Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Six Exhibitions, a Pavilion and Italian Fountains

Monday was a day full of art -- so many exhibitions that I'm just going to give you the links rather than describe each one in any detail. All different, all very good, and all but one in the company of my good friend Judy. Suffice to say that much of what we saw was right up both our alleys -- photography, abstractions, objects used in social change movements or to convey political messages, things made by women to further women's causes, etc. We started at the Royal Academy of Arts, where Judy is a member and I got in free as her +1, and then moved on to the V&A for several free exhibitions. At the end of the day, I went on my own to the Science Museum -- by that time overrun with kiddies doing after-school activities that seemed to consist of running and yelling -- to a photography exhibition in the (blissfully quiet) Media Space. So, here's the rundown:

  • Radical Geometry: Modern Art of South America. Neither of us knew anything about art from South America, but we could both see some connections to the Malevich exhibition at Tate Modern. 
  • Dennis Hopper: The Lost Album. Black and white photos, taken in the 60s and 70s (after which he put down his camera and never took photos again). An interesting glimpse of one man's eye on a time of change in America; more compelling in total, I thought, than as individual images.
  • Disobedient Objects. Placards the doubled as shields against the riot police, a graffiti-writing robot, arpilleras that contained political messages made by mothers of the disappeared in South America, and some brilliant ceramics on the V&A facade made by Carrie Reichardt.
  • Posters of Protest and Revolution from around the globe, spanning about 100 years.
  • Rapid Response Collecting. Objects collected now, which may or may not hold greater significance in the future. This display is right next to the 20th century gallery, where Judy and I saw a Gestetner printer and talked about our memories of printing leaflets and booklets for various political actions on just such a machine.
  • Stranger than Fiction. Photos by Joan Fontcuberta that I can't begin to explain.
By the time I left the din of the Science Museum and exited to Exhibition Road, the rain that had been intermittently pissing down all day had stopped, so I decided to walk up to Hyde Park, stopping to see this year's Serpentine Pavilion, a pod-like shape that looks like it dropped out of the air onto the lawn. I had a sit-down there and a chat with a nice woman who sat at my table. Since time and weather were in my favour, I opted to walk north to Lancaster Gate station rather than to Knightsbridge or South Kensington. This took my past the Italian Gardens, which I'd never seen -- the fountains, pools and flower beds are really lovely and well worth the stop. 

From there, I pushed on to Belsize Park, where Roger and I toasted Greg and Esther's 40th anniversary before the four of us had a fun meal of pub grub at The George

£31.40 for 7-day zones 1-2 travel card
£4 for exhibition at the Science Museum (50% off after 3 pm on Mondays and Tuesdays for old people)
60p for postcard for Roger
£16 for pub meal

16,825 steps, 6.63 miles

Monday, September 01, 2014

Bletchley Park Rerun

I gave Roger a few options for our Sunday adventure (West Norwood Cemetery, Nunhead Cemetery, or Bletchley Park) and let him decide what we would do. Despite the well-known Curse of Milton Keynes, he chose Bletchley Park. My ticket from last year was still good, many new exhibitions had opened since I was there last October, the weather was gorgeous, and there were no transport mishaps this year -- so all-in-all a grand day out. 

Sundays with Roger always start at the farmers' market in the schoolyard at Salusbury Primary School in Queen's Park. I've probably said this before, but I'll say it again: this is the nicest farmers' market I've ever been to. Roger got all sorts of veg for our meals this week, and I bought a loaf of raisin and walnut bread for my breakfasts during the week and a small quiche and over-priced apple for my lunch on the train to Bletchley. 

The take-away from this return visit to Bletchley Park was a much better sense of what it was like to work there during the war. I learned that 9000 people per day worked there, in shifts of 3000.  The place was in operation 24/7. 75% of the workers were women, and the average age -- this really floored me -- was 20. Imagine what it would have been like to be 18 or 19 years old, studying at university or working, and to receive a letter telling you to report to Bletchley and containing your train ticket. No one knew what work they would be doing until they got there. The first thing they did on arrival was to sign the Official Secrets Act. They weren't even allowed to talk to other people working there about what exactly they were doing, let alone tell their friends and relatives at home. I remember reading somewhere that the Queen (or maybe it was Camilla) came to Bletchley Park recently for the opening of a building and a reunion of people who worked there during the war. The Queen (or Camilla) sat down to chat with an old dear and asked her what part she played in the code-breaking. The old dear replied, "I signed the Official Secrets Act. I've never told anyone what I did here and I certainly am not going to tell YOU." 

I think I now understand how the Enigma machine worked, but I still can't comprehend the turning dials of the Bombe. I couldn't get any of the interactive displays to work (but kids seemed to be having no problem), so I don't think I would have been much help to the war effort at BP. 

£3.20 walnut & raisin bread
£2.90 apple and mini quiche for lunch
£14.50 return train ticket to Bletchley
Free admission to Bletchley Park
£3.30 tea and flapjack snack at Bletchley Park

15,070 steps, 5.94 miles

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Bad, the Good and the Posh

Jet lag? Not me! After taking mat class at NY Pilates Studio, I was all stretched out and ready to go. We were headed to Charing Cross to get a Southeastern train to Bexleyheath. Normally, we'd take the Bakerloo line from Queen's Park, but Roger wanted to drop off a print at the framer in the Harrow Road, so we got on a Hammersmith and City train at Westbourne Park. I would probably have changed for the Bakerloo at Paddington, but Roger knew there would be a shorter walk between platforms if we went to Baker Street. At Edgeware Road, the stop in between, it began to be apparent that something was wrong as we sat on the tracks for an unusual amount of time. We could catch bits of the announcement over the tannoy on the platform -- "signal failure," "alternate routes," and "number 205 bus." Finally, there was an announcement on the train -- the signal failure was at Moorgate and our driver was waiting to hear whether he could go ahead to Baker Street or King's Cross, and we should wait for him to let us know. So we waited. Then, he told us that the train we were on was terminating and we should cross to platform 2 and take the train back to Paddington to change for the Bakerloo. We followed his instructions and got into an empty carriage and waited there for something to happen. But the train didn't seem to be going anywhere, so we headed up the stairs to the exit, turning back to see that train pulling out. As we continued to the exit, we heard an announcement that the train on platform 1 (our original train) would be departing for Baker Street. Yup, we saw the carriage doors close and the train leave the station. Out to the street we went, onto the 205 bus, over to Baker Street, into the station and onto a train to Charing Cross, and from there on had an uneventful journey to Bexleyheath. 

Red House was the home of William Morris. It was in the middle of an orchard when it was built in 1860, but now it's in the middle of suburbia. We reached the house by way of a 15-minute walk through residential streets and found ourselves in what seemed to be a scene right out of an episode of Father Brown. The Friends of Red House (average age about 70) were having their annual garden party, complete with cake and sandwiches, tea, Pimm's, and a brass band. The house is a lovely, asymmetrical Arts and Crafts masterpiece. The National Trust has held the property for about ten years, having completed a significant amount of restoration work since then (with much more to come). After wandering around the house, the flower beds and the veg plot, we joined the OAPs in the back garden. I had my first glass of Pimm's! I can't say it would be my cocktail of choice, but it wasn't bad. 

On the way back, we made a stop at the Whole Foods in Kensington Church Street. I'd heard about this multi-storey temple of veg and capitalism, but I'd never been there. It's more over-the-top than I imagined, and full of more yuppies and their demanding children than you'd ever want to encounter. They sell essentially the same products as Whole Foods at home, but there's something about the elegant presentation in this former department store that makes you think that you MUST CONSUME. There's even a little bar, where you can have a glass of wine or a pint of beer -- probably a bad idea to get tipsy and then try to find your way out of the store without buying all manner of exotic, expensive edibles. 

My expenses for the day were modest:
£15 for mat class
Red House was free on my Art Pass
£3 for a litre of coconut water at Whole Foods

11,162 steps on the pedometer (but probably another 2,000 or so for the walk up to the Pilates studio and back), 4.4 miles (which I'm going to round up to 5.4 miles)

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Arrival Day

I'm in denial about it most of the time, but today I will readily admit that I am 60, which has its distinct advantages and disadvantages. On the upside, I now qualify for concession (discount) prices at museums. (If I lived in the UK, I'd be able to get a Freedom Card and ride all the tubes and buses I wanted for free.)  On the downside, I don't go as far or as fast as I used to, nor do I accomplish as much.

First, to tell you about what I did manage to do on my arrival day, having had three hours of sleep: I headed out a little before noon, taking the tube to Charing Cross. My first stop was the National Portrait Gallery, where I looked at the BP Portrait Award 2014 exhibition and a display about the Suffragettes. On leaving, I looked up at the big globe at the top of the Coliseum and decided to pop in to say hi to Barbara in case I didn't get a chance to see her later in my visit (but happily I will). 

Next, I crossed the river to the Southbank and grabbed a bite to eat at the little food market near the Royal Festival Hall. From there, I was on a mission to find a vintage caravan that I knew was going to be somewhere near St John's Waterloo. A path of big, orange pigeon footprints on the pavement lead me straight to the Caravan Gallery, where I had a lovely chat with Jan Williams, one half of the photographer duo that is the inspiration behind this project. She and her partner are living my dream -- traveling around with a vintage caravan in tow, photographing the quirkier aspects of life in the towns they visit, and showing their photos wherever they park. 

From there, I ticked off two more things on my list: a stop at the Pieminister in Gabriel's Wharf to buy a Heidi pie (to eat later), and across Blackfriars Bridge for a stop at the Hoop and Grapes to see the landlord and pay the deposit on the function room for a meet-up of photographer friends on Thursday. At that point I was beginning to run out of steam, but I pushed on to Tate Modern. I always forget how far it is from Waterloo to Tate Modern. In my mind it's a five minute walk, but in reality there are two bridges and a lot of steps in between. By the time I crossed south over the Millennium Bridge (stopping to take photos of Ben Wilson's chewing gum art on the bridge) and reached Tate Modern, it was 3:30 pm. I knew I'd be taking my chances about getting a ticket to see the Matisse cut outs as it's a timed entry exhibition and wildly popular. The sign at the ticket desk said that the next tickets available were for 5 pm and I knew I wouldn't last that long, so I bought a ticket (concession price, no gift aid, with 50% off using my Art Pass) to see the Malevich exhibition instead. I knew nothing of Malevich and, despite studying a lot of art history in college, I'd never even heard of his seminal black square painting. The exhibition was great -- really interesting work covering a time span of about 30 years and a range of styles as he evolved from impressionism, through fauvism and cubism and other forms of abstraction to something he called suprematism. 

By the time I finished with the exhibition, I was so knackered I could hardly put one foot in front of the other. But I made my way back to Waterloo station and onto the tube and back to the flat. 

After eating a good dinner, drinking a lot of wine and sleeping like a log last night, I amazed myself by getting out of bed this morning and up to the NY Pilates Studio in Queen's Park for 9:30 mat class. I'm now all stretched out and ready to go. Our destination today is The Red House in Bexleyheath.

Expenses Friday:
£20 to top up Oyster card
£3 for spinach and cheese tart for lunch
£4.50 for Heidi pie to be consumed later
£50 deposit (refundable) on function room
£6.55 for Malevich exhibition

20,854 steps, 8.22 miles

Friday, August 29, 2014

I'm Baaaaaaaaack!

Landed at Heathrow this morning after a long journey. The only real snag was discovering that the Massport lot at the Shoppers' World in Framingham is no longer at the Shoppers' World. It's been moved to a temporary site near Natick. But I had plenty of time to get there, so all was well and the journey was uneventful after that. I managed to make it from Heathrow to Paddington and exit to Praed Street without having to climb a single step -- this is a first, and my back will thank me for it. Got to the flat at 8:50 a.m., where I had to haul my bag up two flights of stairs, however. 

I'm caffeinated and unpacked and about to get in the shower. I'm heading to central London today -- possibly the NPG, definitely Tate Modern,  stopping at the Pieminister at Gabriel's Wharf to pick up a Heidi pie for my dinner, and over to the Hoop and Grapes to pay the (refundable) deposit on the function room for our Guess Where London meet up on Thursday. I'm hoping to find the Art Caravan on the Southbank. This might prove too ambitious for my arrival day (on three hours of sleep), but we shall see how long I hold up before crashing. Will post an update this evening or tomorrow morning. 

Very happy to be back in Blighty!