Friday, January 27, 2012

Slight return

They say you can never go back. You can, but it can get confusing...

Take the London Underground, for example. For years I knew it was an unpleasant, but fairly efficient way of transporting vast numbers of people around London. You might have your face crammed into the armpit of your fellow commuter for half an hour, but you got to where you were going, and that was something to be proud of, dammit.

And then I return to London after a two-year absence, and all of a sudden I notice how Victoria is a confused mess of corridors, milling people, metal barriers and staircases that just doesn't make sense, and how the underground trains are laughably small, and as well as their tiny circumference, have implausibly impractically small doors to make it as hard as possible for people to get on and off. Mind The Gap indeed, there's a yawning chasm between the efficiency of the Hong Kong MTR and what Londoners endure. OK, we had a hundred year head start in London, but couldn't we have used some of that time to do things right, not just have a grindingly painful antique infrastructure?

More pleasantly, I took the Tube to South Kensington, and went back to the Victoria and Albert. It's been well over two years since last I visited - probably only when I was living full time in London, back in 2008, and each time I go, I'm flabberghasted by how big it is, and by how many things I see that I've never seen before.

I jabbered on about it a bit on my travel review blog so I don't want to repeat myself much here, but wow. Despite half the Cast Hall being closed while they renovate statues, and inconveniently visiting at a point just after an exhibition had finished but before a new one had opened, there was just so much to see. After five hours or so we'd both got museum fatigue and had to clear off, but before then we'd seen so much wonderful stuff. I think my favourite things were the modern sculptures in the ceramic rooms up on the 6th floor (something I'd never even known about before, which is rather worrying), and the large statues down on the ground floor. All the netsuke and other Japanese art is very nice, but I suppose having come all the way from Asia, you feel more like seeing some European things rather than what we took from the Orient. I have a few hundred photos to go through now and upload to flickr, once I've filleted out all the unfocussed, poorly exposed or just plain rubbish ones. So I'll have a few photos to upload to flickr, anyway...

Yesterday was also somewhat retrospective, as we returned to the National Portrait Gallery, but again, that was salted with strangeness. According to my wife we'd been upstairs two years ago, but I could conjure up no memory of this: as far as I was concerned, we'd been to the shop in the basement and that was that. Odd. There was the annual photographic portrait competition being exhibited, with some lovely images. I'm not sure if I liked the badtempered model, dressed as a nun, standing next to a llama, most, or the redheaded Welsh girl with the enormous guinea pig. There's something for everyone there.

Lastly, we went to the Crown and Sceptre for a pint tonight. This was yet another case of this weird London voodoo, where the old and familiar became strange and confusing. In this particular case, I followed a spiral, only reaching the pub after several decreasing concentric circles around it, like a dog padding down the ground before going to sleep. Thankfully, the pub was reliable as ever: there was still the same strange picture of two women with shotguns and raw meat above the bar, there was still strawberry beer, and there was still a capacity crowd of businesspeople drinking. On a Thursday night. Good grief. I thought January was when everyone stayed in because they were skint after Christmas.

Half cut on just a pint of Guinness (how shameful) I feel I haven't done the V&A justice - I'll have to try again tomorrow to summarise the joy I felt at seeing all this beautiful stuff in one place. But now I should really be getting to bed, recharging my batteries, and hoping not to wake up at 6 am, wondering where and who and why I am...


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