Three Weeks in the UK: Week Three

Museums of London

On Friday Dad and I did our own thing. I’d been to the gym in the morning and then booked him a flight to Vicenza (he was going for a night to see his cousin). After that I went to see the Museum of London’s Fire! Fire! exhibition.

An excellent exhibition. The interpretation was so well put together that it was a treat to stop and explore everything…although museum fatigue kicks in early for me and there were about two cabinets of objects I glossed over.

The words were kept to a minimum, plenty of interactives and theming to go along with it. From a professional and personal point of view, I was engaged and came away with a better understanding of the Great Fire of London and its surrounding social and historical context.

What I did wonder about was how the kids interacted with it. There was a large school group in there and the bulk of them used the dress-ups, played with the blocks (‘how would you rebuild the city of London?’) and sat in the tent. They also pressed some buttons and lifted flaps.

Now, from an educational point of view, you might say that they didn’t really learn anything. They were small kids so there were no sheets to fill out, and it was largely self-directed, with teachers or teacher helpers corralling the group.

But just because they didn’t (or might not) have learnt anything, doesn’t mean the exhibition failed. What I did see was a lot of kids enjoying themselves. They were excited to be there, playing on things, running around with their friends, all while being in a ‘learning environment’.

I doubt they learnt anything by osmosis but at least their memories of being in a museum is a pleasant one, which, you hope, will continue through as they get older and want to discover more. Anyway, opinion piece over.

I walked through the rest of the standard galleries as I’d been before and had filled by brain. I was unexpectedly moved by the rather simple 2005 London bombing memorial – a book containing remembrances of those who’d died. Simple yet effective.

After Museum of London, I headed to the Museum of London: Docklands. I’d never heard of it until Jackie told me about it on Wednesday. Built in an old warehouse that was part of the old docklands, it’s three floors of stories about shipping, the docks and London.

I liked the exhibition on slavery and sugar. Though they didn’t make any overt connections between ‘old’ and modern-day slavery, it was definitely something I read into it. The words around it have changed but some of the structures underneath have survived.

I also liked their reconstruction ‘SailorTown’. The rest of the museum I strolled through as it was heavy on text, light on object and all a bit overwhelming. Excellent if you need to focus on a particular time period that deals with the docks but for a general visitor, I think it could have done with some trimming down.

In the evening I caught up with Jeff and Nigel at their flat for a drink before we went for dinner at Tandoor Chop House (really good Indian food). Many drinks, food and laughs later, I headed home after another great day in London.

Rellies in Reading

Saturday we caught the train to Reading to meet Mum’s cousin, Pauline, and Pauline’s daughter, Verity. They’d come up from Bournemouth so had further to travel than us. We met at the station, walked through a bit of Reading centre and went for lunch at Prezzo. Lovely to see them and catch up, sharing all of our news.

Afterwards we went through some of Reading’s streets, seeing the town hall and this Tudor (either era or style) house that was severely bowed in the middle. Sadly it was sitting empty. We left at about 3, a sad goodbye. That’s the problem with living so far away but at least there’s email etc to keep in touch with.

In the evening we met Donna and her friend, Courtney, at Las Iguanas in Southbank for dinner. The food was really good, even better that they had a vegan menu for Donna (and also to capitalise on Veganuary).

After dinner we saw the circus show Bianco, which was playing on Southbank as part of its winter festival. There were no chairs; it was a roving audience performance. The audience moved (about as well as you’d expect a large group of people to move and follow directions) under the guidance of the performances as bits of staging was relocated inside the space. They did this for much of the first half but it was largely abandoned for the second half when the performance was focused inwards in the centre.

There were a few nice moments and tricks, the performances were all incredibly fit and skilled, but I got bored after the first half as they repeated tricks and each subsequent segment went on too long. They were building on this idea of chaos, I think, as they shouted things out which were completely obscured by the sound from the live band (who were excellent).

The performance could have done with severe editing. I also got over the repeated use of one particular device, which was to come out to perform while clothed and then, within a few minutes, lost most of the outer layers. Once or twice is fine, but then it got tired and looked like they couldn’t make up their mind.

My back was killing me by the end of it and I was annoyed at the self-indulgence. Still, I was probably in the minority and now sound incredibly curmudgeonly about it. Having seen Limbo a few times, it’s hard to find something that comes close.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year Exhibition

As a Christmas gift to each of us, Donna bought Dad and I tickets to the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition on at the Natural History Museum. An excellent gift. Dad and I met her at the museum at about 10:30 and luckily beat much of the queue that later accumulated.

There’s a new bit inside the museum that is prefaced with a stegosaurus skeleton and has an escalator that goes up through an industrial-type model of the earth. The lower walls are lined with lit displays of bits of rock from different times through the Earth’s development. It’s an impressive entrance to the geology exhibition.

We bypassed it at first to get to the exhibition. I missed last year’s exhibition but saw the previous one in Toronto. It’s always awesome and contains just enough photos to get through before you get fatigue.

Standouts for me were the documentary photo of 4,000 slaughtered, frozen pangolin (juxtaposed with a black-and-white image of a lion playing with a rolled up pangolin), hyenas feeding on wildebeest that had died in the stampede, and three hares on snow. Of course, there were plenty of great photos.

Only downside (apart from the massive decline in species across the globe) was a woman who kept talking to her friends and commenting on every portrait, not in an intelligent way, but making a joke on each. SHUT UP! I had to keep going to opposite ends of the display to get away from her. I should have had headphones…and idea for next time.

Courtney and her boyfriend, Mickey, came along too, which was nice to get to share in the moment. After the exhibition we went up the new escalator entrance, semi-experienced the Kobe earthquake in a simulator, and then headed out. So many children!

We said goodbye to Courtney and Mickey then went for lunch at Pret-a-Manger. Next up was the underwear exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum (1700s to today). Interesting to see the breadth and variety of female undergarments compared to the relative simplicity and lack of changes in that for males. Power play at work.

Full up of museums at the end of it we parted ways. Once home, I went to the gym (getting caught in the rain) and later we met Donna at a vegetarian/vegan restaurant called The Gate in Hammersmith. It was great. Kind of like fine dining for vegetarians. We each had something different for our mains and dessert, and all of it was delicious. Very full at the end of it.

Tube Strike!

img_5171In the morning Dad and I caught the train. He was heading to Gatwick to fly to Vicenza to see his cousin for the evening, meanwhile I was heading out to Leigh-on-Sea for lunch with Sheila, Ian and Donna. A tube strike had been called the night before and was to last 24 hours. As a result, travel in and around London was a little different.

Dad needed to go to Clapham Junction but the trains weren’t stopping there because Clapham had turned into a nightmare due to all the people desperately trying to get to work while central London’s tube stations were all closed.

He was going to have to head into Waterloo then out to Clapham and then to Gatwick, however, there was a woman in a wheelchair in our carriage and she’d requested to get off at Clapham. The train made a special stop and he was able to get off and continue his journey.

When I got to Waterloo, the announcements were saying the tube station was closed. The entrance was even locked. I needed to get to West Ham so was standing there, figuring out alternatives, when I overheard the policeman say that the Jubilee line was still open but you had to leave the station and go in another entrance. Hooray!

Meanwhile, the Jubilee line was mostly closed so the train made about three stops between Waterloo and West Ham and I got there in about 15 minutes. It was wonderful. Less wonderful were the delays to Southend and having to take the slow train. Oh well. Can’t win them all.

I arrived in Leigh-on-Sea and went to Sheila’s and then the three of us went to a vegetarian restaurant called The Oak Tree where we met Donna. Really good food. Caught up on what had been happening over the past little while and then it was time for Donna to go to bed (night shift again). Looking forward to seeing her again in a few weeks when she’s in Oz.

Sheila and Ian dropped me at the station and it was another goodbye. Hate them. I caught the train back into the city, no drama with the trains, and then met up with my friend, Daniel, for a few drinks at the Riverfront. Despite knowing each other for years, we’ve never met in person so it was a relief that we got along so well. A few glasses of wine and a bunch of stories later, we went our separate ways. A fun evening indeed.

A Monument to Stuff

After the gym and a chat with Glen in the morning, I caught the train into the city to the Sir John Soane’s Museum. Jackie had suggested it to me the other week and it had just reopened from being cleaned.

John Soane was an architect in the 1700s. Through an Act of Parliament he had it decreed that his house and all its possessions would be bequeathed to the country as a museum, provided it stay in as close to its original state as possible.

There’s a crypt, a kitchen, some drawing rooms, a monk’s yard, and a library – all of which are open to the general public. If you go on a booked private tour, you can see the other floors and living quarters.

I was expecting something that was just heaving with junk, overstuffed rooms, shelves and drawers of a true hoarder, something of a manic collector. Instead it was all well organised even if it did contain bits of marble statues and all the walls were covered within an inch of their lives.

The picture room was fascinating as two of the walls had movable screens so he could display many more paintings that a room of its size would. Also impressive was the sarcophagus in the crypt and its hieroglyphics. Humbling to think that they were more than 3000 years old.

After the museum, I had some lunch then went to BEERS Gallery near Old Street to see the Red Hot 100 exhibition. About twenty portraits of male and female nude red-heads. Some nice work.

Next I went to the Tate Modern to check out the installation in the turbine room. I joined about ten other people as we sat on the carpeted floor and watched a cuttlefish swim about on the screen. I then had tea and did some puzzles before heading home.

Dad returned in the evening, taking a little longer to get back from Gatwick than expected. I packed my stuff (I’ve bought a lot, mostly books – and think I’ve shrunk two of my new shirts. They’re suddenly smaller and tighter. Still wearable but not as loose as I’d like). When Dad got back, we went for dinner down the road as our last meal.

London, Out!

The car came at 5:30am. I really should have made it later. I’d already changed it from 5 but not knowing the roads to Heathrow on a Wednesday morning, I was concerned. Better to be early than late, of course, but I reckon we could have left at 6:30 and still got there with plenty of time to spare.

Check-in was a breeze, as was security. We sat in the lounge for over two hours. We ordered a la carte breakfast, which was a nice change from the buffet. Flight to Abu Dhabi was just over six hours long. I watched Bridget Jones’s Baby (not as bad as I was expecting) and then some TV. I did some work too. I didn’t sleep.

Landed in Abu Dhabi, showered in the lounge, ate some more food, got back on the plane. Ten hours later we arrived in Perth. Holiday over. Two weeks to India 🙂

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