Saturday, January 25, 2020
It must be - what - 55 years, by my reckoning, since I was last inside the Natural History Museum in South Kensington, despite going to the V&A, next door, almost every time that I'm in London. Much of it is hyper new tech (and conservation minded; and full of dinosaurs that bring the point home) - but I never consciously took on board the breath-taking magnificence of Waterhouse's design before. And yes, I know I have research to do in its collections, and this was by way of sniffing out the architectural territory - how could I not have come here over and over again?
Small child about to be savaged by taxidermied swans.
I had, of course, come to go to the V&A - to see Darren Waterhouse's Filthy Lucre, his installation that re-imagines Whistler's Peacock Room, collapsing and decaying under the weight of its own opulence, and also a commentary on the financial rivalry that went into its making and ownership (and I hadn't realised that Whistler himself had destroyed - deliberately - C18th leather panels and so on by painting over them, obliterating The Taste of the Past). It only opened today, and the installation wasn't quite finished - the sound was only spasmodically working - but it was still impressive and fun, as doubtless anyone who's seen it in the US knows ...
Friday, January 24, 2020
A very grey, murky, drizzling walk down the South Bank today. On top, Big Ben that will not bong - no chimes at midnight to usher in Brexit because, as you can see, it's shrouded in scaffolding. Then an itinerant musician, sitting on the rapidly disappearing beach, throwing bread at gulls and pigeons.
The object of the walk? Tate Modern, to see the huge Kara Walker Fons Americanus, her huge reworking of the 1911 Victoria Memorial outside Buckingham Palace - about which Woolf writes, or riffs on, so memorably in Orlando - reconfiguring it so that it's about the Black Atlantic; the place of slavery, water, violence in the history of Empire. This meshes straight into my class this semester: I call that part of today Class Prep, even if I like the ideas somewhat more than the sometimes rough-edged, sometimes slick work itself (though nb that unlike the Vic Memorial, this is deliberately, unarguably eco-friendly).
Thursday, January 23, 2020
I just want to confirm that one can get excellent, non-chain, and above all non-hipster-bitterness-sour coffee in London with enormous ease, these days. On the top, in a beautiful old dairy on Warren Street (which my father reminds me used to be a very unsalubrious "and popular" street indeed); at the bottom, by Great Portland Street station (I preferred the dairy, but the Black Sheep helped caffeinate me further before a long day attending a meeting that happily was a master-class in chairing a complex agenda with exemplary tact and efficiency). Oh, and yes, my father does remember enjoying dining at the top of the Post Office Tower, although says the food was utterly unmemorable ...
Wednesday, January 22, 2020
... as seen from my hotel room window: in London for a flying visit - an all-day meeting tomorrow, then visiting my father (where the view will be greener). This is true 60s new brutalism (and late January new brutal murky grey damp weather supporting it). But the Post Office Tower! Or, as it was first known, the GPO tower (it's now the BT tower). When it was finished, in 1964-5, it was the tallest building in London - I can remember being taken to see it on precisely those grounds. Rather improbably, it was opened to the public in 1966 by Tony Benn and Billy Butlin - though the Butlin bit becomes less unlikely when one finds that the Butlin group operated the Top of the Tower revolving restaurant, on the 34th flower. And so it slowly rotated - I think my father ate up there a couple of times when business-entertaining (I'll ask him), and it was something that I longed to do (presumably for the sheer novelty value, and the zoo). But that never happened - the tower has been almost entirely closed to the public since as bomb went off there in 1971 (I'm not sure if it was ever determined whether that was the work of the IRA or the Angry Brigade). It's still used as a major telecommunications hub, but seems to have top secret status - with only the occasional restaurant swirl for something like a Children in Need event. But nonetheless, it's unquestionably still an iconic structure of the 60s.
Tuesday, January 21, 2020
This may be the worst inflatable - er - Trojan warrior? Lumberjack? - I don't know where to start. I thought that Rutgers had some fairly dubious Scarlet Knights on sale when I was there, but this surpasses everything (on the other hand, some complaints must have hit home - there's now a wall of Faculty Books that's very visible as you enter the bookstore ...). I didn't have time to stop to peruse them: I was in search of an Apple computer charger, having left the house this morning without a quite remarkable number of the things that I'd intended to bring with me ....