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.
Nothing at the major art galleries grabbed me this morning so having walked 4-5 miles yesterday, we wandered the very short distance to the British Museum. As in art galleries, I find I can only focus on and process a relatively small amount of what is on display at any one time so we only looked at a couple of rooms. Of the many things on display in the Africa gallery, two pieces were particularly striking. One is the tree made from weapons given up by a village:
and the other a Kente cloth made from bottle neck wrappers by El Anatsui:
I have some creative projects in the making derived from rubbish but hope that I never have to do any derived from weapons.
With a meeting cancelled unexpectedly at the last minute, it was not difficult to decide to use my train tickets anyway and have a day in London. I had missed the Viking exhibition at the British Museum on my last trip and as we Henshaws are said to be descended from them, it was a ‘must’. Despite planning to do some reading on the slow train down, this was not to be. From Stafford to Euston the woman sitting opposite me with two phones and a laptop was very loudly arranging the Fire & Rescue Services’ National and International Summer Camps. There is now nothing I don’t know about these events. Gazing out the window at the brilliant yellow of oil-seed rape fields under glowering black clouds, it was also evident that the weather forecast I had looked at the day before had not been accurate – it rained for most of the day. The British Museum was incredibly busy compared to my last visit in March with dozens of tour buses parked outside and lots of people inside. The exhibition was well worth the trip and has inspired me to find out more. Back in the rain, I headed to Oxford St to do some birthday present shopping and then back through Bloomsbury to some favourite book haunts – the remainder and secondhand section of Waterstones on Gower St, Skoob Books in the Brunswick and another shop in Marchmont St which specialises in the arts. I found a history of country music for James as he will be off on the gentlemen’s trip to Nashville and Memphis next year. Back at Euston several trains were delayed including mine. Still no peaceful reading on the return journey – as a (fairly) pleasantly intoxicated Glaswegian felt the need to explain at length why he had missed the Glasgow train (in the bar drinking G&Ts) and so was on my train (drinking red wine) as he had to go and stay with a friend in Runcorn. At least getting back to Crewe later meant the drive home on quiet roads was quicker.
A trip to London for a conference and to get the visas for Tanzania. This morning was a bright, sunny day and after a brief visit to the Tanzania High Commission, I headed off to the British Museum, hoping to see the Viking exhibition but it was very busy so I had a wander round the permanent collection. I regretted not having my camera or sketchbook when I saw the artists and photographers at work. After a pit stop at the cafe it was back to Oxford St to collect the passports and then a slow amble back to Euston via some sunny squares and a few of my favourite London bookshops for some holiday reading.