Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Greater London

London again. My niece is over a year old now and endlessly mischievous. I spotted her carrying one of her father’s work shoes down the hall and secreting it carefully in a corner amongst many miscellaneous items, where it would be a challenge for him to find in the morning. Deed done, she caught my eye. I nodded approval.

Had dinner in Bayswater with a couple of old codgers, scandalous conversation about elephants and flamingos. The next morning, with almost a whole day free to be an entirely selfish tourist in London and only a mild hangover, I decided to head to St John's Wood and have a look round Lord's, the Home of Cricket.

The tour guide, a member though at least two decades less crusty and decrepit than the average, showed me and a bunch of disappointingly deferential Aussies around the place: the museum and Ashes urn, the dressing rooms and famous balcony, the Long Room, the Real Tennis court and the spaceship media centre, ending, inevitably, at the Gift Shop. Another member tagged along with a female guest and he had the most extraordinarily lengthy and conspicuous nasal hair I have ever clapped eyes on. It was most distracting, at least for me, but the guide was commendably unfazed and reeled off an entertaining spiel riddled with stats. How he remembered all the dates and run rates and five-fers is beyond me, but cricket is a game of artistry and drama which floats on a great sea of statistics. As a fan, you can choose to cruise along the surface of that sea or to dive in and utterly immerse yourself. I’m a cruiser, but each to their own. Wonderful, wonderful place Lords, but as well as being the Home of Cricket it's the Home of Almighty Priggishness. I’m ambivalent.

Having done the tour and bought some expensive tat, I bussed down to Oxford Circus for a pub lunch and wondered how to fill my remaining couple of hours before I had to head to Paddington. My mind wandered back to the sight of my niece carrying her father’s shoe and in a flash I knew what I wanted to do… exactly the same thing I always do in London!

I tubed to Charing Cross, dashed across Trafalgar Square, through the portico entrance of the National Gallery, up the steps and turn right, past the Van Goghs to gaze once more on my favourite painting. For the shoe my one year-old niece was wielding was exactly the same as the ones in the middle of Seurat’s seminal work of pointillism, Bathers at Asnières.






I cannot tell you why this is my favourite painting, it just makes me happy. I have a print above the mantelpiece but the original is so big and glowy. Having drunk my fill of it I flopped onto the leather seat opposite the quartet of Turners including The Fighting Temeraire and, my second favourite painting, Rain, Steam and Speed.

A swarm of humanity flows through the National Gallery. To my left a middle-aged Mancunian lady called out excitedly for her friend to hurry over, because she had found The Hay Wain. Of course there was no need to hurry, The Hay Wain wasn’t going anywhere, but still, this is humanity swarming at its best.

Some people feel underwhelmed when they view extremely famous masterpieces at first hand (it was only a bunch of sunflowers, Whistlejacket is nice, but it’s a big horse). Not me. I always find it tremendously moving to see these things; first because one is reminded that there have lived on this very planet humans capable of creating them, and second because they are right here, given to us to look at any time we have a few hours to kill before the train leaves, free of charge.

15 comments:

Nige said...

Absolutely with you on the Seurat Brit - I often nip in for a look myself, especially on hot sweaty days, when it seems to have a cooling effect. It's a magical painting and one that absolutely has to be seen in the original - it cannot be reproduced.

Nige said...

By the way, those codgers sound most fascinating fellows...

Brit said...

Certainly had their moments, Nige. I'm so glad you're an Asnieres fan too - it would have been a somehow painful thing if you'd said it was no good...

monix said...

Old codger, flamingo, elephants. Is Johnny Morris still around? I hope you enjoyed the impersonations.

Ali said...

I remember letting out a "F**k, yeah" when I saw Rembrandt's picture of the clockmakers guild in the Rijksmuseum.

The cricket on today was great. Gave me flashbacks to '92. The brothers and sister had a great time at Lords and the 'rents are still whooping with joy.

worm said...

love the seurat too - for me its the combination of the painting style , made of seemingly disparate dots, which shows an amazing invention & flair, and then the way those dots coalesce into a almost tangible blue remembered haze of a lazy sumer afternoon - and as you say, you really have to see it in person.

Gaw said...

Anyone would think you actually like London...

Brit said...

Spot on re Seurat (no pun intended), Worm.

Ali - I enjoyed the whole tournament, though I wanted Sri Lanka to win the final just cos of Malinga, the spinners and Dilshan. But I'm happy for Pakistan after a rotten year for them.

Brit said...

Of course, Gaw. I love London. And of course I also hate London.

martpol said...

I visited the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam last year, and was absolutely riveted. Gobsmacked, overwhelmed that so much beauty - and so much famous beauty - could exist in one building. I looked around and tried to decide whether it was real, whether they were really letting all of us normal people just look at all this stuff without having to pay with our sight or our souls.

Some people just bustled through, looking mildly interested. It takes all sorts.

The Old Batsman said...

I meant to comment on your post of the other day which touched on the idea almost touched on again here about paintings that evoke feelings that can't be described. We need a word for that. Anyhow, I felt it when I saw The Voice Of Space by Magritte, even though on one level it looked like a bad pink floyd album cover.

Brit said...

Bloody hell, OB, you do realise there was a load of stuff about Lord's in this post, but you commented on the art bit? What's happening to you?

Martpol - not been to Amsterdam but you make it sound v appealing, and all without mentioning red lights and funny cigarettes...

The Old Batsman said...

Yes, Lord's - they are the masters of the superficial welcome with the underlying message 'look round then bugger off...'

The tour's almost better in the winter - the ground has a great gothic sadness to it then.

Brit said...

Gothic sadness eh...Yes, thinking about it, there's more than a hint of Gormenghast about Lord's.

martpol said...

Brit:

"you make it sound v appealing, and all without mentioning red lights and funny cigarettes..."

Mind you, some people might claim that Van Gogh would be further enhanced with one of the latter.