Thursday, 15 January 2009

Two Londons, two Nottinghams

Susan and I were in London from Sunday to Wednesday. The visit came about because Susan wanted to visit the new Jewellery Gallery at the Victoria & Albert (V&A) Museum and the 'Byzantium' exhibition at the Royal Academy in Piccadilly. I wanted to visited the Tate Modern and walk across the Millennium Bridge. Then, no visit to London is ever complete with spending some time in the National Portrait Gallery by Trafalgar Square. Add to this a chance to spend some time with Laura, my eldest grand-daughter, who is at Veterinary College in Camden, a short bus ride away from where we were staying in King's Cross, and to meet up with friends, one of whom goes back to my Young Socialist days in the early-1960s, and you can see that there was a lot to do.

So, how did it go? Well, we did all of these things and a few more besides. We ate well and collapsed, exhausted, at the end of each day. We spent a large chunk of Wednesday walking with Ivy and Keith from the Tate to Trafalgar Square, exploring passageways and buildings, some of which I knew from my days as a child, when I regularly explored London on a half-crown 'Red Rover' bus ticket, and previous visits with Susan. The City of London is a wonderful place to get lost.

London, like Nottingham, is a series of parallel worlds. You either walk, or bus, between them. Nottingham will have to wait until another day, for this blog is about London. I could live in London, somewhere like Camden, or in the quiet squares and streets around stations like Euston, King's Cross and St Marylebone, venturing out for food and walks, with occasional sorties into the other world of museums, theatres and relentlessness. My pictures try to capture the flavour of both worlds. I will be putting more about the open spaces and private gardens I saw in the Parks section of my website in the next few weeks.

Percy Gardens, near King's Cross, was a minute's walk from where we stayed. At 9am on Monday morning it was very quiet, despite being no more than five minutes walk from King's Cross. As you can see, the 'garden' was actually what we would call a roundabout, but in London they call a 'circus'. I prefer the latter.

About 200 yards beyond Percy Gardens, I found Lloyds Terrace, which overlooks Lloyds Square, a private garden which you need a key to enter. The building at the end (top right) is a block of council flats. Not a car in sight, despite the terrace having no rear parking.

I took this picture of Lloyds Square over the locked gate, with the houses in the picture above behind me. Two sides of the square had private housing and two sides had council flats.

As I was taking the pictures, a gentleman came across the road and very kindly asked me if I would like to go inside. He then opened the gate for me. His name was Mr John Murray-Brown. He apologised for the fact that he could only spare a minute, but it was enough time to take pictures inside the gardens, which I will put onto

We found a little café close to Kings Cross Station on the Pentonville Road, where we had breakfast every day. The eggs were perfect and the atmosphere wonderful, with the owner remembering our order on subsequent visits. There was seating for sixteen customers and most were taken by workmen and old timers. Another couple also found their way to the 'Modern Café' and came in Wednesday morning trailing their suitcase behind them (we had left ours back at the hotel). It was from here that we set out for the V&A, where we spent a good few hours looking at jewellery and eating a lovely lunch. I spent time looking at a ever-changing light feature in the V&A's courtyard. I liked the juxtaposition of the old and the new.

In the mid-afternoon we made our way to the Royal Academy, which also combines high-tech architecture and water features with the old. I enjoyed our two hours going around the Byzantium exhibition, which I left feeling exhausted. I now know what it is like to overdose on icons! If I had religion, I would prefer plain and simple, but I am glad others like it gaudy and intense, so that I can go and visit once in a while.

On Tuesday, after breakfast, we made our way to the Tate Modern on a 63 bus from King's Cross to Blackfriars Bridge, from where we walked by the Thames to the Tate and a cup of coffee, whilst we waited for Keith and Ivy to arrive. The Turbine Hall is its most impressive feature. When we arrived at 10.30am it was still quiet and there were very few people about. What the building lacked for me was intimacy. I saw no quiet corners which spoke to me or drew me in. Perhaps I didn't look hard enough. Next time I visit I will spend more time there.

Outside the Tate, it is only a few steps to the Millennium Footbridge, which may not wobble anymore, but, I'm glad to say, does sway a little. I rate this as one of my best pictures ever. At the weekend, I'm going to strip the colour out. From here we walked and walked, down alleyways and across cobbled courtyards, through Lincoln's Inn Field, into the Temple Church, down Fleet Street and The Strand, having an excellent lunch along the way in the old Bank of England building, now a Fuller's pub, before arriving at the National Portrait Gallery beside Trafalgar Square. When we were thrown out at the end of the day, we walked along Haymarket to Piccadilly and Regent Street, then Oxford Street and a No.10 back to King's Cross.

Susan took this picture of me posting this blog. There is nowhere like home.

The world of London shops is one I would prefer to avoid. Once I would have enjoyed the bustle and the rough glamour of it all, but not now. Even the V&A and Royal Academy seemed noisy. If I lived, like Laura, a few steps from the Kentish Town Road and its myriad small shops with food and faces from around the globe, I could be very happy in London. The gardens and squares where I began this blog would also be a great place to live, with the No.46 to take me direct to Camden to do my shopping and to eat out in back street cafés, which would pull me in with their smells, the warmth and the chatter, which escapes through their entrances as customers come and go.

But then, I have all this already in Lenton and Nottingham, in the Crocus and Rosie's cafés. Hyson Green is as close to Lenton as Camden is to King's Cross, even if I don't have a direct bus route to take me door to door. So, why at my age, hanker for something somewhere else which I already have where I am? No, Lenton suits me just fine. I might manage Beeston in a few years time. We shall see.

The Tories have responded to the Government's decision to allow a third runway at Heathrow Airport by promising to fight the plan 'every step of the way'. The Liberal Democrats have also expressed their opposition to the expansion, as have 50 Labour MPs.

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