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.