New Year wanderings in London

We drove to the station for an early train while it was still dark. Some people still had their Christmas lights on, visible through the mist hanging in the fields. Euston and the Royal Society of Medicine where we were staying were very quiet. The main reason for coming down so early in the year was to see the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum but I had booked that for the Monday in the hope it would be quieter. This turned out have been a good idea as the woman on the desk said that it had been full over the weekend. The museum is a wonderful building with the obligatory dinosaur hanging in the main gallery.

You could spend hours looking at all the exhibits but we confined ourselves to the photographs which were outstanding.

Oxford Street still had its lights up, the same ones that I photographed a few years ago but not all were lit.

We found some bargains in the sales although James’s search for a particular style and colour of sweater proved unfruitful until the last afternoon. Another interesting find was that Waterstones in Piccadilly has a floor of Russian books. I had only on Friday morning put a stressed Russian translation of Dostoevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’ on the bookshop internet sales site which I thought was a little unusual for us. Having done our little bit to help the economy, we spotted Joe Lynam and a BBC film crew setting up to report next to House of Fraser presumably on seasonal spending. Just before our evening meal in a local restaurant we had a drink in the Cock and Lion pub in Wigmore Street. The walls are covered with photographs of Edwardian London. James however, was a little more interested in the live sport they show.

James wanted to look at the market in Camden Passage. We had coffee in a boulangerie where frangipane tarts decorated with crowns for on sale for Epiphany. The bakery across the road had to stress that it was an English one. Only in Islington do you find a gluten-free bakery shop and the charity shops very few clothes in sizes above a women’s 10.

Later, en route down Regent Street to Liberty we passed the Canada Goose shop which opened its UK flagship store in November 2017. Then, there had been large crowds of animal rights activists with claims that coyotes and geese are mistreated to make the brand’s products. They have been accused of producing parkas with trims made from coyote fur. PETA claim the coyotes are caught in the wild in steel traps. On the day we passed by however, there was only one man demonstrating. In Chinatown where we ate on our last evening, the protest was about banning live organ harvesting from Falun Gong practitioners. The RSM had an exhibition entitled ‘Women and their olive trees’. The paintings were produced by an art class in Israel of 35 women aged 17-80 from Lithuania, Umm al-Fahad, Tiberias, Romania, Nazareth, Isfaahan, Argentina and the Caucasus who were from a variety of religious and backgrounds.

The exhibition has travelled throughout Europe and is due to travel around the UK. All too soon it was time to return to the station and I was coming down with a virus so needed the comfort of home for a while.

Catching some culture in London


The day before we left for London, the West Coast Mainline was closed for a while between Watford and Milton Keynes due to an incident and the British Museum had been evacuated because of what was later discovered to be an unfounded security scare. The media were obsessed with this being the busiest weekend of the year as schools in England and Wales break up for the summer holidays and our airspace was described as full with more aircraft taking off than ever before. Fortunately our early morning train journey was without any problems. We walked up to Islington as James was keen to ferret about in the antique market in Camden Passage. We found a gift for some friends on one of the stalls. Chatting to the proprietor of an antique print shop we heard how floods had hit both his shop and his home nearby in December 2016. Caffeine levels were topped up in a cafe with a tiny sun trap at the back.

The next stop was at the Southbank Book Market which is close to Waterloo Bridge. I did not find any books but instead bought an 18th century map of Africa. When we were heading back over Waterloo Bridge, a large posse of Vespas passed underneath. As we waled up to Covent Garden we met numerous Italian and Chinese school trips all wielding selfie sticks and umbrellas at eye level. My destination was Stanfords to study Australian maps and atlases for our big lap next year. Afterwards we popped into a bar on Tottenham Court Road so that James could catch up with some football. That evening we had a pre-theatre dinner and then saw ‘The Ferryman’ at the Gielgud Theatre. This recent play written by Jez Butterworth and directed by Sam Mendes is set in Northern Ireland in 1981. It lasts three hours and was very well done. On Sunday morning we walked to the Tate Modern, crossing the Embankment in the middle of a cycle race. We had tickets to see the Fahrelnissa Zeid exhibition, getting there early enough to avoid the long queues for security searches.

The exhibition covers her largely forgotten work from early figurative painting, her move to abstract and back to figurative work. The building is also interesting.

On the way back to our hotel a cold beer was needed and in a Covent Garden pub we met someone from Alsager who also volunteers in the Book Emporium. Dinner that night was in Chinatown. The wine list in the restaurant raised a smile at the spelling of ‘Congnac’. In the nearby market, a man was explaining Durian, known as the world’s smelliest fruit, to potential customers.

Soho has largely been gentrified but there are still glimpses of the old area down some side streets as we were heading back to the hotel. On Sunday morning we had tickets for the very popular Hokusai exhibition at the British Museum.

It was very busy but still very enjoyable.
We met up with some friends and looked at some of the marbles from the Parthenon before escaping for lunch.

Fresh air was needed so we took a ferry trip on the Thames
and after disembarking at Westminster, walked back past the Houses of Parliament to St James’s Park.

As always there were plenty of waterfowl including this pair of black swans with their cygnets.

Our return train journey was on time but there were notices all over Euston Station reminding people that there will be no trains on the August Bank Holiday Saturday and Sunday.

Maps and books in London

On Tuesday evening, we took a train to London and as normality had been restored after the previous day’s strike, it was only a short Tube journey to reach our hotel. We had come down to see an exhibition at the British Library so that was our first destination on Wednesday morning. En route, I popped into Waterstones near UCL as it sells remainders and some secondhand books as well as new. However, I did not find anything on this occasion. We have an extensive collection of old maps but this exhibition focussed on the 20th century when the use of maps became widespread and was influenced by war and peace, trade, the movement of people and technological development. There was a large collection of many different maps, some familiar, many not and the exhibition is is on until 1 March. Photography was not allowed so this is an image from the exhibition website:
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Afterwards, we walked to Spitalfields and visited what has been described as ‘London’s newest and innovative bookshop’. Libreria opened in 2016 and the books are organised in a very idiosyncratic way with some mini-collections curated by different people. They also hold events from time to time. When I came to pay for my purchase, two attempts to do this electronically failed due to problems with their broadband and I had to use cash. This was quite a surprise as I am used to very slow broadband speeds at home but did not expect to find this in London.
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Spitalfields has lots of street art, curry houses and vintage stores on Brick Lane which warrant further exploration at some point.
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I find specialist shops fascinating and spotted this bag shop on Commercial Street.
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Walking back towards Bloomsbury on the road called London Wall, it is possible to see fragments of the old wall near the Museum of London and the Barbican. There is another section near Tower Hill Tube Station. The hoardings around the Crossrail works had signs listing the archaeological finds dug up during the seemingly never-ending construction project. I also spotted this bindery on Clerkenwell Road that I had photographed a couple of years ago:
Bindery shop Clerkenwell
On the way back to Euston I called in at Skoob Books in the Brunswick Centre. which claims to be the largest secondhand bookshop in London and found a few books. I have never been disappointed here> they once gave me a bag as I was such a good customer.

Sunny day in London

We have been enjoying the Indian summer and the fruit harvest here. I have been busy producing apple juice, picking plums, raspberries and blackberries and amazed that I am still having to water the veg outside in September. However, today we escaped and headed to London to meet up with a friend from Sydney who is visiting for a short time. I had booked brunch at the Modern Pantry in Clerkenwell and as the trains are not great on Sundays (years ago my secretary was told by someone at a rail company to tell her boss not to travel on Sunday) we decided to drive down to Watford Junction and take the train into the city from there. All went well until we were well down the M1 and they had decided to close the motorway in order to demolish a bridge. So, we endured a very slow crawl around the environs of Luton and then through the centre to rejoin the M1. At Watford Junction we found ourselves on a new London Overground train which was far from crowded and half an hour later were at Euston. We wandered down towards the restaurant with brief stops at a bookshop and cafe. It is situated in St John’s Square which is where the Priory of the Order of St John was set up in 1040. There is now a museum devoted to the history of the order (who are now known to most of us as the St John Ambulance. There is a lovely garden filled with some of the plants the monks used to treat their patients with.
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The gate into the priory has undergone several transformations. In the 18th century, it was used as a coffee house, run by Richard Hogarth, father of the artist William Hogarth. Dr. Samuel Johnson was given his first job in London at St John’s Gate, writing reports for The Gentleman’s Magazine. Later, the Gate was used as a pub, The Old Jerusalem Tavern, where artists and writers, including Charles Dickens, used to meet. It now houses the museum.
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We met our friend and were part way through our meal when I realised that I did not have the bag with my camera in it with me. I knew I had been taking photographs in the garden and that I may have left it there. We eventually discovered that someone had found it and handed it in to the museum. Afterwards, we wandered past Smithfield market where we saw the now closed nightclub Fabric:
save-fabric-london-11-sept-2016-1 and enjoyed the blue sky and sunshine.
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Down on the Thames Path we had some slightly different views of the bridges seen last week.
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We must walk the Thames Path from its source in the Cotswolds to the Thames Barrier (184 miles) someday soon. Eventually we had to head back to the tube from near the Tower and part company with promises to meet up for longer in 2017 and 2018. We got our train and out of Watford onto the motorway fairly easily and made good progress, being thankful that we were not going in the opposite direction as there was very heavy traffic heading back into the city. Just before we left the M1, we saw the brake lights come on and a plume of smoke ahead. A car on the hard shoulder was on fire and the emergency services were arriving. It looked like everyone had got out unharmed and the fire was confined to the front end of the car so we could get past without too much risk of it exploding. The rest of the journey home was thankfully, eventful.

Visiting galleries in London

Our morning train journey to London was uneventful and the first stop was Somerset House. I had seen the Courtauld Gallery’s exhibition of Georgina Houghton’s work, Spirit Drawings, reviewed in a newspaper when it opened and was keen to see it. She was an early abstract artist who was a spiritualist and said that this was where her inspiration came from. Most of her works are in watercolour and ink, media I have also used. I found it possible to gaze at her intricate works for a very long time. Here is one entitled ‘The Love of God’
Georgina Houghton the Love of God 3 Sept 2016-1
Many of the works in this exhibition are owned by a Spiritualist Society in Melbourne, Australia so if you are not from over there and want to see them, the exhibition is on until 11th September. Somerset House is a wonderful building with some fantastic ceilings.
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Somerset House 2 3 Sept 2016-1
There were other galleries and in the one devoted to drawing, an collection entitled ‘Regarding Trees’. I particularly liked this drawing from 1504, thought to be the earliest depiction of a tree in its own right.
A tree in winter 1504 Somerset House 3 Sept 2016-1
After fortifying ourselves with coffee, we crossed over to the South Bank via Waterloo Bridge and had a browse in the book fair there. On Saturday there are fewer stalls than in the week and I did not pick up any books but we found a map of New South Wales from 1824 to add to our collection. Further along on Bankside was the annual exhibition of the Royal Watercolour Society and the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers. It is free and also on until September 11th. The annual event ‘Totally Thames’ is currently underway with various acts and displays along the riverside. One I found quite striking is ‘Floating Dreams’ by a South Korean artist. It is constructed from 500 drawings and commemorates the people who died in the Korean War.
Floating Dreams S Korea 3 Sept 2016-1
Our next stop was the Tate Modern to see the Georgia O’Keeffe exhibition. When we were last in New Mexico three years ago, we visited the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, only to find the gallery closed for re-hanging. We did get a tour of her studio however. Having experienced the landscape there, aided our appreciation of her New Mexico landscape works. Over 100 works dating from her teenage sketchbooks to the 1960s are included and also photographs by Alfred Stieglitz whom she married and their friend, Ansel Adams. Photography was not allowed. The exhibition continues until the end of October and is definitely worth seeing. Afterwards we walked back over the river on the Millennium Bridge where these pigeons were resting.
Pigeons Thames 3 Sept 2016-1
The bells were ringing at St Paul’s Cathedral for a wedding but we continued on towards Covent Garden. Once we were there, the warm, humid day called for a cold beer in Philomena’s pub which has so many TV screens that James could catch up with football and rugby at the same time. It turned out to be the London base for the Northern Ireland Supporters’ Club. He had been wondering where that was for a while. We popped into Stanfords to pick up a New Zealand road atlas for next year’s trip and then slowly made our way to Euston Station. Unfortunately some signal problems near Wembley were causing total chaos and although our train left Euston only two minutes late, it took us five hours to get home.

Photography, art and music in London

A late train on Tuesday evening got us into London in time to find our hotel and crash out. On Wednesday morning we were out reasonably early and walked down to Millbank to the Tate Britain. I was keen to see the Painting with light exhibition which explores the relationship between photography and painting in the UK in the 19th and early 20th century. I loved it for a number of reasons: I am the curator of family photographs dating from the 19th century, use photography as the basis or to assist in painting and the exhibition had some familiar paintings and many that were new to me. I loved the old sepia prints of Edinburgh taken in the 1840s and the move to landscape painting. There were Pre-Raphaelite works, early 20th century landscapes and some from the Glasgow boys who had a more decorative approach influenced by their travels to Japan. Photography was not allowed in the exhibition so here are a couple from the exhibition website:

painting with light

Bowder Stone, Borrowdale c.1863-8 Atkinson Grimshaw 1836-1893 Purchased with assistance from the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1983 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T03683 Bowder Stone, Borrowdale c.1863-8 Atkinson Grimshaw 1836-1893

After lunch and a wander through Chinatown, we enjoyed ‘Sunny Afternoon’ which is a musical based on the Kinks’ music.
Chintown Arch London 8 June 2016-1
Sunny Afternoon London 8 June 2016-1

There had been a lot of storms all around the country in the last few days with flash floods in places and people struck by lightning. Heavy showers had been forecast for London later in the day but the downpour happened while we were in the theatre so we escaped it. On our way back to the station we saw two cyclists knocked over by cars in the space of a few minutes. Fortunately, no-one was hurt, they cycled off after an exchange of angry words with the drivers and we did not need to do any first aid. Our train was delayed but at last we were home.

Books and plants in London

Today was another day that began with books. On our way back to the hotel last night, we spotted a notice for the Bloomsbury Book Fair which was to take place today. It is a regular fixture but this is the first time we have coincided with it. It was quite large with numerous bookstalls and also maps, prints and ephemera. I found two books for my New Naturalist collection and one for my old Baedekers. I have to carry around a list of the volumes I have or I would be buying duplicates. We also found a 17th century map of Africa.
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We then took the tube to Kew Gardens where we saw a small sample of what is to offer and I took some photographs which might be inspiration for abstract paintings at some point.
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Kew Gardens 3 10 Apr 2016-1
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The tulips were out, the daffodils almost over but there were some magnificent magnolias.
Kew Gardens 6 Magnolias 10 Apr 2016-1
Kew Gardens 7 Magnolia Stellata 10 Apr 2016-1
Afterwards we had a long leisurely lunch with relatives in Kew before heading back into Central London and planning for tomorrow.