Saturday 25 June 2022 – London.
The past couple of months have seen things too busy for much fun, work has been full on and there’s been little relief at the weekend either. I feel like we’ve barely had time to stay at my place in St Leonards since we got back from New Zealand at the end of February, and that didn’t change this weekend either; for a good reason. Eleanor has decided to sell her house and today is open home day, the Walthamstow market is so hot that we really only expect to have one of these and the house should be sold by mid week. The last month seems to have been spent decluttering, tidying, cleaning, and in Eleanor’s case, styling the house, firstly for the official photos and then for today. It will be nice to have it over and done with, and the hope is that it sells well and we don’t need to keep it immaculate all the time, we need to live here too.
The weather was nice so we decided to go to the other side of London, westward to Paddington Station and then walk to the Victoria and Albert Museum through Kensington Gardens, one of the Royal Parks. We haven’t been to the V&A in years, and other than the airport I don’t recall travelling west of my office since well before lockdown.
After many years of delay and many billions over budget the new cross-rail Elizabeth Line opened recently, a brand new underground line traversing London from east to west, and vice-versa. We took the new line from Liverpool Street to Paddington. The trains are bigger, slightly quieter and very well air-conditioned and they only stop a couple of times crossing London which is the big difference for me; not that we will use it much, but good to know it is there and the time to Paddington and Heathrow Airport is reduced which is an absolute bonus. After almost thirty hours on a plane, the 90 minutes on the tube home is just a major drag.
The new stations are great though, I really like the design and the tunnels connecting the platforms are so much bigger than the crammed spaces on other lines. I managed to quickly grab a photo with no passengers in it. The signpost in the shape of a cross was, in it’s way, an apt image to start the day, though I didn’t realise at the time that there would be a lot of symbolism to come.
We stopped for coffee in Paddington before walking to Kensington Gardens, arriving near the Italian Gardens. As I said earlier we haven’t been to this part of London for ages, and I don’t think we been to the Italian Gardens together before; they were nice, if slightly busy. I had completely forgotten how busy London gets in tourist season, and it’s coming to the peak season now, more so now that the pandemic is ‘over’ and London is again a destination for both British and overseas tourists.
We walked through the park towards the V&A, stopping to take a few photos on the way, the Royal Parks are letting some areas of their parks return to some form of managed wildness, with long grasses and wild flowers. It was really quite nice and it felt like we were anywhere but the middle of a city. It is very dry, but I like the colours more.
I was surprised to come across a Henry Moore sculpture, ‘The Arch’ which was first erected in 1980, then taken away in the 90s as it started to crumble, before being re-erected in 2012. I’m not really a fan of sculpture, but loved this, especially with the heron sitting atop.
Eleanor and I have been to the V&A a few times, mainly for exhibitions, and every time we vow to come back and spend more time, and more time wandering the halls on our own; we have different interests and want to spend time looking at the things we like as well as sharing the experience.
My travels in Asia left me with a fascination for Buddhist and Hindu carvings and statuary and this engendered a bit of an interest in iconography and European religious art as well. The V&A has plenty of both, though it’s not something Eleanor enjoys as much as me.
We walked through one of the Buddhist art sections before stopping for a can of wine in the square in the centre of the museum. The wine wasn’t too bad.
After that brief rest we continued on through a European religious art section, I love this stuff. I’m much more interested in the wood and stone carvings and the beautiful stained glass than I am in painted work. This 16th century Dutch St Peter is just beautiful, hard to believe it’s been in existence for over 500 years.
I know a number of these works were stolen and should be returned to the country of origin, and I feel privileged to be able to see them, and further privileged that I could see similar when I travelled. I can’t wait to travel again.
Our next stop was the completely bonkers ‘Cast Courts’. When the museum was built in the 1870s this room was created with an extra high ceiling of 25 metres to cater for the height of the two piece of Trajans Column which were made from a cast commissioned by Napoléon in 1864. The rooms are rammed with seemingly random pieces of art, all plaster casts made from moulds taken from the original artefacts, mainly during the 19th century, filling museums and stately homes with perfect copies of original art works. I love these rooms, they just seem so mad, and exactly what museums should be about; fun, enlightening, inspiring and educational. I guess that means the Tories will try and ban them.
Passing through one final Asian art section as we headed towards the front door. I found this early 20th century ‘Emaciated Buddha’ bronze carving from Thailand, which I’ve never seen the like of before. I have seen plenty of Buddha statues before but not from the period when he fasted for six years. It was my favourite object from the day.
The day started with a cross, so it should end with one as well.
We caught the tube back to Walthamstow as the open home day was wrapping up mid-afternoon. The agent said it had gone well, that there would be offers coming early next week, and good ones at that.
It was a good day.