Sunday, October 17, 2010

Art on walls, in the park and on the street

My last day in London was just as full of adventures as the first. I'm now rushing around to pack and leave for Heathrow, so this post will be a short one. Here's a recap of what Spooner and I did on Saturday:
  • Saw Shadow Catchers at the V&A. Really fascinating stuff -- beautiful, mysterious and haunting photographs made without the use of cameras.
  • Met up with Malcolm in the Madejski Garden, walked up Exhibition Road and into Kensington Gardens to see the Serpentine Pavilion and the four reflective sculptures by Anish Kapoor that are sited on the lawns and in the water.
  • Took the tube to Liverpool Street, walked up to Great Eastern Street, and saw the Moniker International Art Fair at Village Underground. My favorite piece in the show is by a streetartist named Boxi, who I'd never seen before. Spooner heard from one of the gallery staff that Boxi was working on something out on the street, and, as luck would have it, we walked right past it on our way to Old Street. Boxi was putting the final touches on the work (photo above), which is quite stunning.
So, this brings me to the end of my 2010 trip to London and Liverpool. It's been utterly fab, filled as always with new adventures and wonderful mates with whom to explore the city streets, art and history.

It's been good to have my netbook with me, as it's made my blogging easier and I've had access to all my stuff in Google docs, etc. Each night, I've dumped the day's photos from my memory card onto the netbook to take a look at them. I've realized that this computer doesn't have good resolution for editing photos, however. They seem a bit blurry and pixely to me, so I'll wait to get home and put them on my desktop computer before fine tuning them. I think there's a metaphor in there somewhere. Right now, my whole trip is a bit of a blur, with images and recollections running around in my head in a disjointed way. When I get home, I think that things will come into better focus as I really examine the photos from each day and the memories of my friends and my adventures.

Distance: 16,341 steps (6.7 miles)

  • £5 for Shadow Catchers exhibition at the V&A
  • £3 for chicken and veg pasty at Liverpool Street Station
  • £1.23 for Hobnobs to take home
  • £15 to Spooner for food and booze

Friday, October 15, 2010

A Tale of Two Tates

It was another day of great mates, interesting art and no rain (although no sun, either). And it was another day in which I neither got lost nor lost any of my possessions.

I visited both Tates with Helen and Judy -- first the Tate Britain in Pimlico, followed by a boat ride to the Tate Modern on the Southbank. The major exhibition at Tate Britain now -- other than the Turner Prize, which I didn't see --is the photography of
Eadweard Muybridge. I always thought Muybridge was American, but he was born and buried in England, which qualifies him for an exhibition at the Tate Britain. And I'd always associated him only with stop motion photos of horses trotting and athletes running, but he also did some extremely impressive landscapes and cityscapes as well. The latter were very large format photos, shot on glass plates using a huge wooden camera that he lugged around to capture vistas in Yosemite and panoramas of San Francisco in the 1870s. No sacrifice was too much for his art -- he even chopped down trees if they were blocking the perfect view. The photos are incredibly detailed and beautifully composed, regardless of the era but more remarkably so when you consider the time and the technology.

The next exhibition we saw transported us to an entirely different reality. Or unreality.
Coral Reef is a series of small rooms, connected by dirty, narrow corridors, each of which contains the objects of real or imagined scenarios. One room was something like a mini-cab dispatch office, one like an evangelist's reception room, one that reminded me of my car mechanic's shop, which still has the grease and grime of 1975. The rooms were alternately perplexing, disturbing and amusing. Helen, Judy and I chuckled our way through the whole labyrinth.

The boat took us to the Tate Modern in Southwark, where we had planned to see -- and touch -- the new installation in the Turbine Hall. The installation, which opened just three days ago, is by
Ai Weiwei, who has filled the hall with 100 million ceramic sunflower seeds. Apparently, it's been wildly popular, with scores of people walking through the seeds, playings in them, touching them, moving them about and -- here's the significant part -- stirring up clouds of ceramic dust. The clouds have been so intense that Health and Safety has closed down access to the exhibition. When we got there, we met up with Ray, another of our Flickr mates, and were only able to view the installation from the balcony above or from behind a rope on the main floor of the Turbine Hall. A member of staff was beside the rope, explaining that they are investigating different means of controlling the dust and hope to have the problem solved soon. Other Turbine Hall exhibitions have also run into H&S difficulties, so they should be used to it at this point. I guess we have to put it down to witnessing a piece of Tate Modern history.

Back in Belsize Park, Spooner and I went down to his local, The George Washington, for birthday drinks with one of his mates. It's now raining -- the first real rain of my visit, which is truly remarkable ... and most fortunate.

Distance: 9,959 steps (4.08 miles)
  • £1.75 for tea at the Tate Britain
  • £11 for lunch at Pizza Express
  • £3.75 for Tate-to-Tate boat

Thursday, October 14, 2010

More art, foundlings and a medicine man

Today's ramble lacked a coherent theme or geography, other than being more or less along the Number 24 bus line. I'm happy to report that, for several days now, I've returned in the evening with all of the items that were in my possession when I walked out the door. Whew!

The day started and ended in the noise and traffic of the Euston Road. I took the tube to King's X/St Pancras and walked down to the
Gagosian Gallery, which I'd never been to before. As I approached it, I saw one black cab after another as people arrived or left the gallery. Inside, there were hordes of people -- trendy, arty types -- milling around with champagne flutes or cups of tea. The exhibition was incomprehensible -- something to do with form and light. The trendies were queuing up to put on funny booties, climb some steps and enter a box of colored light. I left in a hurry.

I then meandered down Gray's Inn Road and made my way to the
Foundling Museum, getting there just as mist was turning to rain. There, I learned about how Thomas Coram established the first institution in Britain to care for abandoned children in the mid 18th century. In addition to exhibitions about the history of the Foundling Hospital, and about Hogarth and Handel's philanthropy on behalf of the institution, there was a special exhibition called "Threads of Feeling" that had to do with bits of cloth, ribbon or trinkets that the moms had tucked in with their babies when they left them for admission to the institution. The staff always attached the bits to the child's admission form, thus building the country's largest collection of textile fragments from the 1700s and 1800s.

Fortified by another lunch of tuna and sweet corn sandwich and bevvie, eaten in Tavistock Square, I grabbed the #24 bus to Trafalgar Square and went to the National Portrait Gallery to see the 19th century photographs of
Camille Silvy. Afterwards, I checked out some of the recent portraits, including photos by Mary McCartney (Linda McCartney's daughter, and a talented photographer just like her mum).

Next stop was
St Martin-in-the-Fields, across the street from the NPG. I hadn't been in the crypt since the major renovations that were completed a year ago. They've currently got small models of the six sculptures that are on the short list for the next installation on the Fourth Plinth. There's a golden boy on a rocking horse, a bright blue chicken, an ATM/pipe organ combo that is supposed to make sounds, a cake made of bricks, a war hero guy on horseback who is all decked out in beads and bobbles, and a mountainous island that's actually Britain upside down. I was thinking about going into the crypt cafe for tea and a little snack, but it was really crowded and noisy so I beat a hasty retreat upstairs to the church, where I listened for a while to a choir rehearsal. They weren't doing a classical or religious piece or anything that I recognized, but I worked out that it was something to do with the first scene of Macbeth. It was hard to understand, but I distinctly heard "weird sisters" and "boiling, boiling" and "cauldron."

Back into the grey mist, I took a quick look at the current
Fourth Plinth sculpture (photo above) before jumping on the #24 going north, getting off at the Euston Road, and walking down to the Wellcome Collection where I got to have my tea and a lovely apple flapjack pastry. I looked at most of the "Medicine Man" exhibition of Mr Wellcome's collected stuff from around the world, mostly medical or dealing with birth and death. The Collection is currently asking people to donate an object, no bigger than their head, to expand the collection of unique and/or mundane objects. That stuff will be shown starting next week in an exhibition called "Things" that I think could be quite amusing. I'm encouraging Spooner to donate one of his kitschy objects.

Distance: 14,443 steps (5.92 miles)


  • £4.28 tuna & sweet corn sandwich, apple and bevvie
  • £5 for Silvy exhibition at NPG
  • £3.50 tea and pastry at Wellcome Collection
  • £10 to top up Oyster card

A Stroll along the Regent's Canal

Yesterday's adventures provided a lovely change of pace and a new vantage point from which to see bits of Islington, Hackney and Bow. I met my pal Maggie at the Angel for a leisurely stroll along the Regent's Canal to Limehouse. Highlights of what we saw included:
Along the way, we passed street art and mosaics along the canal wall, old warehouses, several locks, a gasometer, lots of canal boats, Victoria Park and other green spaces, and many people riding bicycles, pushing prams, walking dogs or fishing (not that you'd want to eat anything you pulled out of the canal). Although the busy streets of East London were just above us, it was calm and quiet along the canal and we contently chatted away as we strolled.

After leaving Limehouse Basin, we hopped on the DLR to Tower Gateway and were instantly plunged back into the noise and traffic of the streets of London. Our destination was a bit down The Highway, just past the turn to go to Wilton's Music Hall which I visited two years ago, where Banksy has just painted a new piece. It's only a few days old, and hasn't yet been tagged, painted over or covered in Perspex. Maggie has seen it a couple days ago when the paint was hardly dry. I know that Banksy has his critics, among them the rival streetartist Robbo, but I'm always thrilled to see a new work.

I ended the day with Spooner, Greg and Esther having pizza and drinks up in Hampstead. A very long, but totally enjoyable day filled with interesting sights and good mates.

Distance: 28,670 steps (11.75 miles)

Expenses: £8.40 for pizza and wine (Maggie treated me to lunch, and the museum was free, though I did drop some change into the donation box.)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Mr Hardman, Mr Gormley, Spooner and Me in Liverpool

Spooner and I are just back from Liverpool, where we had a fab time. Before I write about the great stuff we saw, I have to fill you in on my mishaps. I did something I never, ever do. And then, not an hour later, I did it again. I lost stuff. First, as we were walking from the train station to our hotel, I took the pocket map out of my bag, checked it, and then put it in my back pocket. Two blocks later, when I went to check it again, it was gone. We backtracked and looked for it, to no avail. Not the end of the world, though. We went to the tourist info center and got another (not as nice as the one that I'd ordered from, but perfectly fine). I then folded up the spreadsheet of our Liverpool plans and put it in my back pocket. A half hour later when I went to consult it, I found that it, too, was gone. I put this down to wearing something other than my trusty, though not particularly stylish, cargo pants with button closures on the pocket flaps. I've never lost a map, spreadsheet, Oyster card, sunglasses, or anything I've put in my cargo pockets. Spooner says it's down to my age. From now on, screw wearing the nice pants. It's back to the cargo pants where my stuff will be secure.

Our first stop was a tour -- a very long tour -- of the house and photography studio of Mr Edward C. Hardman, a professional portrait photographer who lived and worked in a Georgian house (c. 1780) in Rodney Street. The house is just as it was when Mr Hardman died in 1988, and it hadn't been changed a hair since he and his wife Margaret, who ran the business and was an accomplished photographer in her own right, moved in around 1948 or so. And they never threw anything out, so the house is a real time capsule with clothing, dishes, furniture and even canned goods dating from the 1950s and '60s. It was quite enjoyable to listen to the knowledgeable guides and to peer into the Hardmans' lives and work, but the best was the room with the photos that Mr Hardman took as his avocation -- scenes of pre- and post-war Liverpool, its buildings and its people. (Note to self: do some serious decluttering when back home in Northampton so as not to leave 100 bars of soap or 40-year-old tins of tomatoes when I die.)

On the way to and from Rodney Street, we walked up and down the Ropewalks, which are very old streets dating from when the area was full of warehouses and merchants serving the shipping industry of the 18th and 19th century. Rope was literally "walked" down various streets, the length of which determined where the rope would be cut for the various sailing ships. The cobbles are uneven, the streets are narrow, and many of the warehouses are now derelict.

Monday's adventures saw us at the Albert Dock, the Pier Head, and up the hill to the Walker Art Museum. The Liverpool Biennial is currently going on all over the city, with contemporary art showcased in the museums including the Walker and the Tate, in galleries and the streets.

Spooner and I finished Monday with a train ride (20 minutes or so) north of the city to the
Blundellsands and Crosby station and then a short walk to Crosby Beach to see some of the 100 or so cast sculptures of/by Antony Gormley that are standing on the beach and in the water. The installation, called Another Place, was totally lovely to see at sunset, while taking photos of the sculptures and getting muck all over our feet. We both took off our shoes and socks and went into the low water, but I quickly returned to drier sand while Spooner walked quite a ways out into low tide to snap the sculptures. Lots of people were walking up and down the beach, some with cameras, others with kids or dogs. After the sun sank into the Mersey, as we walked back to the footpath and tried to clean off our mucky feet, we passed a man about our age who took one look at us and chuckled, "You're too old for that sort of thing." Yes, we might be, but we were glad that we could still act young(er) and stupid every so often.

Today (Tuesday) was all about the Biennial, including the Tate Liverpool, a stop at FACT, and a really quick look at some of what was on at the Biennial HQ. Then it was back to Lime Street Station for the 14:48 train to London.

Sunday stats: 16,009 steps (6.56 miles)

Monday stats: 22,208 steps (9.11 miles)

Tuesday stats: 11,538 steps (4.73 miles)

  • £22 for train to/from Liverpool
  • £77 for my share of hotel
  • £6.30 Sunday dinner at pub
  • £7.50 Liverpool tat for pals and myself
  • £5.50 lunch on Monday
  • £3.20 Blundellsands return ticket
  • £7 food and wine for Monday dinner
  • £3.50 snacks

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Day on the ELL

Even though I got a really late start (not out the door until 11:30 am), the sun didn't come out, and the train journey through the Thames Tunnel was a bit of a disappointment, all-in-all it was a happy day. My plan for Saturday was to follow the East London Line, which is partially new and partially reincarnated and is a line I've never been on before, from Dalston Junction to Rotherhithe, alternately riding and walking between stations, and exploring some new or new-to-me bits of the East End. The overground train service has greatly improved since I last rode it from Hampstead Heath -- new carriage stock, smoother and quieter.

When I got to
Dalston, I discovered that the two stations, one on the older overground line and the brand new one on the East London Line, are a few blocks apart. I took a long route between the two stations, walking through a very bustling Ridley Road Market and around the Eastern Curve Garden, which is where I took the photo above (by the streetartist Stik). From there, I rode down to Hoxton, then visited an open artists' studio in Cremer Street (not planned, but I can't resist an "Open Studios" sign) on my way to see Ben Eine's "The Strangest Week," which he painted on a hoarding the week that David Cameron took one of Eine's prints as a present to President Obama.

Pushing on, I walked down Shoreditch High Street to
Middlesex Street to see another brand new Eine mural and the alphabet letters that he's painted on corrugated metal shop shutters along the street. At that point I thought I was running late, so I hopped a bus on Whitechapel Road, not jumping off at the Whitechapel Gallery as I'd planned, to Whitechapel Station. Spooner rang me just as I was getting off the bus, and we arranged to meet in Rotherhithe around 3:30, which gave me some extra exploring time.

I decided to get off at
Wapping Station to wander around a bit, without a map but with some images in my head of things I might see there. This proved to be the best bit of the day -- I've always meant to roam around Wapping, but have never gotten there before. It's full of wharfs, stairs down to the Thames (tide was quite high when I was there), cobbled streets, old churches, and although there's lots of trendy (expensive) housing there now, I could easily imagine the place full of sailors unloading the boats, stumbling drunk down the streets, visiting opium dens, thieving and murdering and doing all the other things that 18th and 19th century sailors did, just as Dickens would have seen it.

A tuna & sweet corn panino and a beverage in hand, I hopped back on the ELL, rode under the river and got off in Rotherhithe, emerging from the bright and shiny new station within seconds of Spooner. We had ample time to walk around
St Mary's churchyard, see the bluecoat school (bluecoat schools are 18th century charity schools that always have statues of a boy and a girl wearing blue, placed in alcoves above the door) and the watch house (where the watchman kept an eye out at night for bodysnatchers or "resurrection men").

Spooner went down into the remains of the entrance shaft to the tunnel, but I was too creeped out be the looks of the rickety steps and 3-foot high entrance to go in. He heard a lot about how the shaft and the tunnel were constructed, but I'll just read that online. I won't say much about the train ride through
Brunel's tunnel except that it was a regular ELL train that did not slow down and had no additional lighting for the occasion as TfL had promised. The guide kept yelling at us about what we would have seen if we could have seen it.

We decided to separate ourselves from the group when we arrived at Wapping Station. We walked down Wapping Wall to the
Prospect of Whitby, the oldest riverfront pub in London, for a pint. Along the way, a couple asked us for directions to the Wapping Project. I told them to keep going down Wapping Wall and it would be on the left, hoping that was correct and that they wouldn't be wandering lost around Shadwell Basin due to bogus directions from an American who didn't have a map and had never been there before. But I was right -- the Wapping Project is actually just across the street from the pub. It's a Victorian hydroelectric power station that's been converted to a restaurant and art/performance space. We were very glad that we stopped in -- it's quite cool and would be a lovely place to have dinner sometime when they've lit all the candles that are placed on top of the remaining engines and other machinery.

Our last stop was back at
Hoxton Station. From there, we walked to the garden of the Geffrye Museum to see a fiber optic installation called "Sitting the Light Fantastic" by Kei Ito. Fortified by a quick dinner at Song Que, we headed for home and were back in the flat by 8:30 pm. It's now 12 hours later, and time for us to pack and leave for Liverpool. No blog posts until I get back into town on Tuesday.

Distance: 9.88 miles (24,080 steps)

Saturday, October 09, 2010


One of the first things I saw as I walked west on Old Street from the roundabout was this new piece by Eine, spelling out CHANGE in an area that certainly is changing (it used to be quite dodgy, but is now upwardly trendy). I decided that "change" would make a nice theme for my visit. Bits of London are so old and seemingly unchanging. Because I'm here only once or twice a year, I sometimes think that everything should be just as I left it on my last visit. But it's an organic city, in a constant cycle of destruction and renewal, for better or worse. It's been through fires, bombings, slum clearance, economic booms and busts, buildings falling into dereliction or being gentrified. I'm walking around with new glasses -- both literally and metaphorically -- and noticing what's changed, what's gone and what's new.

I met up with my pal Mondoagogo at the Museum of London for a hands-on experience with ancient London. We did a workshop in the archaeology department, learning about how they sort and catalogue the millions and millions of ancient bits that are kept in their massive archives (the largest in Europe) in Hackney. Our task was to dump out bags of dusty bits of pottery that had been dug up in 1975 in a dig under the nearby General Post Office. Some bits were pieces of Roman amphorae and other bits were medieval. To our surprise, they are all mixed together and catalogued not by the era in which they originated but by the "context" in which they were found. So we wrote out labels for "GPO75" and the strata number of the layer the bits came from. The Museum of London relies on hundreds of volunteers to help with maintaining their archives. So, a new activity for me, handling old bits that have seen the light of day due to the regeneration of a building site.

The Boris Bikes are new since I was last here. It's the central city cycle hire scheme that's recently been launched by Mayor Boris Johnson. Bike stands have popped up all over the central areas, and the bikes themselves are another opportunity for corporate branding. They should probably be called Barclays Boris Bikes, but that's just too much.

Here's another change I saw in Chiswell Street. This ghetto rat stencil, by Banksy, has been here for years. Banksy's original had
"London doesn't work" on the placard. Robbo, a rival graffiti artist, has been leaving his mark on various Banksy pieces. There's a whole history of the feud between Banksy and Robbo that's not worth going into.

As a change from the usual pub meet with my mates from
Guess Where London on Flickr, we did a pub quiz. Nine of us formed two teams for a quiz sponsored by Londonist. The quiz was quite hard, and though neither of our teams won, we had a respectable showing. We came in 4th and 6th, losing only to teams made up of professional London guides (ringers!).

Distance: 7.96 miles (19,404 steps)


  • £20 to top up my Oyster card
  • £10 for dinner at Mildred's (vegetarian restaurant in Soho)
  • £2 pub quiz entry fee
  • £3 for tea at the pub quiz

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Get me to the airport, put me on a plane. Hurry, hurry, hurry, before I go insane.

The Ramones were singing "I Wanna Be Sedated" on the radio this morning as I drove to work. When they wrote the song, they were itchy to get out of London. I, on the other hand, and anxious to get there. Anxious as in I can't wait, and also in that my pre-travel anxiety level is sky-high. Did I remember to pack everything? Will everthing be ok at home while I'm gone? Will my wonky knee hold up? I'll settle down as soon as I'm on the plane, but will then be nervousy about getting from Heathrow to Belsize Park on the tube. I usually take the Piccadilly Line to Leicester Square, where I change trains after climbing about 30 steps to the Northern Line platform. For me, that change at Leicester Square is the absolute worst part of the journey. This time, to cut down on the number of stairs that I have to negotiate with a suitcase and a 10-pound messenger bag, I'm going to change for the Victoria Line at Green Park, and then for the Northern Line at Euston. This will add about 10 minutes to the journey, and will probably involve more walking between lines at Green Park, but it's worth it to cut down on stair steps. I'll still have to climb about a dozen steps to get to the lifts at Belsize Park (it's one of the deepest stations in London) and then a miserable 51 steps up to Spooner's flat.

After a nap and a shower, I plan to head out to the Museum of London, where I'll meet up with Mondoagogo to do a hands-on workshop in the archaeology department, handling bits and pieces of antiquity that have been dug up around London. From there, it's on to the pub quiz at the Royal Institution. I hope I can stay awake.

Keep watching the blog for tales of my adventures in Blighty.