so each.  I still don't want to overthink things.

The Docklands Light Railway.

The idea of the DLR has fascinated me since seeing a report about its initial construction on, I think, Tomorrow's World.  On reflection and after having travelled on it, I can see that it's really just a glorified tram, but the idea of a near driverless train seemed entirely space age back in the 1980s.  The real novelty is being able to sit at the front where the cab would be and seeing the railway and oncoming stations from what would be a train driver's point of view.  A guard told me that he'd watched the area build up around the track during his years on the service.  My favourite moment was pulling in to Limehouse which has lost all of the character which would have inspired the Doctor Who story The Talons of Weng Chiang.

On part of the journey, an actual driver was sitting on the passenger seat across the way, controlling the train from a panel, although his entire job seemed to be to press one button on reaching a station to open the doors then another to let the train know that it could leave.  His eyes were permanently fixed to the front, deep in concentration, no sign of boredom or apathy.  Even with my sense of occasion, there's no denying that there's only so much of the same track you can watch.  Thank goodness for the moments when the carriage lurched upwards and sideways rather like a roller coaster to provide some extra excitement as it sped through the landscape between the locations its contrived to visit.

The Prime Meridian.

One of the three key reasons for this London visit was to finally see the Prime Meridian at the Royal Observatory.  Navigating to the line is part of an audio tour; you can't simply see it for free, it's part of an extended narrative about how we measure time and space across the globe.  It's smaller than I expected, at least the visual representation, a short strip of metal about fifty metres long in the courtyard outside one of the observatories.  Along the edge various cities are listed with their relative longitudes and distance from the equator.  For the most part it seems to exist to allow tourists to have a photograph taken with their feet straddling the east-west divide.  The real measurement, check and balance, is a laser projected from the rafters about forty kilometres across London.

Harrison's Longitude Clocks.

These clocks are smaller than I expected.  After having read Sobel's book about their creation and the various documentaries and dramas, these mechanisms had writ large in my imagination, but they're proportionally similar to a small microwave.  Which isn't diminish their beauty, these great technical achievements also translate into kinetic sculptures as the balances and wheels bounce back and forth.  They're presented within a larger display which rather emphasises the astronomical method as well it might and to an extent their total achievement is underplayed as are the reasons why John Harrison wasn't rewarded when he should (of Sobel's version of the narrative is to be believed) because of the sneariness of astronomers.  There also isn't any mention I could see of Rupert Gould's contribution in restoring the clocks to the condition in which they are now.

Emma Hamilton: Seduction and Celebrity.

Ever since seeing That Hamilton Woman and Vigee Le Brun's portraits, I've been fascinated by Emma, a figure who began life in poverty, managed to build her reputation to the point of becoming Nelson's mistress then returning once again to penury in her final years, dying at 49.  She was a remarkable woman, constantly re-inventing herself as a performer and somewhat politician turning men's frequently callousness to her advantage, packing so much into her short life.  This exhibition at the National Maritime Museum collects dozens of portraits by Romney as well as some incredible artifacts including the love letters, the antiquities she would have studies and Nelson's own uniform.  There's also a stunning ten minute presentation in which her "attitudes" are recreated by an actress in video on a stage.

The Cutty Sark.

Briefly.  As the posters advertising the friends programme for Greenwich Park explain, it's impossible to see it all in one day.  So I missed most of the National Maratime Museum (apart from Turner's painting of the Battle of Trafalgar), the planetarium and the Queen's Gallery and the interior tour of the ship.  But as I've learnt from previous visits, it's best to make a point of seeing the things I've travelled down to see first and then make everything else secondary.  The Cutty Sark probably does indeed deserves a whole day, but I was happy to walk past its exterior for now.  It's larger than I expected, having only otherwise seen it in helicopter shots during coverage of the London Marathon.  Perhaps once I've completed my personal A-List of London attractions I'll return.

Canary Wharf.

With the Museums closing at five o'clock and a few hours to fill before catching the train home, I decided to visit Torchwood One or as close as possible.  As a receptionist at One Canada Square cautioned, apart from shops and restaurants there isn't much to do but after a visit to Pizza Express, I was quite happy to stroll about the place, looking into the windows across vast brightly lit foyers, usually populated by a solitary security guard behind a giant desk.  Although I've visited La Defance in Paris with its Grand Arch, this is the first time I've stood in front of a skyscraper or any building and not been able to see the top floors.  It's dizzying and claustrophobic.  How must it be to live or work in Manhattan with these edifices permanently obscuring the sky?

Most notably, Canary Wharf doesn't seem to have any litter bins.  After impulse buying a coffee from a cafe bar situated in the base of one of the buildings I eventually found myself with an empty paper cup and nowhere for it to go.  After not seeing anything on my route, I eventually decided enter one of the foyers and ask of they had a bin.  The next building was some kind of medical company.  I tried pushing the door but it was locked so rang the intercom, which was on a post nearby.  The guard walked slowly across the foyer and opened the door.  I asked him if he had a bin.  "No" he said.  "No bin at all?" I ask again.  "No." He repeated then shut the door in the my face.  Fortunately the bank headquarters next door were more accommodating ...

1 comment:

  1. Enjoyed this post!

    Excellent set of iconic choices. I've done many of them by accident - in going to London for work reasons over many different jobs in a lifetime.

    Also, I lived in cheap day trip range of London for a long while (I was in Oxford, then Welwyn Garden City, then Cambridge), so I'd also go for leisure reasons fairly often.

    Equivalent in Liverpool is, I think, that I go regularly (but not reliably) to Snowdonia, and hugely appreciate that I can. You've made me realise that places-in-day-trip-range is an important factor in the experience of a city.

    For example, London being a day trip away somewhat makes up for Cambridge having really terrible countryside.

    Recently, when I find a spare afternoon or even day in London on the edge of some work related visit, I've been going to the British Museum. You could easily do a whole year of trips just going there!

    I've ended up often spending all my time in one tiny part, and it being fascinating. I'm going to try and start to see the objects in the 100 Objects Radio 4 podcast next time I'm there.