Sustainable fashion and aboriginal memorial poles in London

Feeling tired, waking to rain and having to do a major diversion to get to the station due to over-running road works was not a good start to the day. However, my train was on time and when I got to London the rain had stopped but only recently, there was water everywhere on the roads and pavements. I had a couple of hours work to do in Chancery Lane so wandered in that direction through Bloomsbury and down to High Holborn. On the way I popped into Waterstones to see if I could see anything that interested me in the second hand, remainder and antiquarian sections but nothing did. By the time I had got to High Holborn it was pouring with rain again so I was very happy to get the chance to go inside away from it when I found the UAL ‘Voices for Change’ exhibition. There was a display of the use of bamboo as a textile and how this is harvested, processed and made into clothing in various parts of the world and several examples of students’ work including this dress with a sphagnum moss collar and this woollen top:

Dress with Sphagnum moss collar UAL (1 of 1)

Woollen Dress UAL (1 of 1)

It was dry by the time I left Chancery Lane so I headed for the British Museum, looking in a few bookshops on the way. It is obviously now school trip time of the year as compared to the same day two weeks ago there are now numerous large groups of schoolchildren all over the place. I had a quick coffee and then decided to restrict myself to one exhibition – a small one of aboriginal memorial poles (larrakitj) by Wukun Wanambi. The exhibition explained how a eucalyptus tree was chosen, felled and decorated. There were six poles in the room, three as the tree was found and three finished and highly decorated.

Wukun Wanambi (b. 1962), Wetjwitj (detail). Earth pigment on hollow tree trunk, 2013. © the artist, courtesy Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre.

I then went to the British Library and was using a desk on the balcony to do some work when a sixty-something year old man with untidy longish grey hair walked past wearing a short, pink, frilly dress. His hairy legs ended in socks and trainers. He disappeared into the lift and it reminded me of some students I was teaching a couple of years ago. One of them was also a belly dancer. She had apparently walked through the university library in full regalia on one occasion. At least he made me smile and the end of the day is looking better than the beginning.

Watching the skies

Spring is supposed to be in the air but as I left to go to the station yesterday morning for an early train it was minus 1°C and foggy. I was a little more obsessed about the weather and the sky than usual with the solar eclipse this morning and the uncertainty from the Met Office about the speed of an incoming westerly front. I recall that the last time there was a solar eclipse visible from the UK, I was on a beach on the other side of the Atlantic so I had never seen one. On the train, the fog persisted until we reached Wigan and it was then blue skies and sunshine so I was much more hopeful. South of Lancaster the misty shapes of the Pennines were visible in the east. Soon afterwards, the landscape began to change to upland topography, with hills, sheep and dry stone walls. At Carlisle station there were seagulls basking in the sun on a factory roof. However, the fog reappeared for a while in the Southern Uplands. It was still sunny when I reached Edinburgh and the buskers were out early in Princess St so I had music to accompany my walk to the bus stop. The good weather persisted while I tried to clean up the flat, put some of the furniture back in the rooms that had been decorated and then did a couple of things in town. By the evening, the sky was covered with thick cloud. I got my camera ready with neutral density filters on, settings checked and the tripod out but was mentally prepared to abandon everything if it was cloudy in the morning. Happily this morning I awoke to blue skies with a little cloud and the sun shining so after a quick breakfast and a hunt for the eclipse viewing glasses, I was up on the top of Blackford Hill. It looked like there would be very few students at classes this morning as they were all climbing up the hill with cameras, pinhole box cameras and colanders.Everyone intent on getting a good view. Someone asked me if the observatory was giving out free glasses. I took photographs at intervals from the beginning of the eclipse until the furthest it got by which time it was clouding over, a cold wind was blowing and I was ready for more coffee.

Eclipse 1 (1 of 1)Eclipse 4 (1 of 1)Eclipse 7 (1 of 1)

Art, Shopping and Comedy in Manchester

We set off mid morning to visit the Whitworth Gallery which has been reincarnated and it is several years since we had last been there. There were familiar Turner and Blake watercolours and many works by Cornelia Parker, Thomas Schütte and Cai Guo-Qiang with which I was not familiar but enjoyed seeing them and appreciated their many different modes of execution and communication. It gave me lots to think about and as soon as time and weather allow I will be out in the studio working on some projects of my own. The only irritation was the lack of information labels next to the works (it does detract from the display) but the information sheets provided seemed to run out and once you had waited and obtained one, then had to figure out which wall (A, B or C) then find the number of the painting before identifying it and reading about it. Slightly too much effort I thought.

Cornelia Parker Room for Margins from Turner paintings  (1 of 1)

Cold Dark Matter Exploded Cornelia Parker Whitworth Gallery March 2015 (1 of 1)

Thomas Schutte Whitworth Gallery March 2015 (1 of 1)

Then, it was into town for a coffee stop, some shopping and a late lunch in a burger joint. In Waterstones I grabbed a sofa and delved into a guidebook on the whole USA for the sections on states which do not appear to have easily obtained guidebooks of their own but which we will pass through on the Lincoln Highway (e.g. Iowa, Ohio, Nebraska) to pick up a few tips. We headed back to the car to move it over to near the Opera House and the late afternoon sun was just picking up the big wheel looking back from Oldham Street.

Sun on big wheel from Oldham St 3 (1 of 1)

On Dale Street some Canada Geese were swimming on the canal.

Canal near Dale St March 2015 (1 of 1)

Canada Goose on Canal near Dale St March 2015 (1 of 1)

We then had a drink in the Old Grapes while James got even more depressed watching Scotland lose to England (Ireland had lost earlier in the day). On the pub wall was a picture of Winston Churchill with Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand – only in Manchester. At the Opera House we saw Omid Djalili who was very entertaining and also challenging. I had heard Farsi spoken in the foyer and when he asked, there were several Iranians in the audience. I hope to see Iran on the London to Sydney overland trip at some point. However, our journey at the end of the evening was the 25 miles or so back home.

On the rails again

The train manager and another member of staff both had American accents and I could have thought that I was back on the California Zephyr travelling from Chicago to San Francisco and on holiday. Unfortunately I was on my way from Crewe to London for a work commitment. Passing through Stafford I saw the almost inevitable train spotter. Most have now swapped notebooks for technology but I have yet to see a female and/or under 50 train spotter. In London it was sunny and as I walked through the university I came across a farmers’ market with several street food stalls with huge vats of curry and paella which smelled wonderful but it was not lunchtime and I was not hungry. I finally reached my destination in Chancery Lane and in the reception on the fifth floor of the building had a view over the incredibly elaborate chimneys of the building next door. So often in cities, we do not lift our eyes above the street to see what is up there. Fortunately the room my meeting was in had a much less interesting view so I could concentrate on the business in hand. Afterwards, as I left, I saw the London Silver Vault on the other side of the street. A notice said it had 25 shops but much as I love antique silver, I resisted the temptation and wandered on towards Covent Garden. It is an area I have known since my student days when a friend was working at Crown Court Church of Scotland and I used to come down from Aberdeen to visit in my holidays. Today the market was in full swing and there were several buskers. A tenor was singing operatic arias downstairs and several others were performing in the surrounding area.

Busker (1 of 1)

I dipped into Stanfords on Long Acre to pick up some more State maps for the Lincoln Highway drive and a coffee stop and browsed in a couple of second hand bookshops in Charing Cross Road on my way back to Euston. On the train we had a very friendly and helpful member of staff who was very chatty as there were only a few of us in the carriage. He told us (after only two people had cheese and biscuits) that any left over food would be thrown away and gave the remaining cheese to one passenger who had enjoyed it. Needless to say I have tweeted Virgin Trains to ask why they cannot donate uneaten food to a homeless shelter or similar rather than throwing it away. I await their reply.

London, library and books

Geoffrey Wagner book (1 of 1)
I left the house this morning just as dawn was breaking and the birds were starting to sing. It was a little frosty but I got to the station and onto the train. There was only a slight delay while the two halves (one from Chester and one from Holyhead) were joined together. I tucked into my coffee and a book, which I had hoped, might give me some more inspiration for the Lincoln Highway journey next year. The title ‘A walk across America’ was promising but it turned out that Peter Jenkins who started out from New England, headed south to the Gulf Coast rather than west. However, his journey was eventful in that in addition to meeting some interesting characters, his faithful canine companion dies; he becomes a Christian and meets the woman who becomes his wife. His journey to the Oregon coast is contained in a second book, which I will seek out. Once I got to London, I had very short but crowded tube journey to my destination and enjoyed a very stimulating conference on spirit possession and mental health. At the end of the afternoon I walked along Old St, Clerkenwell Road and into Bloomsbury (hoping to do my 10,000 steps for today) with a brief visit to Skoob books. As my neuralgia was kicking in again, I headed to the British Library for a rest and to think about another book I have been reading: Geoffrey Wagner’s ‘Another America: In Search of Canyons. This was published in the 1970s, as was Peter Jenkins’ book. Interestingly, this review copy that I had found in the second hand department in the Waterstones in Bloomsbury, only cost me 50p more in 2015 than it did in 1974. Wagner is a disaffected academic and New York City dweller who, tired of academic life and crime levels in the city, heads off with his wife and a Porsche across the country. His style is informal and he can be very dismissive on occasions (e.g. don’t go to Denver) but certainly highlights some of the things we might want to divert to see. I have almost done 10,000 steps now that I am at Euston and am hoping for an uneventful train journey home.

Home through the snow

We left Edinburgh with sun, wintry showers and a rainbow. Sheep were grazing in the fields and most of the snow had gone from the Pentlands other than the top of Tinto. The rivers were high and we spotted a flock of oystercatchers at the edge of the Clyde. Our journey on the M74 was uneventful but across the border in Cumbria I spotted a van emblazoned with ‘The best Marmalade World Tour’ – I was intrigued as a fan of the orange gold and make some every winter. It turns out that the awards ceremony is being held in Cumbria this weekend. I started to notice that vehicles coming in the opposite direction had snow on their bonnets and wondered if there was some snow on Shap. No, there was not but on the southern slope of the pass, we were suddenly had a winter wonderland on either side and snow falling but at least the motorway had been salted. Eventually the snow ceased and were were back to grey skies, sheep grazing in the fields and a murmuration of starlings over the motorway in Cheshire. We passed one car laden with stuff but with the back window missing. I was happy to get home with just enough daylight to check the greenhouse.